amhain (pronounced Sow-een), also known as Samhuin, Oíche Shamhna, All Hollows Eve or the more modern Halloween is a sabbat with Celtic roots marking the darker/lighter, end of summer/beginning of winter halves of the year. Beginning at sundown on October 31st the veil is beginning to thin, but becomes it’s most permeable around the 6th and 7th. However, our Samhain season extends long past the sabbat day. It is also the beginning of a time in which we commune with our ancestors, celebrating our heritage and calling upon their ancient wisdom.
As with all sabbats, we come together to celebrate and acknowledge the transitional nature in both our spiritual and mundane lives as we say good-bye to one season and usher in another. We see the beginnings of death and decay around us as the Goddess withdraws, whether it be in molding fruits on the vine, rotting jack-o-lanterns, wilting plant life left in the field or the herd animals that have been brought down from greener pastures closer to home and driven through the cleansing fires to be culled for slaughter or breeding. The blood of butchered animals, as well as the burned bone ash, were offered to the God and Goddess and thusly sprinkled on the fields to usher in another productive year. This third and final harvest focuses on butchering or hunting and preserving of meats as well gathering the last of foodstuffs in orchard and root crops in the fields. We gather in the last of the foods stuffs before Samhain season begins and they are feasted on by the dead. It is understood that foods left to Samhain air are for the consumption of the dead and are not to be consumed by the living. We have said our farewells to the last vital and protective powers of the sun and stocked our food and wood stores.
It is a season of gathering and homecoming where we have prepared for our hibernation and hunker down to weather the winter storms. In the Pacific Northwest, our sights are flooding with brilliant and amazing colors of blush, gold, red, orange and scarlet. It fills our souls with one last burst of life before death as the fog rolls in and things grow dark and silent. A hush is cast across the land, filling us with anticipation of what is to come. Our persistence for survival often creates a struggle during the process of dying, that moment right before we give ourselves over to the moment and move beyond. That very reason is why the Season of Samhain is so important.
Our beautiful Samhain altars reflect the long-lasting foods of winter with luscious red apples, bright orange pumpkins and gourds. The last of summers flowers of deep red dahlias, brown and yellow sunflowers, calendula, herbs of fragrant angelica, soothing mint, protective sage and catmint along with deep golden maple leaves, fern, scarlet oak and blushing ash adorn the altar. Orange and brown candles flank our Lord and Lady whilst a large mirrored silver apple lies between to scare away those spirits that do not belong. Garnet, hematite, jasper and obsidian ground us in the here and now and sparkle in the candle glow. We acknowledge the decay of season with dried leaves forming an offering plate for fall harvested mushrooms, hawthorn berries and hazelnuts-calling to the wisdom of the ancients. The goddess has transitioned into her Crone aspect, therefore Hecate has been honored with black candles and an offering bowl full of belladonna berries. For many of us, our practice revolves around the veneration of our dead and there is, therefore, an entire space set aside for pictures, red votives, small belongings handed down, dried leaves, fresh flowers and offerings of bread and rum-or whiskey in my father’s case.
Samhain sabbat is spent giving thanks for our summers harvest and connecting with family who watch from beyond the hedge-making their favorite dishes. We spend much of our day turning inwards so that we are in a place to hear what the ancestors have to share. After ritual, we commence with a dumb supper. Each person brings to the sabbat table their ancestor’s favorite dish. I break out my Grandma Hebert’s mustard pickles and dilly beans as well as my father’s pepper relish canned at Mabon. I make a chocolate pie for my mom, while my husband makes colcannon for our Scotch/Irish heritage. We set an empty place for the ancestors in which they are served a bit of every dish before we all sit down to a supper of pumpkin soup in mini cauldrons and a feast, quite literally fit for the dead. We talk to the dead about the highlights of our year and then fall silent to hear what information we can. When we are finished with our supper, the ancestor plate will be left outside along with a candle so that our ancestors may warm themselves and glean enough energy to see them safely back across the hedge until next year, when the Crone Goddess visits us.
How do you prepare for the dark and how do you venerate your ancestors?