On 31st October it’s one of my favourite festivals of the year: Halloween.
The festival is also known as Samhain in Pagan, Wiccan and Celtic indigenous religions.
Historically, Samhain was a Gaelic festival held at the event of harvest season, marking the end of that time and the beginning of the darkest, wintry days of the year. It was observed across much of Ireland, Scotland and the Isle of Man, and mentions of the festival have appeared way back when in Irish literature.
Samhain is considered a ‘liminal’ time; a moment between states and in the boundaries of two different things. In this case, at Samhain the boundary between this world and the next – either spiritual or supernatural – is thought be very thin.
The result is that ancestors, souls of the dead, and ‘fairies’ (known as Aos Sí in Irish mythology) are up and about and probably want to have a word with you.
A lot of Halloween activities are based on traditional Samhain rituals, including keeping a lit candle in the window to guide souls back to their homes and trick or treating. Disguising yourself and going door to door to ask for offerings of food or drink was part of historical Samhain night celebrations – folk might dress up as dead souls or even the Aos Sí themselves.
And the ‘trick’ part? Humans have always loved tricks.
The first recorded instance of pranks occurring as part of Samhain celebrations was in 1736, and the festival is also known as ‘Mischief Night’ in some areas.
Some historic rituals which are less well-known but still used in contemporary spiritual belief systems:
- lighting bonfires for protection, and either leaping over them or running between two of them for a spiritual cleansing
- holding a ‘dumb supper’ where places are set for deceased loved ones
- divination (predicting the future) with apples and nuts
- baking tokens, such as money or trinkets, into food and using this for divination; whoever gets the piece with the coin is going to be rich in the year to come!
Samhain is an important festival for my personal spiritual path, not least because it’s one of the first festivals I celebrated in my exploration of faith. But I’ve always been drawn to the magic of it – the costumes, the uncertainty, and the things that go bump in the night!
A lot of folks say the festival has become expanded (and perhaps a bit garish) due to the influence of US contemporary culture, but in researching this article I was pleased to find such a long lineage of celebrations in Northern Europe that cement its place as a home-grown festival.
For me, it’s not about candy, costumes and ghoulishness. It’s about that liminal moment where so much is possible. It’s about letting go of what needs to die, and gracefully moving on. And it’s about looking forward to what will come next, after the end of a harvest.
Here are some ideas to help you power up your creativity for a Samhain celebration.
Be inspired by the natural world
Right now, your natural environment is going through a fascinating aesthetic change as colours and textures morph from summer to autumn. Despite so much letting go and ‘dying’, new things like mushrooms are already growing.
Pay attention to an area of nature near you: what colours, textures, sounds and smells come to life for you? What are you reminded of? What ideas does it spark inside you?
Acknowledge your ancestors
Samhain is a celebration when ancestors and departed souls are recognised and honoured. Consider who in your family has passed on. What did they teach you which has stayed with you?
You might like to imagine further back and consider who one of your ancestors might’ve been. Where did they live? What lineage do you think you’re part of?
Try creating a portrait of this imagined ancestor (collage is a great medium to use) and consider what you can learn from this historical figure.
Release old behaviours and modes of thinking
Death can come in different disguises and isn’t necessarily a negative thing. Allowing certain behaviours or modes of thinking to ‘die’ is an important part of your personal and creative development.
Ask yourself these questions and journal the answers:
- What one thing from the last year would you like to put to rest and let die?
- What can you say ‘thank you’ to, and then let go because it’s no longer useful for you?
- What is taking up more energy to maintain and suffer through than it would to release it?
Access that magical ‘otherworld’
This festival celebrates the liminal space between this world and the next – or the ‘other’ world of creativity, spirituality, imagination and what-could-be. I like to imagine you can access this ‘other’ world by wishing for something that, right now, seems out of reach.
What will you wish for that’s so fantastical, it’s almost out-of-this-world?
What mischievous and bold ‘something’ will you wish for from the Aos Sí?
What is something you want that is so big, only magic can bring it to you?
Keep exploring …
- Read more about the history of Samhain
- Find out how contemporary Pagans and Wiccans will be celebrating
- Sign up to my weekly newsletter for extra prompts and journalling tools to help you explore your creativity
- Check out some of the Halloween-themed pins I’ve saved for even more inspiration