Deborah Blake Guest Blog
I love this time of year. Where I live, here in upstate New York, the summer’s heat has given way to autumn’s chill, the leaves are shifting into colorful hues of yellow, orange, and red, and the farmer’s markets are filled with pumpkins ready to be carved.
There is a palpable sense of change in the air, as we move out of the light half of the year and into the dark. And, of course, Halloween is coming. For me, that is the most special part of this time of year, because I’m a Witch.
Don’t worry—I’m a good witch, not a bad witch (smile). As a Pagan, I follow a nature-based religion, worship a god and a goddess, and believe in the power of magic to create positive change in the world. And yes, I cast spells (although never on anyone else) and do rituals. Especially on the night of Halloween, which we call Samhain [pronounced sow-win], after the ancient Celtic holiday it is based on.
Samhain is the Witch’s New Year; both the end of the old year and the beginning of the new. It is a time for letting go of all the things that no longer work for us, and saying goodbye to those we have lost in the last year. It is said that the veil between the worlds is thinnest on this night, and so we pay respect to our ancestors and those who have gone before us. You can see how the “ghosts and things that go bump in the night” aspect of the holiday came about!
It is also a celebration, and as the final of three harvest festivals in the Pagan Wheel of the Year, it is often used as an excuse to gather with like-minded friends and feast on seasonal foods like corn, squash, and apples. You don’t have to be a Witch to bring some of the more relevant Pagan aspects of the holiday into your life, either. Here are a few small, simple rituals you can do, no matter what spiritual path you follow, that will help you to tap into the special energy of this singular night.
Set up an ancestor altar: Take a small table or your mantle top (any place that is safe from children and pets) and spread a pretty cloth on it. The holiday colors are black and orange, but you can also use something with sparkly moons and stars, or a cloth that has particular meaning to you. (For instance, my grandmother was a weaver, so I tend to use something she made.) On the altar, place photos or representations of any deceased family members, friends, or pets. For each one, light a black or white candle (tea lights will do) and set it in or on a fire-safe holder. You can say a prayer, talk to the deceased one, or simply take a moment of silence to remember those you have lost. This doesn’t have to be sad! Focus on the positive aspects they brought to your life, and what you still carry in your heart. Leave the candle burning, if it is safe, or say a quiet goodbye and blow it out.
Celebrate the harvest: Take some time to appreciate the gifts of the season, and all that you have harvested in the year now behind us. You can make a harvest feast for yourself, or invite a few friends over to share it with you. Be sure to use seasonal foods (I’m a big fan of apple pie, in case you were thinking of inviting me) and either go around the table or sit down before hand and talk about the things you are grateful for, and what you anticipate harvesting at a later time.
Tune in to the dark: Samhain is a great time to ask for guidance from your ancestors, the spirits, or the universe (however you want to look at it). You don’t have to be a professional tarot card reader to tap into the openness of the night. If you have a tarot deck or a set of rune stones, you can form a question in your mind and then pull a couple of cards or stones to try and get an answer. Remember, this is more about gut feelings than intellect. You can also meditate on a candle flame, or look into a dark bowl filled with water. Open your mind, and see what comes.
Whether you do a ritual or not, I hope you have a fun and not-too-spooky Halloween!
Deborah Blake is the author of 6 books on modern Witchcraft from Llewellyn Worldwide, including The Goddess is in the Details, Everyday Witch A to Z Spellbook, and the recently released Everyday Witch Book of Rituals
She also writes fiction (often featuring witches, of course) including Witch Ever Way You Can, available on Amazon. She can be found at http://deborahblake.blogspot.com or www.deborahblakehps.com