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Samhain: The Call of the Ancestors

Updated on September 30, 2015
Bonfires are traditional for Samhain.
Bonfires are traditional for Samhain. | Source

The Thinning of the Veil

For many Pagans, the time between the Autumnal Equinox (or Mabon) and Samhain (Sundown on October 31st) is a major period. It is said that the veil between the Worlds is thinnest at this time, making communication with the Other Side easier. The reason for the thinning of the veil is that October 31st, for many Celtic Pagans, marks the New Year. In fact, the best translation of Samhain is “summer’s end”. Therefore it is a time between time - neither one year or the other. Both and neither. At times such as these, the Worlds seem to overlap and the barrier is much thinner. There are many such periods in the day and in the year. Daybreak, twilight, the end of a season, and so forth. Samhain, however, being the New Year, is a major “between time”. It is also the bridge between life and death. We see the land around us preparing for the long sleep of death, to awaken and be reborn in spring. Our Ancestors would be taking in the last of the crops, preparing what could be prepared for storage and sharing what surplus they had. They lived close enough to the land to read the signs and to know whether it would be an especially harsh or mild winter. At this time they prepared to go within, fugitively and literally. They would gather around the fire and tell stories - often of heroic deeds performed by those who came before. Many times, these were of Ancestors (real or imagined) of the person telling the tale.

Many cultures hold ceremonies, and picnics, in the family cemetery.
Many cultures hold ceremonies, and picnics, in the family cemetery. | Source

The Cycle of Death

The connection at this time to those that passed is fairly obvious. It was a time of death. The trees had shed their leaves, the crops were gone, animals that could not survive the winter would be slaughtered and preserved as food for the coming months. It was a harsh time. Thankfully, most of us do not need to consider these things today. Naturally, though, it was seen as the time when Death was a bit more prominent.

it is not only a Celtic tradition to honour the Ancestors and deceased loved ones during the later part of October. The Mexican tradition celebrates the Día de Muertos. Elaborate ceremonies are held, including family trips to the cemetery to visit the graves of those who have died. There are many other cultures that have some form of this holiday in their traditions as well.

Setting up an Ancestor Altar can help you connect with loved ones on the Other Side.
Setting up an Ancestor Altar can help you connect with loved ones on the Other Side. | Source
The connection to loved ones is not limited to humans.
The connection to loved ones is not limited to humans. | Source

Connecting with The Ancestors

There are many ways in which to connect with the Ancestors. Please know that they are always with you. It is simply easier for them to communicate at this time, especially with those who are not necessarily used to traveling between the worlds. Some of the ways that Pagans mark this special time are:

  • Setting up an Ancestor Altar. This can be in addition to or incorporated into your usual altar. Place pictures of your loved ones, including animal family members, items of theirs, things that they liked or anything else that you feel called to place on the altar. Light a candle, keep flowers, pray or interact in any way that feels right to you.
  • Remember them by sharing stories about them. Talk about your favourite memories, tell funny stories, recall their qualities and so on.
  • Make a donation in their name to a cause close to their heart.
  • Cook some of their favourite foods and hold a dinner, inviting them and setting a place for them.
  • Hold a ritual of remembrance. Call out the names of loved ones and Ancestors and say “I remember you” after each name.
  • Leave a candle or light on to illuminate the way for Loved Ones traveling to visit.
  • Come up with your own unique way to honour those who were dear to you.

If you do not know who your ancestors were (for example if you were adopted), keep in mind that “family” is not always defined by blood. You may wish to call upon the Ancestors of the family you were raised in. If you know your background, you may choose to call the Ancestors of your biological family. You may wish to work with both - biological and adopted Ancestors. You can also consider working with the Ancestors of a tradition or culture you feel truly connected to. For instance, lets say that you know that you were adopted, were raised in an Irish family and strongly feel (or maybe know) that you have Italian blood. You can delve further into those traditions and work with the Ancestors from that culture. Meditate on it and see what feels right. You can also work with Ascended Masters or Spiritual Ancestors (Jesus, Gandhi, Buddha, etc).

More About Samhain

Samhain is also the third and final harvest festival of the Wheel of the Year. We reap what nourishes, dispose of what is dead and holding us back and prepare to settle in for the dark part of the year. We welcome the New Year and make plans for what we wish to plant in the spring. We honour the cycle of death and prepare for rebirth. While the Earth is quiet and dormant, there is much going on below the surface - and we, too, work on that which lies within. We no longer need to fear the threats to survival that our Ancestors did. We may have our own challenges, but thanks to those who went before most of us are in a better position to overcome those challenges. They are always there for us - ready to help us and guide us. Reach out to them now in gratitude and love.


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    • Pollyanna Jones profile image

      Pollyanna Jones 2 years ago from United Kingdom

      Nicely written! Very much so, Samhain is a day to be close to those who have left us, and honour the ancestors. We set a meal for deceased loved ones, and toast them. Rather than being a "spooky" and morbid festival, it's very touching and intimate.