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Wiccan Wheel of the Year: Samhain Correspondences, Associations and Traditions
I can’t believe it’s that time of the year again already! This year seemed to have slipped by so quickly, and it’s already Samhain. I find myself digging in my holiday closet this weekend, pulling out the boxes with the decorations, getting ready to set up my altar.
If you’re new to Wicca, or if you are just looking for new ideas, you may be wondering what you can do to spice up your home, your altar and your ritual for Samhain. Here are some correspondences, associations and traditional things of this seasons that you might find appropriate.
Remember— don’t get it in your head that you actually ‘need’ anything. All you need is you, your Gods, and your own time to reflect on the meaning of the season. Anything else is just gravy, whatever you want to make your celebrations more meaningful and festive.
Altar cloth for Samahin:
Setting the altar always starts for me by selecting a nice altar cloth.
In my tradition, we have two altars at Samhain. The large one is transformed into a big shrine in the dining area, and is the focus of honoring the ancestors. It’s tended throughout the month of October and into November. This is usually draped in black, decorated with photos and artifacts of our loved ones who have passed on. It also has candles, flowers and baskets, dishes and cups for holding offerings. Symbols of death are also appropriate—skulls, ghosts, sickles, scythes and such.
In the middle of the living room, we set up a ritual altar for the main formal ritual of the night. At this time of year, we (my trad) faces the altar and starts the quarter calls in the west, the direction associated with dying and death (where the sun sets and night comes).
On the ritual altar, we usually place statues or images of our deities, as well as symbols held sacred to them. Black is the commonly used color for altar cloth. A full array of ritual tools is set out for the formal, traditional ritual. Lots of candles around the room make for great atmosphere.
Our Shrine to the Ancestors
Any deities associated with death, dying, agriculture, the sun or the underworld are appropriate for this holy day. To name a few, Arwan, the Baba Yaga, the Callicach, Cerridwen, Demeter, Dionysus, Inari, Kali-ma, Lillith, Osiris, Pluto or Thoth.
If you are Wiccan and prefer more abstract, non-specific deity forms, simply honor the dying Sun God and the Crone, under who’s sickle he passes at this season.
In my home, because so many of us lean Hellenistic, we commonly honor Greek deities (learn more about Hellenistic Wicca by clicking here): Hecate, Goddess of the crossroads, Witchcraft and ghosts; Hermes, who guides the dead to the underworld; Hades and Persephone, who rule over the Underworld. Of course, we also honor Hestia, our household Goddess to whom we give honor first for all feasts.
When decorating Samhain, the black and orange so abundant in the Halloween season work well, but you don’t have to be so limiting. You can use any autumn colors, like green, gold and brown. Myself, I’ve used purple (spiritual and mysterious), midnight blue (symbolizing night), silver and white (Goddess or moon colors).
Decorations from holidays like Halloween and Dia de los Muertos are wonderful additions to your home décor. I personally try to keep the gory decorations like bloody limbs and howling monsters out of it; but I love to use things like scarecrows, grim reapers, jack-o-lanterns, cats, bats, spiders, webs and more. I love decorating skeletons or hanging skull masks, Mexican-style, as well.
I Love Samhain Music!
For me, the sabbats aren't complete without seasonal music. This is a favorite of mine.
Symbols from Nature
Go on an autumn nature walk, visit a farmer’s market or produce stand and you can pick up plenty of beautiful seasonal symbols. Pick up some fruits and veggies like apples, corn, pears, pomegranates and squashes (especially pumpkins!). Get some nuts, sheaves of wheat or collect colorful leaves. I personally love those autumn flowers-- sunflowers, chrysanthemums, marigolds... big bouquets certainly brighten up the home and porch.
Celebrate the Harvest!
Food and Drink
Think harvest foods when you plan your Samhain fare—thick, rich stews bubbling in the cauldron on the stove. Pork, beef, root vegetables, dumplings, lentils, black beans—all delicious holiday feasts. Roasts, like a turkey or ham, are also a great choice. I must have fresh corn on the cob on the table myself. Any kinds of breads—be they sweet or savory—make a wonderful choice for the home feast or potluck.
Try some savory pan-baked corn bread, moist pumpkin muffins with pumpkin seeds, herb bread loaves or cinnamon apple bread with nuts and spices. I also love putting out pies—apple, pumpkin or maple pecan- as well as ‘Halloween’ treats such as popcorn balls, candy corn and candy apples.
For beverages, you might consider some cider (hard or soft), mulled and spice wines and juices, herbal teas (particularly things like cinnamon and apple), or one of my favorite holiday drinks—1 part sugar free sparkling water mixed with 1 part cranberry juice. The kids love to end the evening with a treat and some hot cocoa.
Divination & Magic on Samhain
Samhain is a prime time for divination. The energy of the holiday makes peering into the future quite ripe. While I don’t recommend séances and Ouija boards if you haven’t been trained on them, it’s also a good time to try to communicate with the dead if you wish. A better option for the untrained is to ask that your loved ones visit you in your dreams or send you signs.
Another benign tool that you can begin to learn to use on Samhain is a scrying mirror (directions for making and using one are found here). This type of mirror is used for meditating in order to induce visions.
The Samhain season is a powerful time in which it can lend energy to all types of magic, but some particularly potent spells can be done in the area of hex breaking, endings and banishings. You’ll also find a lot of strength in any spells used to transform yourself, so think through your intent pretty carefully. Finally, since it's the 'Wiccan New Year', and a harvest festival, a spell for prosperity and abundance can be quite fitting. When you draw on the energies of a powerful sabbat like Samhain when the veil is thin, you may be surprised at just how strong your magic can be.