Samhain 2021 Rituals, History, and Traditions You Need To Know

Samhain is an essential holiday to modern Pagans. This time of year, we can start to feel the shorter days and long cold nights. As more darkness starts to consume our days, we turn inward. Samhain is the time for resting, celebration, rituals, and self-reflection.

Nature is dying all around us, but underneath she’s resting too, preparing herself for renewal and new life in the Spring. It’s time to set some new goals for yourself as well!

Now is the time to say goodbye to the past year. Saying farewell to those we have lost while celebrating and honoring their life. This is a season when children and adults are faced with the reality of death but given the opportunity to embrace and come to terms with it.

At Samhain, we can reflect on our accomplishments and failures from the year and what we can do to improve ourselves moving forward. Do you have any unresolved projects? Now is a great time to finish them up so you can start the new year fresh!

Many Pagans, Witches, and those interested in Nature Spirituality celebrate the seasonal cycles. Sometimes referred to as the Wheel of the Year, and consisting of eight celebrations. Four of these festivals (Imbolc, Beltane, Lughnasadh, and Samhain) are rooted in Celtic history and origins. The other four (Spring Equinox, Summer Solstice, Autumn Equinox, and Winter Solstice) represent the sun’s location. I created a complete guide to each season, including history, traditions, symbols, correspondences, ritual ideas, and how you can celebrate.


Please note that I make every effort to ensure this information is correct and accurate through my own experiences and by referencing the sources listed at the bottom of this article.

Posts on this site may contain affiliate links that allow me to earn a small commission from the purchases you make (at no extra cost to you!)

How I Celebrated Samhain 2021

Samhain Pronunciation

Samhain is typically pronounced Sah-Win, but is sometimes pronounced SOW-in or Sah-ween. Some believe it means “summer’s end,” while others debate it means “fire of peace.”

When is Samhain?

Samhain is a cross-quarter celebration and the halfway point between the Autumn Equinox (Mabon) and the Winter Solstice (Yule). It’s typically celebrated at sundown on October 31st until sundown on November 1st. (May 1st in the Southern Hemisphere).

Early sources describe Samhain as a three-day, three-night festival. 

However, some are very passionate about celebrating at the exact halfway point between the equinox and solstice and celebrate based on current astrological timing.

Others prefer to celebrate on the full Moon closest to Samhain, but the choice is totally up to you!

What is Samhain?

Samhain is a time of year when the veil between this world and the Otherworld is said to be thinnest. Samhain marks the end of the harvest season in Paganism and is considered by many to be one of the two most importantof the four quarterly fire festivals by the ancient Celts (the other being Beltane).

Hearth fires in family houses were left to burn out while the crops were harvested during this time of year. After the harvest was collected, everyone would gather with local Druid priests and ignite a shared fire using a wheel that would scrape and spark a fire. 

The fire wheel symbolized by the sun, and eventually, everyone would return home with a flame from the town’s bonfire to light their home’s hearth.

Not only does Samhain mark an end to harvesting crops for winter storage, but it was also traditionally a time used by early peoples to cull their herds. Farmers would bring their livestock down from pastures in the hills and slaughter some animals to feed themselves through the long winter months ahead.

The Samhain tradition of driving cattle between two fires began to protect them from disease or evil spirits lurking among the smoke of the bonfires.

Samhain became associated with death due to the slaughter of animals and because Samhain marked the beginning of Winter and the end of a season.

As a result, Samhain became associated with ghosts, spirits, certain types of Fae, black magic, communing with the dead, and banquets. Samhain altars were decorated with Samhain symbols and correspondences.

Samhain was also a time for divination about the future to plan for the coming year. Samhain festivities typically included bonfires,parade-like processions through town in animal skins or costumes as symbolic sacrifices to the deities of the Otherworld, and feasting on foods that were laid out on Samhain altars.

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Samhain History

The ancient Celts believed that on Samhain, the barrier between our world and the Otherworld was broken, and the spirits of dead ancestors could walk among the living. For this reason, they prepared meals for their departed kin and placed lit candles in their windows to guide them home.

When Christian missionaries transformed the Celtic people’s spiritual rituals, Samhain became the Halloween we know today.

Although labeled as satan worshippers by those trying to “sanctify” them, the Druids were similar to the Christian missionaries and monks since they were allreligious leaders, ceremonial practitioners, and keepers of spiritual knowledge.

Over time Christians were able to make significant changes to Pagan holidays like Samhain.

In 601 A.D. Pope Gregory the First came up with a genius plan. Rather than eradicate native peoples’ practices, traditions, and spiritual beliefs, the Pope encouraged his missionaries to incorporate them into Christian beliefs.

For example, if a group of people worshipped a particular sacred tree, he urged his missionaries to dedicate it to Christ and allow it to continue to be revered.

This was a fantastic strategy for growing Christianity, and it became a standard technique in missionary endeavors. The church’s holy days were chosen to correspond with native spiritual holidays.

Christmas, for example, was given the unsupported date of December 25th because it overlapped with the Yule and Winter Solstice holiday.

With its focus on the otherworldly, Samhain was unmistakably pagan. While missionaries connected their holy days with those honored by the native people, they vilified their deities and linked them with Satan and evil.

The Celtic underworld was then connected to Christian Hell, although Hell is a Christian construct. The consequence of this strategy had the result of greatly diminished native people’s spiritual beliefs. 

The church made systematic efforts to portray supernatural beings as not only harmful but also vicious and evil. However, beliefs in spiritual entities and pagan ideas continued.

Followers of the ancient tradition and cultures were forced to flee their homes and were labeled as witches.

Are There Any Other Names For Samhain?

There are other holidays celebrated at the same time as Samhain, and they comprise of:

  • All Hallows Eve
  • Winternights
  • Halloween
  • Hop-tu-Naa
  • Devil Night
  • Day of the Dead (Dia de Los Muertos)
  • Third Harvest
  • All Souls Days / All Saints Day
  • Spirit Night
  • Hallowmas
  • Feast of the Dead
  • Mischief Night
  • Ancestor Night
  • and many more!
pagan wiccan samhain skull ritual the peculiar brunette

Samhain Correspondences

Every year at Samhain, witches and Pagans commune with ancestor spirits, celebrate the harvest, and honor deities. They may create a sacred space outdoors or within their home by lighting candles in every room and placing them in circles around themselves. Fresh herbs are usually strewn on the ground as well for extra potency. Here are some Samhain correspondences to help you celebrate Samhain!

Samhain Spiritual Intentions

  • Transformation
  • New Journeys
  • Ancestors
  • Heritage
  • Death
  • Sorrow / Loss
  • Afterlife
  • Rebirth
  • Knowledge / Insight
  • Foresight
  • Relaxation
  • Recuperation
  • Defense against evil
  • Premonition / Visions
  • Planning and preservation
  • Shadow Work
  • The Crone
  • Thinning of the Veil
  • Fae mythology

Samhain Food

  • Apples
  • Pumpkin
  • Spiced Cake
  • Gourds
  • Squash
  • Mulled Wine
  • Corn
  • Mead
  • Soul Cakes (see Bread under How To Celebrate below)
  • Nuts
  • Cider
  • Seeds
  • Fermented Food (a few examples) –
    • Saurkraut
    • Pickles
    • Onions
    • Beets
    • Zucchini
    • Tomatoes
    • Kombucha

Colors

  • Black
  • Deep Purple
  • Silver / Grey
  • Orange
  • Gold
  • Dark Red

Herbal Magic

  • Sage
  • Mugwort
  • Rosemary
  • Garlic
  • Hemlock
  • Belladonna
  • Marigold
  • Red Roses
  • Cedar
  • Cinnamon

Symbols

  • Psychopomps (Greek – a spirit, human, or being who guides souls that have recently crossed over. They help them transition into the afterlife from the mortal realm. I listed a few examples below)
    • Ancestors or loved ones
    • Hecate
    • Hermes (Greek)
    • Anubis (Egyptian)
    • Aurora Borealis (Inuits)
    • Cuckoos
    • Shiva (Hindu)
    • Azrael (Islam)
    • Shaman
    • Anito (Filipino)
    • Arch Angel
    • Grim Reaper
    • Sparrows
  • Besom/Broom
  • Pentagram
  • Scythe
  • Acorns
  • Sugar Skulls
  • Divination Work (Norse Runes, Tarot, Ouija Board, Pendulum Board, Celtic Oghams, or Scrying)
  • Jack O’ Lanterns – Pumpkins, Turnips, Gourds
Samhain Pumpkins

Animal Symbolism

  • Cats
  • Spiders
  • Moths
  • Wolves
  • Owls
  • Crows
  • Ravens
  • Scorpian
  • Bats
  • Vultures
  • Rats

Crystals, Metals and Stones

  • Moonstone
  • Amethyst
  • Carnelian
  • Obsidian
  • Black Tourmaline
  • Bloodstone
  • Silver
  • Iron
  • Onyx

Incense, Candles and Scents

  • Cinnamon
  • Nutmeg
  • Cloves
  • Honey
  • Pine
  • Star Anise
  • Sage
  • Pumpkin
pagan wiccan ancestor graveyard samhain the peculiar brunette

Samhain Rituals and How to Celebrate

Samhain is a time to communicate with the spirits of our loved ones who have passed on. It is also a chance to connect with ancestors or deities and work with them during this important holiday.

Before I dive into this, I want to say, HAVE FUN!!! Carve pumpkins, decorate your yard, play spooky music, watch movies, dress up however you want even if you feel ridiculous, although I hope you don’t. Life is worth living, so have fun!

Host a dinner for ancestors, loved ones, or pets who have passed

This Samhain ritual is often referred to as a “dumb” supper (a synonym for silent or mute). The dinner is held in silence to respect the spirits and give them a chance to communicate.

Begin with an empty place setting for those you would like to honor. You can include a picture of them, decorate with things or trinkets they love, or cook their favorite meal or food.

Since the veil is thin at this time, you can help guide them to your table by placing candles in the windows (typically black or white ones). All electronics are put away. You can also write messages to the spirits and release them by burning the paper in a candle flame.

Personally, I enjoy telling stories about my loved ones to help keep their memories alive. Especially stories that make us laugh and remember how lucky we are to have had them in our lives. Feel free to celebrate however you like!

Baking

Nothing makes me feel more festive than baking in my kitchen and filling my home up with delicious smells! Anything pumpkin or apple-related is perfect, like bread, cookies, or pies. You could also try some Soul Cakes.

Wondering what a Soul Cake is?

By the ninth century, Christianity had spread into Celtic lands, where it gradually blended with and supplanted older pagan rites. In 1000 A.D. the church designated November 2 as All Souls’ Day, a time for honoring the dead. Celebrations in England resembled Celtic commemorations of Samhain, complete with bonfires and masquerades. 

Poor people would visit the houses of wealthier families and receive pastries called soul cakes in exchange for a promise to pray for the souls of the homeowners’ dead relatives. Known as “souling,” the practice was later taken up by children, who would go from door to door asking for gifts such as food, money, and ale.

History.com – Halloween Trick or Treating Origins

Donate

This is an excellent time of year for a refresh, and why not help someone else out while you’re at it? Donate items to a thrift store, volunteer at a soup kitchen or food bank, visit nursing homes and find ways to honor and be thankful for the abundance life has given you.

Prepare for Winter and Yule

This is a great time to freshen your home before Winter sets in. Personally, Autumn always makes me feel like nesting. Cleaning and organizing my home comes naturally to me this time of year. Open your windows and let in that chilly Autumn air.

Samhain is the third and final harvest celebration. A fantastic way to honor this and your heritage is by mimicking what our ancestors would have done in pre-industrialized times—preserving the harvest for the Winter days ahead through canning, freezing, and drying.

It can also be a fantastic time to snuggle up and work on some DIY projects. Try preparing for Yule/Winter Solstice/ Christmas by hand-making items to give away as gifts. You can create so many unique gifts: extracts from your herb garden, infused liquor, soaps, candles, knitted items, create journals or Grimoires from scratch, or anything else you think loved ones would enjoy! I personally enjoy making vanilla extract to give to friends, family, and neighbors. Anything you can start preparing now, your future self will thank you for once December rolls around.

Also, remember to honor the creatures in your very own backyard! What better way to prep for Winter than giving the backyard birds some extra food with a pine cone bird feeder? Great way to include your children in the seasonal fun!

Get Festive

Decorating our homes is fun and a great way to bring more spiritual meaning into our safe spaces during this time of year. Go for that Hygge vibe! Snuggled in front of a fire with a warm blanket & sip on mulled apple cider, mulled wine, tea, or hot chocolate.

Putting together a wreath is my favorite way to set the seasonal vibe when you first enter your home. I find most of my materials at Michaels, but I know plenty of people who prefer to use only naturally collected supplies. Why not watch some Youtube videos or scroll through Pinterest for some outdoor DIY’s you can do to decorate your yard?

pagan samhain fire celebration the peculiar brunette

Bonfire

Samhain is often viewed as a fire festival, and historically large bonfires were created to ward off evil spirits or bad luck for the coming year. The ashes were usually spread out into farmers’ fields to guarantee a bountiful crop for the following year.

A bonfire goes back to the days of the Druids when the surrounding villagers doused their hearth fires and then lit them from a flame carried from the Samhain fire.

While modern power companies have made this tradition moot, the bonfire still aligns with those old rites. Try having a formal ceremony where you light a candle from the fire that you then bring into your house.

You may also want to practice scrying by gazing at the bottom of the flames, observing what visions flash within your mind.

Samhain: Rituals, Recipes & Lore for Halloween by Diana Rajchel

Visit To A Cemetery

Slow down and recognize the significance of death in the cycle of life. Reflect on how this affects you on your spiritual journeys and with others: loved ones, animals, and plants. This is also an excellent opportunity for kindness by cleaning gravesites or adding flowers to some who may need them.

Honor and Connect With Your Ancestors

Go through old photo albums and find ways to display or chronicle family photos. Connect with places like Ancestry.com to discover more in-depth information on your family’s history. Do you have anything that has been passed down to you that you can add to your household decor or place on your altar? Learn more about your heritage and how you can connect with traditions your ancestors would have celebrated.

Carve Jack O’ Lanterns

This is mostly just my excuse to binge on roasted pumpkin seeds. LOL! Not only is it fun to carve pumpkins with friends and loved ones, but it also can help protect your home from harmful spirits.

Draw or design your pumpkins with sigilsbind runessymbols, or spiritual meanings you’re drawn to like sacred geometry or the pentagram.

It’s also a great time to tell the tale of Stingy Jack and how the name Jack O’ Lantern came to be! It’s crazy to know the tradition started with turnips and potatoes!

People have been making jack-o’-lanterns at Halloween for centuries. The practice originated from an Irish myth about a man nicknamed “Stingy Jack.” According to the story, Stingy Jack invited the Devil to have a drink with him. True to his name, Stingy Jack didn’t want to pay for his drink, so he convinced the Devil to turn himself into a coin that Jack could use to buy their drinks. Once the Devil did so, Jack decided to keep the money and put it into his pocket next to a silver cross, which prevented the Devil from changing back into his original form. 

Jack eventually freed the Devil, under the condition that he would not bother Jack for one year and that, should Jack die, he would not claim his soul. The next year, Jack again tricked the Devil into climbing into a tree to pick a piece of fruit. While he was up in the tree, Jack carved a sign of the cross into the tree’s bark so that the Devil could not come down until the Devil promised Jack not to bother him for ten more years.

Soon after, Jack died. As the legend goes, God would not allow such an unsavory figure into heaven. The Devil, upset by the trick Jack had played on him and keeping his word not to claim his soul, would not allow Jack into hell. He sent Jack off into the dark night with only a burning coal to light his way. Jack put the coal into a carved-out turnip and has been roaming the Earth with ever since. The Irish began to refer to this ghostly figure as “Jack of the Lantern,” and then, simply “Jack O’Lantern.”


History – How Jack O’Lanterns Originated in Irish Myth
Turnip Jack o lantern Samhain Halloween The Peculiar Brunette

Shadow Work

Now is the time for some serious inner work! Give yourself some time to rest. Whatever self-care means to you, now is the time to do just that. What if you just gave yourself a big hug and gave extra love to those parts of you that needed it?

Don’t be afraid to look into those dark parts of you and figure out what the darkness wants to show you about who you are! No judgment; be as kind to yourself as you would a loved one! Magic is born in darkness, and now is the time to explore yourself.

Give your physical body some self-love too! Schedule that spa day or haircut! Splurge and use extra of the fancy lotion or cosmetics you usually use sparingly. Maybe now is time to try some homemade and natural creams or beauty treatments you’ve wanted to try!

Autumn Hydrangea Samhain Mabon The Peculiar Brunette

Divination Work

Now is a great time to do some dreamwork and look for any communications you may be receiving. Pay attention to any animals you come into contact with, especially ones that you would not usually see. Hold a seance, work with a Ouija, tarot, Celtic Oghams, oracle cards, or cast some Runes (maybe even create your own set)!

I love to do some tarot pulls this time of year since the veil is thin and ask my ancestors some questions. Remember to record your work in your Grimoire, Wiccan Book of Shadows, or spiritual journal so you can reference it later!

Meditate

Samhain is a time to focus on renewal, knowledge, insight, and heritage. Find some guided meditations on YouTube, podcasts, or online that can help connect you to these intentions.

Personally, I enjoy creating a special ritual for this on Samhain. It helps me set the tone for any ritual work I’d like to do. Then I put a blanket in a room where I won’t be disturbed and light candles with specific intentions. After meditation (guided or not), I typically practice some divination or work in my Grimoire.

Grimoire, Wiccan Book of Shadows, or Spiritual Journaling

I personally enjoy doing some deep self-reflection, and journaling helps me put ideas on paper to consider. I put together a list of ideas and writing Grimoire, Wiccan Book of Shadows, or spiritual journaling prompts for Samhain and Halloween here if you’re looking for inspiration. If you want to know more about Grimoires, Wiccan Book of Shadows, or spiritual journaling or are just looking for some inspiration; you can check out my series here!

Samhain Rituals

Rituals are deeply personal and can be very private. Spend time researching spiritual paths or topics you’d like to learn more about like candle color meaningsmagical elementsor types of witches.

If you’re looking for ideas, I came across this idea recently from Debs Summers-Cooper in an interview with Vice I think you’ll enjoy.

“Before dinner, we have the doorstep ritual,” she explains, as a waft of rosemary fills the air from the first loaf now unwrapped on the table. “I put five lanterns out on the doorstep—one for each point of the pentagram. I put an apple, some Samhain bread, some mead, and some water down too.”

The pagan tradition is to then light the candles before giving thanks.

Then, finally, it’s time to eat.

The first loaf Summers-Cooper delicately unwraps is rye loaf with rosemary, explaining where the strong smell has been coming from.

Before eating the bread, it’s customary to take time to concentrate on your creation. Take the loaf, turn it three times in your hands, and recite: From the fields and through the stones, into fire, Samhain Bread, as the Wheel turns may all be fed. Goddess bless.

Vice – Why Pagans Spend Halloween Baking Bread – Blessed Samhain

Nature walk

You knew I was going to suggest this, right? Take a slow and thoughtful walk where you can daydream and connect your soul with Nature! Observe Mother Earth around you using all your senses. Listen to the crunch of the leaves beneath your feet and the creatures that scurry about, smell the Autumn air, discover the dizzying beauty of the colors surrounding you, if appropriate take off your shoes and practice earthing, and of course, don’t forget to bring a yummy Fall snack with you!

Autumn Tree Line Samhain Mabon The Peculiar Brunette

Visit Someone You’ve Been Missing

Have you been missing a friend or loved one? Why not stop in to see them and bring a little gift? You could make some homemade bread, a dessert, goodies from your garden, or get lunch. Such a lovely way to show them you care!

Corn Maze, Pumpkin Patch, or a Haunted House

This one is so much fun! It’s great to do with kids or friends and is a terrific way to immerse yourself in the season. There is a local farm in my area that puts on quite a show. During the day, it’s very kid-friendly and gets spookier after sunset. There’s a huge red barn, corn maze, hayrides to a pumpkin patch, fresh-made donuts, and apple cider, and occasionally the corn maze has a mysterious character that will pop out and scare you!

Trick-or-Treating

For those with children, this tends to be one of the more popular aspects of the season. However, do you know much about the history of Trick-or-treating?

During some Celtic celebrations of Samhain, villagers disguised themselves in costumes made of animal skins to drive away phantom visitors; banquet tables were prepared and food was left out to placate unwelcome spirits. 

In later centuries, people began dressing as ghosts, demons, and other malevolent creatures, performing antics in exchange for food and drink. This custom, known as mumming, dates back to the Middle Ages and is thought to be an antecedent of trick-or-treating.

History.com – Halloween Trick or Treating Origins
samhain decorations pagan and witch the peculiar brunette

You can check out more of the Pagan Seasonal Wheel series here:

Yule & Winter Solstice

Midwinter & Imbolc

Spring Equinox

Beltane

Summer Solstice & Litha

Lughnasadh & Lammas

Autumn Equinox

Samhain & Halloween

I hope you enjoy your Samhain Rituals and celebrations! Love of love to you and remember, as always…

Sources

Segalov,Michael . “Why Pagans Spend Halloween Baking Bread” Vice. 26 October 2015 https://www.vice.com/amp/en/article/d754yx/why-pagans-spend-halloween-baking-bread

How Trick-or-Treating Became a Halloween Tradition” History.com 3 October 2019 https://www.history.com/news/halloween-trick-or-treating-origins

Rajchel,Diana. “Samhain: Rituals, Recipes & Lore for Halloween” Llewellyn Publications. September 8, 2015

How Jack O’Lanterns Originated in Irish Myth” History.com 25 October 2019. https://www.history.com/news/history-of-the-jack-o-lantern-irish-origins

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