Blessings for Samhain, and Two Rituals for Your Consideration
As many of the plants and trees in the Northern hemisphere begin preparing for their winter rest I am noticing my own energy being pulled inward. This doesn’t mean being indoors, by the way, but rather it is about spending the dark half of the year in a more introspective, contemplative, and self + spirit focused state of mind.
Samhain, the cross-quarter holy day that falls exactly between Autumn Equinox and Winter Solstice, is traditionally the start of the new year in the old Celtic calendar and it is sometimes referred to as the “witches’ new year”. It is a time when the veil between this realm and others becomes very thin.
This makes Samhain a wonderful time for honoring and connecting with ancestors. It is also an important time to remember your energetic sovereignty and to embrace practices that help keep you present in your body. It’s no coincidence that Samhain and Dia de los Muertos coincide closely; as well as All Soul’s Day, Halloween, etc. There’s a reason this time of year is filled with cold gusts of wind that seem to come out of nowhere, crispy leaves that roll along eerily behind you as you walk, and just a general intensification of things that creak, moan, and thump.
I am sometimes asked… should I be afraid? My answer has two parts. First of all, absolutely not. There is no reason to be afraid… ever, of anything really. And secondly, yes this is most certainly a time when it is wise to respect unseen forces, give thanks and remembrance to departed loved ones and our wise & well ancestors, and to consciously claim our own power and sovereignty in our bodies. In that spirit, here are a couple rituals for your consideration.
1. Honoring the Ancestors
If you have some photographs or paintings of the people who came before you, or talismans associated with the traditional lands where your people originated, you might choose to create an altar to honor your ancestors. Start by clearing space on a bookshelf, credenza, or by the hearth. Then you might lay out a cloth (I have a small blanket knitted by my grandmother) and arrange the photographs and items in any way that feels right to you. You can add some flowers, cedar boughs, sprigs of lavender, or rose hips. If you have a garden you will likely find some beautiful things still out there, fading into fall, to add to your altar. You can then choose a few ‘offerings’ which might include honey, coffee or tea, ancestral foods, or simply a little helping of today’s dinner. Place them on the altar and spend some time quietly reflecting and speculating about the lives of these people who came before you in linear time.
Another lovely way to honor the ancestors, especially if you know a few others who are similarly interested, is to host a potluck gathering where everyone brings a dish or treat associated with their ancestors. Spend some time in a circle-type conversation (intentional and with only one person speaking at a time) sharing what you do (or do not!) know about your ancestors or homeland.
Cutting energetic ties that no longer serve you is a ritual that can be appropriate at any time of the year. I include it here and now for two reasons. One of my clients has recently been struggling with a lingering energetic tie to an old relationship and we have been speaking about cord-cutting. As well, I’ve been asked (and I remember having asked the same) “but what about the terrible things my ancestors did; do I have to connect to or offer respect to my abusive great-grandfather?”
My answer (and the advice I received from my teachers) is NO. Ideally you are connecting to and honoring your whole and healed ancestors, and in particular these are the only ones you would ever ask for support from. Many of us in the so-called “new world” who are descendants of settlers will need to look way back in linear time to find our wise ones. For example, the Celtic tribal lands were colonized by Romans a very long time ago. We have a good deal of evidence that when the process of colonization began there were incredibly wise and powerful healers, leaders, and landowners… and a very many of these were women. Since that time, between the witch hunting and executions, book burnings, and patriarchal monotheistic indoctrination, our ancestors accumulated a tremendous load of trauma, forgot most of the old ways, and began to embody the values of the colonizers. This has resulted in centuries of violence and oppression which you most certainly do not need to memorialize.
For these reasons a cord-cutting ritual can be complimentary to the ancestral altar at Samhain. Even those of us with no knowledge of our ancestors, or those of us who are aware that our ancestors participated in the colonization of Turtle Island and were not particularly admirable or psychically healthy individuals, can put up an altar to honor our wise and whole ancestors, and cut energetic ties to those who acted from a place of intergenerational trauma, racism, and the desire for wealth and power at the expense of others.
The ties that bind us to toxic energy, unhealthy habits and people, or even jobs and careers that do not align with our life path can be energetically draining and can linger long after they have physically left our daily lives. The anxiety and stress that can come from not letting go can accumulate and sometimes performing a ritual such as cord-cutting can do the trick to free us of that lingering burden.
Cord-cutting rituals can be quite elaborate, but in the interest of brevity here are the most basic elements. I encourage you to embellish in whatever ways feel right, because the information you need to practice ritual is in your DNA.
Start by cleansing (energetically) the space where you will perform the ritual. This can include using smoke, scents, sounds such as bells or a rattle… anything the helps you feel like you have “cleared a space”. Next, use a cord tied between two candles, or a set of two candles connected by their wick, or a cord tied between any two symbolic items. You might wish to sit them in a bed of salt or earth. More important than any of the other details is the intention of the ritual. Spend some time getting your intention very clear in your mind, and create a sentence or two that you can say out loud to proclaim this intention. For example: “With gratitude I invite you to join me in this ritual, and I command that the unhelpful, unhealthy ties between us be now severed. With love I release myself from you, and with love I let you go”.
You can then cut the cord with scissors or a sharp knife. If candles are involved you can light the wick to separate them, and you might also use the flame to (safely please!) burn a little paper representing the unhelpful or unhealthy ties. Be sure to recite your intention in a confident and assertive manner, and while holding as much love in your heart as you can muster. If working with fire you might also choose to burn an item that is connected to the person, and you might choose to burn sage or a bay leaf to help carry the energy safely away.
Finally, do another energetic cleansing at the end of the ritual, and be sure to have time set aside after for self-care and rest. This is not the time to rush off to work! An Epsom salt and lavender bath or hand & face rinse, a cup of lemon balm tea, deep breaths, soft music, low lights… you get the idea.
With that I want to wish you a beautiful and holy Samhain, and send you an invocation for the long nights to come: that you may feel warm and nourished, be held and supported by Nature, and spend time in reflective meditation this winter.