3 types of simple Samhain rituals you can create at home
As much as I love the green and growing things, my favorite time of year is when the year wanes from Samhain towards winter solstice. I savor the lengthening nights and nature’s inward pull as the leaves fall and the days grow shorter. The natural cycles call us toward self-reflection at this turning of the wheel.
What is Samhain?
What is Samhain anyway? Samhain (pronounced SAH-win) is the “holy-day” at the root of today’s North American Halloween holiday on October 31st. Also known as All Hallow’s Eve, Samhain marks the halfway point between autumn equinox and winter solstice. I like to honor Samhain for three days, from October 30 through November 1 (also known in Mexico as the Day of the Dead).
Many cultures consider this to be a time of year when the veils between the worlds thin. So this is a powerful time to connect with our beloved dead and ancestors. As the leaves fall, we are naturally drawn to mourn and to grieve losses in our lives. It can also be a time for letting go of the past year or old aspects of yourself.
As a gardener and herbalist, I honor this turning as the ending of the harvest season. The plants are withdrawing their energy from their aboveground portions and sending it down to the roots.
From this threshold point through winter solstice we can embrace the darkness and the void—until celebrating the new year at Imbolc (the halfway point between winter solstice and spring equinox).
Over these darker months of the year, we're naturally pulled to shift our focus inward, toward self-reflection and restoration. My invitation to you is to rest with the cycles of nature, sending your energy down to your "roots" that you may re-enter the next year from a nourished and replenished place.
In my community we do several different types of rituals at this time of year, each focusing on different aspects of Samhain. If you wish to create your own Samhain rituals to honor this magical threshold, consider which type of ritual may be the most meaningful for you.
- Rituals and blessings for your beloved dead
- Grief rituals
- Rituals for letting go
Know that I’m offering a multitude of ideas that can guide you. So you don’t get overwhelmed, I suggest you hone in on one or two that resonate for you at this time. You can always go back and do others later. See what you're drawn to, and follow that intuition.
1) Samhain rituals to honor your beloved dead
Because the veils between the worlds are often considered to be thinnest at Samhain, this is a powerful opportunity to connect with and honor your ancestors or beloved dead. Carve out space and time to allow memories and stories to surface and find ways to ground them through writing, art, or sharing with others. This includes not just people, but can also include pet companions or any being that is in your circle of beloveds.
Honor your memories of your beloved dead
There are so many ways to honor and celebrate the memories of your beloved dead. I like to create an altar on a small table, shelf or mantle with a photo of my beloved, a candle and a sprig of rosemary for remembrance.
This space provides a focal point for remembering and honoring those who have died—you may consider this a Samhain blessing for your beloveds.
Feel free to get creative to honor their memories. For example, you might . . .
- Create a photo collage
- Gather special objects or symbols that represent their energy in your life
- Write or read a poem that captures their essence or the specialness of your relationship
- Create a memory quilt, with each square honoring a different aspect of their life, or gather a group of friends and loved ones to each design a quilt square in memory of your beloved
- Write memories of your beloved dead on small pieces of paper and gather them in a bowl. Pull one strip of paper at a time to read aloud. Write, draw or tell stories associated with the memory.
Leave your altar up for at least a few days—or as long as you like into the winter. Take a moment each day to pause, reflect and connect with the memory of your beloved dead and ancestors.
Create your own ancestor feast
I've appreciated participating in community "ancestor feasts" some years at Samhain. Community members brought photos of loved ones who have died and place them on a central table or altar. Folks shared stories about their beloveds—and the next day we took a walk to visit the graves of community members who have died.
Creating a special meal is a wonderful way of honoring your ancestors or those who have died. Our sense of smell and taste have strong links to our memories. Eating and smelling food that reminds us of our honored dead can evoke strong memories and feelings. Over the meal you could share memories and stories with yourself or others of those who have passed. (I’ve even known friends who find themselves craving a food during Samhain they don’t normally eat, but was a favorite of a beloved who died!)
To create your own ancestor feast at home for yourself or your family, you might:
- Make a plate of food for your beloved, perhaps set a place at the table, or leave an empty chair with a plate of food.
- Prepare the favorite foods of your beloved dead.
- Share stories of your beloved or ancestors with one another.
- Share stories of your own life with your beloved dead or ancestors
After the meal you may wish to leave a plate outside where the animals and birds can enjoy it as a way of honoring the cycles of life.
2) Samhain grief rituals
Often sharing stories and memories of our beloved dead can bring up a sense of grief and mourning, so you may want to include a space for grieving in your rituals for Samhain. I believe in the power of communal grieving—however simply going out into a safe place in nature and crying with your plant allies can be deeply healing.
I was blessed to study with Sobanfu Somé, now an ancestor herself. Sobanfu encouraged us to embrace our grief, to feel the depth of our sorrows and to release the emotions that come with it. When we hold our feelings in, we can begin to feel numb, disconnected and stuck.
Sobanfu also reminds us that there is no time limit on grief: it takes as long as it takes.
Taking time to recognize your losses
When creating a grief ritual, you may choose to honor losses from the past year or maybe losses throughout your lifetime. I like to begin by creating a litany of losses. Depending on your level of comfort and safety, you may speak these aloud to yourself or with others.
On your list of losses you may include things such as:
- Death of a beloved
- Loss of dreams and hopes
- Loss of a relationship
- Loss of health
- Loss of a job or home
- Loss of unmet needs in your life
- Loss of a previous version of yourself
Rituals to release emotions of grief
Too often we have been taught to stifle our grief or to swallow our emotions. Samhain provides an opportunity to vocalize and release those emotions. As you create sound or allow the tears to flow, it allows the energy to become unstuck and move through your body.
- Create or go to a safe place
- Create a focal point for your grief—this may be an altar, a cauldron, a candle or firebowl, or other symbol of transformation
- Play music that can evoke your emotions or allow you to let down your internal barriers
- Allow yourself to cry, wail, keen yell or otherwise express your emotions
- If you are in a group, take turns visiting the focal point to express your grief. Support one another without interrupting the flow of emotion—place a hand on the back, or sit or stand close by so the grieving person knows they are not alone.
3) Samhain rituals for letting go
Another way to honor the season is to create a simple ritual of letting go—to release things that have been weighing you down or holding you back. This is a wonderful way to prepare for the time of darkness and self reflection of the winter months.
Remember, letting go and loss are inherent to the natural cycles, like the leaves falling from the trees and plants dying in this season of the year.
By releasing those things that no longer serve, you have fewer encumbrances as you head into a time for deeper inner work. This may include doing a gesture—such as letting a leaf fall into the water as you speak your intentions aloud—to release something you're ready to let go, such as:
- Your efforts this year—whether they resulted in harvests or losses
- A time of your life or aspect of your life
- Addictions or behavior patterns that no longer serve you
- Old beliefs that may hold you back
Working with fire
Fire is a wonderful way to release, let go or transform. Giving our burdens to the fire is a way of burning off the dross from the year—those things that “stick” to us that are not part of our essence. And then after doing that we can enjoy the warmth and magic of the flames!
As a mother, I found that building a small outdoor fire was an easy and fun way to mark this holy day for my family—to honor that this holy day is more than trick-or-treating. Kids and adults alike love to learn fire building and it provides a natural central focus for honoring this marker in the turning of the seasons.
If you prefer you could build a fire in a fireplace or wood stove, or just use a candle. Here are some gestures that could be part of your Samhain letting go ritual around the fire:
- Write what you wish to let go of on a small piece of paper or burnable objects like sticks, pine cones, small blocks of wood, etc and feed them to the fire as a way to release or transform.
- Speak what you are letting go as you release it to the fire. Let your emotions arise, giving energy to the release.
- If your intention is to transform as well as release, you might also speak to what transformation you are seeking.
- Enjoy the warmth of the fire, the magic of the dancing flames
- Maybe warm up nourishing food or drink to honor the work you have done.
Other rituals for letting go
If you’re not drawn to fire this time, consider other gestures for letting go of the year, of all that you accomplished and all the effort it took. Here are some additional thoughts
- Find a natural object to represent your year. Let it go in a stream or moving water, and let the water carry it all away
- Spend time in your garden, putting your harvests to bed, honoring the end of the growing season.
- Sort through your belongings or clean the closets of clothes and things that you no longer need. Donate them to a thrift store as a way of lightening your load physically
A sample Samhain blessing ritual
Here's a current example from my life of how you can create an easy and meaningful Samhain blessing or ritual for yourself and loved ones.
As I walk the forest paths this Samhain season, the fallen acorns remind me of my beloved sister friend Rowan Farrell, whose photo is on my beloved dead altar this year.
Long ago Rowan learned to make acorn bread. She would gather up a bucket of acorns, crack their shells, leach out the tannins and then grind the nuts into flour. She offered me a piece, wide and flat like zucchini bread. I still remember the moist texture and nutty flavor.
Recent years have brought loss for many of us. When another beloved–a precious mentor of mine–died last year, a sister proclaimed “a tall oak tree has fallen." I often associate oak trees with the women who came before us, those upon whose shoulders we stand. Even though they have left the earth plane, they gave us all that we need in the seed of an acorn, that we may plant it, tend it, and grow into the fullness of our own being.
As I gather a handful of acorns to add to my beloved dead altar, I feel a sense of promise. I dream of the future, imagining the women who will someday stand on our shoulders. The acorn holds both the memory of those who have passed and the promise of those yet to come–much like the cycle of life and the seasons that are integral to the spiral we walk in the Wise Woman Tradition.
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Corinna Wood, seasoned teacher and mentor along the wise woman path–from herbs to self love
"I was initiated into the Wise Woman Tradition at the tender age of 22, by Susun Weed and a beloved patch of nettles. Today, I support women with inner growth and healing tools to ground you in your own innate wisdom, needs and desires. My teachings on heart and soul healing draw on earth wisdom of our foremothers––the shoulders on which we stand––to navigate the challenges we face as women in the world today."