Samhain 2018 – Ancestors, Fire, and the Great Circle of Life and Death

samhain 2018

Samhain (/ˈsɑːwɪn, ˈsɪn/; Irish: [ˈsˠəuɪnʲ]; [sah-win]) is the most important of the four great fire festivals and marks the traditional end to the harvest season; ushering in the beginning of the dark half of the year.  The word Samhain translates as “summer’s end,” and despite the efforts of some groups to paint it as a satanic or otherwise evil representation, it’s actually all about celebrating the bounty of the earth.  It’s the third and final of the three annual harvest festivals.  We gave thanks for the grain on Lammas, sharing the first breads and ales.  On Mabon great feats were held and we gave thanks for the fruits and vegetables.  Finally, tonight we give thanks for the herbs, the nuts, and the meats.  Each of these harvests are significant, but none more important than the other.  Together they demonstrate all which the Goddess provides.

Yet Samhain it’s so much more than just a celebration of the bounty of the earth, for tonight is the annual inauguration of winter.  It is also the beginning of a New Year for those who follow the Celtic path. It’s the night of the year when the veil is at its thinnest; a day when the spirits of our ancestors can cross over and share their forgotten wisdom and when all types of spirits, Fae, and small creatures, usually unseen, may show themselves.  Tonight is a night of possibilities and new beginnings.

In the northern hemisphere, Samhain is celebrated  from sundown on October 31st through the evening of November 1st.   Some groups  hold Samhain celebrations on the nearest weekend or on the Full or New Moon closest to this time.  Other pagans observe Samhain a bit later, nearer to November 6, to coincide more closely with the astrological midpoint between Fall Equinox and Winter Solstice.

Before we begin, take a moment to enjoy this musical introduction from a Bard named Thomas and his son Lazarus playing reconstructed Celtic lyra – it’s hauntingly beautiful.

What You’ll Need

This ritual is designed for a medium-sized group and is best performed outside around a generous bonfire if conditions in your area are permissible for open fires (check your state burning restrictions websites and  always use caution)

This ritual will require those attending to bring personal items of memory for their ancestors, so make sure it’s communicated beforehand.

What items you’ll need to collect for this ritual (as written)

Four quarter candles – yellow (east), red (south), green (north), blue (west)
Black Candle
Goddess Candle (White)
Large alter with space for everyone to put items on

Any portion of the ritual that is bracketed by <> symbols should be understood as instructional notes and not to be spoken aloud.


Samhain is a time to remember our dead, but not to mourn them, rather to embrace their spirits and let their wisdom help guide us in our time here on earth

Ritual Begins

“From the sky above and below to the ground; guarded by winds and water and fires of the realm, this humble circle, our holding space, outside of time….now a sacred place!”

Calling of the quarters

We turn to the East, where the invisible forces of air gather beneath the wings of majestic eagles, ageless condor, and mighty hawks.  The direction of the morning sun and the seeds of inspiration are sown.  Honor us this night with your gift of far-sightedness and the ability to look ahead using our inner strengths and untapped energies.  We feel your presence surrounding us in a protective blanket and we humbly bid you welcome! <light yellow candle>

All eyes now turn toward the South, the origins of spark, and flame, and fiery heat that rolls forth from the great forges of creation.  Molten metal is shaped into tools and weapons, but so too are skills of insight and understanding.  Bless us tonight with passion and a never-ending inner fire that drives us to excel in everything we pursue.  Our circle is forever a comforting space as long as you reside here.  We thank you and bid a hearty welcome! <light red candle>

Now to the West, where the water spirits guide us on our perpetual journey of self-reflection; always seeking the secrets of our ever expanding universe.  The direction where the sun goes to rest at the end of each day; always reminding us that completion is within our grasp, if only we choose to follow our planned pathway and travel without deviation.  As we draw warmth from the sun, so also do we draw energy from the west.  We honor you and bid you welcome! <light blue candle>

Finally we look to the North, and the great and compassionate element of Earth; simultaneously giving and receiving through the harmonious relationship with man, beast, rock, and tree alike.  It is the direction of truth and the source of all answers and where the wise men and women turn their eyes when seeking clarity, knowledge, and direction.  Look and you shall see, ask and you shall be rewarded with a sign, speak and let not the noise of those who are lost shout above the response.  We honor you and bid you welcome! <light green candle>

Blessed be to all that gather, to all who choose to share their energies and celebrate the season of Samhain; the time of the wise Crone Goddess and the thinnest veil and the closeness of the spirit world.  Oh Great Goddess, we humbly ask for your presence in this circle tonight and forever in our lives! <light Goddess Candle>

Hail Great Goddess and Welcome!


Welcome and Blessed Be to Everyone!

Tonight as we stand together, I call upon each and every one of you to listen; not with your ears, but with your tribal soul; the soul you share with those standing here and with those who stood together thousands of years before.  Long ago, on this, the greatest night of the year, our ancient Celtic ancestors, living in small villages spread across the lands we now know as Britain, Ireland, France and Spain, would prepare for the ritual celebration of Samhain.  Families would allow their hearth fires to dwindle and burn down to cold ashes while the last of the harvest was gathered.  The sacred light was extinguished in preparation for a great renewal.

That night everyone, from the eldest to babes in arms, would gather on hilltops and sacred groves.  They would reverently stand as Druid priests would light a community bonfire using only a great wheel to start the fire using friction.  This great wheel was symbolic of the sun and it’s life-giving benefit to the lands and the crops which were critical to their very survival.  And once the flames were high enough to lick the very edges of the sky above, the community would offer prayers, sacrifices, and then together partake in the sharing of bread and mead.  Once the ritual had reached completion, each family would take a torch or burning ember to their respective homes and as a family, they would relight their hearths, bringing the renewing light of the sun into their small piece of the world.  Once these fires were lit, they would burn throughout the entire winter and it was believed misfortune would fall on a home where the fire was allowed to die.

With the warmth flooding across the room, parents would embrace their children before tucking them into a swath of heavy woolen blanket.  As they knew this was the night that the veil between the worlds was at its thinnest, before they would sleep, the parents would place offerings of food and drink at the edges of their property, on their doorsteps, and in their now barren fields to appease any visiting Fae or spirits that might roam near that night.

Inviting The Ancestors

Tonight, on this eve of a new beginning, we will call out to our ancestors and welcome them to join our circle.   From the earliest known Celtic records, Samhain is known as the night when the spirits of the dead make their way through the thinned veil of the Otherworld solely for the purpose of visiting their living relatives and friends, joining them in their ritual celebrations.  We honor them by seeking their eternal guidance and fellowship.

We turn again to the west, raise our arms, and light a candle to guide them home. <light black candle>

“Hear our call great spirits of the land; these territories that we call home during our time in this earthly realm are the same lands which so many of our people have walked throughout the centuries.  Hear us mothers and fathers that have carried the burdens and triumphs of generation after generation, and know that you are welcome in this circle.  Step across the veil and come toward our shining light so that we may feel your presence and take comfort in your everlasting energy.  Join us and share your wisdom of the ages on this great night of renewal.”

<momentary period of silence to allow for the wandering spirits of our ancestors to enter the sacred space>

This is a night of communing with our ancestors, but also a night of great cleansing.  Ancestral communication is one of the most powerful healing action we can engage in, for the wisdom of those who have come before us holds great advice.  We may claim to always hear the voices of our elders, but we do not always listen to those whispering messages of those who have walked this path before us.  Tonight we enter into a state of higher listening and a state of moving forward in our lives.  Instead of talking about possible solutions, we will engage upon the first step of dissolving the programming of our modern world, allowing our emotions to have a clear pathway to a permanent healing and free ourselves of grudges, anger, and self-inflicted pain and self-erected walls that block our path.

This requires personal work and will be a journey fraught with challenges.  It will also be a journey that carries great reward and will bring you closer to your higher and best self.  Instead of trying to negotiate an easy path, take the one less traveled.  The dark half of the year is the best time to communicate with your ancestors, so use tonight to commit to opening channels.  The best way to open those channels is through expressing your gratitude to those who laid the foundations for you to be here today.  Once you’ve opened the path, start to communicate with them.  Ask them for help and heed their advice.  Tell them about your life and what you are feeling.  Do not rush things and be patient – not all spirits are immediately warm and bubbly and sometimes the ones you really need to hear from may be difficult or confusing.  Most of all, do not abandon them to the realms of the forgotten.

We’ve set up this empty alter tonight and now we ask everyone to approach and place any items from your people upon it – as we’ve invited in everyone’s ancestors, everyone should be represented.

<allow for the item placements – read the passage below while this is happening>

During the Samhain celebration, the Celts would dance around the bonfire. Many of these dances told stories or played out the cycles of life and death or commemorated the cycle of Wheel of Life.  Some wore costumes to honor the dead and attached items to their outfits that showed this.  In addition to celebrations and dance, Druid Priests, and Celtic Shamans would attempted to tell the fortunes of individual people through a variety of methods.  Psychic reading would be conducted with a variety of divination tools, such as throwing bones, or casting the runes.  Also signs would be read from nature, tea leaves, and extensive channeling would be done.  There are even accounts of images painted on wooden tiles that were read, which many say were the first Tarot cards.

<once everyone is back in position, the following statements should be made very slowly and spaced out for maximum understanding>

The door is opened.

The energy is flowing.

Join hands and share it with your community.

Even when you are alone, your ancestors are with you.

<prayer for all to say>

“Spirits of the land, spirits of my people, spirits of those who have no living relatives to honor them…I offer my thanks to the path you have forged and the wisdom you have passed down through the generations…On this night, I pledge to start or renew my relationships in the spirit world in order to free my earthly body from that which is a yoke around my neck…I pledge to rise above the things which only serve to distract me from my highest and truest self…My ears are open to the lessons from beyond…My eyes no longer blinded by the distractions of negativity, greed, or malicious anger…My heart willing to receive pure love and guidance…I choose to take the first step into the dark half of the year with confidence and clarity in all that I do…This is my oath and my solemn vow….blessed be!”

<lengthy moment of silence for the energies to spread throughout>

Cakes & Ales

Refreshments and conversation time within the energized circle.

Closing Our Samhain 2018 Circle

Power of earth, great spirits of the northern realms – we offer our humble gratitude for providing us with fertile ground, rolling hills with abundant game, deep thick forests of majestic towering trees which provide us with solitude and a place to gather our thoughts, and the majestic mountains above to keep things in perspective. Thank you for your gifts and your presence! <extinguish green candle>

Power of water, great spirits of the western corridors – we give you thanks for the clear sparkling streams that provide us with the means to quench our thirst, the mighty rivers where our nets are always full, and the endless oceans which demonstrate the regenerative powers of the planet. Thank you for your gifts and your presence! <extinguish blue candle>

Power of fire, great spirits of the southern lands, we are forever indebted for the gift of fire; as the nights grow colder we know that without the heat and warmth it provides, we would not survive.  Our communities are kept safe and lineage secure.  The lesson told in the cooling embers reminds us that all things that live will eventually die, only to reborn in another form.  Thank you for your gifts and your presence! <extinguish red candle>

Power of air, tumultuous spirits of the eastern skies; it is by your invisible hands that the winds spread the seeds, the smoke is cleared away, and the creatures of the sky take flight.  We honor you with each breath we take and for that we are forever grateful. Thank you for your gifts and your presence! <extinguish yellow candle>

We look skyward to the great unknown with the understanding that this night of ancestral connectivity is the first step toward a better existence.  To all those spirits who have joined us, we offer thanks and gratitude.  Your presence here has been at our pleasure and we shall never allow your names to be forgotten.  <extinguish black candle>

Great Goddess, although each of us feels your guiding power in different ways, we all collectively thank you for your abundance, for your wisdom and for the unconditional love you share with us this Samhain, and each time we gather in this sacred space.  Leave us with your blessing and perpetual comfort as we begin the walk through the dark half of the great wheel. <extinguish Goddess candle>

And so the wheel turns…blessed be!



If you are interested in more rituals, please go to the Rites & Rituals Archive

If you are interested in reading the poetry of RJ Schwartz, please visit Creative Exiles – it’s a site dedicated to poetry, short stories, and creative writing of all types

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