The days are already noticeably shorter, the nights much colder. Barren fields that are likely already covered with a light snow are a stark reminder that winter is coming. The trees have shed most of their leaves and there is a peaceful silence hanging over the landscape. Samhain (/ˈsɑːwɪn,
Of the four great annual fire festivals, celebrated by our Celtic ancestors, Samhain is the most important. It marks a great shift, from the light half of the year, to the dark half; a New Year celebration. It’s also significant because on this night, we celebrate the third and final of the three annual harvest festivals. As August began, we celebrated Lammas and the first grains of the year by sharing bread and ales. In September it was Mabon and we shared our fruits and vegetables. Now in late October, we share the herbs, the nuts, and the meats and any remaining crops from our fields. The Goddess has provided for humankind and we’ve prepared our homes and our food storage’s for the long winter months ahead.
On this night, the veil between the land of the living and the land of the spirits is at it’s thinnest and could be crossed by the spirits of our ancestors, but also by spirits with mischief on their minds. Our ancestors would leave offerings to the spirits at the far edges of their properties to keep the evil spirits at bay. If they had to travel, they would dress up in animal or monster costumes to confuse them, so as not to be kidnapped and pulled across the veil. Evening rituals were conducted by the Druids, complete with animal sacrifices, a communal bonfire, and a sharing of the flame ceremony. All citizens were required to be present. Failure to show oneself would lead to punishment by the Gods, which usually came in the form of serious illness or death.
Over the years, things were added to the celebrations; most of which laid the foundations for the holiday we call Halloween. In America, Samhain is celebrated from sundown on October 31st through the evening of November 1st, the midpoint between the Fall Equinox and the Winter Solstice.
What You’ll Need for this Samhain Ritual
This ritual is designed for a medium-sized group and must be 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)
Friction fire starting device
Goddess Candle (White)
Large alter with space for everyone to put items on
Drinks & Food should be available during the entire ritual
Everyone should have a cup and beverage for toasting at the end of the ceremony
Any portion of the ritual that is bracketed by <> symbols should be understood as instructional notes and not to be spoken aloud.
Just as our Celtic ancestors celebrated the end of summer, we too shall honor those traditions on this night. Samhain marks the beginning of a new year and an opportunity for both remembrance and renewal. Unlike our other celebrations, we begin this night gathered in our circle with an unlit fire. Our ancestors would extinguish their torches, candles, and allow the most important hearth fires to burn out before making their way to the circle. At the ritual, the Druid priests would light the communal bonfire using a friction wheel, which represented the sun. At the close of the ceremony, everyone would come forward and take hot coals back to their individual homes and relight their own fires with the flames of the community.
<since this requires some skill, you may wish to light it symbolically – however if you are a traditionalist, the following link provides many different friction-based, fire starting techniques (be sure to practice them first)>
“We have gathered to celebrate Samhain and this New Year as a community. Our fires of the past year no longer burn, just as our misdeeds, missteps, and mistakes no longer matter. We light this fire as our ancestors did more than a thousand years ago with the hope of new light, new life, and a new hope”
beannaithe bí (blessed be)
<ritual leader lights the bonfire – allow a few minutes for everyone to gather and prepare>
The Samhain Ritual Begins
“Look to the sky above and the ground below; to the highest tree and the widest meadow; I now cast a circle in this chosen place…protected from all time and space”
Calling of the quarters
Calling all the faithful to look towards the East, where the AIR gathers strength for it’s endless journey across the lands and over the hills. The direction from which whispers emerge and messages from the ancestors ride the winds. The direction of the first rays of sun and the birth of inspiration. Honor us this Samhian night with your presence, your comfort, and your mysteries. <light yellow candle>
Now turn toward the South, where the spirits of FIRE originate. The great forges of creation burn endlessly and the world is filled with light, heat, and warmth. We thank you for this fire tonight; a fire which will burn in each and every home before the sun once again rises and all souls will be warmed, comforted, and put at peace. On this Samhain night, we bid thee a hearty welcome! <light red candle>
Continue with me as we look to the West, where the WATER spirits carefully craft the beauty found in the lakes, streams, ponds, and ice formations across the land. Our gratitude cannot be expressed enough, nor can the importance of your great blessing to humankind. We thank you for your cleansing abilities and for the great understanding found in reflecting. As the final rays of the sun gently slip across the horizon, we are reminded that we must have faith in the great cycle of things. We honor and welcome you! <light blue candle>
Finally turn to the North, and the spirits of EARTH where all things are possible given enough time and persistence. We offer great praises for this ideal model of balance where all things exist in a great harmony and provide for one another unselfishly. 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; on this night, when the ancestors cross the great veil, we humbly offer our greatest thanks so that we may commune and learn from those who have walked these lands before us . Oh Great Goddess, your presence in this circle tonight and forever in our lives is our guiding light, our eternal goodness, and our never ending faith! <light Goddess Candle>
Hail Great Goddess and Welcome!
Tonight we gather to celebrate Samhain, the Celtic New Year. It’s easily described as a celebration of everything which held importance to those who came before us. It’s the night when the veil is at it’s thinnest and all sorts of spirits and other creatures have been rumored to cross over and interact with humankind. Each village would spend the days leading up to Samhain finishing up the harvesting and preparing for the great feasts ahead of them. History tells us that the celebrations would last for three days and three nights, but the beginning of the event was critical. During the final day, all fires were allowed to burn out. After the work was finished, the commoners would gather in the presence of the Druid priests around a great pile of timber. The priest would then light the great bonfire using a wheel that would spark the fire using friction. This wheel represented the sun. Prayers would be offered and animals sacrificed to protect the people during the upcoming winter and from the monsters that would prowl the lands on that night. The bones of the slaughtered animals would be thrown upon the great fire; the bone-fire would later be called a bonfire.
The ancients were very careful about any encounters during the night of Samhain, primarily due to their belief that the Fae creatures could cross into the land of the living that night and kidnap them. In order to deter the roaming creatures and monsters, the people would dress up in animal skins or as monsters to confuse these wayward beings. Landowners would place bowls of fresh food and tankards of ale on the edges of their property as offerings for the Fae creatures; a bribe to be left alone that night. Some of these creatures have been described as shape shifters, headless horsemen, and deformed blackened beasts who would steal human souls.
But, the ancient’s also knew that spirits of their ancestors were also able to cross over on Samhain. These spirits would be welcomed into the communal circle to share wisdom, offer comfort, and to join in the celebration of the great wheel turning once again.
Inviting The Ancestors
Before we begin our New Year celebration, we will first call out to our ancestors and welcome them to join our circle. We invite the spirits of the dead to make their way through the thinned veil of the Otherworld to join us in our ritual celebration. Throughout the night, we can honor them by seeking their eternal guidance and fellowship. They’ve walked these lands long before anyone standing here and we can learn much from them, if only we look and listen.
Our first order of business is to turn again to the west, raise our arms, and light a candle to guide them home. <light black candle>
“Ancestors….We summon you to take the step across the veil and gather here among your descendants. Each of us carries the same blood that flowed through your veins and the same thoughts that filled your heads. The lands which you once called your home are now home to the children or your children’s children. Throughout the centuries, we’ve listened to your whispered guidance in times of danger, used the lessons as we sowed, tilled, and gathered our crops from the land, and allowed our history to support the foundations of our future. Hear us tonight. We call upon the mothers and fathers that have carried the burdens and triumphs of generation after generation. We call upon the brothers, sisters, sons and daughters who have carried the bloodline into the present day. We call upon those who have remained nameless and without family; those who sacrificed themselves in battle and those who were lost to sickness or weather. 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. All who walk without harm are welcome to join us!”
<momentary period of silence to allow for the wandering spirits of our ancestors to enter the sacred space>
Celebrating the New Year
Our ancestors were very careful and reverent during Samhain; making sure that proper respect was paid to those who came before them. Yet, the celebration also had much celebrating, feasting, and a bit of revelry attached to it, as well. The young people would dress up in costumes and roam the countryside pretending to be spirits from the Otherworld and trying to scare people. Others would exchange clothing with friends and try to trick parents and elders into believing they were the other person (understanding that a lot of drinking took place before this could be possible).
Other things like divination, the casting of Runes, and a version of tarot card reading would be done to make predictions about the upcoming year. Warriors would lay down their weapons during the celebration and no combat was permitted, aside from reenacting symbolic conquests for the entertainment of the villagers.
As the night grew longer, the last thing that took place was to honor the Celtic Gods and Goddesses of the harvest, fields and flocks. Everyone gave thanks and homage to those deities who assisted the village during the past year and to ask them again for their favor during the coming year and the winter months that were on the doorstep.
“We raise our cups to Danu, the Primordial Goddess of Nature and the Divine Mother. Thank you for the gifts we’ve received during this past year and for those waiting us in our future. We raise our cups to Dagda, the Chief of the Gods who holds sway over fertility, agriculture, the weather, and masculine strength. Thank you for your leadership, gentleness, and for sharing the secrets of magic with the Druids. We raise our cups to Lugh, the great warrior and bringer of sunlight to the people. Without your light, heat, and warmth, we cannot survive. We raise our cups to Brigid, the triple Goddess, the healer, the poet, and the smith. As we cross the seasons, we look to your guidance in the Spring and the planting of the new crops. We raise our cups to Cernunnos, the Horned God who watches over the forests, the animals, and fertility. Protect us as we walk among the great trees and provide us with game and forage throughout the year. And finally, one final toast to all those not mentioned, we offer our thanks for being part of our lives and ensuring our success and happiness in the upcoming year!”
Closing Our Samhain 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 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>
Now, before we break company, everyone should step forward and take a flame or coal to return home to symbolically relight your hearth fire. Afterwards, leave a plate of food and a drink outside of your doorstep as an offering to any wandering Fae that may pass your doorstep during the night, so that you and your family sleep in peace.
And so the wheel turns…blessed be!
If you are interested in more rituals, please go to the Rites & Rituals Archive