Spirit Work at Samhain
A light mist is in the air. Cool, crisp winds rustle the branches and colored leaves fall in the streets and dance on the breeze. The earth seems to rise up to your senses, the smell of petrichor - of damp earth and decaying leaves - can make you feel like you’re deep in the woods, even on a city sidewalk. Fall has come, the harvest is in, and Samhain is knocking on our door. As the wheel of the year continues to turn, one season transitions into the next, signalling a time of transition in our own lives. Samhain is a time of turning our attention from the outside world to the inner one, from the past year to the future, and from life to death. That last one can be scary for some, and altogether unfamiliar for others. In our modern culture there is often a focus on doing everything we can to live longer and keep ourselves out of danger. Death is something many people deeply fear and rarely look squarely at. But it wasn’t always this way.
Many cultures and religions have a deep rooted history of working with death, and the spirits of those who’ve passed on. Working with one's ancestors was (and often still is) a time honored tradition in many places around the world including China, Mexico, India, Native America, Korea and many more. Festivals, rituals, and holidays can be found across a variety of countries and religions with the purpose of honoring the dead, asking for their guidance, and celebrating the cycle of life, death and rebirth.
Many modern day traditions stem from ways to either honor or repel spirits. As Samhain, also known as All Hallows Eve or Halloween, has been widely believed to be a time when the veil between worlds is thinnest, many precautions against evil spirits were taken. The Jack-O-Lantern is perhaps the most common. The tradition of the Jack-O-Lantern started in Ireland with the legend of Stingy Jack, who tricked the devil into an agreement to never take his soul. When he died, he wound up wandering the darkness between worlds, with only an ember burning within a turnip to light his way. Original Jack-O-Lanterns were turnips carved with faces and lit from within, and were believed to keep away evil spirits. When the Irish came to America, they discovered that pumpkins were easier to hollow out and carve, and thus the modern Jack-O-Lantern was born.
The tradition of dressing up was also originally intended to ward off or trick evil spirits. Masks were worn as a common way to hide oneself from the spirits. Along with warding off evil,there were also many traditions that honored the good spirits. One of these traditions was a Dumb Supper, in which a family would set extra seats at the table for deceased family members and dine in silence to honor their presence.
With many of the traditions of this holiday rooted in spirit work, you may also want to incorporate this into your own Samhain celebrations. There are many ways to do this. You can hold the aforementioned Dumb Supper, setting places for family, friends, or even pets you’d like to come visit you. During the supper reflect on your spiritual guests and your time together. If you’re not much of a cook, or are a solo practitioner you can hold a smaller memorandum ceremony. Set out a candle and a picture of the loved one(s) you’d like to honor and visit with. You can also include objects of theirs if you have any, or things that remind you of them and you’re time together. You can play their favorite music, read a well loved poem, or even write them one of your own.
There are also other ways of working with spirits that don’t include your own ancestors or loved ones. You could set up an altar to honor and spend time with “lost” or forgotten spirits. This would be a great time to practice psychic work and communing with spirits in general. Try to focus on feeling the presence of the spirits that visit you, what can you tell about them? Can you speak with them or receive messages from them in other ways? Always be cautious with this kind of work. You are essentially inviting strangers into your space, and you may not always get super friendly ones. If you are going to do this, it’s a good idea to already be familiar with spirit work, set up protections such as shields, a circle, protective runes or sigils, or other such precautions. A good rule of thumb is to not open your space to anything you don’t know how to get rid of, should the need arise.
If you’re not open to inviting spirits directly into your space, there are other subtler ways to work with the veil and the spirit world. This is a great time for divination. Often, it’s easier to work with spirit guides during this time, and many find that they are able to get clearer answers or messages. Since the veil is thinnest now, it’s a great time to practice astral travel or projection as well.
Whatever way you choose to work with the spirits, there are a few things it’s wise to keep in mind. Always be respectful. This shouldn’t need much elaboration. This doesn’t mean you always have to be formal or stiff, but treat them like you would any member of the living. Always, as mentioned above, take precautions with unfamiliar spirits. Keep in mind that not every spirit you come across will have your best interests at heart, or necessarily be telling you the truth. It’s a good idea to have protections in place or at least cleanse your space after working with spirits, especially unfamiliar ones. Sometimes spirits without the best intentions can stick around and cause problems in the home, or even be a drain on your energy.
But as long as you’re aware, and use common sense and good judgement, working with the spirits can be a wonderfully rewarding ritual, and even great day to day practice.