We all know Halloween as the time of year where costumes and candy reign supreme. This spooky holiday allows both children and adults alike the opportunity to channel their inner spirit for tricks or treats, but what many are unaware of is that this holiday is Pagan in origin and is a special time to celebrate the souls of our dearly departed, as the veil between this world and the next becomes thinnest.
Samhain, as it is known in Celtic tradition, literally translates to “summer’s end”. It is regarded as the Celtic New Year, or “day of the dead”, and officially begins after sunset on the eve of Samhain.
According to Albany.edu:
Summer’s end which meant the beginning of winter was an important time for people who survived on plants grown in the field and animals that were kept in pastures. (Chamberlain) “This day marked the end of summer and the harvest and the beginning of the dark, cold winter, a time of year that was often associated with human death” (The History Channel Exhibits- History of Halloween) It is most likely this reason that the Druids (Celtic pagans) believed that the spirits of those who died the preceding year roamed the earth the night of Samhain. (MSN Learning & Research- Halloween)
The Druids celebrated this holiday “with a great fire festival to encourage the dimming Sun not to vanish” and people “danced round bonfires to keep evil sprits away, but left their doors open in hopes that the kind spirits of loved ones might join them around their hearths”.
On this night, “divination was thought to be more effective than any other time, so methods were derived to ascertain who might marry, what great person might be born, who might rise to prominence, or who might die” (Chamberlain). Also during the celebration, the Celts “wore costumes, typically consisting of animal heads and skins, and attempted to tell each other’s fortunes”.
Crops were burned and animals were sacrificed (The History Channel Exhibits- The History of Halloween). The spirits were believed to be either “entertained by the living”, or to “find a body to possess for the incoming year”. This all gives reasons as to why “dressing up like witches, ghosts and goblins, villagers could avoid being possessed.” (Navarro )
To modern Pagans, Samhain is still regarded as a sacred holiday, and is a time where many honor the ancestors of the past through ritual, and divination.
Looking beyond the superficial aspect of “Halloween” as it’s celebrated in popular culture, no matter where you may fall on the spectrum of belief, should you choose to access the metaphysical energies of this day – the potential for spiritual communication is at an all time high. With the “veil” being lifted at this time, insight and wisdom can be channeled for direction or clarity on the year ahead.
One method of communication (or celebration) is to host a seance with other like-minded friends (see below).
How to Hold a Seance via PaganWiccan:
1. Plan Your Guest List
Figure out how many people you’re going to have — and make sure the space you’re using will allow them all. If your living room only seats eight people comfortably, don’t invite fifteen! Also, be sure that everyone attending is open-minded to the spirit world. People who are adamantly “non-believers” bring a certain amount of negative energy, and this can be disruptive. You may also find that it adversely effects your communication with the spirits during your séance.
2. Create a Spirit-Friendly Atmosphere
Most people like to conduct a séance at a round or oval table, but if neither is available, don’t worry. Drape the table with fabric or sheets — some people prefer light colors to attract “friendly” spirits, but it’s a matter or personal preference. If you use incense, be sure that no one in your group is allergic to it. Place incense somewhere away from the table, rather than on the table itself. Candles are a nice addition as well — not only do they provide some visibility, but there’s a school of thought that believes spirits are attracted to heat and light sources.
3. Common Sense
Help everyone get comfortable by offering refreshments before you begin. Make sure that guests will be respectful of the spirits, and of other guests. Turn off all cell phones. If anyone needs to go to the bathroom or have a smoke, do so before you begin. Set the thermostat at a comfortable temperature — remember that spirit activity can cause some fluctuation in levels of cold or heat. Once everyone is seated, you can help everyone relax by doing a short guided mediation, offering a prayer, or casting a protective circle, if your tradition requires you to do so.
4. During the Seance
Although many people like to do this, you don’t have to hold hands to raise energy. In fact, if a séance goes on too long, it can get downright uncomfortable. Whoever is acting as the leader of the séance — the medium — should ask the spirits to join the group. If there is a specific spirit you are trying to contact, ask for them by name. For example, now would be the time to say, “Dear Auntie Gertrude, we respectfully ask that you honor us with your presence this evening.” In some séances, spirits are summoned by chanting — this will be up to your medium to decide on.
As long as the spirits seem willing to reply, you can carry on a question and answer session with them. Bear in mind that spirits respond in many different ways. Sometimes there will be a tangible reaction — a tap, a thump, a soft breeze. Other times — particularly if you have a room full of very psychically gifted people — the spirit may choose to respond through another person. This may be the medium, or any other guest. The individual may simply “get a message” to pass along, which they would then share, such as, “Your Auntie Gertrude wants you to know she isn’t in pain any more.”
Sometimes, particularly if you have a group of psychically gifted individuals as guests, you may get several spirits arriving all at once, chattering away. This is not cause for alarm, but it does take some managing, because they’ve all got something to say. Treat it like you would any other conversation with a large group of people — let each spirit get their turn to deliver the message they came with, and then move on to the next one. Also, bear in mind that not all spirits are from departed humans — deceased pets may also have a message to pass along.
Just like at any other party, sometimes a séance will bring an uninvited guest. In this case, when you have a spirit that seems malevolent or mischievous, someone needs to let them know they’re unwelcome. Typically, this will be the medium who is leading the séance, who will usually say something like, “You are not wanted here, but we thank you for your presence. Now it is time for you to move on.”
If an entity arrives that seems angry or hostile and will not leave, no matter what you do, end the séance. It’s possible that it’s been attracted to someone in your group who may have underlying issues.
5. Closing the Door
When you’re done with the séance, it’s important that guests thank the spirits for coming to visit. After all, you would do so if you had living guests drop in!
If one of your attendees seems to have slipped into a trance or a sleep-like state during the séance, allow them to return gradually, on their own. Do NOT shake them awake. Chances are they’ll have a message for someone once they’re back among the group.
Close the séance by telling the spirits farewell, thanking them, and asking them to move along. You may want to offer a small blessing or prayer as a way of ending the formal séance, but bear in mind that some spirits like to hang around after the séance has officially finished. If they do, it’s okay. They’re probably just curious, and they may return to visit you later in the evening during a dream sequence.
- Before you begin your seance, smudge the area with sage or sweetgrass for ritual cleansing.
- Make sure you’ve eliminated potential distractions, such as children or ringing telephones. Interestingly, many pets seem to come and go through spirit activity without causing any disruption. Cats in particular tend to be very curious about what’s going on, and have been known to make themselves right at home in the middle of spirit work.
- Your guests may wish to bring an object that belonged to a deceased person, as a way of strengthening the connection. Photographs are also good links to the dead.
However you choose to celebrate this day, we wish you a very happy holiday!
For other ways to celebrate Samhain in the Celtic tradition check out the links below…
- Celebrating the End of the Harvest
- Samhain Ritual for Animals
- Honoring the Ancestors
- Host a Dumb Supper
- Honor the God and Goddess at Samhain
- Celebrating the Cycle of Life and Death
- Ancestor Meditation