Blessings from beyond the veil - Samhain and Day of the Dead
Happy Halloween Goddesses!
Today we want to talk a little about the spiritual origins of this day, and how some people still use this time of the year to weave a little magic into their lives!
The origin of Halloween is usually traced back to the Celtic holiday Samhain (sow-en) which was celebrated on November 1st, which was the new year. This day marked the end of summer, the last harvest, and the beginning of the dark part of the year. Because the night grows longer, and many plants turn dormant (in that part of the world, which is now known as the United Kindgom and parts of France) this time of year was associated with death, and people believed that the boundaries between the human world and the spirit world were blurred. This phenomenon was referred to as "thinning of the veil" and people believed that communication with the spirit world was easier during this dark time of the year. The Celts celebrated Samhain on the night of October 31st, when they believed the spirits of the dead returned to visit the human realm. They lit large bonfires where they burned crops as offerings to the spirits, and the priests and priestesses would practice divination to communicate with the spirits and try to to get messages about the future.
Later on, after the Romans, and then Christians gained more influence over the area, the day of November 1st was declared as All Saints Day, a day to honor Christian martyrs. November 2nd became All Souls Day, a day to honor the dead. Many Samhain traditions were folded into the observance of All Souls Day, in the church's attempt to meld the old pagan traditions together with Christian traditions, and to gain more followers. Over time, the holiday became known as All-Hallows, then All-Hallows Eve, then Halloween.
All-Hallows came to America with colonial settlers, and over time the traditions became less spiritual and more spooky and fun.
To read more about Halloween traditions and their origins, check out this great article from History.com.
Now let's talk about Day of the Dead!
The Day of the Dead traces it's origins to Aztec culture, in modern-day Mexico. The Aztecs believed that the dead still lived among us, and therefore did not mourn their dead, but honored them in various rites and celebrations throughout the year, using skulls as a symbol for those who have passed on into the spirit world. When the Spanish conquered the Aztecs, and sought to convert them and other cultural groups in South America to Christianity, the various rites and rituals to honor the dead were consolidated and combined with All Saints and All Souls days on November 1st and 2nd. The traditions of Day of the Dead were further Christianized to include feasts and costumed parades.
Day of the Dead is celebrated by making altars to the ancestors in the home. The altars include photos and mementos of the deceased, and are decorated with flowers and other items. Offerings of food, alcohol, candy, and any items that the deceased liked would be left out for the ancestors to enjoy on their visit back to the world of the living. Altars are also constructed in cemeteries around the graves of the deceased, where loved ones gather to play music, read poems, and otherwise make merry to welcome their dead back home for this night.
Day of the Dead in Mexico especially is a big party! To read more about Day of the Dead origins and traditions, check out this article from History.com.
So What can you do at this time to add some magic into your life?
Here are a few suggestions for how to weave a little magic and a taste of ritual into your Halloween celebrations. If you're seeing this after Halloween, don't worry. You can treat this day as the beginning of the dark time of year, and know that your rituals will still be potent and effective throughout the season.
Make an altar to your ancestors
An altar can be created very easily with items you have around the house. A small coffee table, side table, or even a shelf will do. Make your altar pretty using a cloth napkin, a doily, scarf or a scrap of fabric. Add mementos of the ancestors like photos or possessions left behind. You can make your own drawing, or use items that remind you of the person if photos and possessions aren't available. Decorate your altar with flowers, crystals, statues, crosses, or any other item that holds symbolic meaning to you or the ancestor. Next, add offerings of snacks, drinks like wine or whiskey, coffee, or food that the ancestor enjoyed. Other common offerings include tea, honey, tobacco, coins and money, or milk. Begin your ritual by cleansing your energy and your space by burning a cleansing herb or incense. Ground yourself in the time and place using any grounding technique you like. Call the ancestor into your mind using visualization. Tell the ancestor how you feel about them. You can read a poem, sing a song, or perform a dance - these can be offerings as well! Ask your ancestor to visit you, or ask for guidance. Sit a minute and see if any messages come through. Pay attention to your dreams for the next few nights, and see if you get any visits! This ritual can be used to connect to spirit guides as well, and also remember than an ancestor or guide doesn't have to be someone that is related to you.
Take a Journey Beyond the Veil
Take journey into the spirit world using meditation and visualization. Such a journey can help you connect with guides, seek advice, or learn information about the future. This type of journeying can be really potent in a group, so find some friends who want to do it with you if you want. You can find many guided meditations for this type of journey on youtube, or create your own by writing out a script beforehand. Your script should be around 20 minutes long or so, and should start with a cleansing, and some grounding. Grounding could be as simple as a few deep breaths with eyes closed. Your script should use visualization suggestions to guide your participants on a journey away from their current surroundings, and place them into contact with ancestors or spirit guides. Give yourself and your participants a few minutes to speak with guides, then slowly guide them back out of the meditation following the visualization suggestions you used to get you there. Gently bring your participants back to the present before opening eyes. It may take a few minutes to fully come back into the physical plane after an exercise like this, so take your time. Eating a snack helps!
Set an extra place at the dinner table
Looking for a simpler way to honor the season and the spirit world? Set an extra place at the dinner table to honor the ancestors, the spirit guides, and all those in the spirit world. Cook a delicious meal, and set a plate with an empty chair. You can say a blessing over the food before you eat, giving thanks to the earth where our nourishment comes from, and say a few words to honor your dead. You can use seasonal foods to honor the last harvest of the year, and the earth's bounty. After you've finished eating, leave the offering plate overnight, or you can ask the spirits if they are finished with the offering, then dispose of it. Of course, anything you have on hand will do just fine, as well as take-out if you're not a cook. The important thing is the intention of giving an offering and honoring the season, the earth, and the ancestors.
Happy Samhain, Day of the Dead, and Halloween!
XOXO B.A.G. Box