Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Have Yourself A Merry Little..Samhain

 You would have had to be living in another dimension not to have realised that Halloween is almost upon us. Pumpkins decorate every supermarket and greengrocer in town. Plastic spiders, cobwebs and witches’ brooms festoon shopping arcades and toy stores. Little Lucy can dress up like a witch in her tattered black dress, pointy hat and blackened-out teeth, while Sexy Sadie dons fishnets, kitten ears and bright red lipstick (not to mention killer heels and a skirt that barely covers her necessities. Or should that be, covers her bare necessities?)

Yes, it’s all a bit of fun, isn’t it? Kids out Trick or Treating, hopefully with at least one responsible adult in tow. Back home in time for bobbing for apples (do they still do that?). Then, with the kids safely in bed, the adults can play. Halloween parties with plenty of dry ice, and hideously garish cocktails with names such as Bloodsucker and Liquefied Ghost (recipes to follow).

But for those whose spiritual side remains uppermost, Halloween – All Hallows Eve or Samhain, depending on your religion of choice – is a significant time of the year.  For Christians it is a time to honour and remember the dead. For pagans, Samhain marks endings and beginnings and is also a time to remember the ancestors. It is arguable that early Christians ‘adopted’ this festival as part of an ongoing campaign to stamp out pagan worship.

For those who celebrate Samhain, a number of celebrations are likely to occur. It is also reckoned to be the best time to conduct a séance, as this is the time of year when the veil between this world and the next is at its thinnest. This is the dark season. Samhain itself occurs on November 1st – a day the Christians adopted for All Saints Day.

At sunset on Samhain, the pagan New Year begins. The old year has ended with the final gathering in of the harvest, the leaves have fallen from the trees and the earth has begun to slumber. It is the perfect time for reflecting on the previous twelve months. What have been the high points? What have been the low ones? Does anything remain to be resolved? If so, now is the time to do it. Many will stretch out the celebrations over three days and include festivals such as:

Honouring the Ancestors.

An altar is prepared, covered with pictures and mementoes of the dead to be remembered, maybe even including grave rubbings. Candles are lit and a special chant is said.

This is the night when the gateway between
our world and the spirit world is thinnest.
Tonight is a night to call out those who came before us.
Tonight we honor our ancestors.
Spirits of our ancestors, we call to you,
and we welcome you to join us for this night.
We know you watch over us always,
protecting us and guiding us,
and tonight we thank you.
We invite you to join us and share our meal.

Food is served, with wine and cider to wash it down. A symbolic place is set for the ancestors. People share memories of their loved ones and when the meal is over, all the plates and glasses are cleared, save for one glass – the ancestors’ cup. This is then passed around all the guests. As they sip from it, they will recite their genealogy – e.g. ‘I am Margaret, daughter of Elsie, daughter of Miles, son of Malcolm…’ as far back as they can go.

The glass ends in front of the ancestors’ place and a young guest says:

This is the cup of remembrance.
We remember all of you.
You are dead but never forgotten,
and you live on within us.

There is also a Ritual for the Animals, where both wild and domestic animals are honoured and remembered, but if this hasn’t been conducted separately, people can incorporate photos and memories of their beloved departed animals as part of this ritual.

Honouring the God and Goddess

In Wiccan tradition, this is the time of year when the Goddess metamorphoses into her Crone form. This is the time when she is the Earth Mother, the wise one, the teacher. The God on the other hand, becomes the Stag – the Horned One who dies that we might all eat. He is also embodied in the grains and corn that once adorned the fields.

Ideally the ceremony is hosted by the High Priest and High Priestess, assisted by the Handmaiden (the youngest female participant), although it can be performed by a solitary Wiccan. It involves sheaves of corn, a circle, altar, symbolic red, black, brown and green candles, dark bread (enough for each participant), plus wine or cider. The ritual includes time to reflect on what the God and Goddess have bestowed on you during the past year and to make resolutions on how you can honour them in the year to come. (For a full explanation of this ritual, see Paganwiccan)

Other festivals at this time include End of the Harvest, Celebrating the Cycle of Life and Death and a fascinating one called:

A Dumb Supper

 This is basically a feast with the dead. If you want to do this yourself, you’ll need a table, decorated with a black tablecloth, black napkins, cutlery and plates. You’ll need to prepare traditional fare such as Soul Cakes (recipe later), apples and (preferably) game. You should illuminate the room only with black candles.

Now, here’s the challenge. During the supper, nobody can speak. So you would need to ensure everyone can reach any condiments they may want. This is a solemn, silent affair. Places should be set for each guest, plus a place at the head of the table for the deceased. That chair should be shrouded in black or white cloth and one tealight for each deceased person being remembered that night can be placed in front of this place. Each guest should bring a note, containing the name of the deceased friend or relative they wish to honour and a message for them. None of the contents should be revealed.

The room should be prepared in accordance with usual Wiccan tradition and, as the meal begins, each guest should link hands and silently bless the meal. No one should eat until this act has been performed.

At the end of the meal, each person in turn takes their note to the head of the table and picks up the tealight representing their loved one. They focus on the contents of the note they have brought with them and then burn it and return, still in silence, to their seat. When each person has had their turn, everyone stands and leaves, pausing at the head of the table to say one last goodbye to their loved one.

Not one word has been spoken throughout.

Of course, for those brave enough to do so, after this dinner would be a great time to hold a séance…

Now for those promised recipes (the first two come courtesy of : HGTV.com)


1 1/2 oz. Bacardi "0"
1/2 oz. Cointreau
2 oz. pineapple juice
1 Tbs. strawberry or raspberry puree

Pour rum, Cointreau and juice into a shaker with ice. Shake mixture, then pour into a rocks glass. Dip the end of a drinking straw into the berry puree, hold the tip of your finger over the other end and use the straw to squirt puree into the bottom half-inch of the drink, where it will sink in red blobs. Do not stir.

Liquefied Ghost

2 oz. vodka
1 oz. vanilla simple syrup
1 oz. cream
2 oz. soda

Mix vanilla simple syrup, cream, vodka and soda together in a cocktail shaker, then serve in a chilled martini glass.
 Soul Cakes

Serves: 12 
  • 375g self raising flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp nutmeg
  • 2 tsp mixed spice
  • 185g butter, at room temperature
  • 155g caster sugar
  • 90g currants
  • 90g sultanas
  • 1 egg
  • 125ml milk
Prep:15min  ›  Cook:15min  ›  Ready in:30min 
  1. Preheat oven to 220 C / Gas 7. Grease baking tray or line with parchment.
  2. Sift dry ingredients into a medium-sized bowl. Rub in the butter. Mix in the sugar, currants and sultanas.
  3. Make a well in the centre and add the egg and milk. Mix in well until you have a firm mixture. Using a dessertspoon and fork, spoon the mixture onto greased trays.
  4. Bake for 10 to 15 minutes in preheated oven.

Bright Blessings to all – whatever your persuasion!


  1. Now Cat, I am so gonna make these cakes, even though my baking is HORRORible. Love the post and the scary pix. Ps AM gonna go for the cocktail too. This is my first Halloween in 16 years where I will NOT be entertaining the local children, so I am so going for it!

  2. Oh I will. Hope you do too. Just watch the level on these cocktails before getting on the broomstick

  3. How interesting, the Wiccan dinner to remember those gone before us. I need to learn more about Samhain. As you can imagine, it's not celebrated everywhere with the same enthusiasm. (I live in the bible belt of South Carolina.) I like the drink recipes too.

    1. Thank you, Ellis. I find it interesting to learn just how many of the festivals many of us consider Christian, were actually pagan in origin. Samhain is not all that far removed from All Souls Day when you get right down to it.