Pagan Halloween – 4 Samhain rituals to celebrate
These 4 ideas for Samhain rituals can help pagans celebrate Samhain (or Halloween) everywhere, from ancient forests to the urban jungle.
There is a very strong school of thought that affirms that a witch’s place is in the country. No-one with a strong connection to the Earth would deny the inherent value and joy of one’s bare feet in the dirt and arms firmly hugging the nearest rowan tree. In reality, today’s witch is more likely to be working her magic in a city or tiny midtown walkup than the traditional, cozy forest-bound cottage.
Books on Paganism, Wicca/Witchcraft, and other nature-based religions almost suggest you’re not a viable Witch unless you can surround yourself with the trappings of the so-called natural world. This, I would humbly put forth, is bollocks.
There’s as much power in the thrum and pulse of a city street as a country lane! There’s as much strength and wisdom in a multi-story building as the tallest sycamore. These places have been imbued with the energy of all the people, events, emotions, and history happening there. The wonderful Christopher Penczak outlines many of these principles in City Magick: Urban Rituals, Spells and Shamanism, a fantastic book that changed my outlook entirely.
How does one celebrate Samhain, the most important and sacred holiday in the Wheel of the Year for most Pagans with no rural environment? With a small shift in thinking and some creativity, you can create a beautiful Sabbat celebration that rivals the most elaborate country festivities. I’ve included some popular Samhain ritual ideas and their urban counterparts below.
Samhain Apples for the Dead ritual
Samhain is the time when the veils between life and death are thinnest and most easily pushed back. Many Witches and Pagans traditionally bury apples or other fruit near to the front door on this day as offerings for the dead as they travel between the worlds. The tradition is an old one and city Pagans may lament their lack of earth next to a front door to carry it on.
This is easily remedied and makes a beautiful ritual. Simply bury the apple in a potted plant and place it by your front door on a stoop. If you’re worried about someone stealing your plant, you could place it on a windowsill or balcony instead. If it does get stolen and your pot and plant are easily recplaced, you can choose to see it as a blessing to whomever it has gone to. Who knows, perhaps mischievous Samhain spirits are the culprits!
The Samhain Bonfire
Bonfires are lovely and exciting and often the cornerstone of a huge Hallow’s Eve celebration. I say that fire is fire. The spirits won’t decline to bless you or your rituals if your fire’s flames are modest. A small hibachi grill or cauldron filled with wood and herbs and set alight on a balcony, porch or even fire escape is sufficient to awake the spirits and draw them near.
Those that leap over fires on Samhain and Beltane may even find that this is far safer than attempting to hurdle a taller, more robust fire. If your space doesn’t include a patio or outdoor space maybe you can head for a park with public grills. Let’s not forget you can also stay in and light a stout pillar candle! As with all things magickal, the important thing here is the intent.
Carving Pumpkins or Turnips at Samhain
Many people don’t realise it is actually the carvings of turnips that dominated early Hallow’s Eve festivities, not today’s more popular pumpkin. (You can see some amazing Halloween pumpkin carvings on Mookychick, by the way).
Many city folks will purchase and carve pumpkins, but are reluctant to place them outside, if in small flats/apartments, especially if the neighbourhood is not a very good one. Returning to the original turnip carving is a lovely way to honour this tradition, but with a vegetable small enough to display in a windowsill.
I am lucky enough to have an apartment on the ground floor and can set many turnips along my wall as luminaries, which also makes for a nice display for little ones trick-or-treating. Turnips are small and round, and don’t lend themselves to elaborate carvings, but look absolutely beautiful hollowed out and filled with a tealight candle. They resemble delicately painted porcelain, very lovely.
Samhain Feast for the Dead
Sure, you can have a meal anywhere, but it IS more difficult in a smaller space – especially with guests. A full Dumb Supper (it’s an ableist term, but it’s called this because in honour of the dead there’s no speaking during the meal) with several courses served with elegance is wonderful. However, you’ll have just as much fun with a nicely-laid buffet eaten off of your lap. Potlucks are great fun for Samhain, and don’t underestimate the wisdom of a dessert and drinks-only party for close, like-minded friends. The intent is key, once again. You can always just have a nice Cakes and Ale after-ritual as the meal portion of the holiday.
Learn how to have a Day of the Dead dinner on Mookychick for further inspiration.
For every Samhain tradition that seems to require rurual space, time and resources, there’s a simple urban workaround. Spirits don’t ignore cities in favour of forests and woods – just the opposite! Trade in a haunted hayride for a tour of haunted houses in your city. Have a seance or make your own ouija board for fun and possibly receive some unexpected ghostly wisdom in lieu of a huge bonfire night.
The possibilities are endless. And again, the point is to honour the dead and see in the Witch’s New Year with joy and love. Happy Samhain!