One of my earliest memories is from Halloween night. I was too young to go out, so I’d lie on my stomach in my parents’ bed, the room darkened, and watch the trick-or-treaters from the window. (This was before Daylight Savings was pushed back to allow children to walk around the neighborhood while it is still somewhat light.) I loved sitting in the pitchy darkness and observing the comings and goings of the “ghouls” and other festive characters. Despite the current commercialism of Halloween (like that of any other holiday), this time of year has never stopped feeling magical to me (and I know I’m not the only who feels this way).
The darkness of night feels a little deeper. The natural world mournful, dynamic. The time is ripe to embrace our shadow selves, realize and confront our fears, and question reality as we know it.
Per neopagan tradition (which you can read more about here from someone much more well-versed in it than me), this time of year marks the “thinning of the veil” between our world and the spirit world, meaning that spirits, ethereal guides, and ancestors may feel closer to us than ever. Because the veil between our two worlds is so permeable during this season (and especially on Halloween, or Samhain—the two holidays are often associated together), we now have a beautiful opportunity to contact the spirits and honor our ancestors.
If you had told me about a thinning veil between worlds a few years ago, I would have been intrigued—and I know I would have found the idea quite poetic—but until recently, I identified as a mostly secular-minded person (though not for lack of trying to feel otherwise!). Like many, however, the age of nationwide tribalism and impending climate disaster (two things that are truly nightmarish) combined with the upheavals of adulthood have left me searching for an open channel between myself and a sense of spiritual wonder.
At some point, distraction doesn’t do the trick. We need something more.
I seem to have found that channel with the help of Signs: The Secret Language of the Universe by Laura Lynn Jackson. While reading Signs, I opened myself to the possibility that my relationship with departed loved ones could continue—even if our interactions would be invisible to others. I began to seek guidance, and more often, simple signs, from the other side, especially when the “real” world threatened to annihilate my remaining hope. Now, the idea of practicing a Samhain ritual doesn’t sound so obscure. Instead, it feels desperately needed.
Speaking of Halloween memories, I recall playing in my backyard as a slightly older child and considering what my father had told me about the origin of the word “Halloween” (All Hallow’s Eve) and how costumes played a role in the ancient rituals surrounding the holiday. Although it was broad daylight while I sat outdoors, I imagined ghosts and spectral figures emerging from between the cypresses that bordered our yard. It wasn’t a scary vision, however. At that time, echoes of the dead felt as natural to me as the changing leaves. Just part of a forever cycle.
Returning to this sense of ease with thoughts of the departed (and the unknown) has been easier than I would have imagined, and I’ve realized along the way that communicating with your ancestors (whatever that conversation looks like for you), can be a peaceful way to mourn the past while simultaneously opening the door between the past and the present. In other words, we can invite the past into our lives without falling into glum and brooding nostalgia. We can fill ourselves with where we’ve come from—and from whom we’ve come—while still looking forward.
There is no right or wrong way to practice a Samhain ritual. You may consider creating an altar to your ancestor(s) on a table or shelf by displaying photos and mementos. Candles and incense are welcome. To offer your thanks for their guidance or to further invite them into your life, you can say a prayer, write a letter to share, or even offer a cup of tea or favorite food. Set intentions. Ask for affirmations. Be still—but keep your senses open.
“Death is nothing at all.
I have only slipped away to the next room.
I am I and you are you.
Whatever we were to each other,
That, we still are…”
—Henry Scott Holland
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