Celebrate Samhain: Honoring Your Ancestral Self

We need to dream the dark as process, and dream the dark as change, to create the dark in a new image. Because the dark creates us." Starhawk

Dear one, can you smell it? The musky-sweetness of decaying leaves? The cold kiss of death fast approaching as darkness consumes light?

At the end of October the doorway to the dark half of the Celtic year swings open. The dying sun is swallowed up by the lengthening nights. The onset of Autumn always feels so transitory, with one foot in Summer and another in the coming Winter. Here in the Piedmont of NC, it's always a dance between two extremes. The mornings are now cold and I have to layer up to go outside but often by afternoon I'm wearing shorts and a t-shirt.

I love the feeling of laying in the grass as the sun's intensity penetrates through the cold gusty wind, warming my whole entire being. I love standing in the midst of the forest in complete stillness as the trees dance and sway, shaking their leaves loose, and watching them swirl and tumble to the ground all around me. The trails are covered in bright and fading shades of fall: crimson, saffron, copper, cinnamon, and gold.

What was, no longer is... and the stark, swift changes taking place in nature remind us of our own ethereal nature's and how we are constantly being shaped and changed by time's passage. This holy time of the year invites us to descend into our own inner darkness and to honor our ancestral self, which encompasses our wisest ancestors, earth-rooted lineages, and the parts of ourselves that have led us to where we are but that we have also out grown. As our dear friend Rachel Watersong beautifully puts it, Samhain invites us to...

"We rejoice in the dance of transitions, the dance of change, the dance of life.
And we also loosen the grip of what once was needed but it is no more.
We let go of the patterns that no longer serve our growth.
We release all that was taught to us that has prevented the expression of our joy.
We look to cut the chains of misunderstanding and isolation.
We come together as one, from all different origins, to thank our ancestors for the knowledge that prevails through time, and to let go of the old ways that didn't work."

What is Samhain?

Samhain (pronounced saah-win), is an ancient Celtic festival of the Dead occurring in late October and early November (usually celebrated on Oct. 31st). Samhain comes from two words meaning "summer's end" in Gaelic. In the seventh century is was Christianized as All Saints' Day, also known as Hallowmas or Hollantide, which commemorates the souls of the holy dead. The night before, which was the most important time for the festival, we know as Halloween.

About 2,000 years ago in Celtic Ireland, Samhain marked the division of the year between the lighter half (sam/summer) and the darker half (gam/winter). Thus, Samhain is a celebration of the end of the harvest and is also known to many as the beginning of the spiritual new year.

"The Festival of Samhain marked the end of the Celtic year and the beginning of the new one and as such can be seen to the equivalent of New Year's Eve. We have seen how the Celts believed that night preceded day and so the festivities took place on the Eve of Samhain. There is no doubt that that this festival was the most important of the four Celtic Festivals. Samhain was a crucial time of year, loaded with symbolic significance for the pre-Christian Irish." (Source: https://www.newgrange.com/samhain.htm)

At Samhain the division between this world and the otherworld was at its thinnest, allowing spirits to pass through. This is the time in the year where the end of life meets the beginning - at the threshold of the seasonal womb where new life begins to gestate. That is why it was during this time when family's ancestors were honored and invited home while harmful spirits were warded off.

Nature's Wisdom

The winds of change are upon us now as we turn toward the dark time, preparing our hearts and minds for the thinning of the veils and the dying of the fertile Mother of Life. Samhain's long association with death and the Dead reflects Nature's rhythms. In many places, Samhain coincides with the end of the growing season. Vegetation dies back with killing frosts, and therefore, literally, death is in the air.

This reflects the ancient notion that at Samhain, the veil is thinnest between the world of the living and the realm of the Dead and this facilitates contact and communication with the spirit of our ancestors. For those who have lost loved ones in the past year, Samhain rituals can be a wonderful opportunity to bring closure to grieving and to further adjust to their being in the Otherworld by spiritually communing with them.

Nature’s descent into the sacred dark reveals the inner passage we all must make in the changing of the seasons, and represents the inevitable final initiation of living: death itself. Going inward, the task is to bring forth the light of transformation. It's a reflective time in the wheel of the year that invites us to dive into the shadowy depths of our own inner landscape.

What in my life is coming to an end? What losses have I endured? What am I grieving?
What has my ancestral self taught me over the past year?
What am I afraid to look at within myself? What in the darkness must I embrace?
What dreams am I holding in my heart as I move into the dark time?


Samhain is a threshold time, a space in between what’s before and what’s coming, a time to honor your ancestral self and to celebrate the self you are becoming. Katherine May, in her book Wintering: The Power of Rest & Retreat in Difficult Times, said, “Samhain was a way of marking that ambiguous moment when you didn’t know who you were about to become, or what the future would hold. It was a celebration of limbo.”

Here in this limbo, you can honor who you were before, the self that came before this moment, this you. Think of all they survived and lived, all they felt and experienced, and all they dreamed and wished. Feel your ancestral self whispering in your heartspace, those dreams they dreamed, dreams you may be living in this moment, dreams you may be stepping into in the moments to come. Feel the power of your ancestral self strengthening your bones, stretching your body to stand a bit taller, stoking the fire in your blood as it moves through you.

You are a constellation of interdependence. Your bones, your blood, your being - a cauldron of dark matter, swirling in a sea of memories, exploding stars, dream seeds, breath of life, fire of passion. You are your ancestors and all that came before you. Honor these ancestors, whose life force and spirit conspired to create you.

Here on this threshold, as we move into the time of darkness, rest, and renewal, you can celebrate the future self you are becoming, the self you are in this very moment breathing life into, the self you are growing in this cocoon time. Let this self be born in this time of darkness, carrying the dreams of your ancestral self into the light. Feel the power of all that has come before, igniting and empowering your future self.

This is for one who feels called to the energy of the Samhain as a threshold crossing, reclamation of self, and death process. It's an opportunity to look back and reflect upon the journey you've been on, to honor the sacred teachings related to death and decay, and to honor those ancestors (blood, movement, or otherwise) who have already crossed the threshold from this lifetime to the next. These ritual elements are designed to bring you into your depths and into "death consciousness" as you contemplate your relationship to this time of the year.

Time Commitment: 2-4 hours (4 hours if you are following the template)


45 min

1) Ritual Elements associated with Samhain to Incorporate into your ritual

  • Themes:

  • Death; Transformation; Letting Go, Ancestral Veneration

  • Symbols: