Samhain Rituals and Ceremonies

The Festival Of Samhain Is Celebrated In Glastonbury
Glastonbury Samhain Celebration. Matt Cardy / Getty Images

Samhain is the time of year when the nights grow darker, there's a chill in the air, and there's a thinning of the veil between our world and the realm of the spirits. For many Pagans this is a time of reflection and spiritual growth. Looking for a ceremony or ritual to celebrate the Pagan sabbat of Samhain? Here's where you'll find a number of rituals and ceremonies, all of which can be adapted either for solitaries or a group.

Decorating Your Altar for Samhain

Pagan Altar Decorated for Samhain Celebrations
CaroleGomez / Getty Images

The evening of October 31 is known as Samhain. It's a time to mark the endless, ongoing cycle of life and death. Here are some ideas for dressing up your home altar.

Samhain Prayers

The Festival Of Samhain Is Celebrated In Glastonbury
Celebrate Samhain with prayers and rituals. Matt Cardy / Getty Images

Looking for prayers to celebrate the Pagan sabbat of Samhain? Try some of these, which honor the ancestors and celebrate the end of the harvest and the cycle of life, death and rebirth. Learn more about Samhain prayers.

Celebrating the Cycle of Life and Death

Cemetery at Night
In many cultures, gods of death and dying are honored at Samhain. Johner Images / Getty Images

Samhain is known as the witch's new year. It is a time to think about the endless cycle of life, death, and rebirth. With this ritual, you can celebrate all three aspects either with a group or as a solitary.

Ritual Honoring the Forgotten Dead

Raven on Headstone
Take a moment at Samhain to remember those who have been forgotten. Germán Vogel / Moment Open / Getty

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Honoring the God and Goddess at Samhain

Spooky Cemetery
PeskyMonkey / E+ / Getty Images

In some Wiccan traditions, people choose to honor the God and Goddess, rather than focusing on the harvest aspect of the holiday. If this is something you'd like to do, this ritual welcomes the Goddess in her persona as Crone, and the Horned God of the autumn hunt.

Ritual to Honor the Ancestors

The Festival Of Samhain Is Celebrated In Glastonbury
Samhain is a time to celebrate the ancestors. Matt Cardy / Getty Images

For many Wiccans and Pagans, the honoring of the ancestors is a key part of their spirituality. This ceremony can be held by itself or as part of a group of Samhain rituals.

Simple Ancestor Rite for Families with Small Children

Girl stand in falling autumn foliage
Kids can participate in Samhain rituals too!. Heide Benser / Getty Images

If you’re raising kids in a Pagan tradition, it can sometimes be hard to find rituals and ceremonies that are both age appropriate and celebrate the aspects of the particular Sabbat. Factor in that small children tend to have a short attention span, and the days of standing in a circle for an hour watching someone chant are pretty much out of reach. That said, there are plenty of ways you can celebrate the different Sabbats with your children.

This ritual is designed to celebrate Samhain with younger kids. Obviously, if your children are older, or you have younger kids who are very focused and mature, you may not need a “kids ritual.” However, for those of you that do, this is a rite you can complete, from start to finish, in about twenty minutes. Also, keep in mind that you are the best judge of what your child is ready for. If he wants to paint his face, bang a drum and chant, let him do so–but if he'd rather participate silently, that's okay too.

One of the best ways to have a successful ritual with small children is to do the prep work ahead of time. This means that instead of doing stuff while they stand there fidgeting and playing with their shoelaces, you can work in advance. For starters, if your family doesn’t have an altar for Samhain yet, set it up before you begin. Better yet, let the kids help you put things on it.

Use a basic altar setup for this ritual–feel free to raid your Halloween decorations for ghosts, witches, skulls, and bats.

If your kids are old enough to not burn the house (or themselves) down when near an open flame, you can use candles, but they’re not required for this ritual. A nice alternative is the small LED tealights, which can go on your altar safely.

In addition to your Samhain decorations, place photos of deceased family members on the altar. If you have other mementos, such as jewelry or small heirlooms, feel free to add those. Also, you’ll want an empty plate or bowl of some sort (leave this on the altar), and a bit of food to pass around as an offering–if you’re working with kids, you might want to have them help you bake bread ahead of time for ritual use.

Finally, have a cup with a drink in it that the family can share–milk, cider (always a great option in the fall), or whatever you may prefer. Obviously, if someone is sporting a cold or runny nose, you might wish to use individual cups.

If your tradition requires you to cast a circle, do so now. Keep in mind that not all traditions do this, however.

Gather your family around the altar, and ask each child to stand quietly for a moment. You can use the word “meditate” if your kids know what that means, but otherwise just ask them to take a few minutes to think about the different family members that have crossed over. If your child is too young to know anyone who has passed away–and that happens a lot–that’s okay. They can simply think about the family they have now, and all the living people who are important to them.

A quick note here: if your child has recently lost a pet, feel free to encourage them to think about that deceased pet. Fido and Fluffy were just as much a part of your family as anyone, and if it comforts your child to think of them at Samhain, let them do so. You may even wish to put your deceased pet’s photo on the altar next to Grandma and Uncle Bob.

After everyone has taken a moment to think about their ancestors, and before anyone starts to fidget, begin the ritual.

Parent: Tonight we are celebrating Samhain, which is a time when we celebrate the lives of the people we have loved and lost. We are going to honor our ancestors so that they will live on in our hearts and memories. Tonight, we honor [name], and [name].

Go through the list of specific people whom you wish to honor. If someone has died recently, start with them and work your way back. You don’t have to unleash the names of every single person in your family tree (because it could be Yule before you finish), but it’s important to mention the people who have had the most impact on your life. If you want, to help the kids understand who everyone was, you can go into more detail as you name the ancestors off:

Tonight we honor Uncle Bob, who used to tell me funny stories when I was a kid. We honor Grandma, who lived in a cabin in Kentucky where she learned to make the best biscuits I’ve ever had. We honor cousin Adam, who served in the Army and then bravely fought cancer before he crossed over…

Once you’ve named off all of the ancestors, pass the plate of food around so each family member can take a piece. These are to be used as offerings, so unless you want little Billy sneaking a bite out of his, you might want to forgo cookies in favor of plain bread, broken into chunks. After each family member has a piece of bread (or whatever) for their offering, everyone gets to approach the altar, one at a time. Adults should go first, followed by the oldest child, working down to the youngest.

Invite each person to leave their offering on the altar on a plate or bowl for the ancestors. As they do–and here’s where you get to lead by example–ask them to send up a prayer to the gods of your family’s tradition, the universe, or your ancestors themselves. It can be as simple as, “I leave this bread as a gift for those who came before me, and thank you for being part of my family.” If you wish to name individual ancestors, you can, but it’s not necessary unless you want it to be.

For smaller children, they may need some help with putting their bread on the altar, or even with verbalizing their thoughts–it’s ok if your little one just puts their bread on the altar and says, “Thank you.

After everyone has made their offering on the altar, pass the cup around the circle. As you pass it, you can say, “I drink in honor of my family, of the gods, and of the bonds of kinship.” Take a sip, and pass it to the next person, saying, “I share this with you in the name of our ancestors.”

Once everyone has had their turn, replace the cup on the altar. Ask everyone to join hands and close their eyes for a moment.

Parent: Ancestors, family, parents, brother and sisters, aunts and uncles, grandmothers and grandfathers, we thank you. Thank you for joining us this Samhain night, and for helping to shape us into who we are. We honor you for that gift, and thank you once more.

Take a moment for quiet reflection, and then end the rite in whatever way works best for your family.

Samhain Ancestor Meditation Ritual

Family Photo Album
Have you taken the time to learn about your own heritage?. Imagesbybarbara / E+ / Getty Images

It's Samhain, and that means for many Pagans it's time to commune with the ancestors. Use this simple meditation technique to call upon those who walked before us. You may be surprised at some of the people you meet!

Plan a Samhain Cemetery Celebration

Cemetery with Memorial Flowers
Honor your ancestors with flowers and candles. Witold Skrypczak / Lonely Planet / Getty Images

Are you planning a cemetery visit as part of your Samhain celebrations? Here are some tips and ideas for how to plan a Samhain cemetery visit to honor the dead.

Samhain Ritual to Honor the Animals

Cat And Dog Cuddling
Celebrate Samhain and honor the animals in your life. Christian Michaels / Image Bank / Getty Images

This ceremony is designed to honor the spirits of the animals, both wild and domestic. Man's relationship with animals goes back thousands and thousands of years. They have been a source of food and clothing. They have protected us from the things that lurk in the darkness. They have provided comfort and warmth. In some cases, they have even raised and nurtured our discarded children, as in the case of Romulus and Remus.

If you have animals in your home–pets or livestock–this is their night. Feed them before you feed the humans in your family. Put some food out for any wild animals that may happen by as well. If you have a pet that has passed away during this last year, you may want to include a photo or keepsake of them on your table during this rite.

Prepare a stew for your family that includes small amounts of as many different meats as you may have available–beef, pork, game, chicken, etc.–after all, most animals are carnivores. If your family is vegetarian or vegan, designate a non-meat ingredient to represent each animal and adapt the ritual as needed, eliminating lines that reference the eating of animals. When your stew is ready, gather the family around the altar table.

Place the stew pot in the center of the table, with a large serving spoon or ladle. Make sure you have some good dark bread to eat as well. Each member of the family should have a bowl and spoon handy. Say:

Samhain has come, and it is the end of the Harvest.
The crops are in from the fields,
And the animals are preparing for the coming winter.
Tonight, we honor the animals in our lives.
Some have died that we may eat.
Some have provided us with love.
Some have protected us from that which would do us harm.
Tonight, we thank them all.

Go around the family in a circle. Each person should take a scoop of stew from the pot and place it in their bowl. Younger children may need an adult's help with this. As each person gets their helping, say:

Blessed are the animals,
Those who die that we may eat.
Blessed are the animals,
Those we love and who love us in return.

As the Wheel of the Year continues to turn,
The harvest has ended, and the grain has been threshed.
The animals sleep for the winter.
We thank them for their gifts.

Take your time finishing your meal. If you have pets, don't be surprised if they come visit while you're eating your stew tonight–animals tend to be very aware of the spiritual plane! If there is any stew left over, leave some out for the spirits. Any extra bread can be thrown outside for the wild animals and birds.

Ritual to Mark the Harvest's End

Empty Cornfield at End of Harvest
Mark the end of the harvest with a Samhain ritual. Stefan Arendt / Getty Images

Samhain falls on October 31, and is known as the Witch's New Year. You can celebrate it as the end of the harvest, and honor the return of the King of Winter.