Samhain – the night when ghosts walk

From: “The Witches Year” ~ by Lucy Cavendish

Once a year comes a night when the dead do walk alongside of us. They move through your memories, inspire your dreams, take hold of your imagination and illuminate your experience. This day is Samhain (sow-en). It is called the Day of the Dead in Mexico, Halloween across the United States, but to witches, it is Samhain, the night into day when the dead teach us that what has passed can instruct us beyond death; that we who live can communicate with those who have gone if we just listen, watch, and stay aware of the signs…

This day (which starts, in the Celtic tradition, at night) has led to many superstitions – and don’t scoff, because the ghouls who populate films are in fact grounded in the symbolic truths of Samhain. Because this is the day when our ancestors must be respected, revered and even sought out – otherwise they will come to find us. This does not mean you must cast spells or perform rituals to activating spirits. It certainly is not about conjuring demons, reanimating the dead or hoping for literal messages. It’s about taking the time to respect the idea of death, and to revere it in life.

So your Samhain will not be complete with a ritual for the dead – and this means candles, food and the power of your imagination. In pre-Burning times, Celts were vocal about their belief that all the souls of those destined to pass over over the coming year walked alongside those who had already crossed over. Others believed that the souls of those who were to be born also walked among us. It is still said that this is he night when the veils between the worlds are at their thinnest – it is easy to slip into madness, delirium and trance like states at this time, so it is important not to overindulge in any sort of substances at this time. I’m going to recommend some cider-drinking later, but this is best indulged in with friends during a screening of Nosferatu, not on your lonesome. Generally at Samhain, anyone with any psychic ability at all will not need any extra help contacting the other side or having peculiar experiences. Pushing yourself with drugs or alcohol will most likely create confusion and negativity in your crafting.

So if getting smashed in the graveyard’s out of the question, what’s a witch to do? A positive way to use this energy is to revere all those who have gone before you; friends, mentors, relatives, even people who might have inspired you who you may never have met. This is the night to revere their memories and their teachings.

Open season
If you desire to open the portals between the worlds, the simplest spells work best at Samhain. This is because there is simply so much psychic activity taking lace that to hold complicated rituals is not really necessary – the best magic is that which will open your mind to the powerful energies and allow you to use them in a very direct and focused way. The energy itself is very dark and complex, so complicated magical recipes can make things very difficult – so don’t be arcane and obscure just for the sake of it.

Try candle gazing – light a black, scented candle in a quiet, empty room, and stare into the flame. Allow your mind to linger on people and events of the past. This is the kind of celebration Pisceans, Scorpios and Cancerians (like myself) just adore – finally, permission to wallow in the past! In fact, that’s exactly what you should be doing. Construct a family tree, speak to those who have passed (simply speak to them in your mind – I have chats to my darling Nana and dream of my Grandma, without fail, every Samhain) and ask for them to look over you.

Mirror work is also very powerful. In a softly lit room, preferably using flame or candles, gaze upon your reflection with your eyes slightly unfocused. See your face merging with those of others – the face of an Aunt, a sister, a mother, a brother – think of who you may have been, and what you have learned on your karmic path. Think of how fortunate we are to have such freedoms – never take them for granted, and spare a kind thought and a wish for peace and fulfillment for the witches of yesteryear who suffered.

Needless to say, Samhain works very well for any kind of past life therapy. It’s a brilliant time to write automatically and simply allow what needs to come out to emerge, be discovered, then released.

Speaking of which, Samhain is the most powerful time for letting go… making amends with your own personal inventory of regrets is a compulsory all-hallows exercise. If you need to forgive, or to be forgiven, ask the Universe, the Goddess and the God, for this at Samhain. Warning – if you do choose to do this, be aware that it does have some emotional and psychic side effects – not all of them necessarily pleasant. You may be troubled for the next twenty four hours as you re-open some old spiritual wounds, some of which may be centuries old, but ultimately, the release is definitely worth the intensity of the process.

Have a friend with you if you plan to use the energy of Samhain for this purpose. It is powerful, and you may need reassurance and protection – and encouragement.

Samhain is also excellent if you have who have experienced negative karmic residue or psychic attack. Confront your fears on this night, walk amongst them, and let them go.

Saltwater bathing will help you release energetic forces and any build up toxins that has occured within your physical and etheric bodies.

Hexing is completely out of the question at this time: it is always a dubious and harmful practice, rightfully shunned by most witches unless the circumstances are utterly necessary. But at Samhain, full-force hexing will have the kind of karmic rebound that will put the law of the threefold return completely in the shade.

It’s actually lovely to get together with older relatives at this time; chat to them about their lives. Love them while they are with you – please don’t wait till they’ve passed. A visit to an older person who may enjoy company or wish to share their time is another meaningful way to celebrate Samhain.

Watch out for…

If relatives or people from your past are associated with particular things, stay aware. You may hear an old song, snatches of a conversation or hear characters in film say lines that seem to come straight out of the mouth of a dead loved one. You may see a hat that reminds you of your mother, a car that your ex-boyfriend used to drive, a tree that looks just like the one you use to climb at your Auntie’s house. Perfume may mysteriously waft by, food may be served up that your Grandpa ate…These are all signs that the spirits are near. Stay alert all Samhain evening for these moments. Even if you make no attempt to converse with the dead, they will try to reach you – so dreams may be a last resort for them. Better still, give over fifteen minutes at sundown to say hello – it may save some unsettling experiences!

On a lighter note, you can focus on mending relationships at this time. If you have any regrets or broken friendships, ask for help. At Samhain, it will work magic. It may not mean that the next telephone call you get will be your long-lost love, or broken-up-with best friend, but it does mean that peace will be in your heart, and that is always the best first step towards mending and healing the pain of broken relationships.

A Samhain spell for the beloved dead…

  • Light black candles
  • Drape you altar with blood red fabric
  • Cut three apples in half (cut them to reveal the magical star at their heart)
  • Place pictures of those you have loved and lost (they need not be dead!) around you
  • Open the magic circle
  • Cut one more blood red apple in half with your athame (or your boline, if you prefer not to use your athame for cutting.)
  • Cut it into nine – the number of completion – pieces.
  • Think of your loved ones, who have passed, and write them a letter in purple ink. Give them your sorrow, your regrets, your ailments, your unfulfilled dreams. Give them your love, your respect, and express any sorrow you may feel at their loss.
  • Spend some quiet time conversing with them – please ask them respectfully if they have anything they wish to share with you.
  • Notice what happens.
  • Thank them for their messages or signs.
  • Blow out the candles, and close circle.

A Samhain spell for revealing the future…

Go to an old well or source of water: a swimming pool, the sea, a bath, or a bowl of water all work well. Take with you a mirror. Hold the mirror up in front of you, and gaze over your left shoulde. Unfocus your eyes just a little and allow the images that come up in the mirror to form. This form of scrying will allow you to see your future coming towards you… remember that this is deeply symbolic – you may not literally see a vision – but whatever you see – a cloud in a shape, a telephone book opened to a page, a person walking by in a great hurry carrying yellow roses – all signify your coming year.
Take the time to work out its meaning for yourself…

Finally, don’t forget that it’s perfectly magically correct to enjoy and enhance the spine tingling feeling of Samhain. Getting together with a group of friends and watching horror classics till dawn, drinking cider (those magical apples!) and munching on corn on the cob is fun, spooky and spiritual, too. Light candles, wear black, share scary stories and get ready to shiver. This night comes but once a year – get into the spirit and face your fears – even death can enrich your life…

What a witch needs to spice up her Samhain

  • Apples – ruby red, sharp and sweet to taste
  • Cider – made of apples
  • A magical mirror (any mirror is fine, but a hand mirror is perfect)
  • Black scented candles
  • Patchouli
  • Fallen leaves
  • Pictures of those loved and lost

On a symbolic level, the three days before Samhain represent the triumph of the dark over the light; and, just as the Celtic day goes from day to night, likewise Samhain is the Witches New Year – starting with the dark and moving into the light. Put simply, Samhain is another chance to celebrate the witches belief system of the rightness and natural harmony of seasonal transition – there is no good, no bad, no dominance – there is the light and the dark, and the shades in between, and all have their part to play in our lives. Like the Wheel of Fortune card of the Tarot, the wheel of the year reminds us that the only constant is change – to attempt to dominate leads to corruption. Eternal summer is as bad for the land as the lifeless cold darkness of endless winter. For health and wealth and life, we must keep turning and changing. For without the dark, we cannot see the stars. And without the sun, we cannot see our shadow. Without Persephone’s kidnapping, we would not have the wheel of the year.

All life comes from this marriage of dark and light. It is inescapable, wondrous and what makes this journey called life so mysterious and rich.

(This essay was copied from an old version of Lucy’s website which is no longer available online. Her new website is at