Since Samhain (Halloween to you non-witchy folks) is coming up at the end of the week, I thought I'd share a ritual I wrote for my book, Everyday Witch Book of Rituals (Llewellyn). I hope it inspires you to do a little sabbat magic of your own. As always, with a few alterations, this ritual can be done by an individual instead of a group.
SAMHAIN: Grief and Rejoicing at the New Year
If there is any one holiday that epitomizes the Witch, it is Samhain, the Sabbat from which the modern Halloween originated. Also known as The Witches’ New Year, October 31st marks the end of the old year and the beginning of a new one. The Wheel of the Year has completed another cycle, and begins to turn again, as it always has and always will.
Samhain can be a bittersweet day, for we mourn all that we have lost over the last year at the same time we look forward to the blessings we hope we’ll reap in the year to come. On this night, the veil between the worlds is at its thinnest, and we say our final goodbyes to people and animals who have moved on to the lands beyond the veil. Some use this time for prophecy and prediction, looking ahead or communicating with the spirits. Others use it to honor their ancestors with a special altar or a Dumb Supper, in which places are set at the feast table for the dead, and food is eaten in respectful silence.
This night is a special magical time, with particular meaning to Witches. And so this Samhain ritual has two parts; one which looks back towards the year passing away and allows us to mourn all we’ve lost, and the second which focuses on the future, welcoming in the new year with celebration and hope.
- Fire-safe cauldron or plate
- Tea lights OR sand to fill cauldron and small tapers (which are then stuck in the sand)
- Optional: small second altar table to put cauldron/plate with candles on [if your main altar is large enough, you can put the cauldron/plate there]
- Small bowls filled with confetti (you can buy this, or cut up colored paper into small pieces) OR noisemakers OR small instruments like whistles, kazoos, clappers, etc. [note: the confetti will make a mess, so you may only want to use it if you are going to be outside]
- Black pillar/taper candle in fire-safe holder
- White, red, or silver pillar candle in fire-safe holder
- Table to use as an altar, and a cloth to cover it
- Copies of the spell for all participants
- Sage smudge stick
- Optional: a large feather for wafting the sage
- Cakes and ale (corn muffins are good, or any apple bread or cake, or apples sliced in half to show the pentacle in the middle, and wine or cider)
- Four quarter candles (1 each yellow, blue, red, and green, or 4 white)
- Goddess and god candles (cream and yellow, silver and gold, or both white or yellow, or two black if desired)
- Matches and candle snuffer
(HPS = High Priestess and HP = High Priest, but this can be done by any individual)
If you can be outside (and I recommend it for this night if it is at all possible), a bonfire is a wonderful addition to a Samhain celebration. It is good to have torches or other lights so you can see to read the spell. If you must be inside, dim the lights and add some extra candles for atmosphere, if it is safe to do so. This ritual should start out solemn and quiet for the first half, then become lighter and more cheerful during the second half. The energy can be quite intense, so it is wise to only include children if you are sure they will not be overwhelmed. Since this is the Witches’ New Year and the third and final harvest festival, it is nice to have an especially bountiful feast afterwards, if you can. [I recommend a pot luck, where everyone brings their favorite dish to share.] NOTE: Samhain is pronounced SOW-WEN
If desired, you can have people process into the circle (start on the outside and go into the circle one by one, usually down a path or from another room) and then be anointed by a member of the group as they enter the circle. If so, the person greeting should say something like: Welcome and blessed be, or Welcome to our Samhain celebration. Participants can be given copies of the spell now, or it can be handed around the circle later if desired.
Otherwise, simply have everyone assemble in the circle. If you have particular people picked out to lead or call quarters, they should stand in the appropriate spots.Cleanse and consecrate the circle and those within it by having someone walk around the outside of the space with the smudge stick (you can use a large feather to waft the smoke inward, if desired) OR pass the sage from person to person clockwise around the circle. Each person should then waft the smoke over them from feet to head.
Cast the circle. The HPS or HP can walk around the circle clockwise and point an athame towards the ground, saying: I cast this circle round and round, from earth to sky, from sky to ground. I conjure now this sacred space, outside of time, outside of place. The circle is cast, we are between the worlds.
ALTERNATELY—the circle can be cast “hand to hand,” in which case the leader takes the hand of the person to his/her left and says: I cast the circle hand to hand. That person then takes the hand of the person to his/her left and repeats, and so on around the circle until all are holding hands. Then the HPS/HP will say: The circle is cast; we are between the worlds.
Call the quarters. (This can be done by one person, or by four. Face the proper quarter and point in that direction with an athame or your finger. All present should also turn and point in that direction. Or people can hold their hands up, palms open to receive the energy.)
East: I call the Watchtower of the east, the power of Air, to protect our circle, blowing out the old year and welcoming in the new. (light yellow candle)
South: I call the Watchtower of the south, the power of Fire, to protect our circle, bringing the warmth and light of an autumn bonfire. (light red candle)
West: I call the Watchtower of the west, the power of Water, to protect our circle and wash away sorrow and regret. (light the red candle)
North: I call the Watchtower of the north, the power of Earth, to protect our circle and keep us grounded on this magickal night. (light the green candle)
HPS/HP invokes the goddess by raising arms to the sky and saying: Great goddess, Hecate, Lady of the Crossroads—we find ourselves at the crossroads of another year and look to you for guidance and comfort. Welcome, and blessed be. (light goddess candle)
HPS/HP invokes the god by raising arms to the sky (hands may form the “horned god” sign by folding down three middle fingers, leaving pinky and thumb pointed up) and saying: Great Horned God, who rules the forests and the fields—keep us safe and strong on this dark night. Welcome and blessed be. (light god candle)
HPS/HP SABBAT INTRO: We have gathered here to celebrate Samhain, the third and final harvest festival of the year. It is the Witches’ New Year, and we have come through another cycle of the Wheel of the Year, and can look forward to the blessings of the days to come. Tonight, the veil between the worlds grows thin, and before we move on we must look back, letting go of all that we have lost in the last year. This may be a person or an animal who was dear to you, it may be a task at which you did not succeed, a wish that did not come to fruition, a job, a relationship, or anything else that causes you sorrow with its loss. Even things we have given up or walked away from voluntarily or those we lost in years before, whose loss still haunts us. All those people and things we will now say goodbye to, leaving us free to move on, at peace, without regrets.[HPS/HP carries black pillar or taper candle over to table with tea lights /smaller candles, lights the candle and then lights a smaller light off of it]
HPS/HP: Each of us will now say goodbye—you can do this aloud or silently, as you chose.
[HPS/HP says goodbyes, then next participant steps up and lights candle, moving clockwise around the circle – IF DESIRED, DRUM QUIETLY IN THE BACKGROUND AS THIS IS HAPPENING]
When all have finished, have a moment of silence. [drumming should stop]HPS/HP: Now we have put the past and our sorrows behind us, and we move on to our celebration of the New Year. We start clean and fresh, with eager hearts and lighter spirits. And so we will say a spell together to turn our pain into joy, and our losses into limitless potential, for within darkness there is always light, and the turning Wheel brings new possibilities for those who are open to them.
[HPS/HP lights white/red/silver candle and drumming can start again, pass out confetti, noisemakers, or small instruments if using, and copies of spell if not given out before]
ALL RECITE TOGETHER:
Hecate, Hecate, Hecate
Bless us with your light
Hecate, Hecate, Hecate
Let the year be bright
Horned God, Horned God, Horned God
Keep us safe and strong
Horned God, Horned God, Horned God
Send joy the whole year long
Hecate! Horned God!
Bless us one and all
Hecate! Horned God!
Bless us one and all!
Throw confetti, make loud noises, or simply clap and cheer.
Have cakes and ale. Pass around circle, saying, “May you never hunger” (cakes) and “May you never thirst” (ale).
Pass speaking stick, if using, and let each person have a moment to speak.
Dismiss the quarters. Each person who called a quarter should dismiss it, starting with north, then west, south, and east. Say: Power of ________, I thank you for your attendance in our circle. Stay if you will, go if you must, in perfect love and perfect trust. So mote it be. (snuff out candle)
Thank the god and goddess. HPS/HPS says: Great god, we thank you for your strength and energy, shared with us this day, in this sacred space. (snuff out candle) Great goddess, we thank you for your wisdom and love, shared with us this day, in this sacred space. (snuff out candle)
Open circle. If circle was cast hand to hand, all should grasp hands and then release with a yell, throwing hands up into the air. HPS/HP can also formally walk counter-clockwise around outside of circle, reversing their actions casting the circle. Otherwise, HPS/HP simply says: The circle is open but never broken. Merry meet, merry part, and merry meet again!
Feast, if you’re having one!