Creating a Samhain or Halloween Altar
It’s no secret that witches really come alive around Samhain. This is kind of ‘our time’. While most other Pagan holidays were co-opted by Christianity and dulled down as the years passed, Samhain (and even Halloween) still retains so much Pagan lore and flavor. We have traditions that have come unimpeded from Celtic practices, like Jack-o-Lanterns (which used to be carved into turnips before pumpkins came over from the new world), trick-or-treating, and trying to commune with the dear departed while the veil is thin. This is a time to cavort with the dead and protect ourselves and our homes from evil spirits that might try to insinuate themselves.
In the agricultural world, this is the last harvest. This is when we bring in the straggling fruits and herbs to be stored and enjoyed over the Winter months. Anything left out in the garden after Samhain is for the faeries and spirits. This is when you really hope that your harvest was robust enough to keep you going through the Winter months until you can start growing or foraging food again in the Spring.
In the non-agricultural world, we’re starting to look ahead to the quick procession of all the Winter holidays and making our homes cozy and cheerful while the weather cools outside. There’s an alchemy of this time of year where our lives become a little more introverted, a little more introspective, and we integrate what we learned in the active months of Spring and Summer.
So let’s look at some altar ideas for Samhain!
Colors (for altar cloths, flowers, candles, and decorations)
So there are a few different ways to go when choosing Samhain colors for your altar. You can go with the Halloweeny black and orange, and you’ll find lots of decorative pieces that will work with the scheme. You could also go for the less traditional, but popular lime green and purple and black. If you hail from Mexico, you could choose to go with Day of the Dead, which uses lots of bright, festive colors. Or you could do what I’m going to do, and go with black and grey and silver, somber smoke colors that represent the ancestors, with just a hint of bright colors here and there. You could also go with traditionally Autumnal colors, like reds and oranges and golds if you want to focus on the changing of the leaves. This is all really about what this sabbat means to you personally!
There are SO many good scents that I associate with this time of year. Bonfires and autumn leaves can both be found as candle scents. Apples are still appropriate, pumpkin scents are everywhere, and there are lots of candy scents around now, like licorice. Also, keep in mind if there are any scents that you associate with your ancestors. Did you have a grandfather that smoked pipe tobacco? Did you love your great aunt’s pecan pie? Those scents would work well to honor them!
As far as incense, I really like using cemetery cedar and cypress to represent the dead. I also like to crush up fallen leaves to add that special bonfire scent. Tobacco is another great additive to incense if you have an ancestor who used it.
- Pictures of your ancestors, things that belonged to them, or pictures of the lands they hailed from. You can also create an image or statue that represents your collective ancestors if you don’t have images of them.
- Foods, drinks, and other things that your ancestors loved. You can do a full dumb supper where you make some of your ancestors’ favorite dishes and make them plates to feast from beyond. Or you can go easier, and just add those things to your altar.
- Pumpkins, pumpkins, PUMPKINS! They’re just so ubiquitous for this time of year, and they’re really festive and fun. Miniature pumpkins are great to add to your altar for that Autumnal, Halloweeny feel. Other gourds can be added as well!
- Acorns as symbols of protection throughout the Winter, as well as a sign of planting seeds in the Autumn for new plants to start growing during the Spring thaw.
- Scrying mirror or other scrying/divination tools. The veil between this world and the next is thin at this time of year, and you can use that to your advantage. Messages about your future, about hidden truths, and messages from the dead are easier to access right now.
- Candy and other sweets. Candy has been so deeply associated with this time of year for so many reasons. Whether you see candy as offerings to the departed, or offerings to the neighborhood kids dressed as demons and ghouls, it’s a great thing to keep on your altar.
- A representation of fire, as Samhain is one of the Celtic fire festivals and bonfires are traditionally held now
- A cauldron, as a representation of the transformation that you want to undergo this Winter. Samhain is a great time to burn away the old things from the past year that you want to get rid of, and to invoke the things that you want to bring in. So burn a slip of paper with the old, and write the new on a different slip of paper that you’ll keep on your altar until next Samhain. You can annoint the new paper with oil to seal it and make it sacred, then tuck it somewhere out of the way.
- Representations of any animals we’re seeing a lot of this time of year. Bats, owls, and other nighttime critters are especially appropriate as the nights are getting much longer as we slide towards Yule.
As always, I’ll end up with a lot more on my altar as I find things or as they occur to me. I’m sure there are some good symbols I’ve missed, so if you think of any, please let me know in the comments. Blessed be! 🙂