The Wheel Of The Year: Celebrating Samhain, holiday that honors ancestors and other spiritual deaths

On Samhain, the season calls on all of us to reflect and honor those we've lost (and the "deaths" we experience internally).
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Image Credit: Nicole McConville

Image Credit: Nicole McConville

Our Spirituality Editor, Jen CK Jacobs, is guiding us through the eight primary holidays that make up the Wiccan Wheel of the Year, all inspired by the earth and its natural cycles. Read her introduction to the Wheel of the Year here, and then read her intimate and insightful reflection on the holiday of Samhain, below. 

Death: one of the few words in every tongue to stir such a cocktail of diverse emotions. Whether a loss of a loved one has shadowed your life or you have experienced an emotionally charged metaphorical death in some sense, this is the time of year to honor that experience rather than bury it.

Samhain (pronounced Sah-Win), celebrated from sunset on October 31st until sunset on November 1, marks the official beginning of the Wheel of the Year. Samhain is one of the four sacred Sabbats and annotates the beginning of winter by the ancient Celts of Ireland. At this point, the lands have been cleared of their riches during the harvests, the light on the horizon dims and the mists that separate our tangible world from that of the dead lift ever so slightly.

This time of year, three years ago, I lost my father to a massive, sudden stroke. Loss is a gaping wound – one that never truly heals – and we all process grief in our own ways. It would take the majority of those three years for me to possess the ability to reflect upon his death from a new perspective, as if a stranglehold of resentment, anger, anguish and confusion finally fell away and allowed me to take a deep breath that still felt his love was alive.

I honor him everyday now. I wear his US Naval Academy ring on a chain around my neck; I had a momento mori ring made from gold and diamond earrings he’d given me on my 16 birthday; our home is filled with his face, and we keep him alive in stories and memories that bring tears of equal laughter and sadness to our eyes. And I dream about him. That’s how I know he is still with me.

On especially sacred nights such a Samhain, I light a candle on my ancestor altar. I have a small area reserved to honor those in my family who are no longer on this side of existence. And this is the ideal time of year to create your own such altar.

Find an area that you are able to observe daily – it could be on your mantle or a spot on your bedroom dresser. Add photographs, candles, written prayers, cards, knick-knacks – anything that reminds you of those you are choosing to honor. If all you do is smile or conjure a memory when you pass by this sacred space, then you have cast the spell of everlasting life. When we honor our ancestors and allow their memories to empower us to be better, to motivate us to make the right decisions, they are alive within us, and we make them immortal.

All of the spiritual celebrations I write about this year call for inner reflection and gratitude. Such profound consideration is something we as human beings need to practice regularly, on holidays like Samhain and otherwise. If we do not evolve as a people, if we continue to rely solely on our perceived truths and judgments of others, we are not able to know genuine, unconditional love. And that is the core of absolutely everything. It was the greatest gift my father taught me: the answer is always love.

And so, on Samhain, honor those you have lost, but also take the time to honor your own deaths – the death of ideologies you once held true, the death of judgment and intolerance that may have once gnawed at your heart, the death of your old self…because without your gratitude and persistence, you would not be here today, ready to love with such openness. 

Image Credit: Nicole McConville

Image Credit: Nicole McConville


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