While folks will be dishing out candy or going out in costume to celebrate Halloween, plenty of your Pagan and Wiccan friends will be observing another spiritual holiday known as Samhain. Meaning "festival of the dead" in Gaelic, Samhain (pronounced sah-win) started in the 10th century and was originally meant to observe the end of the harvest, giving way to the winter season. In recent centuries, this fest has become a holiday for Pagans and witches to honor the dead, as well as a celebration of rebirth and new beginnings, just like New Year's Day.
Lasting from sunset on Oct. 31 to sunset on Nov. 1, it's a period when the veil separating life and death is thin, and the spirits of deceased loved ones can cross over more easily. If you're a newbie looking to do your own Samhain ritual at home, here are some traditional tips:
• Leave out single lit candles by the window or on your doorstep. This was so ancestral spirits could find their way to you.
• Create your own altar and place photographs of the deceased, as well as some food offerings they would like; also leave out extra chairs for your spiritual guests. If you really wanna get authentic, bake some special Samhain bread, which is a type of soda bread containing seeds, rosemary and rye flour.
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• Carve pumpkins into jack-o'-lanterns or bob for apples. In Samhain lore, jack-o'-lanterns were meant to scare away evil spirits, and apples were buried in roadsides for spirits that had lost their way. These original Samhain pastimes were later claimed by the Halloween holiday.
• Dressing up in witchy costumes is also advised.
• Typical Samhain celebrations involve a ritual at which ancestors are honored and intentions are set for the new year. This is followed by a giant feast.
To learn more about how to hold your own Samhain ceremony, visit your local hermetic retailer such as the Dragon & the Rose (2424 N. Grand Ave., Ste. K, Santa Ana, 714-569-0100; www.thedragonandtherose.com).