I’ve had my Halloween post for this year up for a couple of days. Time now for a journey back into the roots of our traditions. The thinning of the veil between our world and the spirit realm is traditionally most extreme at Samhain.

The word "Samhain," pronounced something like "Sah-ween," stands out from a woven background with reddish-brown and black sun symbols.

It’s pronounced something like “Sahween,” according to my sources. It springs from ancient Celtic tradition.

Its popular, secular descendant is the contemporary craziness that is Halloween, but in its origins and in some of the rising spiritual communities of today it is celebrated more as a time of spiritual renewal.

A thinning of the veil

I see a common thread in the concept that the barriers of the spirit realm become less firm at certain pivotal times of the year

Two disparate cultural threads in my own experience come from the ancient Celtic traditions in the form of Samhain, and from Mesoamerica via the increasingly popular Días de los Muertos. (Yes, many people celebrate only one, but the Oaxacan tradition observes at least two). Whatever their other differences, they agree about a thinning of the veil.

You don’t have to worship your ancestors to feel a sense of connection with them. Even if they have long since passed on. We are, as Linda Hogan has so elegantly written, “The result of the love of thousands.” For many people Samhain can be a time of reconnection. Of rediscovering our families and the cultures and traditions from which we grew.

This is the Xoxo Cemetery in Oaxaca during the Day of the Dead celebrations sometime before 2009. Photo by Greg Willis.
This is the Xoxo Cemetery in Oaxaca during the Day of the Dead celebrations sometime before 2009. Photo by Greg Willis.

How do you reconnect with someone who died years ago? The Circle Sanctuary’s Selena Fox offers some representative suggestions.


Graveyard Visits. Once again, the Oaxacans have elevated this to a fine art form. They clean, decorate, and then settle in by their ancestors’ graves. Sometimes for days. Meals are picnics. Music and “Ancestor Stories” abound. It’s a community party. What ancestral spirit wouldn’t want to come to that reunion?

Consider a family “Ancestors Altar,” “memory niche,” or display. This is kind of like the ofrendas created for Días de los Muertos. 

Have a Feast of the Dead, with a place setting held empty. It can either be on your table or on the altar/ofrenda. Leave a food and drink offering there. A Celtic tradition is a “Dumb Feast,” or “Dumb Supper” when no one talks. This recognizes the fact that our deceased ancestors can no longer speak directly with us.

My favorite approach (imagine that) is telling “Ancestor Stories” These are tales that have been passed down through the generations. There’s a whole contemporary movement of writing down, recording, or otherwise preserving ancestors’ stories.

This labyrinth is illuminated at dusk for an "Autumn Candlelight Labyrinth Walk" at the Copper Beech Institute in Connecticut during a retreat.
This labyrinth is illuminated at dusk for an “Autumn Candlelight Labyrinth Walk” at the Copper Beech Institute in Connecticut during a retreat.

Natural connections and reflection

Many neopagan communities find this a particularly apt moment to reconnect with nature, too. Mindfulness of our connections with the natural world are essential to our continued survival (in my humble opinion). You might want to try some of these approaches, even if you follow a different religious tradition.

Go on a nature walk, or walk a labyrinth in a beautiful natural setting. Contemplate the year, your place in the grand scheme, or other spiritual matters. Many spiritual traditions (including Christian) find a labyrinth a deeply spirit-feeding experience. There’s a labyrinth inside Chartres Cathedral, for instance.

Gather with your community around a bonfireIn earlier times a bonfire was seen as a hedge against evil spiritsCircle Sanctuary’s Selina Fox suggests a ceremony of shedding old habits or other unhealthy things in your life. She suggests writing them down on a piece of paper, then casting them into the flames.

Fox also suggests that other forms of reflection and spiritual renewal may come through reflections on the past (perhaps via journals, photographs, etc.). Renovate or refresh some part of your home, office, or life. Or seek other guidance

traditional Samhain bonfire may offer an opportunity for reflection, and also possibly parting ways with old habits or unhealthy attitudes or influences in your life.

However you celebrate Samhain (or don’t), and however you experience the thinning of the veil (or don’t), I wish you a deeper connection with the most important things in life.

IMAGE CREDITS: Many thanks to Slingofest, for the gorgeous Luluna Slings “Salana Samhain” wrap (glitter) that formed the backdrop for the title image. I am grateful to Tripsavvy and Greg Willis, for the photo from the Xoxo Cemetery. It was originally posted on Flickr (but now it’s a 404 error on the link).  I also appreciate Druidry.org’s article on a deeper Samhain, for the photo of the Samhain bonfire.