Updated: Oct 24
October brings lots of favorite things. Pumpkin spice, falling leaves, warm sweaters, slippers and some folks even get to enjoy wood stove fires. This is the season of Samhain. If you follow the wheel of the year, an eight holiday celebration system developed in the early 20th century, then you know that Samhain pronounced sow-wain, and coincides with Halloween. Samhain is a fixed holiday in that it falls on the 31at of October every year. Its opposing holiday is Beltaine. Beltaine, also a fixed holiday falls on May 1st every year. The autumn brings cooler nights and rainy days. The chaos of summer has receded into recent memory, as we put away our shorts, tank tops and flip flops.
In the Pacific Northwest, we have the pleasure of the seasons. By some counts we have more than four seasons, and I love to have changing weather to help me move through the year with the earth’s pulse.. As we head towards winter, I feel the pull to recoil my energy from outside pressures and seek an inner rhythm to guide my days. In the summer months, anarchy rules and the chaos of spontaneous trips, dinners with friends and weather dictated activities are abundant. I love to the reset that the fall season requests of me. I love to the opportunity to reconnect to my self-care practices, recommitting to yoga, walking outside, meditation and stretching routines. I love making more meals at home as we are not on the run in the same way as we are in summer. Baking breads, making muffins from berries picked with beloved family and friends are favorite fall activities. We spend time dehydrating apples, pears and plums for winter noshing. Homemade fruit leather tops the charts this year as we have seen an overwhelming crop of apples.
Samhain is the third and final harvest of the wheel of the year system. This harvest tryptic starts with Lammas on August 1st then second harvest is Autumn Equinox on Sept 20-22nd,. Samhain celebrates a time when our ancestors might have experienced an abundance of foods. Samhain’s origin hails from Ireland and their climate appears to be similar to the Northwest region of the US. Celebrating the harvest could looks like sharing your abundance with friends, family and strangers. This human act of sharing is replicated in our secular celebration of Halloween. People come to our doors and we share something sweet with them. In times past we might have shared breads and meats, however today Snickers and Twix are the most common delights shared.
If you are seeking to live in time with the seasons you may be wondering how you can incorporate some earth-honoring practices into your soul-fulfilling life. Certainly honoring harvests by preserving foods can be a nourishing way to venerate the season. Making fruit leather and preserving peaches, pears and other fruits can be fun to do with friends or family. Canning harvests from your garden or the local farmers markets also connect you more deeply with place. Knowing what harvests are available in your bio-region can help you understand the land on which you live. Supporting local farmers is essential as we move through extraordinary climate change.
Work with your roots.
Roots are commonly consumed in the colder months. Eating root vegetables are good for your health and also for grounding your body in the season of Fall/Winter. Making potato soup, roasting beets and other root vegetables can warm your home as well as your body. In the summer, in our household, we use our oven less as we do not have air conditioning. So as the cold weather increases in our region during the fall we use our oven as it helps bring warmth into our home. Eating root vegetables reminds our bodies to restore essential elements like minerals to our body systems. Steaming warm sweet potatoes, carrots, parsnips and other root vegetables are nourishing and satisfying this time of year.
Connecting with ancestral roots often arise at this time of year as well. Many cultures around the world celebrate their beloved dead in October or November. I started creating an ancestor altar about 5 years ago. Because Halloween is specularly celebrated in the US, I wait until November to begin assembling my ancestor altar. I am lucky to have many photos of my family member that are long gone. Some of the photos I have are of people I was never able to meet. Being the family historian of my family, when other relatives declutter their lives, the treasures come to my house. We have downsized many family heirlooms, like most contemporary descendants. For the few things we have kept, I enjoy adding some of them to the ancestral altar. Like the brass necklace that is from my paternal grandmother. We have a portrait of her with her sisters when they were 8, 10 and 12 years old, each wearing the treasured necklaces. I add this necklace to the altar, marveling at the fantastic luck of still having this unique jewelry in my possession.
On my ancestor altar are also photos of people who are not my blood relatives. My adopted uncle, my herbal medicine teacher, a friend’s brother who died too young, all bless my altar with their image. Some portraits are large and looming and some photos are small wallet sized. My grandmother’s hand sewn table clothes, candle holders from my maternal grandmother and tea cups from both beloved women adorn the surface. I offer my relatives whiskey, tea or coffee with lots of sugar, cookies and other baked goods. I make special foods that will grace the altar and I share the rest of these delectable baked treats with the living. I let the foods or drinks sit on the altar for a few days, then they are offered to the earth or compost pile. We never eat foods that the spirits have enjoyed as their essence has been removed. I delight in finding recipes from their time frames or cultures and experimenting with making them.
In our house the large ancestor altar stays up for the month of November. I love the idea of the altar being present for the holidays when lots of family members gather. Sometimes I put the altar up at the new moon, sometimes just when it’s convenient. I am not a fan of perfection so I try to not to make rules for myself that make honoring my beloveds challenging. Life throws its own challenges at us each day. For the last four years, we have maintained a small ancestor altar that holds the most recent dead. Over the last few years, we have lost important loved ones. That small altar holds our grief as we navigate new milestones without our recently passed ancestors.
Because I work with people who have died as a psychic medium, I understand how helpful and appreciated it is to the spirits who have passed to be remembered. We maintain our small altar with one candle, dried flowers and little trinkets that would delight the ancestor. We light the candle every time we think of it. These acts are cherished by the dead. When I am doing a psychic medium reading for a beloved that has passed recently or even generations ago, it is common to hear them request that the living make favorite foods in their honor. So make Aunt Linda’s pickles or another relatives pie recipe because they truly love this act of kindness and remembrance.
Samhain can be celebrated a wide variety of ways. One of my favorite Halloween activities is to dress as my future self as a spiritual practice during this holiday. I started this practice about twenty years ago. More recently I have dressed as professor McGonagall from Harry Potter as I have teaching classes on magical practices, psychic development and psychic protection. Many years ago I went as a medieval spice vendor for about four years before I was presented with the opportunity to purchase an herb store!! I was studying plant medicine and deeply enmeshed in learning about the plant world. The opportunity changed my life in many ways and is one of my most proud accomplishments to run that store for almost 15 years before we sold it to the next stewards. I recommend you think of what attributes you are seeking to grow in your life and then dress as that person. It’s a great way to celebrate a secular holiday in a spiritual way.
Do something. Anything.
My biggest piece of advice is to celebrate in some way. Do not wait for the perfect scenario. Our spirituality is often called a practice. So practice. Do not expect perfection or the ultimate expression the first time (or even the seventh time!) Experiment. Practice. Create something that makes your soul sing. Listen to your heart. Make time for your friends. Love your family. Honor your beloved dead. Ultimately I would say that doing something that needs improvement is better than doing nothing. Enjoy Samhain!
Karin Olsen is a healer, a seer and a teacher. She has been studying plants for more than 20 years, owning a herb shop and metaphysical store for 15 years. She has been a massage therapist for over 25 years. Karin learned her psychic medium skills from her mother and see clients via zoom. She teaches classes on earth-based spirituality through Moonhill Mystery School in the Salish Sea area. In 2021 she earned a Master of Ecopsychology from Naropa University.
To learn more about the wheel of the year, schedule a Spiritual Coaching session with Karin at www.moonhillmysteryschool.com/book-online