Celebrating Samhain: How to Set Up the Best Altar and Perform the Right Rituals

Altar and Ritual Ideas to Help You Celebrate Samhain the Best Possible Way

Even though October 31 is widely celebrated as the official date for Halloween, long before Halloween even existed those who are adept of Paganism were already celebrating something known as Samhain from October 31st to November 1st. Despite the fact that horror movies helped popularize the idea that Samhain is some sort of dark and evil celebration, the truth could not be further away from that. 

Samhain is practiced by those who follow Paganism and Wiccanism, for instance. There are some who argue that Halloween is actually the Christianized version of Samhain as well to stop the spread of Paganism and increase the popularity of Christianism. Nevertheless, Samhain is the festival which celebrates the end of the harvest season and beginning of winter or the darker half of the year, and, according to Paganism, it marks the time of the year when the veil that separates the living world and the world of the dead is at its thinnest. 

Therefore, this is the perfect time to honor the dead, honor nature, and honor the cycle of death and rebirth. In order to celebrate Samhain, you must be able to set up your own altar and perform a few rituals to demonstrate gratitude for nature’s seasonal cycle and respect towards their ancestors and the spirits of those who have passed away. Here we have compiled a list of 10 altar and ritual ideas which you can explore and use as inspiration for this year’s Samhain.

What Goes On A Samhain Altar  

Samhain altar with harvest foods, pentagrams, and candles
Example of Samhain Altar. Image courtesy of DreamScape.

Even though you can purchase altar sets online that will require little to no work from you, one of the best things about a Samhain altar is to make it uniquely yours. There are multiple ways in which you can set up your own altar but you should make sure to follow some simple guidelines in order to make sure that it is dedicated to Samhain. The most important thing about setting up your altar is making sure that you follow your instincts and use objects which call to you in some way. Still, Samhain altars often include:

  • The colors of the season such as orange, black, and white
  • Photographs of your ancestors such as your grandparents or great-grandparents
  • Harvest food items such as pumpkins, squash, apples, and corn
  • Symbols of death such as skulls, skeletons, and ghosts
  • Tools of divination such as tarot cards, runes, crystal balls, and scrying mirrors

Setting Up Your Own Samhain Altar 


Samhain Altar guide. Image courtesy of Witchy Words


Altar Bases and Cloths

Whether or not you have set up altars before you should know that the place where you set up your altar should be of great significance and respect. Moreover, knowing where you want your altar to be can help you decide what items you will be able to work with as well as which overall look you want your altar to have. You can choose to set up your altar on top of a table, on a shelf, on a window, and basically anywhere where you can have easy access to and that feels right to you. After you have picked your spot, even if it is not mandatory, you can put a cloth on top of it and usually the preferred color is black but you can use the colors of the season as well. 

Picking Pictures and Photos

As you know by now, Samhain is the way with which those who practice Paganism and Wicca honor those who have passed away and their spirits. Therefore, this is the perfect occasion for you to take the time to remember those in your life who have passed away and are dearly missed. You can choose pictures of your deceased ancestors such as your grandparents, great-grandparents, or your parents if any of these apply to you. However, you can also use pictures of friends or people who were close to you which have passed away. What matters is that they are somehow represented within your altar. 

Candles 

It is almost impossible to picture a Samhain altar without a candle but if you are not allowed to have actual candles on the place where you live, electric candles can work just fine. What matters is that they are within the colors of the season such as orange, black, white, and yellow. Fire is considered a sacred element and lighting candles is a way to connect to it and bring positive energy to your altar. 

Incense and Flowers

There is nothing better than the smell of fresh flowers or of a burning incense. If you ever go for walks you can try to pick up flowers, leaves, and even mushrooms which you can use to decorate your altar and to honor both nature and the dead as well. If you are unable to pick up flowers or leaves, it is okay to buy them! You should do anything that feels natural to you and that you know that will only add up to your altar. Even though you can buy incense sticks which can help you cleanse your house and decorate your altar, you should try to buy actual dried flowers, plants and herbs as their energy is stronger and they have multiple benefits. 

Harvest Foods and Drinks

As the Samhain is a festival to celebrate the harvest season, it is necessary to include harvest foods and drinks within your altar. The best part about this is that you can find pumpkins, corn, squash, and apples, for instance, almost everywhere! You can choose to do it whichever way you want: small or big pumpkins, dried apples, and even popcorn. This is a way to make an offering for both the dead and the Gods as well as to honor nature and everything that it provides. Moreover, you can pour your or the deceased favorite drink in a shot glass and leave it as an offering to keep them happy. 

Symbols of Death

The symbols of death are crucial to every altar and you should not be afraid to add skulls, skeletons, bones, ashes, images of the Grim Reaper, and grave rubbings to your altar. This is when you can explore your creativity and you should not be afraid to try new things. You can use crystal skulls, you can make drawings, you can use potion bottles and fill them up with bones or ashes, anything that helps your creativity and that assists you in your celebration of the dead. 

Tools of Divination

A Samhain altar is not complete without its tools of divination. If you are planning to build an altar you probably have many of these tools yourself and this is the time to perhaps put them to use! You can display your tarot cards, you can organize your divination runes, you can set up your crystal ball, and you can add you can find a place for your scrying mirror as well. If you have crystals, this is the perfect opportunity to charge them and to display the ones which are related to this season as well in order to attract more energy towards your altar. 

The Importance of Samhain Rituals 

Samhain decor. Image courtesy of We Heart It


Although Samhain rituals have been cast aside in favor of trick or treat and costume parties, they are still a very important part of both Pagan and Wicca religions. This is one of the most important times of the year for those who follow these religions and their rituals are a crucial part of it. Everything about Samhain invites you to tap into your witchy side: the chill in the air, the smell in the air, the color of the leaves, and the feeling that basically anything can happen as the veil between our world and the world of the dead grows thinner. Rituals can either be a solemn occasion or one to enjoy yourself and have fun; you can either perform rituals by yourself or with others but they are often held in private rather than in public. 

There are many rituals which you can perform during Samhain and we have suggestions for simple and creative rituals to help you celebrate Samhain. 

Types of Samhain Rituals 

Getting ready for a Samhain Ritual. Image courtesy of Pexels.

Set Up An Altar

One of the most important rituals for Samhain is the one which we have already discussed within this article: setting up your own altar. Not only this is a crucial ritual but also it helps get you in the mood for Samhain and prepare for it. 

Perform A Reflection or A Prayer

Samhain is about being able to connect with your spiritual side, appreciate everything that nature has given you, and to remember those who have passed away. Therefore, the best ways of doing so is by performing a reflection and/or a prayer. You can choose to light up the candles in your altar or set up more around you, go for a nature walk, or simply go to a place where you can feel comfortable and at peace. Then you can take your time to reflect upon life, the ones who have passed away, and everything you have experienced so far this year. You can also use some of these prayers or come up with your own, whatever works for you. 

Take a Nature Walk 

As Samhain is the time to both honor and celebrate nature, you should not be afraid to engage with it in whichever way you can. Nature walks are perfect to gather materials for your altar, take some time to reflect or to pray, and just to be in contact with nature. There is nothing like smelling the trees, the earth, and even coming across with creatures which you can only find among nature. This is a way for you to connect with your spirit and to remember the importance of nature within your life and to understand your place in the circle of life as well. 

Celebrate the Circle of Life 

Even though the leaves are dying during the fall, they are more beautiful than ever. Therefore, they work to remind you that there is beauty in death just as much there is beauty in life. You should not be afraid to celebrate life but you should not forget to celebrate death as well because there is nothing worse than being afraid of something which is natural and happens to everyone. By honoring the dead you are also honoring their lives and making sure that their memories continue to live on. 

Prepare a Feast of the Dead

You can prepare and host a feast of the dead where you can cook harvest food and offer a piece of everything that you cook to your altar and your ancestors before each bite as well. You should have your feast somewhere near your altar and always remember to invite your ancestors and deceased loved ones to join you at your feast and to honor them throughout it. Even if they are no longer with you, this is their time to be celebrated and you should not refrain from it. 

Build a Bonfire

Light up a bonfire and invite your loved ones to enjoy it with you. This could be a chance to share stories about loved ones who have passed away as well as to write down any negative thoughts or bad things which have happened to you during the year and cast them into the flames as a way to let go of them. Bonfires are one of the best ways to celebrate Samhain because, as previously mentioned, fire is considered to be a sacred element and this way you can be in contact with fire, earth, and air all at once. 

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Camila do Nascimento

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