TWH – Witches and Pagans across the northern hemisphere will be observing a particularly charged Samhain this week with the pervasive energy of this year and the million-plus lives lost worldwide to COVID-19 making for a particularly heavy holiday for those that observe it. It also lands on a full moon, the second in the month, which makes it a blue moon. While there’s not a lot of agreement on the energetic importance of a blue moon, many Witches feel that it gives greater power to their magick and ritual.While some have said that they plan to observe the day on their own others are gathering for virtual events put on by a handful of organizations including Circle Sanctuary, Temple of Witchcraft and Reclaiming, to name a few.
As is common among the portion of our community who observes Samhain, people are writing about, honoring, meditating, praying, and working with the ancestors. But in a year that has seen a huge uptick in the number of newly dead, how are we managing and what workings are we doing to honor them, ease their transition, and heal our own sense of loss and injustice?
“COVID. Ugh. If anything it has made me realize how big Samhain will be this year. So many souls lost. I will definitely be holding space for every family affected,” said Ashlar, a solitary Witch who works as a hospice nurse in South Florida. His job means that he has encountered a lot of the people hardest hit by the disease while attempting to comfort their families.
In some circumstances he was able to connect patients’ families with their loved ones as they passed, so they could be there with them, albeit virtually.
“Husbands and wives dying together. Adult children hysterical over the phone over their parents dying alone and they couldn’t do anything about it. All I could do was listen to them cry and rage and I would just be as still as possible,” he said.
He did his best to shield himself from the energy while still being supportive and comforting.
“It wasn’t always possible.”
After they passed he would do the normal work required after patients at hospice pass on, followed after with his spiritual work to help assist souls to move on.
“There was a lot of anger, a lot of confusion,” he said. “My beliefs are my own though, they do not take center stage at work as the work is not about me.”
Ashlar says that he plans to observe the holiday alone, baking offerings, and then doing ritual in the evening. Usually, he said he celebrates for several days in a row before Samhain.
“There are so many lessons (the ancestors) are willing to teach. They are in a place at this time of year that they are most capable of transmitting teaching. We honor them by receiving their gifts,” he said.
Several others expressed the need for building a relationship with ancestors that grows into something sustainable and acts as an anchor point for one’s practice.
“I think the relationship must be built over time,” said author Courtney Weber.
Ancestors are likely to respond more quickly during this time of year to their living descendants she said.
“The more a person does to honor their ancestors at this time will find they’ll come through with guidance and blessings over the years,” she said.
Terry Harmon, a Witch from Pembroke Pines, Florida said that he finds the work of ancestor veneration to be very important, even if they were people we didn’t get along with well in life.
“I believe no matter what our relationship with our ancestors was here in this plane, it should be as good or better after they pass,” he said. “I plan on also meditating on the lives of my ancestors. Asking them questions to see how they are doing or maybe what should I be doing.”
Author Danielle Dionne, a Witch and psychic medium who lives in Southern New Hampshire said that throughout this year the veil between the worlds has felt thinner than in previous years.
“I have had folks reach out to me who normally don’t consider themselves sensitive to energies having intense experiences with the dead,” she said and noted that the energy has felt very charged and restless. Part of her practice has included keeping a candle lit on her altar to assist those who are crossing over who have fallen victim to the disease.
A novel idea she mentioned was seeking guidance from those who have been through similar struggles before. “COVID has prompted me to connect deeper with my ancestors who have connections to epidemics and plagues,” she said.
There are many traditions that have been absorbed into the work of Witches and Pagans and those for Samhain are no exception. Among them is the dumb supper, adapted to honor ancestors, it’s a tradition that has come to mean eating a meal in silence consisting of the favorite foods of deceased loved ones while leaving an offering for them and usually a seat at the table as well.
Weber said that she plans to keep things to just her husband and herself this year because of the pandemic. In conjunction with the blue moon, she said that she will be doing some additional ancestor work, as well as a dumb supper, divination, and a final harvest of magickal plants for the year.
Weber recommended thinking about blessings on this Hunter’s Moon as its energy is great for helping preserve them and that the blue moon, “adds a powerful ‘oomph’ to the work, and also can set the course for the next twenty years.” More recommendations can be found in a recent episode of That Witch Life podcast.
Harmon said that he is looking forward to doing a virtual celebration with the Temple of Witchcraft this year.
“I’m fully a solitary kind of Witch,” he said, and “this will be my first time celebrating Samhain with others and I’m excited.”
Virtual celebrations have become a way for communities to keep the lines of connection open when convening together is dangerous or impossible. Video chat programs such as Zoom have provided a lifeline to those who would otherwise not get a chance to see any of their friends or chosen family. There are drawbacks as well, with some complaining about too much video chat.
Author Lilith Dorsey said that while she is planning to celebrate with a very small group, practicing social distancing, she also is considering a virtual circle for those who aren’t able to travel.
“My brother in law passed this year so that weighs heavily on our hearts and minds. This year we will be remembering him along with all the other dead,” she said, adding that she will be holding a dumb supper.
Dionne shared that since March she has moved all operations of her Moth and Moon Studio completely online but she does have an in-person gathering, socially distanced with a small number of people.
In some ways, the reliance on our traditions, new, old, or adopted can help guide us through the hardships of life. Relying on the blessings of ancestors, be they flesh and blood, adopted, ancestors of choice, tradition, or any other can be empowering and enriching. Connecting with the ancestors also helps us acclimate to the concept of our own mortality.
Weber said that this year has been a reminder of how living a long life is as much good luck as it is about privilege or healthy choices.
“This year, with the influence of COVID, Samhain has made me think a lot about the legacy I want to leave when I am on someone else’s ancestor altar or shrine. I wouldn’t say it’s changed it, but it’s certainly deepened it,” she said.
Dione said that it depends on the person but she has experienced the recently deceased lacking closure and justice. She says that if you’re called to, you can check in with the dead, your own ancestors, your heart, and your highest self and offer support for them.
“Support can come through magickal workings but also real-world action. Ask what you can do for the dead,” she said.
Terry Harmon agreed with that sentiment and that the dead need to feel support from the living. He mentioned the importance of honoring them not just during Samhain but throughout the year.
“I think they all need us to remember their lives and let them know they are not alone since they have left us.”