Let’s Honor Our Ancestors at Samhain!

Samhain ancestors

At Samhain one of the big things that we do is honor our ancestors.  We recognize those who have come before and we even put into perspective the fact that we too will be an ancestor to future generations.

I like to say that we’re doing ancestor honoring where others call it ancestor worship.  The difference, in my view, is that worship is something that’s reserved for the Gods and Divine energies.  Worship is defined as reverence and adoration for a deity.  Honoring is no less powerful, but is an act of showing and paying respect to anyone in a formal and even public way.

In some spiritual traditions around the world the ancestors are honored liked Gods so worship makes sense.  In these traditions the ancestors as called in as past of any ritual or ceremony, sometimes even before the Gods themselves.  I certainly don’t see the ancestors as being “less than” the Gods but I see them as being different so I do honor them differently.

At Samhain we work with the ancestors to not only honor them and their sacrifices but also to try receiving intuitive and psychic messages from them for guidance into the year ahead or with specific issues we may be having.  This is the most auspicious time for this kind of work because the veil is thin between the worlds of the living and the dead but you can, and really should, honor your ancestors and turn to them for help any time of year, not just at Samhain.

Your ancestors do not have to be known to work with them. They also don’t have to be just family.  Friends and cultural figures are also seen as ancestors.  Many Witches see Witches who lived before them and who paved the way for their practice to be ancestors to them as well.  Anyone that you see as having contributed to your existence and your life path in some significant way can serve as an ancestor and can be honored at Samhain.

If you’re adopted you have the option to honor your adoptive family, your biological family {even if they aren’t known…they still gave you life} or you can honor both! And yes, pets can also be included in your ancestor magic.


Ways to Honor Your Ancestors at Samhain

There are a number of different mini rituals and activities that you can do on Samhain night to honor your ancestors.

The Dumb Supper

Dumb Supper Samhain

This is a popular traditional in modern Paganism for honoring the dead at Samhain.  For dinner on Samhain night prepare a meal that includes foods that were favorites of your loved ones on the other side.  Then set a place for your ancestors at the table, fix them a plate of food, give them a favorite beverage and then have everyone else sit and eat in silence.  The silence is to allow an opportunity during the meal to receive signs or messages from loved ones who may have joined your table.

Candles are typically the only source of light during a Dumb Supper.  Bless black candles for each of the people that you hope to visit your table and place their pictures as center pieces.  Use a black tablecloth to cover the table and use white dishes.  Once everyone is at the table everyone should hold hands and say a silent pray of thanks for both the meal and their ancestors, while also asking for their ancestors safety as they travel between the worlds. When the meal is over everyone should remain silent as they leave the table. As and people get up to leave everyone should stop by the place set for Spirit and say thank you for their visit.

The food that was given to the spirits should not be eaten by any human diners.  The essence of the food has been taken by the spirits.  The food can be disposed of, burned or buried outside, depending on where you live and what is best for your situation.


Create an Ancestor Altar

Ancestor altar

Aside from having a Samhain altar for magic and ritual, many people also create a specific altar space for honoring their ancestors.  Place pictures of your ancestors here along with special items that may have belonged to them like jewelery or their favorite lucky trinkets that you may have inherited. Add a tea light for each person represented and place a glass of wine or clear water as an offering for them.  You can also add favorite plants or flowers.  You can sit around this altar with people and tell stories about those represented on the altar, say prayers for them or ask for their guidance in an area of your life.  Sit here in a little bit in meditation and reflection and see what, and who, comes through.

Drums and Rattles

Samhain drums

When you’re getting ready to welcome your ancestors you can call them in for the night of Samhain by beating drums or shaking rattles.  You can do this while calling their names or simply letting any ancestors, known and unknown, that they are welcome to visit.


Candle Lighting

Samhain Candles

The most common colors to use for Samhain are black, white and red but I actually love to use the blue for the ancestors.  Blue, to me, represents the ethereal and the veil itself.  By burning blue candles we encourage the thinning of the veil but we also create an aura that the ancestors know because it’s like the energy they now know.  Think of it like a cord of light energy for them to follow to find you. When you light candles for your ancestors at Samhain, including the ones on your table during the Dumb Supper, they should be allowed to burn all the way down through the night.


Soul Cakes

Soul Cakes

There is an old European tradition known as Souling that is part of the basis for our modern trick or treating and it honors our ancestors.  People, often the poor, would go door to door offering to say prayers for the dead of those who lived in the home.  In exchange for the prayers and songs to their dead they would receive a Soul Cake.  The cake would be eaten, prayers said and sung and each of the cakes and prayers would release a soul from Purgatory. If someone didn’t have Soul Cakes to offer no prayers were said and the owners of the home could find themselves a victim of a “trick”.  These tricks were never harmful and often intended to spook the people in house – spooky noises, rattling chains, things tapping on the windows.

Today some people make Soul Cakes and share them with friends and trick or treaters, or even leave them out as offerings for their ancestors.  If you you’d like to learn how to make Soul Cakes click on the tab below for a recipe!


Soul Cakes Recipe

These are a biscuit like cookie that should be crisp around the edges and softer in the center.  They can have dried fruit, like raisins, pressed into the tops or made without. This recipe will make about 14 large Soul Cakes.

2 1/2 cups sifted flour
1 1/3 cups sugar
3/4 c + 1 tbsp butter, softened and cut into cubes
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 spice mix {I like pumpkin pie spice}
1 egg, beaten
2 tsp white wine vinegar

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees and grease 2 cookie sheets.

Mix and sift together all dry ingredients. Add butter a cube at a time mixing with a fork until a dough with a breadcrumb consistency is made.  Add egg and vinegar, mix well with a wooden spool until dough is firm.  Cover and put in the fridge for 20 minutes.

Remove and roll out on a floured surface.  Using a large round cookie cutter or the mouth of a large coffee mug cut out cakes and place on the cookie sheets, gathering up and rolling out the scraps as you go.

Place in the over and bake 12-15 minutes or until golden on the edges.  If you’d like to add raisins, which were common in these cakes in the past, a few minutes before they are due to come out of the oven, press raisins gently into the tops of the cakes, return to the oven, and let the make for another 2 to 3 minutes.  Place on a cooling rack when they come out.  The cakes can be served cooled or warm.



Candle Ritual For Your Ancestors

Samhain Ancestor Magic

For this mini ritual of candle lighting you’ll need:

  • 1 Red taper or chime candle
  • 1 White taper or chime candle
  • 1 Black taper or chime candle
  • 1 White ribbon
  • 1 candle plate to stand the candles on
  • Patchouli essential oil or Samhain blended oil

Dress your candles with the oil.  As you do, say out loud and reflect on each of these things for each of the candles:

Red Candle – “Blood of my ancestors”  Think about your blood line, your lineage and anyone who may have literally shed blood for your family or even your country.

White Candle – “Bone of my ancestors”  Think about the roots you have to your family and the hard work your family may have done to leave you the legacy you have.

Black Candle – “Wisdom and Timelessness of my ancestors”  Think about how you are a product of your ancestors all the way back to the beginning of time and that through your commonly held DNA you have access to all their knowledge, power and wisdom by simply learning to connect to them and tap that energy.  Also acknowledge that you too will be part of this endless thread of energy one day.  What will you leave for those who come after you?

Hold all three candles together and use the white ribbon to bind them all in the center.  Then place the candle bundle standing in the center of your candle plate. Say the following prayer as you light your candles and reflect on your ancestors:

I celebrate you on this night of Samhain
and I invite you into this space.
I honor those who have gone before
for your hard work and sacrifices
and for all you have given to me.

I celebrate all those who will come after me
and I hope to leave a legacy of
magic, spirit and authenticity that shall
support, inspire and sustain you,
those known and unknown that shall come after me.

By the light of these candles
I call the spirits of my ancestors, known and unknown, to be present.
May this light endure through the ages
To always guide our spirits in love, truth and honor.

So mote it be!

Let the candles burn down as you celebrate Samhain and honor your ancestors. Now is a great time to look at old photos, tell stories with friends and family and welcome messages and insights from your ancestors.

{As the candles burn down be sure to carefully shift the ribbon so it doesn’t catch fire.  When it gets to the bottom you can carefully remove it.}

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