A spirit-filled Samhain

It’s Samhain season! September through November is my absolute favorite time of the year, and a large part of that is due to the thinning of the veil, the darkening of the days, and the ease with which we can connect and communicate with the other worlds.

I’ve been talking a lot about connecting with spirits and other Samhain season activities over on TikTok. There are so many people – witches and muggles alike – that feel the call to reach out to ancestors and spirits during this time, but are lost on how to do it, and how to do it safely.

I’ve collected some of my favorite tips below. If you’re a spirit worker (and lets be honest, if you’re a witch, you’re a spirit worker), what are your favorite tips and tricks?

Graveyard etiquette

One of the most frequent questions I’ve been getting is about graveyard etiquette: should you enter graveyards for magickal purposes? What’s the right way to do it? And if you’re asking permission from the spirits there, how do you know what the answer is?

We need to remember that graveyards are sacred places for the living, for the most part. Spirits aren’t tied to their bodies 100% of the time (think of all the times you’ve reached out to a loved one in your home, in nature, in church), and while there is some connection there, graveyards are more for us. They’re places that remind us of our mortality and the sacredness of life, but also the sacredness of connection to the ancestors.

That being said, they will play host to ancestral spirits occasionally, as it’s easier to call them forth when you have something they’re connected to – like a body. Graveyards are also home to land spirits, and as liminal spaces, make comfy sacred areas for all sorts of spirits and spooks. This means it’s important to show reverence while you’re there, as if you were visiting the home of a friend you don’t see often. Ask permission to enter, perhaps bring a gift to ingratiate yourself with your hosts, and leave it, if not better, than at least as you found it.

Performing magick in a graveyard is common and acceptable behavior, as long as you have permission from the spirits to be there. A simple, “This is my intention. Do I have your permission?” works fine. (We’ll talk about how to recognize the answers in a bit.) Personally, I try to have some sort of connection to the graveyard; if I have a family member or ancestor buried somewhere, I’ll choose that graveyard over one I don’t have blood buried in. If you don’t have any family interred anywhere near you, focus on building a relationship with your local graveyard before asking to do Work there. Bring offerings, clean up periodically, spend time in quiet contemplation and connection with the spirits there. You wouldn’t just walk into a stranger’s house and sit down to dinner.

Side note: it’s common courtesy, at least in my opinion, to keep your Work to the actual areas where your ancestors are buried, if possible. This is especially important when collecting grave dirt. Taking from ancestor graves is more powerful as your energy is already connected, and you run a much smaller risk of pissing someone off. Again, if you don’t have any local ancestor graves, make an effort to develop a relationship with a certain grave and spirit before taking anything.

Connecting With Ancestors

Whether you’re traveling to your local graveyard or setting up ancestor altars at home, this is a common time of year to reach back through that ancestral line. Your location doesn’t matter so much as your intention when reaching out.

If you’d like to make connections with your ancestors, the easiest way to do that is to set up an ancestor altar in your home. Collect photos, tokens, and representations of your ancestors’ favorite things and set them in a sacred space where you can tend to them with single intention. I like to use a special dedicated candle for ancestor work to help complete the liminal space.

If you don’t have access to items like that, you can leave out more general items that connect you to your cultural heritage and inscribe ancestral names into votives, tea lights, or candlesticks.

If you don’t even know which names or cultures you’re calling out to (adoption commonly makes witches feel disconnected from ancestors), I’ve seen some witches do powerful work with a bit of their own hair and blood – but make sure you know what you’re doing before working this type of magick. It’s not for newbies or the faint of heart, and using blood and other bodily tags in magick requires certain circumstances and specific protections, so don’t stumble into that work lightly. This should be an absolute last ditch effort to connect to your ancestors, especially with the prevalence of DNA kits that can pinpoint geographical regions for you.

Whatever method of altar you choose, make time to sit and speak with your beloved dead. Don’t start with asking for favors; instead, treat it like a phone call as if they were still alive. Tell them about your day, what’s going on in your life. Tell them you love and miss them. Share your favorite memories of them – and if you didn’t know them when they were alive, tell them things you wish you knew. Develop a connection to the spirit. You’ll find they eventually begin to respond, and once you’ve opened communication, if you need to ask for their assistance, you can do so now.

Confirming the conversation

Ah yes, the most frequent of questions: but how do I know when a spirit is communicating? And how do I know whether it’s positive or negative if I’m asking questions?

This is where developing your connection to your own energy and intuition is key, because that’s how you’ll be receiving the feedback from your spirits. We often talk about “gut feelings”, but that’s essentially what’s going on.

If you ask a question, and all of a sudden you feel different – it’s probably an answer. And whether that different feeling is pleasant or uncomfortable will tell you whether its a yes or a no.

For example: if you’re asking permission to enter a graveyard, and suddenly you feel a shiver go down your spine, or feel like someone is watching you, and the sensation is uncomfortable and puts you on edge – that’s a no. If you feel a shiver and it’s warm and comforting, that’s a yes.

It’s important to develop what I like to call your “energetic baseline”. Know how you are feeling in the moment, so if a shift occurs, you can identify it. Taking a moment to ground and center your energy and check in with your body is the best and easiest way to do this. The more you practice the skill, the quicker it’ll take you to find your baseline.

There can be external signs that act as spirit communication as well, but honestly, I find intuition to be the most foolproof way to get an answer, especially when dealing with ancestors. You know that sinking feeling you get when your mom calls your name sternly (and uses that middle name too, uh oh); or the warm tingling you get from a hug from your grandmother; or the fond butterflies when remembering childhood memories? Those are all ways your body is telling you an interaction is positive or negative, and you can rely on those sensations when looking for communication from spirit family just as we do from the living.

A note about offerings

While we can certainly leave physical offerings for our ancestors at any time of year, this time of year is popular in practices and cultures around the world, due to the belief that the dead have an easier time returning to partake in those offerings while the veil is thin.

If you’re going to leave offerings for your honored dead out on an altar, here are some helpful tips:

  • Choose foods and drinks that they enjoyed in life, even if it’s something you don’t like. The offering isn’t for you.
  • Only leave them out for about 24 hours. This is more than enough time for your spirits to accept the offering, and you’re contaminating both the energy of the space and the physical health of your home if you leave offerings to mold or rot.
  • Disposal of offerings doesn’t need to be complicated; they’ve taken what they need from it, so you can toss it in the trash. The sacred act is leaving it out for them. You wouldn’t treat your living relatives’ plate scraps with reverence. You don’t need to treat exhausted offerings with reverence, either. If the idea of just tossing them away really makes you uncomfortable, say a short prayer or blessing before you throw them out, or toss any compostable items in a compost bin or pile.
  • As an alternative to leaving food on an altar, you can set an extra plate at your dinner table and invite them to dine with you. Practices like Dumb Suppers are common and wonderful for honoring ancestors.

If you do ancestor work, what are some of your favorite methods of communication? Leave them in a comment to build a collective resource for future witches!

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