In ancient times, it was believed if a witch did not leave an offering or sacrifice for the deceased the night of Samhain, the spirits of the dead would haunt her. As legend goes, the thinning of veil occurs the night of Samhain and the dead can take advantage of the opening in the seam between the worlds to come and do harm or mischief among the living.
In modern days, we understand Samhain as the beginning of the Season of Death. As crops slowly die and winter takes over, the cycle of life is once again close to restarting, The fertile fields of summer give way to the bare forests.
Witches live in tune with nature and their local surroundings. Although in the Northern Hemisphere (Europe, United States, Canada, etc.), we are experiencing autumn, the Southern Hemisphere (Australia, Zimbabwe, New Zealand, etc.) is experiencing the exact opposite: the start of Summer! Beltane is celebrated on October 31st, perfectly in alignment with the local season.
I urge those in the Southern Hemisphere to draw from their local native culture rather than relying only on European text for spiritual celebrations and dates. Being in rhythm with your local seasons, produce and environmental influences is the natural lifestyle of the witch.
In an ideal world, having a traditional Samhain bonfire honoring the dead and the changing season would be my perfect celebration. Due to rain and storms, I am opting for an indoor fireplace - burning the wood grown on my very own property. Indulging in the local final harvest and local wine.
Those seeking to make contact with or simply honor the departed may set an ancestral altar, consisting of candles (white or black), photographs of the deceased (keep the living off the altar!) and the pleasures of the physical realm: food & drink!
Did your deceased Grandfather Slava love sardines and vodka? Place it on the altar, right beside his photograph and a candle for him.
Did your Aunt Mary love Bailey's liquor and pound cake? Place it on the altar, right beside her photograph and a candle for her.
Do not worry about the "traditional foods for the dead" as outlined in most books. If your lactose-intolerant Aunt Francis wasn't tempted by honey, milk and barley as a living person, chances are she won't like them in the afterlife either. Know your audience!
Throughout most world regions, a culturally appropriate alcohol given as an offering typically leads to powerful contact. But please, if your ancestors were religiously anti-alcohol or had severe (and violent!) substance abuse problems, please re-think this type of offering. Candy, a cigar or a plate of lasagna may be more appropriate.
As with all paths of Witchcraft, there is no right or wrong. Only your preference. Follow your own path, make your own traditions, and draw from your cultural heritage.
Wishing you a magickal Samhain in the Northern Hemisphere and a joyous Beltane in the Southern Hemisphere!
Love & Magick,