Tonight is the Pagan festival of Samhuin “Summers End” also called Samhain, Sowenn and Halloween. In Celtic times this was the final harvest, when the farmed animals were culled to small breeding stocks in order that the food stored for them would last the winter. The resultant glut of meat would be salted, smoked, dried, and preserved in other ways to last the winter in order that the tribe would have access to protein throughout the long winter months. This was also the Celtic New Year, a gap between one year and the next when the veil between the living and spiritual worlds was thinnest and dead ancestors and friends could return to be with the living for a short time, usually the three nights of this festival.
This belief has influenced modern day memorial days for the dead, Dia de Los Muertos and Remembrance Day/ Veterans Day/Armistice Day being two common examples in addition to Halloween. On these days the honoured dead are remembered by their families and society as a whole and, in some cases, invited back to the homes of family and friends. In earlier times this was done with special ceremonies and ritual – some of which survive today – which marked out these times and provided safeguards against psychological and spiritual problems that might arise. However, in modern times these safeguards may be forgotten, overlooked, or even dismissed as “superstition” with no practical basis. This can result in all sorts of problems from actual hauntings through to psychiatric issues that can seriously disturb a person’s life until dealt with.
Most of the problems stem from lack of boundaries. The classic example of this is when someone uses a Oija Board or candle invocation without casting a circle or invoking a protective being or Divinity. This can mean having to call in exorcist after invisible things have been blamed subsequently for moving objects and scaring the cat. These events are the basis of many monotheistic rants and pamphlets. Sometimes the exorcism works and others it doesn’t, although the priests who do them are reluctant to admit to any failures. Those that are good at their job generally involve all the participants in the rite that started the problem in the first place. Closeing the doors in their minds as well as any openings into underlying reality.
Sadly the groups doing the ritual frequently rely on fright to keep people from doing it again. This may result in a fear of all other spiritual paths other than the one that ‘cures’ the problem and following a faith path based on fear rather than love and understanding. Fortunately this attitude is beginning to change as in depth information on the science that underpins faith paths becomes available through the internet and popular magazines.
Safe practice for entity contact begins with constructing a ‘spiritual firewall’ such as a well cast circle or invocation of protection, or selecting a protective entity to act as a form of spiritual doorstaff. This blocks what many Pagans call “astral spam” which includes beings pretending to be dead relatives, stray telepathic or empathetic communications from the unconscious minds of the people taking part, and replaying old memories stored in the environment.
How to cast an effective sphere or circle has been covered in an article linked at the base of this article. Selecting an overseeing guardian is best done by harmonising with the person or group doing the contacting. Angels, such as Azerial, are best for secular or general groups with no particular spiritual path because most people are familiar with them. For Pagans the best thing is to go with the Deity of the dead of the pantheon they feel the most in tune with. Holder or Hekate resonate well with those who work with the Greek Gods and Goddesses as does the three headed dog Cerebus. Hades, Hel, Persephone, and Kali also make excellent guardians if asked politely.
The final choice is to create a thoughtform to act as a protector and filter. Some groups go to great lengths to construct elaborate ones such as Dragons, Ninjas, Roman Centurions and the like. I even know of one person who uses Clint Eastwoods ‘Dirty Harry’ character to guard them while doing divination and mediumship work.
Having set up your protection what are the best techniques to contact or become aware of the spirits trying to communicate? The classic Oija board, named for the French and German terms for “Yes” painted on the original boards popular in the last two centuries. After both world wars in the last century this system of ‘contacting the departed’ was used extensively with varying success, both with commercially made boards and layouts of numbers and letters on bits of paper.
Commercial boards had a planchet or small board/pointer on castors that moved to indicate letters and numbers to spell out a message after everyone placed a finger on it and moved it under spirit influence. In the home-made version a glass served the same purpose. Due to the use of it without the protection it has something of a bad reputation, but it can be a useful communication tool when used correctly.
Three candles in a draught-free area of the altar can also be used for questions that can be answered with a yes/no response. Placed well away from anything flammable designate one candle for ‘yes’ one for ‘no’ and one for ‘perhaps’. When a spirit is present it can answer the questions by making the flame of the designated candle burn higher.
This can be taken one step further buy placing the candles in front of a mirror in a triangle outside the circle. This can lead to visions of whoever is communicating and is the basis of magick mirror work.
Channelling in the form of mediumship has been used in many cultures throughout the ages. It takes a lot of training to become a fully trained medium in a Spiritualist Church. But there are some techniques that can come close. Pendulum dowsing over the Oija board, automatic writing, and drawing can all be remarkably effective when precautions are taken.
When you have finished your communication with the spirits disconnecting from them is vital. Close down and banish the circle, thank and separate from your guardian, and go and eat something and do something mundane such as the washing up or the gardening to ground yourself.
Becoming overly attached to spirit communication can lead to hauntings and psychological problems, So put this aspect of your spiritual practice aside at the end of Samhuin and concentrate on living life and interacting with the world around you. If you follow these simple precautions then contacting the ancestors on this special time of year, and only on this festival, can be a happy and fulfilling experience