Whether you have one Samhain altar or several, the ways to decorate it are numerous. Samhain is the doorway into winter where the old year dies and the new year begins. It is the third and final harvest of the year in which the Lord sacrifices his life to ensure the abundance of next year’s crops. Samhain is a deeply spiritual time of contemplation, remembrance, and connection with the spirit world. As you look ahead to the approach of Samhain, you might want to create an altar in advance based on the following suggestions.
Samhain colors include black, brown, purple, burgundy, burnt orange, and harvest gold. Use these colors for candles, altar cloths, placemats, napkins, table runners, and table cloths.
Samhain nature-themed decorations include brightly colored autumn leaves, dried cattails and cornhusks, acorns and nuts, red and yellow apples, pomegranates, dried ears of multi-colored Indian corn, miniature pumpkins and small gourds, and tiny bales of hay. Create dried plant arrangements in vases. Weave wreaths to hang on your door or lay flat to accent a table centerpiece. Add bowls of scented potpourri. Burn candles scented with spices such as cinnamon. Use sweet, heavy incense.
For a basic seasonal altar that is not overtly Wiccan, use wicker baskets, cornucopias, brass candelabra, wooden bowls and trays, and photos of the dead. For a Halloween flavor, add jack-o-lanterns, candy, and toys that represent witches, ghosts, black cats, spiders, and skeletons. To pay homage to El Dia de los Muertos, use Mexican sugar skulls (real sugar or ceramic), chrysanthemums, marigolds, candles, and photos or favorite possessions of the dead. Kids can add things to the altar such as a collar, toy, or photo of their deceased pet.
Overtly Wiccan items for your altar include the cauldron, the pentacle, deer antlers to represent the Horned Lord, and divination tools such as Tarot cards, runes, or a crystal ball. Include figurines or images of the Lord and the Lady as mature elders who are familiar with darkness, death, and the underworld. He might be Anubis, Cernunnos, Hades, or Odin. She might be Demeter, Hecate, Hel, or the Morrigan.
The Large Altar: Start by draping a large, square black cloth over your altar surface. Add a smaller cloth in burgundy or brown, and another one, smaller still, in deep gold or orange. The cloths should layer from the largest (black) on the bottom to the smallest (gold or orange) on top, arranged so that you can see all the colors. Next, add a centerpiece such as a cornucopia, cauldron, or images of the Lord and Lady. From there, fill in the surrounding areas with items from the lists above.
The Small Altar: Use a tray made of dark wood or wicker. Line it with a dark placemat, and top that with a smaller cloth in a lighter Samhain color. Add a candle in a wooden or brass candlestick. In the top half of the tray, put your decorations: some brilliant autumn leaves, a dark red apple, a miniature pumpkin, and some small framed photos of the dead. Leave the bottom half of the tray empty for your ritual tools (wand, athame, chalice, and pentacle). The tray makes this small altar portable so that you can move it when you are not meditating or holding your Samhain ritual.
This book at Amazon.com offers suggestions for decorating your altar: Altars: Bringing Sacred Shrines into Your Everyday Life