The traditional foods of Samhain include the meat of livestock and wild game, and the last fruits and vegetables of the season. Also check out my posts on black and orange foods. Many Samhain recipes are available online or in cookbooks such as Cooking To The Wheel of the Year or Sabbat Entertaining: Celebrating the Wiccan Holidays with Style. Here are some tips on planning a potluck feast and Samhain recipes from Fieldhaven.
Apples, especially cider apples and red apples, evoke images of Samhain. Bobbing for apples is a traditional activity. Apples may also be peeled and the spiral peel tossed for divination.
Pomegranate is the fruit whose seeds formed the contract between Hades and Persephone, so that she would spend six months each year in the underworld. If cut during ritual, it “bleeds” dramatic trickles of dark red juice. Processed pomegranate juice is also available.
Nuts include hazelnuts, acorns, and walnuts in particular but there are many other types. Tropical nuts are not ideal unless you live where they grow. Nuts may be used in divination, decoration, or snacks.
Root vegetables such as beets, turnips, and potatoes are among the last to be harvested. These represent death, rebirth, and mystery because they come from underground. Turnips were once the precursors of the modern jack-o-lantern, carved as lights.
Autumn squash such as acorn squash and pumpkin also count as late-harvest foods. These may be baked in halves, mashed, or made into pies or other dishes.
Pan de Muertos is the “Bread of the Dead,” a rich egg bread covered with sugar glaze. It is traditionally made for Dia de los Muertos, in the shape of bones and skulls and such. It also makes a terrific Samhain bread.
Meat for the Samhain feast may come from domestic animals — beef and pork were Celtic favorites — or wild game such as venison. Large roasts or even whole small animals may be served. It is customary to honor the spirit of the animal, so that there will always be plenty of food.
Candy and other sweets include chocolates, candied fruits, pastries, sugar skulls, skeletons, mummies, etc. If you get the kind that are pure sugar, as for Dia de los Muertos, consider breaking them up to put in coffee or tea instead of eating them plain.
Samhain Decoration Ideas
Choose decorations that match your Samhain theme. They should work together and not clash, so don’t overdo it. Some helpful books include Celebrating the Seasons of Life: Samhain to Ostara, The Pagan Mysteries of Halloween: Celebrating the Dark Half of the Year, and Halloween: Customs, Recipes & Spells.
Colors: Samhain’s colors are those of death and mystery. Black is the shade of night and death. White represents bone and ghosts. Orange is the sun’s color as it dies into night, and the color of pumpkins and autumn leaves. Purple is a spiritual color also associated with magic.
Flowers: Autumn flowers such as chrysanthemums are popular. Marigolds are associated with death, cemeteries, and Dia de los Muertos in Mexican tradition. Black roses may be made of feathers or other materials. White flowers are also popular. Some people like to use bouquets of dried, wilted, or obviously dead flowers.
Leaves: Autumn leaves may be strewn around or strung into garlands. Orange leaves or dead brown ones are found in nature; black ones can be made of silk, paper, or other materials.
Incense: Samhain fragrances are woodsy and bitter notes such as myrrh, wormwood, mugwort, and patchouli. Spicy ones include sandalwood and pine.
Music: The traditional instruments of Samhain include drums, hunting horns, lyres, rattles, and bells. But this holiday really benefits from modern effects such as echoes and fades, so seriously consider synthesizer music. Play some seasonal music such as All Hallows Eve or 11-Samhain.
Altar Tools: The athame or sword is the primary tool for Samhain, but the cauldron is a close second. Some people prefer a sickle or scythe.
Skulls and Macabre Symbols: Many traditional “spooky” things are Pagan motifs including black cats, snakes, spiders, bats, and ravens. Ghosts, skulls, skeletons, and other representations of death also abound. These all symbolize magic, transformation, and mortality.
Animal Parts and Imagery: In addition to those animals considered mysterious, Samhain may also bring out the ones commonly eaten, such as cows, pigs, and deer. All of those also appear in Pagan mythology and magic, however.
This article originally appeared in Gaiatribe on October 23, 2009.