What To Do On Samhain When You’re Dead

Earlier this week the air took a turn toward December, becoming wet and visible, and the moisture that fell in cold, slow-motion stuck quickly to the cars, the streets, and the sidewalks. On the morning after the storm a massacre of tree branches covered the earth around my house, proving both the strength of water and the fragility of wood.

What I like about the snow, and the timing of this particular storm being so close to Samhain, is the way in which it provides tactile evidence that the season is changing, that the Hallows are near. The shift toward winter is not simply an interesting idea; it is something to touch, to feel.

The dead leave little evidence of their continued living, so we are forced to find them at the intersection of interesting ideas and tactile experiences; we search for them in snow drifts, between the breaths of our chanting, and in the smoke rising from our censors. We listen for them in the floorboards of houses, too.

Do The Dead Dance?

In our new house of less than a week, my psychic husband and I have encountered some strange phenomena. The doorbell rings unexpectedly, and several other electrical devices make noise for no clear reason. There are creaks and bumps in empty spaces, and our kid gets creeped out whenever she walks past the staircase. She’s a certified Medium, by the way.

If these strange occurrences are more than faulty wiring, as everyone seems to think, then the dead may indeed be wresting with the same existential questions as are the living. Is a ghost fiddling with switches in an attempt to get our attention all that different from a group of Druids or Wiccans lighting our incense, ringing our bells or projecting our invisible parts into other realms in search of the Ancestors? Perhaps we’re all trying to do the same thing, just from opposite sides of an increasingly thinning veil.

I like the idea of the Dead doing ritual to make contact with the living. I’m not sure that’s how it works, but there’s comfort in thinking that certain aspects of this life are mirrored in the next. Or, rather, that aspects of the Other Side are mirrored over here.

As Samhain approaches, and people juggle their Halloween parties with their group gatherings and rituals, and Pagans across the land set aside some private time of reflection on the changing of the season, I wonder what the dead are doing. Do they gather in preparation for the coming days, sensing that the air has changed? Can they feel the transition? Is it snowing over there, too?

Do the dead dance naked around the fire…

…like some of us do?

What To Do When The Dead Come Knocking

We spend most of the year focussed on the human experience of living. We honor the Earth and celebrate points along an agricultural calendar because we eat food in order to be alive, and we see value in honoring the land from which that food came. We see new life born around us in the spring and summer, born of flesh and soil, and we celebrate the life that we create. Life, for the most part, is all about the living.

But Samhain is different. This High Day is about the intersection of the lives of the living with the lives of the dead. This holiday is about remembering that there is more to reality than our living experience of this world. There is more than what we grow, what we build, what we see blossoming all around us. There is a quality to death of which we can hardly conceive, and rather than push it away out of ignorance we embrace it in reverence. We celebrate the mystery, and we delight in the sacred unknowing.

So, on this coming High Day, the day that little Witches dream about during the sweltering heat of summer, the day that Puritans of old (and new) dread with every inch of their starched, Sunday suits, the day that warrants sweet candy, sultry stockings and a healthy pinch of spookiness, I think I shall listen for the call of the dead, for the rising chant of some ghostly group who, themselves, reach back with ethereal hands into this Earthly realm in search of some familiar feeling. I will open every ear I’ve got — on my head, in my hands, at the bottom of my feet — and I will listen for the call of those who’ve left this place to travel on to a land that even myth can barely approach. I will watch for their postcard, wait for their telegram, look for their fleeting face in the shimmering snow.

Perhaps they will arrive at my door in costume. Or, perhaps they’re already inside. Either way, they are welcome to cup of spiced cider on this blessed Samhain night!


If these words stirred something in you, or if you’d like to share your thoughts on Samhain, please do so in the comments. I always love to hear from you. And, I’d be grateful if you’d help broaden the conversation by sharing this post on Facebook or Twitter.



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11 responses to “What To Do On Samhain When You’re Dead”

  1. Pink Pitcher Avatar
    Pink Pitcher

    I have always loved the musical piece “Dance Macabre”, I am now imagining skeletal spirits invoking the living to come talk with them and share their experiences. I do feel that most Pagans value the ideal of balance, sure many of us prefer the dark months or the light ones, we all have favorite high days, but the WHOLENESS of the seasons is essential. Now is a time to recognize that death is very much a concern of the living, but we have to recognize that it is not our only concern. Perhaps the dead have a similar thought? Considering their lives and the realm of the living, but not dwelling too much on the other side of the veil.

  2.  Avatar

    Happy Samhain, Teo.

    1. Teo Bishop Avatar

      And to you, Eran!

  3. esc Avatar

    this samhain will mark eight years since i was introduced to paganism via a celebration for a friend’s daughter taking her witchcraft name.  even tho’ i wasn’t a part of their faith tradition, the friend and daughter very much wanted my participation in this important ceremony.  from that moment on a new world of possibility opened up before me.  the road has been difficult at times and i still feel as if i’ve not got my pagan “sea legs.”  i don’t know that i would trade what i’ve learned to go back to where i began; freedom in religious/spiritual thought and belief is won through struggle.  i appreciate your thoughts, teo, and wish you and your family blessings during this coming season of celebration.

    1. Teo Bishop Avatar

      What a wonderful story, Esc. Thank you for sharing it here. There can be a sense of “struggle” when one begins to open to a new, more expansive spiritual tradition, but I think you’re right — it’s worth the effort.

      Blessings to you and yours on this sacred day.

  4. Sanil Avatar

    Loved this post. It’s been sitting on my browser since you shared it on Google+, and I just now finally got time to read it. Thank you for brightening my day!

    1. Teo Bishop Avatar

      My pleasure, Sanil. Thank you for your kind words.

  5.  Avatar

    Wonderful post Teo! I absolutely love this time of year, how the air gets all crisp and heavy. I’m in Florida now, but was in Colorado before this and know exactly what you mean about the snow. Its like it lingers there in the sky until it decides to grace us with its presence. You can feel it coming down to your bones. 

    This has always been one of my favorite sabbats. Even before I found this path. I know the dead are not really gone, and love that we can mingle with them during this time. I celebrate not their passing, but their presence with us each and every day. 

    Thank you again for sharing! 

    1. Teo Bishop Avatar

      Wonderful works, Anne. Thank you for sharing your experience. I hope you have a blessed day!

  6. Crystal Tice Avatar
    Crystal Tice

    Fall tends to herald the deaths in my family, and we just had three in the past month,  so I always try to remember and honor the dead at this time.  In between shrieks and spooks, I will honor the sacred silence and that that comes after. 

    This was a lovely post!

    1. Teo Bishop Avatar

      Thank you, Crystal. My condolences to you for you loss. I hope that on Samhain you are able to celebrate the lives of those who’ve passed. Blessings to you and yours.