Sustainability, Spirits, and Celebrating Samhain

“For Pagans, Samhain is a time to reflect back as well as look forward and, for many, is (their) most sacred holiday.” – Dana O’Driscoll, Sacred Actions

"'All the gates between the worlds stand open this night,' she said 
'Between the realm of the living and the realm of the dead.
At Samhain, if you look closely, think hard, and keep very still,
You might have a special visitor. Some of us surely will.'"
-- Rupert's Tales: The Wheel of the Year

What Exactly is Samhain?

As told by two different REDFeather authors, Samhain is a festival and Pagan holiday typically celebrated on November 1, marking the end of the harvest season. To celebrate and honor the tradition of Samhain, people would have feasts, make offerings to the Earth, and host bonfires. And yes, there are rituals and means of connecting with one’s ancestors, deceased loved ones, and spirits.

Cool, So How Do I Celebrate?

Great question! As Rupert learns in Rupert’s Tales, a great way to honor our loved ones who have moved to a different realm of existence is to honor them in a prayer, chant, song, or ritual — there isn’t really one right way to do it. There are, of course, ethical and sustainable means for celebrating Samhain. In the next section, we will dive deeper into Dana O’Driscoll’s Sacred Actions and what considerations to make when planning your rituals and offerings.

Ethical and Sustainable Plant Use

Substitutions: Palo santo, frankincense, sandalwood, and other exotic plants smell
amazing—but many local substitutes can also be used.

  • Frankincense can be replaced with any pine resin; each pine has its own distinct scent. See what pines are growing in your region and experiment. Pine resins can be harvested sustainably; when harvesting them, make sure you do not cut into the tree but take only what is dried or dripped on the trunk.
  • Sandalwood can be replaced with cedar wood or juniper wood; again, see what is local and accessible. Nontreated cedar or juniper sawdust makes a great alternative to powdered sandalwood.
  • Palo santo is unique and is hard to replace. Sometimes combinations of herbs can get you to a similar scent. I like to combine herbs including lavender, mugwort, cinnamon, and rosemary.

Other means of sustainable plant use can also include:

  • Ethical purchasing
  • Ethical growing
  • Ethical wild harvesting
  • Creating Your Own Incenses and Smudge Sticks

Sustainable Ritual Tools, Clothing, and Objects

“The basic principles here are, again, bringing in items into our spiritual lives that do not carry excess negative energy from their production, buying or using materials that are sustainable or offer “low impact,” and considering what we need and how much we need for our spiritual practices.” Such sustainable tools and material objects can include:

  • Natural objects: (sticks, stones, etc.)
  • Stones, gems, and crystals
  • Repurposed and created materials for tools, altars, and more
  • Handcrafted supplies from yourself or a local artist
  • Clothing: (wool, organic cotton, hemp, etc.)
  • Nonphysical Offerings: art, singing, drumming, dancing, energy, time well spent, etc.

In Closing

Samhain is meant to honor our ancestors and the Earth for everything it has given us this past year. As the days grow shorter and the sky darker, our choices on how to best honor Samhain are all within our power. Living a sustainable lifestyle is easier than one might think — and necessary as we turn the Wheel of the Year once more.