Natural Samhain Altar

Happy Samhain, everyone! I can't believe it's already here! Have you had your pumpkin spice latte yet? If not, don't forget to add a little spell work to your brew!

Haha...because of witches...

We'll be spending our day enjoying the cool-ish weather. After all, 83* hardly calls for sweatshirts. But the mornings are cool enough to give a hint of the fall, and for that I'm thankful. 

For my altar, I let nature do the guiding (as usual!) and used leaves and small acorns that I found around my home. How I long for orange and red leaves! But this is the desert, and since basically none of the vegetation in my neighborhood is indigenous, I'm fortunate to have any leaves at all!

I used a black candle in the center of my circle to honor the transcended, balanced with five white votives. And, of course, I had to use mini pumpkins. Come on, now. It's October!

On each leaf I wrote the name of a departed loved one, people who I've spent a lot of time thinking about these past few weeks. If you're feeling extra spunky, you could add a few personal items of theirs or your favorite photographs. I chose to keep mine simple, because that's how I roll. 

The candles will be lit tonight at dusk, and I'll let them burn until they're spent, which usually takes a few hours. I'll also leave a small plate of food outside beneath a candle in the window, my favorite Samhain tradition! I prefer Samhain rituals to be done in the darkness; that's when I feel most connected to the transcended. How about you? Do you wait until sundown, or do you feel most in-tuned during the day?

While Samhain can be a bit heavy, remember to do something fun today. The best way to honor the dead is to embrace life. And when we raise our own mood, we're raising the vibrations for those spirits around us, making it easier for them to send us messages. Because, let's face it, we're all waiting for a little message from a loved one tonight!

Blessed Be, everyone! May your Samhain be filled with love, laughter, and warm memories!

What's your favorite Samhain ritual? Do you wait to cast until after dark? Do you balance the somber with a little fun?

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NOTE: As with any recommendation found on this blog, consult your doctor or naturopath before use.

5 Ways to Celebrate Samhain (Without Spending a Dime)

It's almost here! The day every Pagan, witch, and Practical Magic fan spends all year eagerly awaiting—Samhain!

In case you're new to this Pagan party, or you need a refresher, let me fill you in on some of the spectacular details of this spectacular Sabbat! 

Samhain (pronounced sow-in) is celebrated on October 31st and is often considered the most important Sabbat of the Pagan year. It's a revered time when we honor our transcended loved ones as the veil between the physical and spiritual planes thins. But it is also a time of reflection and sacrifice. The Goddess becomes a crone (seen as autumn in nature), the God has departed, and nature begins it's descent into winter, reminding us that death is an inevitable part of life. And yet, death is not a finality, merely a transition from one form to another. We confirm this on Yule when, as The Wheel continues to turn, the God (sun) is reborn, reminding us that every ending is accompanied by a new beginning. 

Samhain feasts are a wonderful way to celebrate the Sabbat! Remember to set an extra place setting as a simple yet powerful way to honor your transcended loved ones. Pumpkin, squash, and apples are tasty and appropriate for the Samhain menu, as are spiritually-enlightening herbs like cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg! Feeling extra inspired to remember the souls of the departed? Place a plate outside with treats for the deceased. As their spirits roam the physical plane (due to the thinned veil), this serves as a sacrifice to their journey. For the safety of nature's critters, use animal-friendly foods, like carrots or cored pieces of apple. Never use chocolate or raisins, as these are very dangerous for dogs. You can check this list for dog-friendly foods. 

We all know orange and black are the colors of Samhain, representing the waning sun (God) and death respectively. But don't forget to turn to nature for your color palette inspiration! Rich crimson, earthy brown, and deep gold are all wonderful choices for decorations or designing your altar. 

Feeling conflicted about trick-or-treating with the kiddos? Don't! Handing out candy is a modern-day method of offering a sacrifice. Plus it's a fun tradition that encourages neighborhood camaraderie. Embrace the festiveness of the evening without stressing and overthinking! You're not pooh-poohing your Pagan roots; you're conjuring happy, positive, light-hearted energy on a night when spirits can utilize these buoyant vibrations to share messages with their loved ones! Remember, nature reminds us to keep life in balance! There's room to enjoy the merriment AND honor the Sabbat! =D

...and you can do it all without spending a dime! Here's how:

Go for a spiritual hike 
It's not unusual for me to recommend you take a hike...especially if you're on my lawn screaming profanities at me.

Bad joke? Sorry. My afternoon smoothie has me on a fruit-induced high.

Anywho, I recommend getting out into nature A LOT. I think the reason why is pretty obvious. But I also know how easy it is to not really BE somewhere. Sure, we're at the park. But we're checking our phones. We're thinking about the grocery list. We're wondering what the hell happened to Happy Endings. That show was great. Why did it get canceled???

None of the above is allowed on a spiritual hike. This hike is about you and nature. It's a time to turn off the cell phone (completely deserve an hour of alone time!), push away the endless stream of thoughts, and to simply take in the world around you. Focus on the smell of the fallen leaves. Pause and let the cool wind caress your face. Place your hands against the tree bark and explore the knotty texture. This is a time to commune, to let the stress of modern life fall away so you can return to your roots. If you happen upon some pretty leaves or a cool stone, pick it up and take it home. Instant Samhain altar! 

Take a peek into your future
With the veil between the worlds thinning, now is a time of heightened psychic ability! Try your hand at tarot cards. Break out those runes. Experiement with reading tea leaves. Whatever your oracle vice, put it to good use on Samhain and see what the future holds! If you're looking for an autumn-themed spread, check this one out!

Leave a candle in the window
I must admit, this is my FAVORITE tradition of Samhain. Sure, I love garlic-laced pumpkin seeds, brightly-colored Halloween decorations, and a small indulgence of chocolate. (Small is all relative, okay?!) But the thing I most look forward to is leaving a candle in the window. 

Leaving a candle in the window is an old tradition to help guide the spirits of the departed to us, letting our loved ones know they are never forgotten. For safety, I use a battery-operated candle and leave it in the window all night, thus symbolizing the eternal-nature of our souls. Personally, I set my plate of sacrificial food beneath the same window. It's a small yet profound gesture that I look forward to all day!

Watch the sunset
There's little that's more grounding and spiritual than taking a moment to simply watch the sunset. It's a reminder that we are part of this beautiful cycle, that we ARE nature. This is especially poignant on a Sabbat like Samhain, because Samhain is the death of the God (represented by the sun). Watching that blazing orange glow fade beneath the horizon into a sea of purple and pink hues reminds us that this glorious life is not forever, that we must cherish the now because we don't know when our time on this majestic plane will end. But, all is not lost! Not only will the sun rise tomorrow morning, but the rebirth of the sun (Yule) is not far away, promising us that death is not an end, merely a transition.

Put down the phone. Forget whatever drama happened at work. Brew yourself a cup of tea or steal a piece of chocolate from the trick-or-treat stash, and take a precious moment to watch the sunset. 

Remember the forgotten
Growing up in New England, historical cemeteries are abundant and plentiful. And because modern life has crept in, you can find them in some strange places! The weirdest place I've seen one? In the parking lot of a Barnes and Noble. Like, literally IN the parking lot.

As a little girl, my father nurtured my love for reading with a trip to the bookstore every Friday night. Part of the routine was to scale a small, rocky hill atop which perched a historical cemetery. As I peered over the wrought-iron fence, admiring the illegible headstones, I wondered about the people whose bodies rested beneath the soft mossy earth. It was clearly a family cemetery, with no more than six or eight headstones nestled closely together, and I couldn't help but wonder what their time on this plane had been like.  Alone on this minuscule hilltop, the cool night air whispering against my skin, I would imagine the area stripped of streetlights and shopping plazas, the earth returned to its natural state of emerald grass, towering oak trees, and maybe a stream or two. The family, who were most-likely farmers, probably had a large vegetable garden, maybe a cow or some sheep. 

It was mesmerizing and wondrous to a fanciful child, but also a little sad. These people once had purpose on this Earth. They lived rich lives filled with children and family. They loved. They suffered heartbreak. They had favorite colors and disliked certain foods. They were real. They were alive. They stood on this very patch of soil and wept as their loved ones were returned to the earth. 

...And now they were simply an oddity surrounded by asphalt and strip malls, all but forgotten as people fussed over designer jeans and Egyptian cotton sheets. 

So every Friday night I would amble up that steep little hill as my dad, who has arthritic knees, waited patiently below. In hindsight, I think I felt like I was paying them some sort of homage, honoring their memory simply by recognizing that their Earthly bodies were there. That they weren't forgotten.  
Samhain is a fantastic time to remember these souls. As Pagans, I think we're innately drawn to cemeteries, so you probably know of a cool little haunt (see what I did there??) near you. Take a stroll, pick some wildflowers or find a pretty stone, and place it on an old grave. Or any grave that looks like it hasn't had visitors in a while. This is a powerful recognition that we are all bound by the same limitless energy. Like the spider's web, our lives are interwoven. Even if we do not live in the same time period, our current lives ARE shaped, formed, and affected by the lives that came before us. Connect with another soul. Take a moment to let their spirit know they are not forgotten. 

Bonus suggestion:

Let Loose!
You didn't think I was going to end on a somber note, did you?! While Samhain can be a solemn Sabbat, especially if you're missing someone that has departed, you shouldn't forget to have a little fun. After all, the biggest lesson we learn from death is that life is a gift—a gift that's meant to be enjoyed! So whether you want to watch a scary movie, binge on chocolate, roast pumpkin seeds, or harass the neighborhood children while dressed as Winifred from Hocus Pocus, remember to have some laughs and enjoy the night. After all, what better way to honor the dead than to live?!

Happy Samhain, everyone! 🎃

What's your favorite way to celebrate Samhain?

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NOTE: As with any recommendation found on this blog, consult your doctor or naturopath before use.

5 Ways to Honor Your Ancestors This Samhain

While I firmly believe in the sugar-laden fun of Samhain (hence my annual Treehouse of Horror marathon), I also think it's important to remember the core of this Sabbat—honoring our transcended loved ones. Now, I'm the first person to admit death is one of the shittiest parts—Nay! THE shittiest part— of life. Trust me, you don't want to see me at a funeral. It's UGLY! I'm just a curly-headed blob of tears and Kleenex topped with a touch of hyperventilation. It's quite the spectacle. 

But regardless of the snot-fest that is mourning, there are ways to honor our loved ones that don't need to be so painfully miserable. Here are 5!

Reflect on the lessons you learned from them
Oh sheesh. I could go on for hours about things I learned from my transcended loved ones. The honor of hard work from my Grandpa Raymond. The gift of embracing life with positivity from my Grandpa Mario. Self-love, self-acceptance, gratitude, and compassion from my beloved and sorely missed furry soulmate, Barley. 

Losing someone who brought you so much happiness is an excruciatingly painful thing. Okay, that's an understatement. It f#@&ing blows, and I don't much appreciate it! I doubt you do either. But it IS part of life. It's the one surefire promise we are given upon our first breath. 

Take this time to reflect on what their time on this planet has taught you. Maybe it was a direct lesson, like learning to drive or sew. Maybe it was something you gleaned from watching them live. Most-likely it's a mixture of both. Spend time this season honoring their lives, not mourning their deaths. It's okay to miss them, but they don't want you to be sad. The best way we can honor our loved ones is by living our lives! Which brings me to my next point...

Do an activity they enjoyed
My Grandpa Raymond loved bird watching. My Grandpa Mario loved music. My beautiful Barley lived to walk, ala Forest Gump. Whether it was crocheting, cooking, dancing, or just having a beer, take some time to remember your loved ones by doing what they most enjoyed! It's a fantastic way to feel connected to them, to remember them, and to ultimately honor them. And while you're doing so, keep an eye out! It's very likely they will send you a sign that they appreciate your nod to their happiness, especially as the veil between the physical plane and spiritual plane thins. 

Write about how they influenced your life in a journal
...Or social media. Or on a piece of paper you can tuck away someplace special. Writing is cathartic and can often reveal emotions we didn't know we were repressing. Don't judge your handwriting, your spelling, your verbiage. Just write down what your heart is expressing and reflect on how your loved ones influenced your life. 

Tell the younger generation a story about your loved one (or write it down for them to keep!)
I was two when my great grandmother died, but that doesn't mean I don't miss and think about her. Throughout my life, I've always felt a strong connection to a woman I essentially never knew. And yet, I did. Through the stories my family told me about her, I developed a connection to her and learned we both have a lot in common. Not only did this allow me to feel close to her, but it ensured her spirit would be remembered even after the people who knew her personally are gone. 

Take a few moments to tell your child, niece, or nephew those fond memories so they can feel connected to their ancestors. Better yet, write them down for posterity! One day they will cherish those memories the way I cherish stories of flour-covered aprons and massive Sunday breakfasts. Even if they are too young to truly appreciate the gesture now, they will some day. =D

Prepare their favorite meal or a dish that reminds you of them

When I think of my Grandpa Raymond, I immediately think of rhubarb. It was one of the stranger things he had in his vegetable garden. I mean, who the heck actually eats rhubarb? But every summer he made rhubarb pies and rhubarb jam. Being a highly picky eater as a child, I never tried either, and I sorely regret it now.

My other grandfather, Grandpa Mario, loved food but had to watch his diet after his first heart attack. Well, my Nana watched it. He just sort of went along with it, though he never complained. It just wasn't in his nature to do so. But on holidays he'd indulge and my Nana would pretend not to notice. What was his favorite holiday treat? Without question, chocolate-covered cherries.

You see, just like me, my mother was the only daughter. And my mother and Grandfather shared a very close bond (as did he and I!) Every Christmas—Every. Single. Christmas—my mother would give him one individually-wrapped chocolate-covered cherry on the sly. "Don't tell Mom!" she'd warn. He'd wink. And the two would laugh quietly over their nefarious, yet not so devious, secret. 

The first Christmas after my Grandfather passed, just ten short weeks after his death, I knew my mother's heart would sink every time she saw those individually-wrapped chocolate-covered cherries on the checkout counter (a common thing in New England). When she called on Christmas Eve, she told me her and my heartbroken Nana were toasting my Grandfather with chocolate-covered cherries. 

"Do you remember how I used to give him one?" she asked. But how could I forget? It was something I looked forward to every year, watching those two giggle like they had just committed a high-risk crime.

"I made a batch from scratch," I'd told her. "I'm eating one right now."

And so now, every December, I break out the candy molds and remember my dear Grandfather.

Food is such a prominent part of mingling and bonding with friends and family. And while you may never have deeply thought about it before, I bet there's a particular food or dish that reminds you of your transcended loved one. Take the time to make that special something this October. It's a way for us to honor and remember them through something that brought them joy. 

And while you prepare that special dish, think about all the lovely memories you have of them. Dismiss the sad, heavy thoughts. Let go of the what-if's. Forget any painful memories of seeing them ill. They don't want you to reflect on that. They want you to remember their LIFE, not their death. Death is merely a mechanism for moving on to other planes; it's not a defining characteristic of that person's life. Steep yourself in the love, the happiness, the goofy stories, that crazy time Aunt Hilda locked herself out of the house and you pulled up just in time to see her bright yellow underwear as she crawled in through a casement window. Those are the moments they want you to treasure. Those are the gifts they gave us to cherish. 

Yes, life comes with blistered memories. Yes, there are things we could have done differently and probably a few things we wish we'd never said. But that's the purpose of us being here—to learn and grow from our mistakes. Departed souls don't hold these lessons against you. They made mistakes themselves! Like us, they were human and bumbled through life. Except now, they can see the grand scheme. They understand that the ultimate gift we can give to anyone—including ourselves!—is to offer them love, and love includes forgiveness. Samhain is a time to embrace those cherished memories, not a season to berate yourself. Honor them! Remember them with love! ♥

...and maybe just a little bit of rhubarb pie. ;)

Blessed Samhain! 

What was your loved one's favorite dish or pastime? 

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Autumn Moon Pumpkin Tarot Spread

What's Samhain without a little fun?! With the veil thinning, our innate spiritual connection heightening, and a full moon on Sunday, I thought it would be fun to have do a full moon-themed tarot spread. And since it's autumn and everything should be pumpkin-ized (yup, just made that a word), I designed the Autumn Moon Pumpkin Tarot Spread. I'm so excited to share it with you!

Not only is it shaped like a pumpkin, which my husband found way too amusing, it consists of 8 cards, thus representing the 8 Sabbats. And while each card doesn't necessarily represent a particular Sabbat, the spread does cover an entire year of future and fortune! Another awesome thing about this spread? It can be used with oracle cards! 

If you're new to tarot reading or have always wanted to try it, I think Samhain is a great time to experiment and begin learning! I've been reading cards on and off for years, and I think it's important to know that learning is a life-long process. As you change, the cards themselves will transition. Maybe you'll no longer resonate with a particular deck that was once very attuned to you. Maybe a card's meaning will shift. Just like life, everything is a matter of perspective. So while there are basic guidelines, remember that it will be individual to you. 

My point in saying all this is to assure you there's no reason to be intimidated! Have fun with it. Experiment. Learn. Read books. Ask questions. Take a class. Pretty much anything you approach in life with zeal and enthusiasm will yield better results than if you do so with apprehension and fear of making a mistake. In the words of Bob Ross, there are no failures as long as you learn something!

While this spread was designed to cover numerous topics, you may find the cards focus on just one. That's okay! Sometimes the Universe steps in and forces you to address a particular topic in your life. Listen to the cards! For example, if you're concerned about a boyfriend but the cards are talking about your health, take heed! Sometimes the cards alert us of an area in our life that needs our attention.

The biggest piece of advice I can give you is to remember the cards are a tool! They offer us guidance. If the outcome isn't what you desire, take action now to create the future you want. Remember, you are in control of your own life. If you see something unsettling, fix that shit! That's the point of tarot—to offer insight and advice. Not to let you know everything sucks. Sorry. Have a craptastic day!

If you're looking for a deck of tarot cards, I'm a fan of this Everyday Witch deck, which is based off the Rider-Waite method (but way easier to read!). They're extraordinarily beautiful, are extremely easy to interpret, and include a very helpful guide book. When I opened my deck (which comes in a nifty magnetically-closed box), I was surprised by the sheer beefiness of the guide book! It looked like a book you'd select off a shelf, not the typical pamphlets you receive with most tarot decks.

...Clearly it doesn't take much to impress me. But trust me, you won't be disappointed with the Everyday Witch Tarot!

So, brew yourself a cup of centering chamomile tea, wrap yourself in a warm blanket, sit out under that lustrous autumnal full moon, and see what your deck tells you! 

Do you have a favorite deck of tarot or oracle cards? What's your favorite spread?

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Guest Post: The Poor Girl's Guide to Divination

Helloooooo, October! To celebrate what is arguably the best month of the year, I'll be having an entire MONTH of Samhain celebrations here at Penniless Pagan! So make sure to check back next week to see what Samhain-y goodness awaits you!

To kick off this spectacular Samhain extravaganza, I'm super excited to share a wonderful post from Tiffany over at Moody Moons. If you haven't checked out her site make sure you do! She not only has wonderfully creative ideas, but she takes amazing photos! You know, not that I'm at all jealous or anything. I mean...*kicks at the dirt* I have a camera too.....  =P

With the veil growing thinner as we near Samhain, now is the perfect time to try your hand at divination, and she's here to tell you how to get started! 

See you next week for more Samhain treats! Ahhh bless you glorious, glorious October!!! 🎃 

Autumn Blessings!

The Poor Girl's Guide to Divination 

Designer, fine art tarot decks.

Runes expertly etched in semi-precious stones.

Inky-black hematite scrying mirrors with richly detailed, ornate frames. 

If you’ve even been interested in the art of divination, you might well (and wisely) been put off by the outrageous price tag of the tools involved.

Don’t be!

Many forms of divination require next to nothing to learn.  And even if your most passionate interest depends upon the acquisition of an actual tool (runes, scrying), they can often be bought for little or made for even less.

But let’s start with what won’t cost you anything at all.

An ancient, nearly universal art form, scrying tops the list of cheapest, most budget-friendly forms of divination.  While scrying might bring to mind expensive black mirrors of exotic, semi-precious stones or glowing, antique crystal balls, at its most basic level, scrying requires little more than a reflective surface or ambiguously patterned surface, a relaxed, meditative state of mind, concentration and the patience to learn. 

In my blog, I discuss at length my personal favorite, totally free scrying method, known aptly as cloud scrying.  Air signs tend to find this method especially enjoyable.

In fact, your sign often suggests a form of scrying particularly suited to your disposition.

Fire scrying often draws the interest of (you guessed it!) fire signs.  Any flame will do, be it the tiny flicker of a spell candle or the full rage of a roaring bonfire.  Either look for messages in the flames directly, or close your eyes and watch the “residual light” as it morphs into different shapes behind your eyelids.  I find this especially relaxing with a nice bottle of red wine, but that’s me!

Be creative with elemental scrying.  Water signs sometimes see messages in rough ocean surf.  Earth signs often possess a unique talent for gleaning insight from the knotty roots of a tree, or by staring at a sand mandala.

Okay, okay.  The best things in life are free and all that.  But what if you really, really want to learn the tarot?  Decks are expensive!  New ones run as much as $20-$50----more if it’s out-of-print or collectable.  Shelling out hard-earned cash for a deck hurts, especially if you just want to try it.

But even for this expensive habit, options abound.   If you decide you like tarot as a divination method, you probably will need to eventually bite the bullet and treat yourself to a real deck.  But in the meantime, online sites like offer free online course to help you get the basics down.

And when you’re ready for your first real deck, don’t sidestep Ebay, where second-hand decks can be had for as little as 99 cents.  Some readers shy away from used decks, fearing “negative residual energy.”  But personally, I enjoy a deck with a mysterious history.  Used decks have a “soul” that a brand new pack just doesn’t.

Some readers get bored by the same deck after a while.  When this happens, selling or trading it is an economical option to keep things fresh.

With their mysterious roots, and their beautiful, strange, magical-looking symbols, Runes appeal to many new to the art of divination---or even to those who worked for years with other tools.  Typically, runes are carved or painted on semi-precious stones or metals.  Sets range from $12 to $150 or more.  But fret not!  Making your own is simple, enjoyable.  And the end result brims with your personal energy!  Polymer clay, wood pieces or river stones all offer ideal, inexpensive surfaces for carving or painting your runes.  If you use natural stones from your area, they have the added bonus of being both free and of the land you live on.

I hope these simple suggestions give you some creative ideas to get you started on your divination journey.  Blessed Be!

Tiffany is a tarot reader, professional belly dancer, owner of the online pagan shop Magical Moody Moons and writer of the blog, Moody Moons.

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