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Honoring our ancestors: the Wiccan Samhain–recipes, ritual and history

Honoring our ancestors: the Wiccan Samhain–recipes, ritual and history

It's that time of year again on the Pagan/Wiccan calendar when the leaves turn gold, orange and red, and the wind starts giving us hints of the winter to come.  It's Samhain (sow-en), time to honor our ancestors.   Lest people of other faiths think Samhain has nothing to do with them, that would be patently untrue.  The Catholic Church took over the holiday and renamed it All Saints' Day in the 8th century, and both the Catholic liturgy and Gaelic festivals have influenced how people of other faiths celebrate Halloween.  Various activities that take place on Samhain for some neo-pagans ( including Celtic, Egyptian, Greek, Norse, Roman, and other traditions in the term) include decorating the altar.  Everyone decorates their differently.  I place red and gold silk leaves on my altar, and get those little mini pumpkins, put orange and black candles in the center, and burn incense.  I like to concentrate on banishing what I do not want (bad habits, bad health, etc.), and leave milk and cakes (I love making pumpkin bread for the cakes), for our ancestors.  Some might choose to leave an empty place at the table for ancestors who may wish to join the family/friends at the feast table.  Witchvox.com has the following example of a chant that might be used to welcome ancestors:


And so it is, we gather again, The feast of our dead to begin. Our Ancients, our Ancestors we invite, Come! And follow the setting of the sun.
Whom do we call? We call them by name
(Name your ancestor that you wish want to welcome.)
The Ancients have come! Here with us stand Where ever the country, where ever the land They leave us not, to travel alone; Flesh of our flesh, bone of our bone!
Grandmothers, Grandfathers, Great be their Power! Past ones and present-at this very hour!
Welcome within are the dead who are kin, Feast here with us and rest here within Our hearth is your hearth and welcome to thee; Old tales to tell and new visions to see!
Here is another example of Pagan art and ritual combined for Samhain from Temple Illuminatus:

The festival celebrates the end of the "light half" of the year and the beginning of the darker half, when winter snows and cold come and everything seems dead. Thus, a candle is lit and set in the window for the new year.  The name Samhain has been loosely translated from the Gaelic as "summer's end."   In the spirit of the holiday, for all of our Wiccan and Pagan friends, I have included some wonderful recipes for Samhain season.

(from Ye Olde Witches Magazine.com)

These are part of the traditional English Hallowe'en festivities. Traditionally these were flat round cakes flavoured with saffron, mixed spices and currants. Indeed, during the 19th and early 20th centuries children would go 'souling' on All Souls' Day (November 2nd) where they would request alms or soul cakes with the following song:

"A soul, a soul, a soul cake. Please god missus a soul cake. An apple, a pear, a plum or a cherry, Any good thing to make us merry. Up with your kettles and down with your pans Give us an answer and we'll be gone Little Jack, Jack sat on his gate Crying for butter to butter his cake One for St Peter, two for St Paul, Three for the man who made us all."

Soul Cakes were also part of All Saints' Eve superstitions. It was believed that the spirits of the departed would return to their homes on this night. As a result candles were lit to guide their way and food and drink (including soul cakes) were put out for them.


Soul Cakes


150g butter 150g caster sugar 560g plain flour, sifted 3 egg yolks generous pinch of saffron 1 tbsp mixed spice 1 tsp allspice 3 tbsp currants 2 tsp milk

Method: Crush the saffron in a pestle and mortar, add the milk and grind to combine. Sift together the flour and remaining spices into a bowl.

In the meantime, cream together the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy. Beat the egg yolks and add to the creamed mixture a little at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the sifted flour and spice mix and stir in the currants. Add the milk and saffron mixture and enough additional milk to form a soft dough.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly-floured surface and shape into flat cakes about 5 or 6cm in diameter. Transfer to a well-buttered baking tray and place in an oven pre-heated to 180°C and bake for about 20 to 25 minutes, or until lightly golden. Allow to cool on the tray for 10 minutes then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.


Remembrance Cookies

These cookies can be made on Hallow's Eve. They can be shaped like people and the herb rosemary is added to the dough as a symbol of remembrance. Some of the cookies are eaten while telling stories or attributes of special ancestors, reminding us that we still have access to their strengths–or perhaps a predisposition to their weaknesses. The rest of the cookies are left outside by a bonfire as an offering. This can be a solemn ritul, but it need not be.

Ingredients for the cookies:

1 1/2 c. powdered sugar 1 c. butter or margarine (softened) 1 egg 2 t. vanilla 1 t. almond extract 2 1/2 c. all purpose flour 1 t. baking soda 1 t. cream of tartar 1 1/2 T. chopped rosemary

Heat oven 375 degrees. In a large bowl, beat sugar, butter, egg, vanilla, almond extract, and rosemary until creamy. In a separate bowl, sift flour, baking soda, and cream of tartar. Fold flour mixture into sugar mixture. Beat until dough forms and refrigerate for three hours. Divide dough into halves. Roll out one portion to 3/16 of an inch on a floured surface. Cut out with gingerbread women or men cutters and place on an ungreased cookie sheet. Repeat rolling and cutting with second portion. Bake for 5-7 minutes.




(Potatoes, harvested from August to October, were a part of the feast in Ireland where they were made into a Samhain dish known as colcannon. Colcannon is a mashed potato, cabbage, and onion dish still served in Ireland on All Saint's Day. It was an old Irish tradition to hide in it a ring for a bride, a button for a bachelor, an thimble for a spinster, and a coin for wealth, or any other item which local custom decreed in keeping with idea of the New Year as a time for divination.)

4 cups mashed potatoes 2 1/2 cups cabbage, cooked and chopped fine 1/2 cup butter (avoid corn oil margarines as they will not add the needed body and flavor) 1/2 cup evaporated milk or cream 3/4 cup onion, chopped very find and sautéd 1/4 teaspoon salt 1/8 teaspoon white pepper

Sauté onions (traditionalists sauté in lard or grease, but butter is acceptable.). Boil the potatoes and mash them (do not use artificial potato flakes). In a large pan place all of the ingredients except the cabbage and cook over low heat while blending them together. Turn the heat to medium and add the chopped cabbage. The mixture will take on a pale green cast. Keep stirring occasionally until the mixture is warm enough to eat. Lastly drop in a thimble, button, ring, and coin. Stir well and serve.

(from Raven's Pagan Nest)

Easier Soul Cake Recipes
Soul cakes are a tradition given on All Souls' Day.  In the UK, and Ireland, the cakes were made with allspice cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and other sweet spices, and marked with a cross to symbolize that these cakes were alms. They were traditionally set out as offerings for the dead along with wine.   An ancestor of our "trick and treat" tradition stems from children going door to door begging for soul cakes.
      Piecrust Soul Cakes
      A refrigerated roll-out pie crust
2 Tbs. melted butter
1 C mixed dried fruit
2 Tbs honey

Roll out the piecrust and cut it into circles. Use the circles to line a tin of muffin cups. Mix the butter, fruit and honey together. Scoop the fruit mixture into the pastry shells, and then bake for 15 minutes at 375 degrees. Allow to cool for about ten minutes before eating.

Quickie Shortbread Soul Cakes
1 stick of butter, softened
4 Tbs sugar
1 ½ C flour

Cream together the butter and sugar. Use a flour sifter to add the flour to the bowl, and mix until it's smooth. Divide the dough into two parts, and shape each half into a flat circle about half an inch thick. Put them on an ungreased baking sheet (baking stones are really nice for this) and poke lines with the tines of a fork, making eight separate wedges in each cake. Bake for 25 minutes or until light brown at 350 degrees.

Buttery Soul Cakes
Two sticks butter, softened
3 ½ C flour, sifted
1 C sugar
½ tsp. nutmeg & saffron
1 tsp each cinnamon & allspice
2 eggs
2 tsp malt vinegar
Powdered sugar

Cut the butter into the flour with a large fork. Mix in the sugar, nutmeg, saffron, cinnamon and allspice. Lightly beat eggs, and add to flour mixture. Add malt vinegar. Mix until you have a stiff dough. Knead for a while, then roll out until 1/4" thick. Use a floured glass to cut out 3" circles. Place on greased baking sheet and bake 25 minutes at 350 degrees. Sprinkle with powdered sugar while the cakes are still warm.

Toasted Pumpkin Seeds
One medium sized pumpkin
Olive oil

1 Preheat oven to 400°F. Cut open the pumpkin and use a strong metal spoon to scoop out the insides. Separate the seeds from the stringy core. Rinse the seeds.
2 In a small saucepan, add the seeds to water, about 2 cups of water to every half cup of seeds. Add a half tablespoon of salt for every cup of water (more if you like your seeds saltier). Bring to a boil. Let simmer for 10 minutes. Remove from heat and drain.
3 Spread about a tablespoon of olive oil over the bottom of a roasting pan. Spread the seeds out over the roasting pan, all in one layer. Bake on the top rack until the seeds begin to brown, 10-20 minutes. When browned to your satisfaction, remove from the oven and let the pan cool on a rack. Let the seeds cool all the way down before eating. Either crack to remove the inner seed (a lot of work and in my opinion, unnecessary) or eat whole.
~ from Simply Recipes

About Dakota O'Leary

Dakota O'Leary is a freethinker, and often sassy, scholar of theology and literature. She got her Bachelor of Arts degree in English and Theology from the State University of New York College at Buffalo, and her Master of Arts degree in Theology and Literature from Antioch University-Midwest. She is a contributing writer focusing on eschatology, biblical prophecy, and general religious news. Dakota is a co-host of the God Discussion radio show, offering insight to the news stories of the week. We like to call her "our in-house Biblical prophecy expert" as her articles on eschatology have received over 200,000 views on God Discussion.
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