Samhain, also known well as the Witches’ New Year, is upon us. At this point in the year, between the autumnal equinox and winter solstice, it is believed and experienced by many that the barrier between the seen and the unseen, the known and the unknown, and the impermanent to the eternal — often referred imprecisely to as “the veil” — is thinnest.
Many traditions surround Samhain, some of which have been incorporated into Hallowe’en (different, but related holidays sharing the same date of October 31), and others are shared with other cultural celebrations around the same time of year, such as the Day of the Dead on November 1.
It it a great time for many things: from feasting on the bounty of autumn harvest to reflecting on the precarious balance between life and death… but perhaps above all, it is the ideal time for Divination. That’s Divination with a big D, because even for those of us who divine regularly, whether by cards, crystals, clouds, or just the intricate patterns of daily living, Samhain is a great opportunity to take a little extra time to dig deep and pay attention to what we observe and feel.
And it is with these things in mind, that I have devised a Samhain ritual and reading for my own observances, that I’d also like to share with you. This article is a supplement to the video I just posted outlining the reading and the Elemental/Seasonal principles behind it. As an Elemental ritual and spread, I am using the Orbifold Tarot, but you can use any tarot deck. You may also use a deck of playing cards, and I will give the playing card alternatives as well as additional variations at the end.
First, let’s take a quick look at the Elemental aspects of Samhain, and how this Elemental understanding correlates to the thinning of the veil during this particular seasonal change.
In the worldview that I ascribe to, the Elements are formed in order of density from most subtle to most dense — that is, from nothingness, or potentiality, Air is formed first, then combusts into Fire, condenses into Water, and finally solidifies into Earth.
Conversely, though, the progression of seasons develops from most dense to most subtle:
Winter is the most slow, solid, cold season, associated with Earth. This is the time of year when animals hibernate, many digging under the earth or moving into Earthen shelters. Plants are also dormant, most having released their seeds into the Earth to rest before gestation. The days are shorter and the nights longer, it is the darkest portion of the year, and seems slow, heavy, and collected.
Spring brings a melting of that solidity — Earth changes into Water. Ice and snow liquefy, seeds begin to sprout, animals slowly awaken from hibernation, the days are noticeably longer, and we start to feel more fluid. It’s still cool, but there’s more movement, sentimentality, and a nurturing within the loosening grip that winter held.
Summer welcomes warmth with long days of sunlight. Fire is dominant. Nature is alive, and even explosive. Flowers bloom, animals are fully awakened and actively hunting, feeding, and playing. The defences of bracing against cooler months drops, allowing us to interact more vigorously with people, our work, and our environment. This can lead to tensions, which we tend to express and burn off through activity.
Autumn brings the realization that heat causes dryness, and Air begins to dominate. With less fuel, and gradually shortening days, plants begin to wither and die; their water invested in the fruits that contain their seeds. Cool winds and less moisture dry our skin and cause leaves to fall — the changing colors a last reminder of the disappearing heat. We turn toward intellectual pursuits, going back to work and school, and notice the decline of nature’s cycle before taking rest in Earthy winter.
There’s a few aspects of this cycle that I find particularly interesting, especially with relation to Samhain.
The first is that it’s almost as if by reversing the process of Elemental creation, Nature itself is trying to return to its primordial state, passing through death to become once again pre-Elemental potentiality. This ethereal transition from fully manifest to unmanifest is cut short by the necessity for the cycle to begin again, and the Elemental density *jumps* from subtle directly back to gross, without passing through the creative steps of combustion and condensation. It’s a transmutation of Elemental densities, that just so happens to occur around the midpoint between Autumn’s Equinox and Winter’s Solstice.
This transmutation is possible through death — the death process is a splitting of the physical from the ethereal; the physical returning to Earth, and the ethereal escaping the Elemental cycle… if only temporarily.
This split is one of the ways to think of the veil — it is when the physical and ethereal are most obviously interrelated, and catching that point just before the split is a potential way to see past, into, and through the veil that separates the subtle from the gross.
And thus, we recognize the death of nature and honor it, while also using the gift of peering across that void into the unknown where all Elements exist, yet none are formed.
It is with this idea that we proceed into our ritual and reading.
The process has three main variations: a short version, a long version, and an extended version. For the extended variation, it is ideal to take 3 days for the entire process, done in three sittings from October 30-November 1. The other two can be done in one sitting, ideally on the eve of October 31.
Prepare by separating your Majors from the deck.
For the short variation, you will need to take all four Aces from the Minor Arcana as well.
For the long and extended variations, you will also need four Court cards:
Fire of Air (Knight of Air in most cases, depending on the correspondences)
Water of Fire (Queen of Fire, depending on correspondences)
Earth of Water (Page of Water, depending on correspondences)
Air of Earth (King of Earth, depending on correspondences)
From your Majors, take the Void and Manifestation out and set the rest of the Majors aside.
(If using another deck besides the Orbifold, use Death and The Wheel as alternates)
Set the Manifestation (Wheel) card face down in the centre of your reading space.
Set the Void (Death) on top of that card, facing upward.
Take a few moments to contemplate Death, nothingness, the return to potentiality, and the veil between the manifest and unmanifest.
Next, cast your Elemental circle in a counterclockwise fashion starting with Earth by placing the Ace of Earth to the left of the two centre cards.
This not only represents Earth, but also last Winter, and as you lay the card consider what Earth represents to you on Samhain:
Earth — Offering, Harvest, Nourishment, Gratitude
This is is where you can consider what offerings to give, what to be thankful for, ways to nourish the self, things to feast on, grounding practices, and to acknowledge where you are now that summer is over.
Then place the Ace of Water in the position below the central cards. This represents Water, but also last Spring. Here, consider what Water represents on Samhain:
Water — Reflection, Reminiscence, Shadow
Reminiscence the past year. Not just the spring, but the entire year, and reflect on things you might want to work on within yourself. Acknowledge your accomplishments and progress, but like looking in a mirror, be honest about your flaws and blind spots.
Continue by placing the Ace of Fire to the right of the central cards. This represents last summer, and your inner Fire carried with you throughout the year. As you lay this card, consider:
Fire — Beacon, Guiding Light, Presentation, Focus
Recognize your inner Fire. What guides you, what drives you. What have you expressed of yourself that reveals your inner Fire, and how have you kept focus when feeling lost. What will be your beacon for the upcoming year, and how will that influence how you present yourself to the world?
Complete the circle by laying the Ace of Air above the central cards. This represents Air, and we are coming to the Autumn that you are currently in. The past year will be in clearer focus by now, and so consider the following:
Air — Cleanse & Resolve
How can you lighten your heart and mind before heading into Winter. What can you release and clear away to make your soul feel lighter? What wishes and/or resolutions would you like to make based on your reminiscences of the past year?
Observe how the Earth position provides fuel for the Fire position, and how the Water position informs the Air position. So far, we’ve mostly only looked back on the past year, but note how each Elemental position relates to what you’ve discovered about yourself and how those things interrelate Elementally.
For the short and long versions, continue to the next step.
If you are doing the extended version, stop here and journal about all that you’ve reflected on. Let it seep in over the next day or several hours before continuing.
Shuffle your Majors and lay one Major on each of the Elemental positions, starting with Earth.
At this point, recognize and acknowledge that your entry point into the circle is between Air and Earth, subtle and dense. You are effectively “piercing the veil” by laying this first Major.
Take your time to relate each Major to the positional representation.
If doing the short version, skip ahead to Step 5
For the long version, continue to Step 3
For the extended version, journal your findings and then continue to Step 3
(Long and extended versions only)
Now take the four Courts, and arrange them between the corresponding Aces.
Knight of Air (Fire of Air) will go between the Ace of Air and the Ace of Fire. As you place this card, consider the actions you need to take to set plans for the next year into motion.
Queen of Fire (Water of Fire) goes between the Ace of Fire and the Ace of Water. Consider what passions you need to cultivate and exemplify over the coming year as you place this card.
Page of Water (Earth of Water) is then placed between the Aces of Water and Earth. Here, note the feelings you need to nourish and acknowledge as things come to fruition.
Lastly, King of Earth (Air of Earth) is placed between the Ace of Earth and the Ace of Air. Take special note here that this card sits directly on the entrance point of the circle — the point of transmutation between dense and subtle, where we are piercing the veil. As such, also take a little extra time with this and its subsequent Major. This position acknowledges the Mastery you’ve gained and/or would like to gain, particularly in relation to your spiritual practices.
For the long version, continue directly to Step 4
In the Extended version, take another break and journal about your discoveries. Let this stage of the reading sink in over the next day or several hours before heading to Step 4 at the next sitting.
(Long and extended variations only)
Similar to Step 2, but placing the Majors over the Courts instead of the Aces.
Continue going clockwise, placing a Major over the Knight of Air, then the Queen of Fire, Page of Water, and finally the King of Earth.
As you lay each card, consider how these Majors relate to the Court and what they represent in this reading.
This is the forecasting part of the yearly divination, and so each position will represent a quarter of the year — between Samhain and Imbolc, you will set plans in motion (Knight of Air and its Major); between Imbolc and Beltane, you will cultivate your passions (Queen of Fire and her Major); and so on.
In both Steps 3 & 4, you are now moving around the circle clockwise, and so you are moving forward in time, and the elemental progression is from subtle to dense. There is still a transformative aspect, as you are going through the in-betweens of the circle, using cards that represent the transformation of Elements — the Courts. In-betweens are magical, and the basis of portal magick. Samhain is a major in-between, so we are using its magick to give additional force to the others, and vice-versa in order to “pierce the veil” in the next step.
For the extended version, journal again, and then continue directly to Step 5
Place one more Major on the centre of the spread, over the Void (Death).
This position represents the veil itself, and is your revelation card. Consider:
The Void — Awakening, Revelation, Unknown Truth, Message from Beyond
This is the central message of the spread, your divination for the year, the main message — whether that is from within, from spirits and ancestors, or from an unknown place. Let there be both an air of mystery and weight to this card.
For the short variation, skip ahead to Step 7
For the long variation, continue directly to Step 6
In the extended variation, once again journal before continuing to Step 6
(Long and extended variations only)
Working backwards, turn over the Majors in the Court positions, and the Courts, returning them back to your deck as you do so. You can choose to do them together in one pass or individually in two passes. You will be working counter-clockwise again, with a brief acknowledgement of what each card and position represented.
After turning over (closing) the Knight of Air card, continue to Step 7
Working clockwise, turn over the Majors in each Elemental position, starting with Air, then Fire, then Water, and then Earth. Take a moment to acknowledge each position and how each Major related to each aspect of Samhain.
Close the circle by turning over the Aces, again clockwise and again from Air first to Earth last.
Lastly, take all 3 of the central cards and turn them over in one pack, revealing the Manifestation (Wheel) card.
Meditate on the Manifestation card and the progression of time.
Through this ritual, you have journeyed through time, the Elements, and potentially through the veil.
By meditating on the Manifestation card, you are returning yourself to this side of the veil, and resetting the natural order.
Finish by turning the Manifestation card over, so that all three central cards are together and face-down, and then return them to the deck. Finally, return your Majors, Aces, and four Courts to the rest of the deck.
Skip placing the Aces, but use their positions to inform your interpretation of the Majors.
Quick but thorough variation:
Skip placing the Aces and the Courts, but do all the steps that use the Majors, and use the spread positions to help interpretation.
Do any variation, but draw extra cards from your remaining Minors as clarifiers.
Instead of separating your Majors and Minors at the outset, use the full deck (but still place the Void/Death and Manifestation/The Wheel at the centre, and if you choose, still use the four Aces and four Courts). Instead of placing a single card on each spot, cut the deck into 4 stacks and place each stack in each Elemental position. Before turning the stacks, cut again into the four additional positions, so that you have 8 stacks. The central position can be filled either by taking one card from each stack and forming a pile (which must be shuffled first) or any number of other selection methods — be creative! Turn over each stack and read the revealed card, then for more in-depth reading, sift through the stacks for things of note in relation to the spread positions.
The four Aces serve as representatives of the four Elements. However, you may also choose to have physical representations:
Salt or a stone for Earth
Water or a mirror for Water
A candle for Fire
A feather, pen, or dust for Air
A skull or special magickal item such as a crystal or hourglass for the Void/Death
With Playing Cards:
Black & White Joker for the Void/Death
Colour/Red Joker for Manifestation/Wheel
Ace of Spades for Winter (Earth in this case)
Ace of Hearts for Spring (Water)
Ace of Diamonds for Summer (Fire)
Ace of Clubs for Autumn (Air)
Jack of Clubs instead of Knight of Air
Jack of Diamonds instead of Queen of Fire
Jack of Hearts instead of Page of Water
Jack of Spades instead of King of Earth
Watch the video here: