A Samhain Liturgy for Radicals

“Samhain altar” Credit: Pat Kight CC, Monteith, Albany, Oregon, November 2009

The Gaelic festival of Samhain marks the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter.

The Gaelic festival of Samhain marks the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter. During Samhain, it is said that the veil between worlds thins and the spirits of the dead cross over into the land of the living. Traditionally, Samhain is a time to communicate with ancestors. This liturgy is written for those who are fighting for radical social change – whether activist collectives, affinity groups, churches, or families – to look to their roots and to honour the diverse origins and ancestries of the social movements to which they belong.


Preparing a People’s History Altar

To begin, you may create a spirit altar that celebrates history from below. You can place flowers; votive candles; autumnal foods; a beverage, such as water or wine to serve as a libation; and pictures of any radical leaders, popular social movements, or revolutionary events you wish to commemorate.

Let us reflect for a moment on the long, powerful lineage of the struggle for freedom – freedom from the violence of racial capitalism, colonialism, and empire; freedom to live with dignity, autonomy, and self-determination. Silence.


Let us name our ancestors in this struggle.
Each participant may name a revolutionary figure or movement that has inspired them, e.g. Lucy Parsons, the Young Lords, etc., while lighting a candle on the altar. With each name, respond:
We remember and call out to you.
As we face the darker half of the year,
we also face dark times in our world:
imperialist wars, rising fascism,
ecocide, climate apartheid.
on the long road to liberation. *We invite you into this space,
to surround us, to bless us, to protect us,
to walk among us as comrades and kin.
We call out to you, our forerunners
We welcome your wisdom
into our lives and into our movements.
We summon your hidden histories
and untold stories
of subversion, of strikes and sabotage,
of community organizing,
of riot and rebellion
and revolution.*

Litany of Gratitude

We have reaped an abundant harvest
from the seeds you already planted
in the wild gardens of history.
We have learned so much from
your visions and victories,
as well as your missteps and your mistakes.
We celebrate each element of your movements:

The organizers and educators among you,
We celebrate you.

The artists and poets,
We celebrate you.

The mothers and grandmothers and matriarchs,
We celebrate you.

The warriors and the guerrillas,
We celebrate you.

The others who we now name:
Participants may offer other gratitude.
We celebrate you.

All of the freedom fighters
who laid down your lives
for the sake of a future you would not live to see,
We honour you, we mourn for you.

Participants may pour out their libations, either onto the earth, if outside, or into a bowl on the altar.

Closing Prayer: To Be Good Future Ancestors

“When I say, ‘Ancestors, use me,’ what I mean is, ‘I surrender my life to you.’” – adrienne maree brown

Ancestors, may the Spirit of
struggle live on through us,
guide us toward collective action
to dismantle the systems that harm us,
and build the society we dream of,
so we may be good future ancestors
to the generations that will inherit the Earth.

As we enter the winter,
may we embolden our resistance.
As the days grow shorter,
may our imaginations stretch further.
As the nights grow colder,
may our hearts burn stronger.
As the leaves fall, may we rise.
For the veil is thin
between the world as it is
and the world as it could be.
Let us seize that possibility.


Matthew Kennedy (he/they) is an organizer with a political education collective in Cleveland, Ohio (Erie land) and a member of the Industrial Workers of the World.

Issue 70

This article first appeared in Geez magazine Issue 70, Fall 2023, Ancestors, Remembering for the Future.

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Issue 70, Fall 2023

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