vegan alternatives for a cruelty-free samhain

For most of the witches I know, witchcraft is something that is woven into the fabric of their identity, and given equal weight to other beliefs and values. For example, I recently met for the first time a witch who is also Christian. As you can imagine, her brand of Christianity is not particularly Evangelical or traditional, but she felt that both of these belief systems were equally important in making up her worldview and how she chose to act, think, and emote on a daily basis. There were certain things in her Christian faith that conflicted with her traditionally held beliefs about witchcraft, and vice versa, but ultimately she decided it was more important to live authentically than to adhere to rules and regulations from either side.

There are a lot of supposed "rules" in historical witchcraft that are meant to be followed without exception. Animal sacrifice, blood letting, burning bones and hair...it all seems a little Macbeth, in the scheme of modern understanding. Certain traditionally held beliefs about witchcraft are so staunch that they don't allow much room for accommodating other parts of your identity, including veganism. Animal parts and essences are such a huge part of many spells and rituals, especially more powerful ones that coincide with witch/Pagan holidays. Things like graveyard dirt can blur the the lines for some vegans, and even using discarded materials like found feathers, fur, or bones can violate certain vegan values. 

I firmly believe in accommodation, change, and adaptation, and I want my vegan friends to be able to enjoy their Samhain rituals as much as I will. Although I am not vegan, I have drastically reduced my intake of meat and animal products over the last year, and concentrated on finding cruelty-free alternatives to the convenience items I buy. With that in mind, I've come up with a few ways to make Samhain more friendly for vegans and non-vegans alike. Samhain is celebrated at sundown October 31st, so make sure you make time for some ritual reflecting in between costume parties and candy-eating!

1) Make your own vegan "graveyard dirt."

While graveyard dirt is not necessarily composed of bone or decomposing tissue, gathering it from a graveyard where bodies are buried implies that the dirt is charged by decomposition of bodies in some way. While all dirt is composed of decomposing matter of all kinds, the implication that graveyard dirt carries crosses some boundaries for certain vegans. Instead of going to an actual graveyard, you can create your own "plant graveyard" in any pot using garden soil, dead plants, and an empty ceramic garden pot. 

First, gather any dead plant material you can find. Dried leaves, pine needles, tree bark (fallen off the tree, not chipped off the trunk), and dried household herbs are perfect. Next, using your ceramic or otherwise fireproof pot, burn the dead plant material until it is ashy. While you are burning the plants, thank them for cleaning our air in their time of life, for providing nourishment to other animals and ourselves, and providing homes for tree-bound animals and insects. Meditate on your respect for the earth, and allow yourself to feel deep sadness for the death of nature and the disrespect she is shown on a daily basis. After the "funeral pyre" extinguishes, mix garden soil with the ash. If you like, you can pot a new plant in the "graveyard" to simulate the life and death balance present in graveyards. Place a crystal or rock as the headstone. Water the pot lightly once, then wait for it to dry out. Voila! You now have a plant-based "graveyard" right in your backyard that can be used to replace traditional graveyard dirt. For bonus points, continually charge your "graveyard" by burying household plants that die in your graveyard. It will only grow more powerful over time.

2) Craft cornhusk dolls instead of voodoo dolls.

It is tradition on Samhain to offer up effigies of our past selves or of our enemies to cleanse intentions, cast curses, or drastically alter life paths. Most voodoo dolls or effigies require hair, skin, or nails from the intended target, as well as feathers, fur, or hair to stuff the doll with. Instead, you can make vegan-friendly effigies by stripping the husks from corn, making the dolls, and drying them in the sun. The silk is used to stuff the doll, and you can get creative with making them look like you or whoever you are trying to target. Traditionally, folks make cornhusk dolls at the Lammas feast celebrating the summer harvest and burn them on Samhain, offering up the doll sacrifice as protection from evil spirits when the veil grows thin during Samhain. My Lammas doll has been drying up since August in anticipation of its fiery end, but it's not too late to make one for yourself! I used these instructions from Martha Stewart to make them with my witchy friends: we had fun, and we're looking forward to our Samhain fire! You can eat the corn yourself, or you can set it out with apples as offerings for the spirits that will visit during Samhain.

3) Host a vegan Dumb Supper to honor ancestors and spirits.

The Dumb Supper is a beautiful and reflective Samhain tradition. At the Dumb Supper, places are set for each guest, as well as a place setting for visiting spirits. Guests share food and wine in silence, honoring the dead who are present but can no longer speak or interact with their loved ones. After the meal is over, the food and wine from the place setting is brought outdoors to a small outdoor altar and offered up to the spirits. Traditional Samhain foods are the centerpiece of the meal, including apple pies, pumpkin soups, roasted squash, and red wines and apple ciders. Use your favorite vegan recipes to whip up a tasty and lovely meal, or invite your vegan (and non-vegan!) friends to bring plant-based dishes for a shared Samhain potluck. Encourage guests to bring photos, trinkets, or notes that remind them of their deceased loved ones. Once the supper is over, share stories about your family and friends who have passed on, so that their memories are respected and their lives honored.

Witchcraft is evolving, and it doesn't have to center on animal bones and vials of blood. These are just a few suggestions for incorporating veganism and vegan alternatives into your Samhain rituals, but it doesn't have to stop here. Witchcraft is a fluid belief system that is brought alive by those who practice it, and your values outside of magick can help shape the flow of tradition and how witchcraft is taught to generations to come. Happy brainstorming, and happy Samhain!

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