A twisting (and sometimes twisted) exploration of devotion, seership, hearth witchery, and spirit work.
And so it begins
I've written before here about how, in our household, Samhain starts early. For us it begins at the end of September, during the week when we've repeatedly lost beloved pets and on the day when, two years ago, I pledged my service to the Wild Hunt. This year, that day was marked with an inadvertent bloodletting when the Hunt, not satisfied with the efforts I had made thus far on their behalf, aided me in slicing open the knuckle of my right index finger almost to the bone with a pair of sewing shears. (Followed, of course, with a expensive trip to the emergency room and several weeks of limited ability to do anything--including typing and crafting--with that hand. The Hunt does not play.)
It continued the following week when I made a trip to one of the city's oldest cemeteries (and bear in mind that here on the west coast, "oldest" means the 1800s, and the most ancient looking monuments, crumbling with apparent age, are not truly ancient at all but merely rain-damaged). I brought with me home-brewed mead and bone meal, to feed the dead, and locally harvested apples for Sleipnir, Odin's giant eight-legged steed. (Eight legs, by the way; have you ever thought about that? Why does He--the horse, that is--have eight legs? Spiders have eight legs. So does a casket, when borne aloft by four mourners. Sleipnir is, indisputably, a horse of death, a steed to carry one to the land of the dead--which, throughout the Norse myths, is exactly what He does.) I discovered an area devoted to the Civil War dead, which startled me because it seemed the wrong coast for that, but the monument statue of a soldier in uniform and the plots of the military dead exuded an aura of welcome for me, a kinship with the "once human" contingent of the Hunt, with Odin's fallen heroes. Here was succor and support, and so it was here that I marked the stones with my blood, freshly drawn from my finger (not the one with stitches!) using a lancet. (The dead were especially interested in and enthusiastic about the mead, by the way!)
During the following weeks, I gave in to the urge to spin witchy things, ritual cords for bindings and handfastings, and I made candles for the first time, for the dark moon. I revisited a kinship to fire, and began to nurture my ability to mold it through the physical agents of melted wax and molten sugar. Everything physical has its echo, its shadow self, Over There, so that spun sugar here equals firestorms There, and subtle weavings Over There lead to inspirations and art here. A lot of my work is centered around making, the capturing of spirit in flesh (although in my work, "flesh" consists of wool , or wax, or antler bits). I work to channel the bits of the divine and of the spirit that I can grasp and to give them expression Here, and to use the physical elements at my disposal here to pay honor to the gods and the spirits, as well as give comfort and nourishment to the dead in this their time of movement and passage.
The worlds shift and swirl continually before my waking eyes. My partner dreamed, recently, that we found a human skeleton, and that I made her help me bury it in my mattress, surrounding it with graveyard dirt, so that I could sleep on it. In waking life I would never go so far, but I weave the worlds together on a daily basis as I walk to and from work, as I tread the paths of wetland and forest. Today, walking down a tree-shrouded street, I rode beside Odin at the head of the Hunt, overlaying this world with another, stitching the worlds together with only a hint of a seam (and an eye out for traffic). I made myself into a conduit, allowing passage and conversation from There to Here, permitting movement and influence. Such is the work of a Door.
This past weekend, I performed oracular seidhr, a service I have offered to my wider community for close to a decade now. Seidhr is an umbrella term encompassing both a practice of seership and a "system" of magic, both stemming from pagan Scandinavia and both documented in the Icelandic sagas as well as the poetic eddas. As a system of magic, there is nothing "harm none" or otherwise Wiccan-rede-like about seidhr; it is a method of soul manipulation, developed in an era of great hardship and constant need (not unlike African/Southern American Vodoun), and its adept practitioners were (and are) rightly feared, their names spoken in hushed voices and with awe. As a practice of seership, seidhr is performed by a number of different individuals and groups across the US and Europe, each with their own method and ritual. It, too, is bound to need, traditionally practiced only when demanded by the community. I have compromised with tradition by offering it five times per year, coinciding with some of the major "wheel of the year" days, which often in turn coincide with ancient Germanic festival dates. Samhain occurs at roughly the same time as Winternights, the Scandinavian festival honoring the elves (who were often conflated with the dead), and is the gateway holiday to Yule, which is the northern tradition's ultimate "thin veil" time of year. I perform oracular seidhr as a service to the community, an act of intercession, but also a service to the gods and the dead, who must often try too hard to make Their voices heard and to exert Their rightful influence on mortals and the living. I perform it as a service to Wyrd itself, to the Well and the Tree, the depths of Being and the heights of Potential, the guardians of the Threshold.
After seidhr, there was some treasured time alone with Odin, the Master of the Hunt who also owns my heart, and now the frenzy begins in earnest. On Wednesday I will go to work bearing handcrafted salted caramels and dressed as one of Odin's ravens, a carrion bird. On that night, Halloween, we observe a festival we've dubbed the Feast of Treats, in honor of all of our dear departed animal friends. We will offer little tidbits our companions enjoyed during life: blueberries and Combos, cherry vanilla ice cream, McDonald's cheeseburgers. For ourselves, there will be Halloween mini-candy bars, liquor, and tears. The following weekend, we will process to our favorite local cemetery bearing offerings, and will visit the grave of the city's founder to express our thanks that this beautiful but mercurial city welcomed us and gave us a home and livelihood, rather than chewing us up and spitting us out as it has done to so many. I will wander among the monuments and the carefully tended plants that grace them, the yew trees and snowberry bushes, weaving a path for the dead to travel, offering mead and sweets, perhaps buying some plant cuttings and graveyard dirt with coins, a smear of honey, and a taste of blood.
The following Wednesday, on the astronomical cross-quarter day of Samhain, we will host a feast for our beloved human dead, our ancestors of the flesh and the spirit. I will have Stella Doro anisette cookies for my grandmother, Matzoh with cream cheese and jelly for my aunt, Entemann's spice cake for my mother, buttermilk for my grandfather, beer for my father, and delicate white wine and petits four for the Queens (my group of adopted Disir, consisting mostly of medieval European highborn women). In silence, we will welcome the dead to come among us and feast, we will listen to their voices rather than our own, we will reforge broken links and mend sundered connections, providing what comfort we can and receiving comfort in return. We will then turn our eyes towards the long, cold, stormy months ahead, the rain soaked nights and windswept afternoons forming the dark corridor which will end in the twelve nights of Yule. We will do the work the gods and spirits give us, and I will continue to weave the worlds together, to feed the spirits and the dead, and to channel spirit through my busy hands into matter.
What about you, dear readers? What are your own plans for Samhain and the season ahead? What will you do?
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