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Ah, Halloween. The enchanted time when all the witches, ghosties, and creatures of the night are encouraged to come out and play. It has always been a magical time of year for me personally, ever since I was a tot. I can readily tell you what I dressed up for on this beloved holiday, since I was four. (4 years: Mickey Mouse.) Halloween has enjoyed quite the resurrection, and it is the perfect occasion to throw a theme party. Since I am the original theme party gal, I can happily throw some suggestions your way to make yours unique, and anything but run of the mill.
The Mothers and Fathers reckoned the Horned One as god of animal life generally—what, in History of Religions lingo, is known as a “Master of Animals”—but for all that, he is rarely ascribed a sacred bird of his own. Birds, of course, are given mostly to the Sky Powers: raptors to Thunder, water-birds to Sun and Moon, etc. It's fascinating that these embodiers of the animal god's being should be given to other gods, as if they somehow constitute his yearning for them, as Earth's quartz yearns to the Moon. But to Himself the lore alots the merest avian handful: corvids, perhaps the peacock (see below), the robin (as Promethean bringer-of-fire) and, of course, the cock.
Everyone knows that the rooster—I suppose one really must say “cock” here—is the Devil's bird, (“Men call me the Devil,” he is reputed to have told Scots witch Isobel Gowdie, “but they know not what they mean”), and better it be if it's black. It's a staple of Southern (American) folklore that to invoke the Devil you sacrifice a black cock at a crossroads at midnight. Why a cock? Standard etiology would have it that the cock, being preeminently the bird that proclaims the coming of light, is the sworn enemy of the Prince of Darkness, Enemy of Light. But, as one might expect, matters are considerably more complex than that.
The domestic chicken originated in Southeast Asia and, it would seem, first came to the British Isles with the Romans (Yeates 166). Nonetheless, one finds the cock's head associated with the Horned One on the coinage of the Dobunni, the Keltic tribe that in later days morphed into the Hwicce, the “Tribe of Witches.” The rooster has a reputation as the most virile and pugnacious of birds, a fitting emblem for the father and protector of the people, the Pater Hwicciorum (Yeates 165-9). (Interestingly, though, the use of “cock” for “penis” derives, not from the name of the bird, but from the sense of “water-tap.”)
Yesterday, my friend Erick DuPree posted a very thoughtful piece on embracing the secular Halloween and avoiding the ancestor reverence that is so important to many pagans and witches this time of year. In a very touching way, Erick discussed his troubled history with his father and his wish to separate himself from the misogyny and racism that permeates his family line. That same misogyny and racism is likely to pollute the family line of every person of European descent, including myself, so that is a decision I can fully understand.
Yet, I feel like there are still reasons to do ancestor work. Don’t get me wrong – I’ve never been very good at ancestor work. I have an ancestor altar at which I pay my respects daily, but I don’t do nearly as much work contacting my family on the other side as many other witches do. I’m just processing my own thoughts as a person who (I think) shares a similar family history and was touched by Erick’s comments.
Life is uncertain. If you turn on the news, you will be subjected to a constant barrage of All the Horrible Things. But even beyond that, there are always things that can harm us, whether they are acts of nature, acts of man, or just bad luck. There is no way we can keep bad stuff from happening once in a while, but it never hurts to do a little protection work to give yourself and your loved ones a bit of a boost in that direction.
I try to do serious protection work for my house and property at least once a year, in the fall as I am shutting things down and closing up the house for the winter. The coming week, leading up to Samhain on the 31st, is a perfect time for these kinds of rituals and spells (although they will work any time, of course). The darkness is closing in as the days grow shorter, and with the veil becoming thinner, it is always a good idea to reinforce your defenses....
Alone within yourself
This is probably one of the most difficult places to be comfortably. Most people cannot understand why I want to be in my own head and my own thoughts. Yet I find this is one of the best (and sometimes worst) places for me to be. It doesn’t matter whether I’m using my imagination to write a story or thinking through a problem or exploring my inner landscape.
And now I find myself at another exciting intersection.
When I started my blog, “Intersections,” in January of this year, I was looking for the next step after a wonderful experience contributing to The Juggler. After four years of contributing to a site that commented on paganism and culture, I was looking forward to a new project that combined my love of the pagan community with my interest in the arts and sciences. The response has been wonderful, and it has led me to a new crossroad.