Season and Spirit: Magickal Adventures Around the Wheel of the Year

The Wheel of the Year is the engine that drives NeoPagan practice. Explore thw magick of the season beyond the Eight Great Sabbats.

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Tales Told In November: Grief and the Perpetual Samhain

In her novel Possession, A.S. Byatt writes about the Celtic roots of Breton folklore, in a series of macabre tales that are only told in the few darkening weeks between All Hallow's Eve and Advent. These collected tales, Tales Told in November, are mysterious and disquieting tales, full of violence, monsters, and shadowy, threatening sexuality. The Dark Goddess is invoked as Melusine, the double-tailed mermaid. October is a time of harvest and revelry as the last of the harvest is brought in. It is a time of great bounty and joy. It's not until after the Wheel has shifted and the Descent has begun, that things become truly frightening. Halloween is the beginning, not the end, of the dark seasons of the shadow, the chthonian, and the Dark Gods below the Earth and Sea.

This transition, this Hinge that comes at Samhain and we in the Northern hemisphere begin our Descent, is marked by so many cultural celebrations. These are occasions of great joy as well as reverence and solemnity. Samhain, Dia de Muertos, Samhuinn, Winter Nights, All Hallows—of these have more than a little joy mixed in with the darker aspects of contact beyond the Veil, and engagement with grief and mourning. For years, the Samhain season was my happiest time of the Year, full of rituals, fun and festivity. It was during this time that I often fell in love, or began new friendships or projects that proved to be important and transformational. Samhain brought so much abundance and pleasure that it was easy to forget the whole death part.

And then, suddenly, Samhain got personal. Samhain got in my face.

It started a few years ago, after a number of illnesses, surgeries and deaths in my family pushed each of us to our limits. Samhain became a time of re-encountering, with renewed sharpness, the grief, longing and disappointment that came along with each death, with each scare. This was hard.

Then this Samhain brought so many more anguished shades to the light of my candles. Refugees washed up on a beach. Black Christians shot in their church. College students. Concert goers. Acres of rainforest, miles of glaciers, lost. Archaeological treasures dynamited. Fragile ecosystems destroyed. Women and children enslaved, abused, and murdered. The extralegal execution of Black men every day. Since the day I started this essay, another mass shooting has happened, an hour from my house. These are not things that happen 'out there'. These are not things that do not touch me.

My faith, and my experience of the world, is that everything is connected, that everything touches and is touched by every other thing. There are no insignificant actions—we make one choice, consequences arise from that. As a species, we may choose one course, but the world will tend back to balance. My work—as an artist, as a priestess, as a conscious soul in this time of change and challenge—my work is as much out there, as it is in here. My personal grief can be a bridge in the deeper, more pressing wounding of our beloved planet, and our beloved community.


I think this is why, no matter how many vigils or rituals I went to, over the many weeks of Samhain festivities—no matter how many altars I set up, or meals I cooked and served in silence—there was a sense that Samhain was not complete. That the mourning, the horror, the grief both private and public was not done. That Samhain was itself a tale told in November, as shootings and bombings did not abate, as the occasions for mourning continued. How can we move into empathy, from our own inner wounding and grief, into presence with others who are also wounded, who also grieve, who cannot find comfort? In the darkening weeks of the Year's end, in the pall of so much suffering, how do we add our light to the sum of all light? How do we, in our darkness, find a light to illuminate each other, and our world, in this time when the dark and the cold are not just weather?

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Tagged in: grief Samhain
Leni Hester is a Witch and writer from Denver, Colorado. Her work appears in the Immanion anthologies "Pop Culture Grimoire," "Women's Voices in Magick" and "Manifesting Prosperity". She is a frequent contributor to Witches and Pagans and Sagewoman Magazines.


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