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The Leaves of Samhain

  Over the years I have noticed a natural rhythm, an ebb and flow of activity and attendance to annual celebrations of the Wheel of the Year. Many seem to skip Imbolc, perhaps it the weather or perhaps we're still shaking off the winter hibernation. Still some confess not really being sure how to celebrate Imbolc, regardless, we usually seem to warm up by Ostara and are always in full swing for the Maypole Dance at Beltane. We cruise along through the wheel at a steady even pace until Samhain when we turn up the juice full throttle for everyone's favorite holiday. 

   It's really no surprise the Samhain is arguably the most popular of the Sabbats, it perhaps one of the most fun and memorable social events of our childhood. It is not a far stretch to assume the positive experiences of dressing up like our favorite hero or villain and canvassing the neighborhood collecting candy found a comfortable place to nest in the psyche of our young minds. It can be a dream come true for many who grow up, come to Paganism and discover one of their favorite childhood holidays has deep cultural and spiritual roots which complements their religious beliefs and practices.

   I had a good childhood, great parents and a close, strong family ties. My childhood experiences have always had a significant influence on my personal spiritual beliefs and practices. The most significant influence was from my Grandmother, from whom I learned how to cast my Circles and how to celebrate Samhain.

   My Grandma Millie was the coolest Grandmother a little boy could have, infinite patience, kindness and above all humor. My earliest memories of her are of sitting on her lap, nestled under her warm thick flannel blanket watching Vincent Price horror movies. We loved to be scared, we loved to scream and then laugh at ourselves. From time to time she would take a break, asking me to open the front door and then the back window so she could get some "fresh air" through the house, while she smoked the cigarettes she loved so much after a good laugh.

   She was diagnosed with lung cancer while I was still very young, but I remember too well watching her wane away so quickly. One day she called me over to sit on her lap, announcing that she had a book for me to read to her. I instantly noticed the subtle change to tradition; it was supposed to be the other way around, my whole life she had always read to me.

   The small book was a short story about a leaf named Freddie and his life experiences as a leaf going through the seasons. The narrative begins in the spring, introducing the reader to Freddie and all his friends who live on a branch, in a tree, in a park. It passes from spring to summer, then from bright summer days to cold October nights. In the fall the leaves begin to change color and learn about the season of death.

   I may not have been the sharpest tool in the shed, but I knew where the story was going within the first few pages. I knew what was happening to her; I knew what she was trying to tell me and it became more and more difficult to hold back the tears with each turn of the page. My voice began to crack so I just stopped talking completely. We sat in silence for a time before she leaned forward and gently whispered in my ear "Do you get it?"

   My tears fell upon the pages of the book and I remember thinking they looked like rain on the leaves in the pictures. "Yeah, I get it." I said with a trembling breath. She leaned in further casting her arms in a circle around me and touching her index fingers together. She whispered closer and softer as if she was sharing her most guarded secret.

"We are all just leaves on the family tree...I have lived many seasons...but fall is coming for me. But I will not fall far from our tree...and I will always be with you. And for the rest of your life...whenever you see a single leaf fall from a tree...that's me saying hi. And I bet you can't catch me."

   Now every Samhain I go out and stand under our tree and wait. I wait for her to come and say hi. I wait for her to fall, so I can catch her. It's our time together. And when she does fall, she's always far enough away to make me run and dive to catch her, she was always onry like that, but I always catch her. I place her leaf on our Samhain altar for the Sabbat and celebration. When the time comes I return her leaf to the ground beneath our tree, and when the wind blows the leaves into those little whirlwinds, we dance.

Thank you Lord & Lady for the Leaves of Samhain, Blessed Be.

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Joseph Merlin Nichter holds a Master’s Degree in Human Services Counseling, specializing in Crisis Response and Trauma; a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology, specializing in Military Resilience; and an Associate’s Degree in Religion. He is a state licensed Residential Care Administrator, and is a certified Law Enforcement Chaplain. As the first state-recognized Minority Faith Chaplain; Joseph provided religious services and facilitated religious accommodations for a diverse population of faith practitioners, on behalf of the California Department of Corrections, and has also served as an Alternative Religions Program Instructor for the California Department of Mental Health. Joseph has authored two books and a number of articles, published both online and in periodicals such as Modern Witch Magazine, Living Stones Magazine, and Witches & Pagans Magazine.


  • Editor B
    Editor B Wednesday, 31 October 2012

    A very moving account. Your grandma sounds awesome. Thank you for sharing.

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