Pagan Studies

Focusing on the Arte Magical as a practice and profession, we study various facets of magic through the lens of both classical and modern perspective. From ancient myth to urban legend to fiction and philosophy, all viewed through the eyes of a very practical magician.

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Samhain and the Dark Side

Wow, it's been over a month since I last blogged.  *chuckles*  Whoops!

Truthfully, most of my activity has been over at my Tumblr, but even so... lots of life interruptus.  But hey, a busy life means plenty to write about when you have time.

For example, today's focus is on Samhain and Sabbats in general, but also on the concept of Darkness and what it means to people in the magical world.

The time has moved toward Samhain, and we have begun the darkest part of the year.  The leaves fall, the light diminishes, the cold winds blow.  This has always been associated with the witch to me, and not just because of the Hallows season either.  Specifically, this has always been the time when I get to meet the power of death: both that which withers and destroys, and also that which is immortal and undying.

For my local tradition and the group which celebrates it, the Dark half of the year is an important time- a time to remember what you value the most, and treasure it carefully.

However, some of the covens out here (my own included) embrace the idea of Darkness beyond the concept of winter and value.  For example, the concept of necessity and privation bringing forth strength and virtue, or the idea of mystery and the unknown.

Samhain is a time which focuses on that- on the unfathomable and unstoppable force of death and change, but also on the undeniable mystery of rebirth.

I've already told you all about last year's Sabbat experience with Hekate, but I probably didn't mention that this year has been a trial for me regarding Her and my relationship.  Truthfully, some things are hard to bounce back from.  For example, I come from a very hard and abused background, and much of my troubles were due to harmful parental or authority figures.  Hence, I have a personal problem with gods, and I get very triggery when they don't do things to help me in the way I want to be helped.  A warning about upcoming trouble is of no use to me if it doesn't also come with assistance and obvious protection.

Consequently, last year was hard on me and my relationship with Hekate.  I felt She could have done more to help me, and I am only now learning that She did everything She could, because She has to honor our choices and She can't just do everything for us.

More importantly, the experiences this year have taught me that I have a tendency to be offensive to and disrespectful to the gods.  Not just in a "divine and entertaining irreverence" sort of way, but in a way that's literally abusive of my connection to them.

So, I'm working on that.

My point, however, is about Darkness.  Specifically, what it teaches us and how it is valuable and just as lovely as Light.

See, Light reveals truth and expands, creating change and parting Darkness.  But, Darkness is what existed before Light ever showed up.  All the treasures and lessons and wisdom Light brings us?  Darkness was what held those and kept them for us.

On Samhain, we put on masks and costumes- we embrace our inner Darkness and let it out, by cloaking it in a protective covering of shadows.  We embrace the trappings of what we associate with death and horror: skulls, ghosts, the creatures of the dark.

The thing is, most witches recognize that this "playing with the dark" is us moving from a place of fear to a place of honor and joy.  Literally, it's about us shedding just enough light to see, and no more. A place of Hands of Glory, of Corpsecandles and seance circles.  It's a place of in-between, and of hazy questions which make sense even if they challenge our thinking.

Hekate is the torch in the night, the light at the Crossroads.  She isn't the Sun which banishes the night, because She recognizes the need for both.  She is honor of the unknown, the blessed mystery, as well as illumination and wisdom.

Every Samhain, our tradition in this area has been to have Hekate speak oracle for us for the year.  This year, I was unable to attend the main ritual of Samhain due to work, and so the torch passed to another.  I was pleased to find out that the ritual planners were still going to call to Her for the year's oracle, and that the person invoking Her has a good relationship with Her.

However, that means I get to spend time with Her myself, and focus on our relationship and on giving Her proper care and respect.  I may not be one who considers the gods to be more important than myself, but I do recognize that they are as valuable as I am.  I lost sight of that, and had to go into the Darkness of life to find it again.

That's really what Darkness does- it rebalances things so you can see that we're all equal, we're all in the dark here.  It takes away your tricks and tools, and leaves you raw and naked in a room with other raw and naked things.  Your truth can't hide when everything is hidden.  You can't throw shadows when all is dark around you. 

One of the things we focus on for Samhain locally is the veneration of the gods.  We honor that which is immortal, that which transcends our scope of life and death.  Our costumes are celebrations of that principle, in most cases.  And all of our rituals celebrate that.  In our practice as witches and sorcerers, it's important to remember how the world really looks, and not to let ourselves be fooled by the shadows cast by the mortal world.  Samhain, and in a way all the Sabbats, help us connect to that.

When you put on your costume this year, when you draw your shadows around you and step through the Veil'd Hedge to travel to Sabbat... What will you seek?  The Light of the hearthfire?  The gleaming torches of the circle?

Or will you step out into the Darkness and see what waits there?


Feel free to share your feelings about Samhain, Darkness, and the Sabbats in the comments, if you wish.  Blessed Hallows!

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Tagged in: darkness sabbats Samhain
S. Rune Emerson has been practicing witchcraft and sorcery since the early 90's, and has been teaching since 2004. He is the founder of the Risting Tradition of American Witchcraft, which is a large title for a small local tradition based in Northern Nevada. He also heads a coven tradition called the Cabal of Nocturne, and works as a diviner at Pathways Spirit, a metaphysical shop in Reno. He likes to describe his life as "extraordinarily simple." He is fond of observing that magic as a profession is the somewhat honest alternative to those of the same mindset as criminals- smart, lazy, and prone towards thinking outside the box, often in areas of questionable morality. He believes in a strong standard of accountability in magical practice, and has very strict ethics. He's also very opinionated about nearly everything.


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