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Subscribe to this list via RSS Blog posts tagged in Samhain
A Full Moon of Samhain Ritual to Remember

The candles were lit, the incense smoking, and the bells of the church ringing in the still night air. Friday night is the practice night for the village bell-ringers, and so our ritual was accentuated by their skilful tones. The moon was riding high in a hazy sky, and haloed with an ever-widening ring that spoke of the Otherworld.

We raised our boundary, which was to the whole of the property, and called to the realms of Land, Sea and Sky. We honoured the ancestors at the full moon of Samhain, as well as the spirits of place. We invited the Fair Folk who were in tune with our intention, as they have been a part of our rituals since we began. We sang to the four quarters, and then invoked the gods. We invited all who were harmony with us this Samhain night. This was our first time in invoking the god into our full moon ritual, but it felt right. How right, we were just about to discover.

We honoured the tides of Samhain, the winter months of darkness. We then performed our magical working at the fire, and gathering our clooties: ribbons of intention that we tie to the branches of the apple tree at the bottom of the garden every month. Walking back to the terrace where the bird bath, now a sacred basin of water reflecting the moonlight, served as our vessel as we drew down the moon into the water. The church bells rang in time to our working, and stopped just as we finished. The air was utterly still.

Suddenly, a loud bark sounded from the other side of the hedge, down the track a little ways. A fallow deer stag, wandering the moonlit night. We stopped and turned to the noise, and he barked again, this time a little closer. We looked to each other and smiled, feeling blessed by his presence. Then an enormous bark, just the other side of the cedar boundary, which made us all jump. He was right up against the hedge, near the little hole that the muntjac, fallow deer and badgers made.

And he was trying to come through.

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Making Magic: A Tender’s View of a Samhain Ritual

We gather in a heritage hall on my island home for our Samhain ritual.  Warm bodies squeeze close together to form a circle of pagan and non-pagan folks, grownups and children, and even a couple of dogs, with the room filled to capacity. 

It’s been a hard, heartbreaking year for our community. The Ancestors altar is covered with photographs and mementos of those that have passed. There have been many deaths, and the tragic loss of two precious youth in one September weekend that shook this island to its core. I feel this collective grief in my own heart, and in this gathering. Samhain is the time when we honor and name those we’ve lost this year, and commune with our Beloved Dead.

Yet there’s more than grief and loss in the room. At the opposite end of the cycle of life are the youth, our children, and the souls waiting to be born. These beings we honor on the Descendants altar, and through the naming of the newborns this year.

I stand beside the Ancestors altar with another priestess. Across the circle from us, two priestesses stay by the Descendants altar. The four us will be calling in the Ancestors and Descendants, and then shifting into paired partners of Deep Witness and Tender.

The Deep Witnesses don’t actively participate in the ritual. They sit — veiled, empty and silent — acting as anchors and observers of the deep dream of our magic. I’m one of the Tenders. Our priestess role is to support and protect our Deep Witness, and to stay by her side for the duration of the ritual.

As the ritual begins, I notice that I feel different than my usual, high-intensity magical engagement. I’m somber, watchful and empty present — a guardian and observer of the Deep Witness and our community as we enter the powerful, mysterious and mournful experience of Samhain.

Together we create sacred space. The circle is cast. We ground.  The Elements are called in through song.  Goddesses and other Mysteries are invoked.  Our priestess group calls in the Ancestors and Descendants.

I listen from the edge of the circle, attuned to the movements of bodies, weaving of energy, and quality of presence, more than the individual words and actions.  I step forward to do my calling in task, and then settle into my role as Tender.

I notice the seamless sharing of leadership, power and space — the many priestesses working together to co-create this magical experience for our community. The talent and expertise in this room are immense, diverse, breathtaking, yet I don’t sense inflated egos, jealousy or competition. 

We move on to the reading of the names of the dead who have passed this year — what is remembered lives. And the dead come, slipping past the veil that separates us, to drink of our grief, our love, and our honoring.

I notice how natural this is, how right for us to be with our honored dead in these ways. They move among us, touching the faces of their beloved kin with their hands of light, soothing the broken hearts of those left behind, letting us know that they are still with us, just a thought, a name, a song away.

Two priestesses begin to trace a path in the center of the circle, one drumming and together weaving a hauntingly beautiful guided trance to the Isle of Apples, the Pagan Land of the Dead.  Everyone settles into a comfortable position, and makes their way to the blessed Isle to commune with their Beloved Dead. 

The Sacred Witnesses don’t make this journey, nor do we, their Tenders. Together we anchor this magical circle, while the Sacred Witnesses hold vigil and observe all with their dream eyes. My only job is to stand guard. I don’t pry into the visioning of the ritual participants, nor of the Sacred Witnesses. Whatever is happening here is intensely soul-to-soul private.

I notice a current of power that runs between the two Sacred Witnesses: one an anchor for the lineage of Ancestors that stretches into the far distant past, and the other an anchor for the lineage of Descendants that reaches into the far distant future. I sway back and forth, back and forth, my movements an involuntary response to the magnetic pulse of whole time, where the future and the past are both present in this now moment, and the yet to be born, the dead and the living share this communal, magical space.

The two priestesses speak once more, calling the ritual participants to rise up and dance the Spiral Dance with their Beloved Dead, and with the Souls of the Unborn who also reside on the Isle of Apples. Hand to hand, the dancers form a moving spiral that turns inward toward the circle center, and then back outward again. Dancers pass each other by, shining face to shining face, with voices raised in song. 

I first notice how crowded the space is, not only with the living, but also with our unseen guests of the Beloved Dead and the Unborn. My guardian instincts kick in, and I expand my energy to create a protective barrier between the Sacred Witness and the dancers.

Yet the Sacred Witness is unfazed. She rocks and sways with the music and building energy of the dance. This energy is immense, intense, but also peaceful, harmonious, and so, so heart-wrenching.

Tears run down my cheeks. Love is what fills this room, overflowing from heart to heart. Love that joins us all in this raw, bittersweet dance of death, life and birth.   

This is how we hold our grief and losses; with this much love, power and presence. We are one community: the living, the dead and the yet to be born. The spiral dance is life itself, a turning into and out of the mortal coil of our flesh and bones form.

As the Spiral Dance and guided journey come to a close with words of parting and gratitude for the Beloved Dead and the Unborn, it’s time to honor and name the newborns for this year, and to circle back to the celebratory beginnings of life.

Then there’s one last task before the circle is opened: the Deep Witnesses speak on behalf of the Ancestors and Descendants.

The Ancestors remind us that we are each a light in these dark times, and we must shine our brightest to make this world a better place. The Descendants tell us that special souls are being born to this world, and that we must make space for them and heed their teachings. 

I notice how everyone in the room turns their rapt attention to the Deep Witnesses as they speak. When the Mysteries walk among us, our only job is to listen to the power of their voices, and the hope in their messages. The Ancestors and Descendants leave us with sacred responsibilities: to show up as our bright shining Selves, and to welcome and honor the newborns and our children as teachers and guides. This is how we can mend and remake our world for the better.

For this Samhain eve, our magic is done. We devoke, thanking and saying goodbye to all that we’ve called in. Priestesses and participants alike are called back from the Mysteries to return to the waking world. Our circle is opened, yet unbroken.

As a community, we share food and conversation afterwards, and I continue my Tender duties until my priestess companion is returned from her Deep Witness journey, and fully grounding in her human form. Then it’s time to go home, nourished, healed and transformed by our evening of magic.

The next day, I notice that I’m filled with a profound sense of wellbeing and wholeness. Magic makes me whole. Honoring death, loss and grief makes me whole. Deep communion with the Beloved Dead, the Unborn, the Ancestors and the Descendants makes me whole. Sharing these essential things with my community makes me whole. Love makes me whole.

Let this wholeness be our prayer and our practice in the year to come.

Ritual Credit: This Samhain ritual arises out of the Reclaiming Tradition of Witchcraft.

Photo Credit: Janko Ferlič on Unsplash

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Recent Comments - Show all comments
  • Karen Clark
    Karen Clark says #
    Thank you birch! It was an honor to be a Tender for such a powerful, loving community ritual.
  • Robert Birch
    Robert Birch says #
    Karen, What a soul moving article. I read it, quietly cried and dreamed into the pagan gift to the world through your wyrds. ~bir

Posted by on in Signs & Portents
Days of the Dead

Today is Samhain, the first day of winter in Celtic reckoning and the ancient predecessor to Halloween. It also corresponds with the Mexican Day of the Dead, the Catholic All Saints’ Day, and so-called “Mischief Night.” In virtually all of these case, October 31 and November 1 are recognized as days for honoring the dead and considering mortality.As we are wont to do we’ve gathered a large amount of content, both from our own website and others to keep you entertained this most holy of days. We hope you enjoy!

--Aryós Héngwis

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Posted by on in Culture Blogs
Samhain 2017

Whatever Samhain’s personal impact has been on our lives this year, rarely has its power and symbolism been greater for us as a people. Samhain honors the power and meaning of death, and death comes as inevitably to political orders and societies as it does to people and to the rest of life. As our Wheel of the Year reminds us, death is followed by a new beginning.  However, today new beginnings are but faint hints extending in different directions, some better than others. What seems clear to me is that the political and cultural order long taken for granted by Americans, is passing.

At the most visible level, we see cultural divisions and political conflicts destroying our constitutional order.  While there are many causes, one central one is the Republican Party. The Trump presidency is ‘simply’ another step along a path it has followed for decades.

Regardless of who wins in 2018, the Republican Party’s slide into right wing authoritarianism with a Mussolini wannabe at its head marks the end of our traditional constitutional order. Its survival depended on enough shared agreement among the major players for compromises to serve the general well-being. There is no compromise possible when some people seek to destroy what they cannot rule.

There are many possible outcomes to this destruction. Trump and his strongest supporters would like a dictatorship. However, in his effort to subvert the constitutional and legal order, he has broken laws and violated traditions necessary for its survival, but still having legal weight. Two days before Samhain the first charges and confessions of guilt by his apparatchiks have been made. The struggle between an American fascism and a freer society has crossed a crucial line. I am heartened by the symbolism.

If dictatorship is avoided, the old order will not re-emerge. It is dead.  We might see emergence of a multi-party system if electoral rules are changed to allow ranked choice voting. This would end a two-party monopoly controlled by corporations and vulnerable to capture by authoritarian movements.  This relatively gentle change might make a huge difference.

We might see the weakening of national power if states as different as California and Alabama increasingly go their own way.  We might end up governed more like the Articles of Confederation  than our more centralized constitutional system.  This decoupling might lead to what I call “divorce over irreconcilable differences.”

Or the worst possibility of civil conflict might take place, as the ‘altright’ obviously wishes to happen. Whatever emerges from this conflict, it will not be a return to the old order. Its days are done.

Unless…

Unless the even more deeply rooted culture of patriarchy, social and corporate domination, and ‘Biblical’ religion comes to a well-deserved end. And it might. These people now control all branches of government.  Try as they will, they cannot blame their failures on anyone else but themselves.  And, so far, we have seen little but failures, as we might expect from a group that rejects science, rejects any regard for truth, rejects collaboration with opponents, cannot look ahead, and seeks only power and domination over all unlike themselves.  They represent a culture long past its time to die, a gangrenous culture poisoning healthy societies all around them. Perhaps their obvious failure will trigger a deep rejection, to be replaced by something better.

But there is still more bringing the old order to an end.

Most obviously, the old order will pass because its impact on our planet has become destructive. What emerges might be far worse, if the direst predictions of scientists studying global warming, (excuse me, ‘climate change,’) come to pass. On the other hand, to prevent that outcome, new technologies and attitudes will have to arise, and today we see them arising all around us, as with the amazing decline in the cost of solar energy. The alternative to global environmental catastrophe is a civilization relying on sustainable energy, and a changed cultural attitude that accepts this as obviously true and good. The seeds for this change are very much with us, but either way, the old order is finished.

The other challenge is the breakdown of capitalism as we know it. Inequality is rapidly growing, wages are sluggish for most, and social mobility is slowing. In the near future, we will see even more mainline jobs taken over by AI and robots   Yet capitalism depends on consumer spending.  When most have little, they cannot spend.

Equally significantly, unlike the captains of industry of the past, most of today’s ultra-rich have contributed nothing to society to remotely justify their wealth. For every Bill Gates or Elon Musk, there are innumerable bankers, hedge fund managers, and those who gain wealth from political deals. Had these latter individuals never existed little would be different. We would arguably be better off. We are witnessing the rise of a dominant parasite class that feeds off a culture it cannot sustain because, in their lust for wealth, they are undermining what supports them.

As with the ecological challenge, these economic challenges have attractive alternatives. One is the possibility of the nation emulating Alaska’s “Permanent Fund”  and requiring all who use our natural resources to bid for their use, with the proceeds returned to every person equally. Income from capital increasingly would go to all citizens rather than a few parasites.  Alaska’s many decades long successful experience proves this works.

There is no reason to despair. The old order generated changes it cannot handle, and it will die.  The jury is very much out as to how much damage it will do in its death throws. But in any Winter, however harsh, there are seeds that will come forth in the Spring. We can help that Spring to be a beautiful one if we not despair into a passivity that guarantees the worst will prevail.

There are signs of hope that this might happen. I think women and the feminine are at the heart of the most important. I am impressed how rapidly once inconceivable changes transformed marriage. Today the political and business world is in the midst of endless reports of sexual abuse by powerful men. This issue is now spreading to other countries as developed and free as the U.S. Some of the worst are paying a high price for their behavior. These events are part of a bigger picture. Women, women’s issues, and feminine values have dominated the opposition to Republican tyranny, from marches by millions when Trump took office, to ongoing struggles over abortion, birth control, and Planned Parenthood to radically different approaches to health. They are largely in harmony with ecological issues, which along with women, constitute the main domestic target of the Republican right and strongest reservoir of committed resistance to them.

We NeoPagans, most of us, represent these values perhaps better than any other spiritual force today. We and those who share these feminine and ecological values represent the growing tip of a culture that, if it establishes itself, can create a future we will be happy to leave to our descendants.

We are in a position to nourish the best seeds of the future during this dark time, and perhaps help keep the darkness to a minimum.

A blessed Samhain to you all.

 


 

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Posted by on in Paths Blogs
Pumpkins...

Don’t just use your pumpkins (or turnips) to carve for decoration because the flesh is yummy as are pumpkin seeds (toasted and sprinkled with salt).

The flesh and seeds are also brilliant for working some Samhain magic…

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Did Ancient Indo-Europeans Celebrate Samhain 6000 Years Ago?

According to Italian anthropologist Augusto S. Cacopardo, we've been celebrating Samhain for a long, long time now.

Some 6500 years ago, a group of people speaking a family of related dialects called Proto-Indo-European lived in the grasslands between the Black and Caspian Seas. In time, they expanded east and west into Asia and Europe, bringing with them their language, ancestral to many South Asian, and most European, languages, including the one that you're reading now.

In his book Pagan Christmas: Winter Feasts of the Kalasha of the Hindu Kush (2010) Dr. Cacopardo contends that they also brought with them a festival called *Semen(os), the ancestor (and namesake) of our modern Samhain.

Of this festival Cacopardo writes, [T]hough it may not have marked the beginning of the year, it seems to have some traits of a New Year feast, or it must have opened, at any rate, the winter period (260).

He adds: It surely marked, however, a time considered to be particularly numinous because gods and fairies came close to human beings. It coincided with the time when the herds were brought back to their winter quarters and it marked the beginning of the winter sacrifices (260n51).

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A Samhain Spell: Embracing Your Inner Witch

If you are like me around this time of year, chances are good that you find many ways to prolong and celebrate the festivities of Halloween, throughout the month of October. Besides the obvious large crowd/party idea to as an excuse to create and wear a costume, I do always like to do some sort of solitary, introspective ritual, as well. Since the time is ripe for divination, breaking out your favorite tarot deck is always a helpful self-check-in.

Brew a nice homey pomegranate tea, substituting hot apple cider for hot water. Get your tarot deck ready and sip some of the tea, relaxing into the right frame of mind for your ritual. Light some dragon's blood incense, a pumpkin-spiced candle, and cast a circle. I always like to clear my tarot deck of past influences by opening the box and smudging the cards with the incense smoke before I begin. Meditate on where you are in your life presently and shuffle the cards well. I find that the celtic cross spread gives the most thorough overview of what is going on behind the scenes, since it covers both what is coming to pass and what is around the corner, if one continues on the current path taken. If the reading isn't entirely clear the first time around, re-shuffle and give it one to two more tries. Look for patterns. Even with a sound re-shuffling, I often find myself repeatedly drawing the same cards, because they obviously have something to tell me. The third time is usually the charm for complete insight into what you wish to  know.

Meditate on your reading and record it in  your book of shadows with the date, if you like. This can be a helpful guide when planning your next Samhain. Give thanks to the Goddesses and Gods of this most magical of nights and revel in that fact a bit. Ground and close the circle, finishing with a light snack and some more tea. Ponder how wonderful it is to be a Witch, Wiccan, or Pagan on October 31st. There is nothing quite like it, is there?

     HEALTHY PUMPKIN MUFFINS
     1/3 cup melted coconut oil or extra-virgin olive oil
     1/2 cup maple syrup or honey
     2 eggs, at room temperature
     1 cup pumpkin purée
     1/4 cup milk of choice
     1 teaspoon of baking soda
     1 teaspoon vanilla extract
     1/2 teaspoon salt
     1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, plus more for sprinkling on top
     1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
     1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
     1/4 teaspoon allspice or ground cloves
     1 3/4 cups whole wheat pastry flour or regular whole wheat flour
     1/3 cup old-fashioned oats, plus more for sprinkling on top
     Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. If necessary, grease ten cups of your muffin tin with butter or non-stick cooking spray.
     In a large bowl, beat the oil and maple syrup or honey together with a whisk. Add eggs, and beat  well. Mix in the pumpkin purée and milk, followed by the baking soda, vanilla extract, salt, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, allspice or cloves.
     Add the flour and oats to the bowl and mix with a large spoon, just until combined. If you'd like to add any additional mix-ins, like nuts, chocolate or dried fruit, fold them in now.
     Divide the batter evenly between the ten muffin cups. For these muffins, it's OK to fill the cups a little higher than you normally would. Sprinkle the tops of the muffins with a small amount of oats, followed by a sprinkle of cinnamon. Bake muffins for 23 to 26 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean.
     Place the muffin tin on a cooling rack. These muffins are delicate until they cool down (you have been warned!), so it's best to wait until they have cooled down to remove them from the tin. You might need to run a butter knife along the outer edge of the muffins to loosen them from the pan. Enjoy as they are, or with a spread of butter.
     (Recipe from Cookie and Kate)

References:

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