All Hallows: candy and pomegranates, gravestones and red wine

The Wild Hunt arrived here in Chicago-land region this week.  We had one beautiful warm day, and then the wind came and the cold.  All the leaves were swept off the trees in one day.  Just in time for our family mid-Autumn celebration.  Not to mention that the days are getting noticeably darker, a process which will be accelerated by the shift back to Standard Time next Sunday.

I love it when the weather actually cooperates with my plans for family rituals.  Ideally, the seasons would be turning our Wheel and not the other way around.  I’d like to celebrate the beginning of fall when my kids first notices the geese flying south or the beginning of spring when they first notice the buds on the trees, but the practicalities of scheduling a busy family make that difficult.  We always celebrate on weekends for this reason, but that means that we are usually a few days (or more) off from the rest of the Pagan community.

I don’t think this is a problem for our family practice, but I think I need to be more rigorous about my own personal practice.  Regardless of when we hold our family celebration, I need to have my holy day on the day that I have decided to have it, regardless of whether it is convenient.  Convenience and sanctity sometimes conflict, but in my personal practice, I think I need to give more emphasis to the sanctity.  (By the way, thanks to Peter Beckley for his post that reminded me of this.)  I may not be able to time my family celebration with the onset of the gusty winter winds, but I can do that in my private practice.

Speaking of my family celebration, we did a shortened ritual this year because I wanted to celebrate before the kids went trick or treating.  I wanted to make the trick or treating an extension of the ritual this year.  I like to think of all the trick-or-treaters as part of the Wild Hunt and the candy they get as offering people make to the Hunt.  I like keeping with the theme of Halloween for our mid-Autumn celebration, even if we end up celebrating it on another day.  I’ve written about making Halloween a holy day before.  For me, All-Hallows is not about honoring our ancestors.  It’s about honoring all those things that we shun the rest of the year: our individual Shadows and our collective Shadow.  It’s about honoring death, as in our own death, coming to terms with it.  For me, All-Hallows is not a Pagan All-Souls Day.  It’s a Pagan All-Saints Day, a kind of celebration of all the (conveniently) forgotten gods, the little goblins and boggarts that we hide away in our closets.

My wife asked me a week or so ago if the Pagans have anything special going on for Halloween.  I just stared at her.  It turns out that she was really asking whether the local CUUPS chapter was doing anything this year.  But I thought she was actually asking if there was anything Pagan about Halloween.  Halloween is the most Pagan national holiday we have.  (Christmas/Yule is a close second.)  It’s always struck me as strange when contemporary Pagans don’t want to go with the flow of Halloween.  If I want to honor my ancestors, then I would do it on Novemeber 2, All Souls Day.  To me, All Hallows is for Death, not the dead.

Anyway, enough of my soapbox.  Our family ritual went well.  I changed it up a little from last year’s ritual.  Instead of “The Wolf” by Fever Ray, during the ritual chase this year I played Florence + Machine’s “Dog Days Are Over”.  I thought the lyrics were perfect for a mock run from the Wild Hunt:

The dog days [i.e., of summer] are over
The dog days are done
The horses are coming so you better run

Run fast for your mother run fast for your father
Run for your children for your sisters and brothers
Leave all your love and your longing behind you
Can’t carry it with you if you want to survive

Also, this year, instead of the offering of wine to symbolize the “blood harvest”, I gave everyone a pomegranate which we cut open.  Each one of us then dug our fingers into a pomegranate half and pulled out the juicy seeds which we then squeezed over the gravestone of my great-great-great grandfather that I have in the garden (that’s another story).  As I did it, I could imagine I was really digging into a heart, and it was almost as messy.  My kids, who have been raised in a part-Mormon household, don’t really relate to wine, so I thought the pomegranates would be better.  Using pomegranates meant that the kids could taste of the offering as well — something I always like to include.  And then there’s the whole Persephone symbolism, which fits with this time of the year: the Wild Hunter chases the Goddess of Summer (Kore) to carry her down to the underworld to make her queen of the dead (Persephone).

I did not forgo the wine in the personal ritual though.  Wine is just that much more powerful a ritual element to me now for it having been forbidden to me since I was raised Mormon.  My personal ritual is a simple libation.  I went to my sacred place in my backyard (where where the gravestone is, under the one mature tree we have, and next to the strawberry patch).  I lit a couple of candles and placed them on the gravestone (now strewn with pomegranate seeds), and then sacralized the space with these words:

This is my sacred fire.
This is my holy place.
These are the words of my prayer.

Then I read this text which is combined from the Lay of Diarmid and a quote from Annie Dillard:

Great is the price that has been paid.
Yesterday green was the hill where lovers played.
Tonight it is red as blood and white as bone.
The sea is a cup of death and the earth is a bloody altar stone.

I then poured a red wine offering onto the ground.  I then closed with this invocation which I took from Macbeth:

Come to me!  Come to me!  Come to me! …
Though you untie the winds, and let them fight
Against the churches; though the yesty waves
Confound and swallow navigation up;
Though bladed corn be lodg’d, and trees blown down;
Though castles topple on their warders’ heads;
Though palaces and pyramids do slope
Their heads to their foundations; though the treasure
Of nature’s germins tumble all together,
Even till destruction sicken …
Come to me!  Come to me!  Come to me!

I love this quote.  I see a reference to the Wild Hunt (“untie the winds”), a little cathartic sacrilege (“fight against the churches”), and a reference to the Dying God (“bladed corn”): perfect for All Hallows.  And I like leaving the ritual open ended: a feeling of foreboding prevailing.

  • http://thefirstdark.wordpress.com thefirstdark

    Reblogged this on The Darkness in the Light.

  • Kelley Shelton

    Hey John, sorry I have not responded to your blog in a little while. You know how it is, family, kids, job… So easy to get caught up in. I never knew that your household was Mormon / Pagan, are your kids being raised primarily Mormon or Pagan? I too am in a mixed marriage, where I am Pagan and my wife is a Christian (Churches of Christ). I found it interesting that you said you do not use alcohol when doing ritual with your family. Alcohol, I know is forbidden in Mormonism, and water is used in Communion Services. In my wife’s faith they use grape juice instead of wine. Throughout most of my life I have got away from the Cakes and Ale rituals because they remind me of the Christian Communion services, and I have replaced such bread & wine rituals with a ritual meal and toast which seems to be universal among a lot of European cultures. Samhain is a very important time for me because it is a signal for us to remember those who walked the path before us and I have always celebrated Samhain over 3 days, Oct 31st, Nov 1st , and Nov 2nd. Most of this came from a Sociology Professor (my first pagan mentor in college). For our small group it seemed fitting. Most of our celebrations involved taking the wheel of the year and using it like a Catholic liturgical calendar, however, we had our celebrations designed in such a way that they could be performed anywhere. No ritual circles or special paraphernalia, just a group of likeminded friends at O’Charlies (or other restaurant /home environment) and we discussed things, made prayers, and talked about what the night means to us, and enjoy food, and drink and ended things with a ritual toast telling one another why we felt thankful to be where we were in our lives. Since that time I have carried on this tradition. It does not seem that pagan to most people who participate these days, but it feels more like a path lived, than one done on the sideline or done like a hobby. I think the path that Samhain calls us to, is one where we walk the path (our path) more alive and in the world. Because regardless of what we call ourselves, we all walk very similar paths. We might use a different coat of paint to make it sound different from others, but in the end, we live in this world, we are born, grow up, raise a family, reitire, and then die… I have see all of these things. In 2006 I witnessed my father passing of a heart attack in my driveway in Mount Sterling, Kentucky. It was a very tough and trying time. So October 9th 2006, became the time when Samhain became real to me, because until we experience death, do we truly start to live our lives. I hope you and yours had a good holy day. Peace to you and yours! Kelley.

    • http://allergicpagan.wordpress.com John Halstead

      Hi Kelley! We’re raising our kids in both traditions, well three traditions actually. They alternate Sundays at the LDS and Unitarian churches, but the only family traditions we practice right now are Pagan. We did use wine last year, but there’s an aversion that my kids have. I’m a bit of a teetotaler myself, so I’m not sure I want my kids to get over the aversion.

      I really like what you said about your practice feeling “more like a path lived” than a hobby. That is really something to strive for. Growing up with pretty bland Sunday services, I really like high ritual, so my Pagan practice reflects that. I think regularity (i.e., daily practice) helps make even formal rituals feel like a “path lived”. Eight rituals a year just doesn’t seem like enough to sustain a spiritual life.

      I know what you mean about death becoming real. I’ve attended a fair amount of funerals in my life, but I never lost any really close to me until a couple of years ago when my uncle, who was like a brother to me, died suddenly. I still feel that loss acutely. But that loss does help me to live more.

      • Kelley Shelton

        Loosing my dad was real hard for me. He did not go to church but was always in the outdoors in the mountains (Cumberland & Appalachians) . He said it was like going to church for him. Never really understood that until I left church life (I usually tell people I gave church up for lent LOL). When I left, I dug my heels in as a pagan. After unofficially belonging two various groups, I felt that the scope was too narrow. I looked for more of a universal experience. Then I had a huge tug of war of faith. Was it all real (literally) or was the humanism I was taught in my sociology classes the real thing. I was so confused. Then I had the blessing of meeting the Episcopal Bishop of Newark New Jersey, John Shelby Spong and got to speak to him for about an hour after he lectured for the Episcopal Diocese of East Tennessee. After he set me strait (LOL), I formed a more balanced pagan perspective as a pagan (what most would dub humanistic pagan). Spong who calls himself a Christian, favors humanistic interpretation of the Christian scriptures. This non-literal reading of the Bible really spoke to me, but there was too much history between me and the Christian faith to ever be a Humanist Christian. But it opened up a world that allowed for a ton of mythological tales to teach me of a new way or new vision for my life. My paganism was just as real, because it connected me to the land of my ancestors and these tales could be used to teach valuable lessons. Not to be taken literally like the Christians take their Bible, but still just as valuable. So inspiration, interpretation, and meditation are at the core of my practice . Sure I do rituals, but for me using runes and tarot can be important tools to answer life’s questions. I never use books that tell me what the card mean, but rather look at them and see what jumps out at me. This is one of the ways I spend Samhain. I agree that 8 rituals are just not enough. I try to celebrate the 8 plus every full and new moon. I think with this, and all turned into a very deep practice that is not necessarily an every day or week practice, but it fulfills my need. My dad was in the woods, rain or shine to was one with the land in which we lived. He had such a connection to it. One that I don’t see with most Americans today. I mean we take pride in the places we live, but my dad just had what I call an extra ordinary connection. It was something to see. Well thanks for the reply. I like high ritual also, but find my self going toward the simple low ritual (amish approach as my friend calls it.). What symbols do you go with? I mean I use to go with the Pentacle, but these days I only seem to wear Celtic themed things. Triquetra, Triskele (triple spiral), or other symbols. I think that working for the government does offer a chance for me to wear the pentacle if I wanted to (I have a friend at work (Wiccan) who wears a pentacle and is accepted just fine). I just think that the pentacle just draws too much attention to me which I just don’t like and it makes people a little standoffish. Plus the pentacle does not speak/resonate with me like it use to. From all of my scholarly study it does not seem to be a symbol connected to the 4 Countries of my bloodline (Ireland / Scotland (Fathers side) Germany / Scotland (mothers side). Much of what I read tells me that it is foreign in the ancient rock carvings of these 3 countries. So for me these days it would be like me wearing a symbol that I have no connection to. So that is where I am these days. Thanks for the talk John. It always make me feel a little less alone here in Old Pagan Kentucky. Have a good week my friend! Kelley

  • http://allergicpagan.wordpress.com John Halstead

    Wow, you met Bishop Spong! That’s awesome.
    As far as tarot goes, I have my own meanings for the cards, which vary somewhat from the traditional interpretations. I only use the trumps and use a five card cross spread. And then I let the interrelationships between the cards speak to me.
    As far as symbols, the pentacle never resonated with me. I’ve worn a necklace with a tree (Yggdrasil) for several years. The tree is the symbol the I most associate with my Paganism. It’s a symbol of life and connection for me.

    • Kelley Shelton

      He (Spong) is one of few people that I have had the pleasure of meeting over the years. I can count the experience as far and few between. I read the tarot much like you do, I generally use a form of 3 card reading with additional card drawn for clarification. I was taught this method by a good friend who practiced Old Louisiana Witchcraft. She had practiced in a method similar to those who practice Hoodoo. My grandmother practiced Hoodoo and was born and raised in Shreveport, Louisiana (born in New Orleans). As far as the pentacle, I have met many pagans who have left the pentacle behind. Most I have talked to say they first identify with it as a symbol because it was one of the first they came across and many people use it as a universal symbol. But as time passes and they shed off the dogma that some branches of paganism shoves down their throats and they start walking the path for themselves and thinking for themselves. An evolution begins, and old ideas are replaced for new ones and so it goes. I have two tree pendants, one which is similar to the Yggdrasil and the other is one I only wear in the fall, because it is a bare tree without any leaves. It reminds me of Samhain and the fall / winter months. But my heart always finds its way back to the Newgrange Spiral. It speaks to me on a naturalistic level. It becomes the Land, Stream (sea), and Sky…. The spiral in its most basic level reminds me of the path I walk and multiple spirals remind me of the many paths that all of us walk together and the connections we have with others and with the world… It sounds more woo woo than it actually is in my head. My best friend tell me that when he reads stuff that I write about my pagan leanings, that is reminds him of some new age hippy stuff… He said only if I sounded like Tommy Chong would it bring the whole experience full circle. I however don’t think that fits too well, but he gets a laugh out of it, so I guess it serves it puropose. Have a good Voting Day… I am glad I have the day off… One of the very FEW perks of govt work.


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