Samhain Ritual & The Goddess of Death

In two weeks I will be running a Samhain Ritual for well over 100 people. The ritual has been a constant presence in my life since February, and I’ll be both glad to put it behind me on November 4, and also sort of sad to see all the build-up surrounding it come to an end. I’ve alluded to this ritual in a few other posts, most notably going over my ritual writing process in Writing Samhain, and I also detailed some of the toil and trouble the ritual caused me in the post Samhain in August. Both of those posts contained small excerpts from my ritual, today you get the whole enchilada.

While I feel very much as if I “wrote” this ritual, it does contain elements from various sources. The most obvious, and biggest, was Janet and Stewart Farrar’s “The Witches Bible”. I wanted this ritual to have a very “British Traditional Witchcraft” feel to it, and when I’m in that mood it’s to the Farrars I go. Most of the material I borrowed from them has been re-arranged and re-imagined, but it’s important to cite sources. Some of the elements in this ritual come from experiences I had in Michigan, both in eclectic circles and in Gardnarian Outer Court. The Calls to the Goddess and God of Life were were co-written by some of my friends in the ritual, Amanda and Angus. Thank you both.

I decided not to use the traditional “Charge of the Goddess” in this ritual, but have adapted bits and pieces of it throughout. Anytime my High Priestess of Death speaks you might notice a few phrases borrowed from Valiente. The group I wrote this ritual for doesn’t like to use specific gods and goddesses in their rituals which is why every deity listed here is more archetypal. I rarely use the generic honorifics “Lord” and “Lady” and like to focus on particular deities with mythology, that being said this ritual might be better for the generalities.

George Cruikshank – Herne’s Oak from ‘The Merry Wives of Windsor.  From WikiMedia.

George Cruikshank – Herne’s Oak from ‘The Merry Wives of Windsor. From WikiMedia.

This ritual is going to be done in a Masonic Hall, but I think it can easily be adapted for home use. It does require the use of two rooms, unless of course you can figure out a way to modify things so it can all be done in one. The ritual calls for two sets of Priestesses/Priests, one duo representing the more life-giving side of the Lord and Lady, and the other side channeling their part in death and rebirth. The “Priest and Priestess of Death” are also drawing down the gods in this ritual, which can be very exhausting, so having another set ready to go seemed like a wise idea. Other elements of the ritual are explained as it rolls along! Happy Samhain!

High Priestess and Priest of Death
High Priestess and Priest of Life
Four to Call the Watchtowers
The Magus (Circle-Caster)

Obviously you could limit that a little bit if you wanted, but I like having lots of people involved. We also have a few folks assigned to hold the “Foods of the Living and the Dead” which we’ll get to later.

Materials Needed:
Two Altars w/cloths (Black in the north, red in the south)
Six Chalices
Candles, lots of candles
Cauldron w/salted water
Bell or Chimes
Food of the Dead: pomegranate seeds, dark chocolate
Food of the Living: apple cider, honey cakes (fall comfort food)
Cakes and Ale (bread and wine or sparkling apple juice)

(The ritual opens in dim, but not dark, light. There are two altars set up in the circle, one towards middle north and one towards middle south. Both pairs of Priests and Priestesses stand in the middle of the circle, those representing death are towards the North, the other pair more towards the South. The Magus (circle-caster) stands in the center of the circle, the quarter callers near their assigned positions, on the inside edge of the circle . . . . .)

Opening Chant
“Listen to the Lord and Lady call their children in the moonlight . . . . . Listen to the Lord and Lady call their children in the moonlight . . . . . Listen to the Lord and Lady call their children in the moonlight, now.”

YouTube Preview Image

Statement of Intent
High Priestess of Death: “We gather here tonight to celebrate the passing of the Old Year and to welcome in the new. We are here to celebrate Samhain, the final harvest, that time when the veil between the world’s is at its thinnest and those that have departed this world may return to it once more. We journey this sacred night to the edge of the Summerlands to honor our ancestors and our dearly departed dead. So mote it be.”

Purification of the Circle and the Participants
High Priestess of Life: “And now we prepare the circle and those who seek the dead. We cleanse our circle and those that would witness our rites. Ready yourselves for the journey to come.”

(Beginning in the East salted water from a bowl or cauldron is sprinkled upon the participants and the circle its self. This is followed by a candle preceding from East to North, and then finally a bell is rung at each of the cardinal points. The quarter callers of the West and North sprinkle the salted water. The south quarter caller carries the candle, and the air quarter caller uses the bell.)

Casting the Circle
Magus: (with sword in hand, beginning in the East and ending in the North, casting the circle thrice) “I conjure thee oh circle of power, that thou may be a meeting place of love and joy and truth and as a shield against all wickedness and evil. Thou art a boundary between the world of mortals and the realms of the mighty ones; and an entry way to the realm of spirit. Wherefore do I bless thee and consecrate thee in the names of the Lord and the Lady.”

“Black spirits and white,
Red spirits and grey,
Harken to the cicle I say.
Four points of the Circle, weave the spell,
East, South, West, North, your tale tell.
East is for break of day,
South is white for the noontide hour,
In the West is twilight grey,
And North is black, for the place of power.
Three times round the Circle’s cast.
Great ones, spirits from the past,
Witness it and guard it fast.”
“The circle is cast. So mote it be.”

(The poem used in the circle casting is by Doreen Valiente.)

Calling the Watchtowers
(In our ritual we are using invoking and banishing pentagrams at each of the cardinal points. The pentagrams are drawn in the air with the athame just before saying “Hail and welcome.” I find lighting candles after calling quarters/watchtowers annoying so I have them all pre-lit on my altars.)

East: “Ye Guardians of the Watchtowers of the East, ye Powers of Air; Spirits of Clear Will and Knowledge, I do summon, stir, and call you up, to witness our rites and to guard our Circle. Hail and welcome.” (Participants repeat “Hail and welcome.”)

South: “Ye Guardians of the Watchtowers of the South, ye Powers of Fire; Spirits of Illumination and Desire, I do summon, stir, and call you up, to witness our rites and to guard our Circle. Hail and welcome.” (Participants repeat “Hail and welcome.”)

West: “Ye Guardians of the Watchtowers of the West, ye Powers of Water; Spirits of Death and Initiation, I do summon, stir, and call upon you to Witness our Rites and to guard our Circle. Hail and welcome.” (Participants repeat “Hail and welcome.”)

North: “Ye Guardians of the Watchtower of the North, ye Powers of Earth, Keepers of the Northern Portals, Spirits of Mountain and Plains, I do summon, stir, and call upon you to witness our Rites and to guard our Circle. Hail and welcome.” (Participants repeat “Hail and welcome.”)

Call to the God of Rebirth
High Priest of Life: “We call to the Lord of the Forest! The Horned One, the seed of the crops, the quickening of the grain, the one who sows and the one who is himself reaped. Your yearly journey has begun anew, but before you slip behind the veil between this world and the next we ask that you might witness and be with us in our rites. Lend your waning energies to us this blessed Samhain night. We summon, stir and call you forth! Hail and welcome!” (Hail and welcome)

Call to the Goddess of Life
High Priestess of Life: “We call to the Goddess of Life, wise woman, nurturer, bringer of of flowing love and illuminating abundance, from deep within the Waters of your Womb thee we invoke! As we journey through the gates of the Dark Times may we be reminded of your gifts of rebirth, regeneration, and fertility! Lend us your growing energy to our sacred rites this night. We summon, stir and call you forth! Hail and welcome.” (Hail and welcome)

(The High Priest of Death approaches his High Priestess and then humbly bows before her, he then begins the Five Fold Kiss and to draw down the moon into her.)

Drawing Down the Moon, the Five-Fold Kiss
High Priest of Death:
“Blessed be thy feet, that have brought the to the old ways.” (kisses feet)
“Blessed be thy knees, that shall kneel at the sacred altar.” (kisses knee)
“Blessed be thy womb, without which we would not be.” (kisses womb)
“Blessed be thy breasts, formed in beauty.” (kisses breasts)
“Blessed be thy lips, that shall under the sacred names.” (kisses lips)

(Draws down a black veil to cover her face.)

“I invoke thee and call upon thee, mighty Mother of us all, bringer of all truthfulness by stem and sprout, by bud and root, by flower and fruit, by light and love, do I invoke the to descend upon the body of this thy servant and priestess.”

“Hail the dark lady! From the world beyond, pour forth thy store of love; I lowly bend before thee; I adore the to the end, and with loving sacrifice thy shrine we adore. Thy foot is to my lip, my prayer lifted up by my trembling and awe. Oh Mighty One descend to aid us this sacred Samhain night, for without thee we are forlorn. “

Charge of the Lady of Death
High Priestess of Death: “I am she who is feared, yet she who would bring comfort. I am the end of all things and the beginning of all else. I would give you peace, freedom, and reunion with those who have gone before you. My gifts are rarely sought, yet freely I offer them. I am she who embraces every woman and every man. None shall escape my touch, but fear it not, for I hold the Cauldron of Life within my hands, the power of immorality for all those that would be reborn in your world.”

“I am feared, yet I am the balance in this world without end. Without me thou would not live again. I am the end of suffering, the release from all pain. I gather the spirits who have left your world and offer them a place in it once more. I am the mystery of the end, and the wonder of beginnings.”

The Food of Death
High Priestess of Death: “Tonight we shall journey together and come to the edge of my realm. We shall lift back the veil and experience reunion with our ancestors and those we loved in this world. But before we can feel those souls close to us once more, we must prepare the one who would open the portal.”

“On this night of Samhain we mark the passing of the old year and the start of the new. The sun slips into twilight awaiting once more to be reborn in the land of the young.”

(Priestess of Death walks towards the altar in the North and once there picks up her sword and raises it high in the air.)

“Now my servant I have need of thee,” (gestures to High Priest of Death).

(Priest of Death approaches his Lady, stang in hand and comes before her and bows on one knee. She lightly touches his brow and then raises her sword up high before laying it upon his back.)

My stang, and a bit of the altar above our fireplace.

High Priestess of Death: “Dread Lord of Shadows, God of Death, Giver of Life, open wide I pray thee, the Gate through which we all must pass. Let our dear ones who have gone before return to us this night to share their love and wisdom. And when our time comes, as it must, O thou Comforter, Counselor, Giver of Peace and Rest; we will enter your realms gladly and unafraid. For we know that when rested and refreshed among our dear ones, we will be reborn by your grace and the grace of Me who art Queen of the Dead and the Great Mother of us all. Let it be in the same place and the same time as our beloved ones, and may we meet, and know, and remember, and love them again. Descend O Lover and Loved into this thy servant and priest.”

(Priestess of Death, puts a circlet or crown upon the High Priest of Death.)

(Priest rises and stands next to the Priestess. The Priestess sets down her sword and takes up a pomegranate from the northern altar. She holds it up in one hand for all to see.)

“Behold the fruit of life!”

(The athame is plunged into the pomegranate, cutting it in half. Picking up one of the seeds she places it upon the tongue of the High Priest.)

“And now behold the seeds of death.”

“Before beginning your journey you must eat of the food of the Summerlands. And now go and do your duty and prepare our way.”

(Stang in hand the Priest leaves the circle and heads out to whatever room or location will serve as your gathering point for the spirits of the deceased. The “job” of the Priest of Death is to open a crack in the veil between the worlds. When I “open the portal” as we call it in this ritual I tend to envision a very dark and angry layer of clouds with all of my energy going into opening a small crack in them. Piercing the veil is intense work, and the person who succeeds in this task might be pretty strange for awhile afterwards. I don’t tend to say anything while opening the portal, which works well in this ritual since the High Priest of Death opens it while alone.)

High Priestess of Death: “I am she who gives birth to the fallen, and teaches all who love her that in the time of greatest darkness there is also the greatest light. I am the gracious Goddess that offers reunion with those who we keep in your hearts.”

“Our journey tonight is not long, but might still be treacherous. We walk to the edge of the Summerlands; we travel the road of those that have left this world. When we have reached our destination seek out those spirits that you wish to commune with. Find them all in their appointed place, and share with them your tears and your thanks. Console those around you and pay your respects to all who have departed your world. If you have need of me, you may approach me and ask me for a blessing.”

“While I can lead our journey in, I need others to lead us on our journey out.”

(Walks towards the Priest and Priestess of Life and looks them in the eye. They should meet her gaze, and then look down.)

“Will you lead us home? Bring us back when our time of reunion is at an end?”

High Priestess and High Priest of Life: “Yes we will, my Lady.”

High Priestess of Death: “Good, and now before you can make this journey all must eat of the Food of Death. Prepare your minds and bodies, we leave for the Portal, the veil between the worlds.”

(The Priestess leads all out of the circle, and in the hallway between rooms all participants eat the Food of the Dead (pomegranate seeds and dark chocolate). You can have people holding these times and whispering “eat of the food of the dead” at all of your participants or could simply have them sitting on a table. Your logistics are up to you.

YouTube Preview Image

When the participants enter the Room of the Dead they see a space bathed in dim light, most of it coming from individual candles. In the center of the room stands the High Priest of Death his stang in hand turned away from those who enter as he channels its energy into keeping the portal open.

In our rather big production of this ritual we are building “walls” to place the pictures of our dearly departed on. In a home version of this ritual you could simply just tape them to the wall. At a small ritual I probably wouldn’t add any music, but some pre-recorded songs might work well depending on the size of your group.

This part of the ritual is the “meat” of it. This is a time for everyone participating to feel the power and presence of the souls of the dead and to have their own personal experience. Especially at Samhain I hate “dictating” other people’s experiences. This ritual is designed to give everyone the opportunity to have their own moment and what people get out of the ritual or don’t will vary. Be sure to have plenty of tissue on hand for this part of the ritual. If you ritual is large you may want to set up a dias or special place for your High Priestess of Death to stand.)

At the Portal
High Priestess of Death: “And now I bid you all to walk the avenues of the Dead and reunite with lost loved ones once more. Tokens of flowers are available to you if you would wish to leave a gift for our dearly departed. If you would ask a favor of me, the Lady of Death, I will await you here.”

(People stroll through the our realm of the Dead and feel their loved ones near once more. Most participants will kneel near the pictures of their loved ones and feel close to them once more, but people can be tricky, so be ready for anything. Expect tears at this point in the ritual and keep an active lookout for those that might end up a bit over-come.

Baskets of flowers are spread amongst the avenue of the dead, and other spots are decorated with dried corn and other signs of the season. At the end of the room the High Priestess of Death stands ready to offer comfort, hugs, and whispers for those who might need them.

Since keeping the portal open is hard work, our time between the worlds should be limited, perhaps a half an hour at most. If there is a large receiving line for the Lady of Death she may be forced to walk quickly through it, stopping only to touch hands and give assurances. Encourage everyone at your ritual to share in the experience of grief, and be ready to hug and comfort those that might need it. Share the experience of grief and the joyful emotion of reunion.)

Towards the end of our time at the portal . . . . .

(High Priest of Life approaches the High Priestess of Death and kneels before her, rising slowly he places his hands upon her shoulders, and says)

High Priest of Life: “It is time my Lady, time to leave this place, close the portal and return to the realm of the living. You may say goodbye to those that need your voice.”

(High Priest of Life leads the High Priestess of Death back towards one of the exits, going through the middle of the room. If there are people waiting to receive Her in line, She may stop to squeeze their hands or hug them, but the point is to move quickly out towards the other room being used in the ritual. The space once occupied by the High Priestess of Death is then occupied by the Priestess of Life.)

High Priestess of Life: “And now we must journey back to the realm of the living and close the portal. We thank the spirits who have joined us and bid them farewell as they journey back towards their realm. We feel you in our hearts, and know that through the power of the Lord and Lady we can always reach out to you.”

“Before we leave, I would ask all of you to take a candle with you to light your way in the coming dark of the year, and as a reminder of those who have gone before us. May the light of your candle always lead the souls of those you love back to you.”

(A lot of groups like people to leave their rituals with a “token.” If this is true of your ritual group, candles make a great token for the reasons outlined above. We are using electric votive candles in our ritual so there’s no danger of anyone getting burned, I’m not sure lit candles would work so well.)

“As we walk the passage way between the worlds we eat this time of the Food of Life, which prepares us to once more walk upon our mortal coil. The time has come my friends, the time to go back from where we came.”

(The High Priestess of Life descends and begins to walk out of the room. When coming across the Priest she stops behind me and places her hands upon his shoulders. Quietly she whispers in his ear, “it is time.”)

High Priest of Death: “And now I prepare to close this portal. All spirits and loved ones, those who dwell in the Summerlands the lands of death, we bid you all farewell. Your home and place of existence calls to you. Back to your shadowy realms, but dwell ever in our hearts and our minds until we meet again once more. I close this portal, this passageway from life to death. I seal this portal so that all who remain now are of flesh. The portal is closed.”

(Having the High Priest of Death say something about closing the portal is done so that everyone in the ritual knows that the portal is being closed. I don’t think words are really necessary, but they do add a level of closure.)

(If you are using someone to hold the Food of Life, they should head to the hallway to distribute the food. Again, you’d be fine just sitting it on a table somewhere with instructions to eat it.)

Here’s to Life

(Both Priestesses and Priests return to the center of the circle. The Priest and Priestess of Life stand closest to the altar in the South, the servants of Death in front of them. High Priestess of Life before the High Priest of Death, and the High Priest of Life before the High Priestess of Death.)

High Priestess of Life: (Bows) “Thank you for your service my Lord.” Removes circlet from the head of the Priest and lightly kisses him upon the lips.

High Priest of Life: (Bows) “Thank you for your service my Lady.” Removes veil from the head of the Priestess and lightly kisses her upon the lips.

(Priestess and Priest of Death retire to the north, preferably to some comfortable chairs.)

High Priest of Life: “While Samhain is a time to reunite with those that we have lost, it also allows us to look inward and to find the things there worth celebrating. The fields may lie fallow, but the touch of the Lord and Lady are always with us. The heart quickens, the pulse races and we celebrate what it means to be alive. While we have journeyed to the edge of the soul’s rest, that rest is not yet for us. Even in the time of the greatest darkness, there is also the time of greatest light.
Blessed Be!

The Great Rite/Cakes and Ale
High Priestess of Life: “The days grow shorter, the night grow colder, but the gods have not forgotten us. Life is ever present, even when the darkness grows.”

High Priest of Life: “Life is more than a gift, it is a promise. All that dies shall be reborn.”

High Priestess of Life: “We now shall bless this bread and this drink as it was done in days of old, when Pagans and Witches were forced to hide their art.”

HIgh Priest of Life: “The athame is to the Lord.”

High Priestess of Life: “As the cup is the Lady.”

Both: “United in life and abundance. Blessed Be!”

(Athame is plunged into the chalice.)

High Priest of Life: In the names of the Lord and Lady we bless this bread and bless this drink. So mote it be!

(Bread and juice are passed out quickly. If there is a deep exhale here or even a laugh, all the better, for such things remind us of life!)

Goodbyes to the Lady and Lord

High Priestess of Life: “We thank the Lady, the Great Mother, the Eternal Goddess for being with us tonight in our circle. Remind us of your beauty and your love in the days ahead. Help us to find the strength to honor you as much in the darkness as we do in the light. Hail and farewell!”

High Priest of Life: “Lord of the Forest! We thank you for your shadowed presence during these sacred rites. Please continue your journey now, Beautiful one. As the God of Death you trod in the darkness, as the God of Rebirth you dwell ever in the light. Hail and farewell!”

Dismissing the Watchtowers

(Just like the beginning calls to the Watchtowers, but in reverse order and with the banish pentagram made before saying “Hail and farewell.”)

North: “Ye Guardians of the Watchtowers of the North, ye Powers of Earth, Keepers of the Northern Portals, Spirits of Mountain and Plains, you have joined us in our rites and have guarded our circle well. We thank you for joining us this sacred night. Hail and farewell!” (Participants repeat “Hail and farewell.”)

West: “Ye Guardians of the Watchtowers of the West, ye Powers of Water; Spirits of Death and Initiation, you have joined us in our rites and have guarded our circle well. We thank you for joining us this sacred night. Hail and farewell!“ (Participants repeat “Hail and farewell.”)

South: “Ye Guardians of the Watchtowers of the South, ye Powers of Fire; Spirits of Illumination and Desire, you have joined us in our rites and have guarded our circle well. We thank you for joining us this sacred night. Hail and farewell!” (Participants repeat “Hail and farewell.”)

East: Ye Guardians of the Watchtowers of the East, ye Powers of Air; Spirits of Clear Will and Knowledge, you have joined us in our rites and have guarded our circle well. We thank you for joining us this sacred night. Hail and farewell! (Participants repeat “Hail and farewell.”)

Taking Down the Circle
Magus: “I conjured thee oh circle of power as a meeting place to shield us against all wickedness and evil. Thou has served us well, and now we undo this boundary between the world of mortal and those of the mighty ones. We seal forth the entry way from the realm of spirit. All will now be as it once was, and what was once here has been dismissed in the names of the Lord and the Lady. So mote it be!”

High Priestess of Life: “The circle is open, but never broken. Another year has passed us and another year full of promise and hope stands before us. With the blessings of the Lord and Lady, the love of those around us, and the memories of those who have left us, we go from this sacred place knowing of the bounty yet to come in our lives. Blessed Be!”


Stay in touch! Like Patheos Pagan on Facebook:
About Jason Mankey

Jason Mankey has been involved with Paganism for the last twenty years, and has spent the last ten of those years as a speaker, writer, and High Priest. Jason can often be found lecturing on the Pagan Festival circuit, so you might just bump into him. When not reading and researching Pagan history he likes to crank up the Led Zeppelin, do rituals in honor of Jim Morrison (of The Doors), and sing numerous praises to Pan, Dionysus, and Aphrodite. He lives in Sunnyvale CA with his wife Ari and two hyper-kinetic cats.