Samhain ended for me sometime near 3:30 am early Sunday Morning on November 4 when I finally drifted off into a fitful few hours of sleep. In past years the Halloween season meant one ritual, trick or treaters, and a giant party. This year the time of All Hallow’s resulted in three rituals, a handful of kids, and several pounds of leftover candy. It wasn’t the best Halloween season I’ve ever had, but it was certainly the best extended Samhain I’ve ever been associated with.
Of the three rituals I attended in honor of Samhain, I wrote and high-priested two of them. The first of those rituals was a simple rite that I’ve performed a number of times. As Samhain rituals go it works pretty well, and hits most of the high points. There’s stuff in there about the changing of the seasons and the veil between the worlds being thin. I don’t think it’s truly represenative of my best work but it’s not an embarassment. Since my wife got off of work a scant two hours before the ritual started there was no Drawing Down the Moon or anything, so it lacked a bit of the impact it usually has.
That particular Samhain ritual was performed mostly because I thought it needed to be done. As one of my friends said to me “How many times do you plan to stir up the spirits of the dead?” and she had a definite point. Three Samhain rites is a bit much, but since that first ritual was performed by the newish circle currently meeting at my house I thought it was important to strengthen those emerging bonds. Mission accomplished.
My second Samhain was about twenty-two hours after the first one, and it was a solid ritual, if perhaps a bit too chant-centric (personal preference there, I just don’t like chanting all that much). That was mostly a chance to talk to friends and get yelled at over local Pagan group politics. Sometimes it’s just nice to observe a ritual.
The big Samhain ritual was the following Saturday, at a Masonic Hall in Santa Cruz with 92 attendees. That’s the Samhain ritual that had been keeping me up nights since February. Samhain Saturday was literally a sixteen hour affair (including driving time), but I don’t think I’ve ever been prouder of a ritual.
Wicca sometimes gets a bad rap, but when it works it f’ing works. There’s nothing like feeling the elements of earth, air, fire, and water when they’ve been properly summoned and stirred up. There’s something about being in a properly cast circle when those elemental currents begin weaving their magick together and you realize that you are truly in a space between the worlds. That’s where I was at last Saturday night and it was awesome.
Generally I advise against going full out during an open, eclectic, sabbat ritual, but there’s something about Samhain that makes me want go for the jugular. In late October and early November I don’t want to be just a Pagan, I want to feel Witchcraft pumping through my veins. I want to touch and be touched by my gods. I want my Magus to cast the circle with a mighty sword and I want to celebrate the Great Rite with chalice and blade. I want to feel empowered, and to share that feeling with everyone in the circle.
There are moments in ritual when you know the gods have arrived, I had one of those on Saturday. It began with the Five Fold Kiss when I invoked The Goddess into my wife and Priestess. When I was done her voice had changed, the cadence of her words shifted, and I knew that She was in the room with me. After The Charge of the Lady of Death, the Goddess called me forward to draw down the God. That was planed of course, but the shift in my wife literally filled me with fear and awe as I walked up to Her. Calling to the Dread Lord of Shadows She filled me with Him, and as she did that my eyes filled with tears and longing. (I cried so much that when I stood up again I could barely see in front of me.)
It was one of those times when Witchcraft is everything you dream it will be. There was the energy of the room, the hushed crowd, the power radiating from Her, and the power coalescing within me. I cried because of Her love for me, I cried because of my fear of Her, and I cried because it was one of those moments when you just know that the gods are real. I think everyone fantasizes about the perfect ritual from time to time, I no longer have to fantasize because I got to experience it.
My role in the ritual was to create a portal between the worlds, a rift in the veil between the realms of the living and the dead. I feel as if I accomplished that goal, but I’m not arrogant enough to say my intent happened in exactly that way. I’m still not sure if the veil between the worlds can be breached, perhaps we fool ourselves into thinking that those things happen, I don’t know, all I can write about is what I experienced. I felt like the veil was breached and the souls of the dead returned to us, though I was basically in a trance during during this thirty minutes of the ritual.
Our ritual was in two rooms, one a banquet hall, and the other the central Temple at a local Masonic Hall. The Temple room was laid out so that there were two black walls set up on the floor in the middle of the room. (Think of something like the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial.) On those walls we attached photos, momentos, and the names of the dead. Even before the ritual started all of us who were involved with the rite could feel an energy in that room. As one person said to me “I want to be in this place, but it also makes me sad.” I felt the same way.
When I entered the Temple to pierce the veil I remember stepping into the center of it, closing my eyes, and then concentrating on the task at hand. There are varying degrees of “drawing down” from outright possession to a passing touch. During this ritual I felt His hand upon me, giving me the energy and the will to succeed in my appointed task. He filled my head with visions of my beloved dead, of darkness pierced with the light of spirit, and of Himself. I think that the last vision was to remind me that He was near, and not to despair. There were times when I felt overwhelmed by sadness, and indeed, the amount of tears and snot running down my face prompted one of my friends to wipe my face with tissue several times during the ritual. Touching the pain that only comes from loss was empowering, a reservoir of energy and determination.
Most religions have a very unhealthy relationship with death, I think Samhain helps to give us a better perspective. Too often grieving becomes a private moment, and not a shared experience. We cry at funerals, and then we move on with our own lives. Life doesn’t work like that, grief doesn’t just suddenly go away, it lasts, and Samhain acts as a release, a time to expel some of that grief and to grieve with others. Even if the veil is never breached, the simple act of remembrance along with the acknowledgement of our own mortality are healthy practices. How I wish I had been able to experience something that cathartic when I was Christian.
Once the veil was closed the ritual wrapped up pretty quickly. There were cakes and ale, “thank you’s” to the God and Goddess, and the usual dismissal of the Watchtowers and the taking down of the circle. My role during the end of the ritual was minimal to non-existant and it was nice to just sit back and reflect on the journey this ritual took from creation to execution. The folks who had roles in the ritual were near perfect, I can’t remember a flubbed line or wasted word, and the one moment when I thought someone was going to forget a certain part they redeemed themselves before crossing the finish line. Perfection in ritual is rare, we almost attained it.
A lot of the ritual’s success has to be attributed to the crowd that gathered for it. They were attentive, they were patient, and most importantly they seemed open to what we were trying to accomplish. The middle part of our rite was basically set up to let people have their own experiences, and from what I understand, our celebrants did not disappoint. My Samhain ritual was a bit wordy, but there was no uneasy chatter. I thought we put together a pretty intense ritual, but everyone seemed to handle it well. I’ve never been happier with a circle.
While I feel as if my Samhain Ritual was a success, I’m not sure if that’s the case. I know it worked for me, and I had several people express positive things when we were done, but it was a small group of people expressing those things. In my own mind I’ve made a commitment to make sure that I go and speak to the people who lead the rituals I’m privileged enough to attend. I admit to needing validation, and being so insecure as to not be able to tell if something I did actually worked. In defense of everyone who didn’t speak to me after the ritual, I was a little out of it when we were done and probably didn’t look all that approachable.
For several years I’ve always pictured the perfect ritual looking like something out of Salem MA on a History Channel Special. Now when I daydream the perfect ritual I just go back to the Masonic Hall in Santa Cruz and rewind my own words and the actions of my friends and family out here in California. My Samhain Season is now at an end, but the circle of love and respect I gained from it lingers on.