Samhain Season’s End

I’ve never been able to think of Samhain as simply a “day.” In my life it’s always been a season, a time of year stretching from early autumn into the first week to ten days of November. Some of my more pretentious celestially influenced friends talk about Samhain on Nov. 7, a sort of “Orthodox Samhain” reminiscent of Orthodox Easter and New Year’s in the Greek Orthodox Church. They are right, a more truly “cross-quarter” Samhain does fall on the seventh of November, but I grew up on the date of October 31st and I’m too set in my ways to change it.

At my house “Samhain Season” begins in early October when the Autumn altars first go up in the living room. I’ve never asked the Greek Pan how he exactly feels about being surrounded by fake pumpkins and plastic fall garlands, but he looks good peaking out from behind them. The Autumn altar reset always results in the shuffle of deity statues from one place to another. Dionysus and Aphrodite are usually forced to give up their places of honor on the main altar and are replaced by an older looking Goddess and God. The seasons transition as do our house statues, besides I think they enjoy getting different views of the house.

Samhain is different every year. There are times when a loss is more recent and raw and that becomes the sole reason for the holiday. Other year’s might find my focus more on writing and presenting ritual than being an active participant in the season’s goings on. There have also been years where I’ve felt like a failed Pagan, between groups and not wanting to do much more than light a candle to commemorate my beloved dead and honor my gods. The last few Samhain seasons have been busy, last year especially so, and this turn of the wheel has struck just the right balance between work, ritual, and play.

Last year I was a part of three Samhain rituals, two as a High Priest and one as simply a participant. That was probably one Samhain ritual too many. As my wife said to me last year “how many times do we have to celebrate death?” She had a point so this year we bowed out of a British Trad Ritual and another we had actually led the year before. I was sad to miss a few rituals with friends, but I think the break helped my state of mind immensely. Last year the ghosts of Samhain swirled around us until Thanksgiving this year they’ve been put to bed much earlier. (It also helped that our beloved Michigan State Spartans absolutely spanked arch-rival Michigan Saturday afternoon.)

I have a tendency to be wary of public ritual. I go because I love my community and want to be a part of it, but ritual quality tends to be all over the map. The slightly Trad-Witchy eclectic ritual I attended this year at local open circle was pretty good. (As I helped tweak the ritual for the group presenting the rite I had a feeling it would be fine.) It was also fun to sit back and watch a ritual, not something I get to do very often. Of special interest to me were the reactions to the bits I was able to contribute. It’s fun to gauge reaction from the outside of the circle instead of the center.

There’s something to be said for simply being a part of a ritual instead of leading a ritual. In my role as High Priest I often miss the cathartic moments of Samhain because I’m too busy facilitating those instances for others. Sometimes when watching others lead ritual I think I spend far too much time critiquing the goings on instead of committing myself to the goings on. Samhain was a reminder to set aside those impulses and focus on being a part of something bigger than myself no matter my role.

For the last eighteen months most of my ritual focus has been on the group that meets at my house, The Oak Court. Over that time we’ve built a good ritual structure and have turned into a pretty cohesive circle (perhaps coven instead of circle, though the word that rhymes with oven makes a few in our group nervous). Because I’ve come to really love these people so much I wanted to put together a “WOW!” Samhain type of ritual. That’s easy in a Masonic Hall, a little more difficult in a tiny ritual room located in a small house. I’m not sure if we completely succeeded, but at the very least it was a strong effort.

I’m a big believer in using ritual pieces that I already know work, so I raided a few of my previous Samhain rituals and adapted those for our rite last Friday. There are a few passages I wrote for last year’s Samhain that I’ve become so attached to that I can’t imagine not using them on a yearly basis from here on out. This is my Charge of the Goddess of Death, tell me it’s not awesome:

“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.”

“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.”

“And you who seek to know Me, know that your seeking and yearning will avail you not, unless you know the Mystery: for if that which you seek, you find not within yourself, you will never find it without. For behold, I have been with you from the beginning, and I am that which is attained at the end of desire. Blessed Be.”

The highlight of our ritual was supposed to be me drawing down the god and then opening the gates to the Summerlands. Deity most certainly has a mind of its own so that sort of thing is always hard to rely on. It was not my best drawing down, but I most certainly felt his presence. Drawing down Cernunnos at Samhain is like a double shot of emotion to my heart. The first thing he does is pull all of the grief I generally keep inside myself out to the surface. When he’s near me at Samhain I tend to cry, a lot. Not a blubbery sort of cry, it’s a near constant stream of tears mixed with a sharp emotional pain. When his hand is on my shoulder I feel the grief of those around me, strongly.

The second thing he brings out of me is power. Even as my body cries he steadies my heart and keeps my head up. It’s this weird rolling gamut of emotion, and when it’s over I feel cleansed. When our ritual began to wind down I remember smiling at Cakes and Ale for the first time in what felt like hours (and might possibly have been).

Last night I participated in what I hope is my last Samhain-related ritual of the year. It was a Hellenic style ritual in honor of Hecate and our ancestors. Our small gathering passed around a cup of watered wine with everyone but me raising it and inviting their dearly departed to our ritual. Two Samhain rituals in by that time, I had no desire to bother both my grandparents or cat again. Samhain is a season, but I couldn’t justify letting it linger on for a little more. The Autumn decorations are still up in my house, but the souls of the dead are quieter. I like them that way.

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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.


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