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.

To Stand or to Sit in Ritual
Pagan Festivals and the .25%
Endings and Beginnings
Finding the Common Ground at PantheaCon
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.

  • Lēoht Sceadusawol

    “how many times do we have to celebrate death?”
    As many times as you celebrate life? Everything exists in balance, after all.

    • JasonMankey

      I probably worded that poorly. I’ve worked in the inevitably at death at Beltane rituals before, it’s not death that’s the problem it’s the souls of the dead. Going to that edge two or three times in a matter of days is kind of exhausting.

      • Lēoht Sceadusawol

        Some of us are more comfortable with aspect of existence, I guess.

      • Kauko

        Personally, I keep a permanent ancestral altar in my house at which I worship and give offerings at least once a week- in fact, that was the first altar I ever set up in my house; it was only this year that I finally set up a permanent altar for the gods. A respectful relationship with the dead is just as important, if not more, in my religion as one with the gods. The dead are powerful and a good ally to have in one’s life. It’s also important to me to maintain a relationship with my ‘personal dead’ you might say, the people I’ve known in my life who have passed on. I live far from their burial sites and so my ancestor altar is a great comfort to me as a place to ‘visit’ as it were with them.
        On the issue of Samhain as a season: in some ways it’s a difficult concept for me. While the general culture these days goes well with that- Christmas, for instance has become something that lasts from the day after Halloween through New Year’s- as someone who came to polytheism from Judaism, I tend to think of holidays as only being on the specific day(s) set aside for them. A Jew would never celebrate, say, Yom Kippur on any day other than the 10th of Tishrei and Hanukkah is only celebrated from 25th Kislev-3rd Tevet. So, while I appreciate honoring certain holiday ‘seasons’, I can’t help but still feel that there’s something to be said for setting aside certain days as holy and scheduling you life around that rather than scheduling your holy days around whenever it’s convenient and won’t interfere with what you’d rather be doing.

  • Anna H.

    I’ve always perceive it (and all the Sabbats) as tides, not days. This year it seemed to come early, and there was a lot of “veil thinning” phenomena locally in early to mid October. I also feel the whole period from Samhain to Yule retains a bit of Samhain energy. Even though I practice astrology and have many friends (whom I respect) who work the 15 deg. Scorpio point, that never resonated with me. Different strokes.

    This is the first year in a decade I have not led a big public ritual as the centerpiece for a gathering. I had two small, very different workings. So nice to come out of the Witching season with energy to spare.

  • Mari-Anne Mahlau

    I miss having our large NYC Samhain event that my temple used to run. It was a refreshing difference from all of the witches’ balls. It wasn’t quite as intimate as Samhain spent with my nearest and dearest witches and departed loved ones, but it was effective, moving and I would often have that same experience of tears when being drawn down into. The last two years have only been Larry, the dogs and I. Last year because of the mess after Sandy and everyone was still in the dark and we had no one had electricity. This year, my initiate’s coven who I celebrate sabbats with now were far up into CT and with our hand fasting and all of the festivities and honeymoon, I was just far too tired to make the one day drive like that. So I honored my loved ones by dressing my altar. We’ve been packed to move for almost a year now, so all our stuff has been packed away, but it really felt right to unpack the harvest and Samhain decor and do up the ancestor, house and hearth altars then do my own silent supper with my husband and do divinatory reading for the coming year.

    I am glad you found a nice balance this year. Oh and nice Horned one statue. ;-)

  • Donna Donovan

    I led my first ritual at Samhain this year. It was so humbling to be in the position of facilitating such healing as I witnessed. As you mentioned, for some of us this year grief was very raw and recent…for others it was the first time they were able to deal with their grief. I came away a bit shaken, and even apologized for the sad tone there seemed to be, when my intent was actually one of celebration. One young lady said to me, “Donna, that was the first time since my friend’s death that I was able to deal with the feelings. You gave me a safe place in which to do that. Thank you.” Quite humbling. You speak of Cernunnos the way I feel of Manannan. Nice blog, Jason.

  • MeganIsHere

    A somewhat amusing typo: “the power of immorality”

    • JasonMankey

      But was it a typo!??! (Yes, it was.)

  • Áine Órga

    Like Anna H, I too perceive all the Sabbats as seasons or tides rather than days. Some are longer than others, and they vary from year to year. For example, I usually don’t feel the Midwinter/Winter Solistice/Christmas/Yuletide until December, but I’m already feeling it a bit this year, right in the middle of what would usually be Samhain time for me. For me, they all run in together though – Samhain gradually takes over from the Autumn Equinox, etc.

  • Cara Elizabeth Hoglund

    Dude, I hear ya. I’d attended four at that point and I was more than ready to enter the land of the living again. And as a Heathen, pretty much everything we do involves honoring the ancestors at some point anyway, so I think I’ve got that covered.

    Great horned god statue in that first pic! Where’d you get it?

    • JasonMankey

      A friend of mine picked that up for me for several years ago. She has a tattoo of it on her leg. Where she got it though . . . . I don’t know.

    • Lēoht Sceadusawol

      There’s a store based in the UK (Scotland) called The Wyrdshop, and they stock the bust.