The last Trick-or-Treater came and went an hour ago. The streets are silent, or as silent as they get these days. The Moon is only two days past full; the slight flattening of Her round flank is barely discernible as you view Her through the living room window.
The furniture was pushed back against the walls earlier. Now you get out that little round table, and you cover it with the black cloth, and you place a single candle upon it. Lighting somber incense in a dish, you carry it to the table and set it beside the candle; a tiny container of salt, a goblet of water and a flacon of faintly scented oil soon sit beside it.
Turning off the electric lights, you set the candle aflame. By its surprisingly intense light you get out of your street clothes and put on the waist-cord, the beautiful silver jewelry. Stepping up to the table — now an altar — you dip your fingers into the oil and anoint yourself.
The light seems to change as your consciousness expands. The things on the altar, consecrated by years of use, appear to glow a little, as if each one were a tiny planet robed in its own atmosphere. You draw your athame, your gleaming ritual blade, and begin walking the circumference of a circle around your altar. The words of an ancient chant fill the air, and you belatedly realize that you are chanting it:
Darksome night and shining moon,
East, then south, then west, then north,
Hearken to the Witches’ rune,
Here come I to call thee forth…
And as you pass each point of the compass, and name it, you salute with your blade, bow low, and pass on.
When the long chant is done, you return to the altar and face the place of moonrise. You kiss your hand to Her; bright Mother of the stars and of the tides. But this is not a night for brightness. You make a “door” in your circle, step through it, and draw the curtains. Now your candle is the only light, and by its guidance you return through the same place, re-seal the circle, and sit before your altar.
From below the altar you bring food: coarse dark bread, slivers of roast pork, golden squash, pale lima beans. Not perhaps the most festive dishes, but every item has deep and ancient significance. You divide the food into two portions, each on a polished platter, and set one on the altar. Again you reach below the altar. This time you bring out deep blood-red wine, which you pour into two silver goblets. Tonight you shall feast and drink with the Dead.
You spread your hands and press them against the floor, feeling the tenuous connection they make with the live Earth below. You draw that power, that living strength, to you; ah, yes, now you feel it, flowing through your nervous system like the blood through your veins, like the sap flows through the tissues of a tree. And now you reach up, reaching not for the moon and stars, as you would on any other night, but for the winds, and for the velvet blackness of space. For tonight it is the wind and the void that will carry you. Leaving a single strand of yourself connected to the Earth, you take off upon the wind.
How wonderful to see the winds! Twisting, twining, flowing streams of air course through the sky, making the lights of the city waver as they pass, like objects seen at the bottom of a clear but turbulent brook. And as you gaze, you see that you are not the only rider of the winds tonight. Here and there others can be seen dimly, standing as on a magic carpet, sitting astride as on the neck of a dragon. Silently, you salute them as you sweep past.
The winds are fast tonight, for the city has already been left behind. The lights below are fewer, the countryside almost featureless. But looking up — Ah, there’s a sight!
For the Moon is enormous, brighter than you’ve ever seen it, and Her light is a pure, radiant white. But somehow that great light cannot obscure the glory of the stars. Each star can be seen, tonight, as a sun itself, and each one shines with its own scintillant, multicolored fire. Awed, you stare upwards for a long time, letting your soul drench itself in starlight.
And then you hear the Sound.
At first it sounds like geese, winging southward far off. Closer it comes, and closer yet, and it is not geese at all, but the yelping of hundreds of hounds. The Yell Hounds course the sky tonight, and you know Who is the Huntsman. Herne the Hunter leads the pack tonight, searching for souls caught between worlds, whose deeds in life were such that the Summerland is denied them. Fear stabs at you then, and you plummet towards the Earth.
Straight down you fall for many feet, then your connection to the rest of yourself reasserts itself. Gliding like a plane towards a landing, you follow that thin, silvery strand of self back to your home, back to your circle, back to your body.
You are cold and stiff, but whole. The candle has burned much lower, its light seeming small and dirty after the glorious Samhain sky. You lift the goblet to your lips, pause, and lift it again in salute.
“Lord Herne,” you whisper, “and all you spirits of the Dead, I drink to you!”
You drain the cup and upend it, and in silence hold your feast. Samhain night is over. The new year begins.