Family Mid-Autumn Ritual

Family Mid-Autumn Ritual November 8, 2011

Here’s the outline for my family ritual for All Hallows.  Because I was exhausted on Halloween, we decided to delay the ritual for a week, and so we celebrated it this past Sunday, which was closer to the mid-autumn point (Nov. 7) anyway.  This ritual is geared for the ages of my children 9 and 13.  As they they get older, we will alter the ritual accordingly.

All Hallow’s Eve / Mid-Autumn


“Elkhorn” by Brom

My son reads:

The last time we had a family ritual, we celebrated the harvest, which is called Harvest Home, at the autumn equinox, the beginning of autumn.  Harvest Home was a time for remembering the importance of sacrifice and the connection between life and death.

We celebrated this time by telling the story of the Egyptian god Osiris, who was cut to pieces by his dark twin, Set (played by me).  At the end of the story, Osiris was put back together by the magic of his wife, Isis.  And after she had performed this magic and conceived her son, Horus, Osiris went to underworld, where he ruled as king of the dead.

The last seven weeks, we have been lighting candles, first seven, then six, then five, and so on, until last week, we lit just one candle.  This symbolized the light leaving the world as the nights get longer and the days shorter, and as Osiris journeys down through the seven gates of the underworld.

My daughter reads:

Today we are celebrate All Hallows, the mid-autumn ritual, which many Pagans call by the ancient Irish name Samhain [pronounced Sah-win].  Many Pagans celebrate this ritual on Halloween.  But we were very busy on Halloween, so we are celebrating it on November 6.  November 7 is actually the middle of autumn, half way between the autumn equinox and the winter solstice.  This is the time of the year when there are lots of storms and we feel the cold of winter around the corner.

My wife reads:

This is the time of the year that Pagan celebrate the return of the god from the underworld in one of his darker forms.  At this time of the year, we celebrate the release of the Wild Hunt, a band of ghostly hunters that ride through the sky on black horses and are accompanied by black dogs.  The Wild Hunt chases out the summer and brings in the winter.  The Wild Hunt is led by the god in his form of the Huntsman.

The Huntsman chases the Goddess with the purpose of carrying her away to the underworld to make her his dark queen there.  You may remember about a year ago we celebrated this by telling the story of how the Greek god of the underworld Hades [played by my son] kidnapped the goddess of spring Kore [played by my daughter] and carried her off to the underworld where she became Queen of the Dead.

I read:

 “The Hound of Heaven” by Francis Thompson

I fled him, down the nights and down the days.
I fled him, down the arches of the years.
I fled him, down the labyrinthine ways of my own mind,
And in the midst of tears.
I fled from him, and under running laughter,
And up vistaed hopes I sped.
And shot, precipitated,
Adown Titanic glooms of chasmed tears.
From those strong feet that followed, followed after.

Now we’re going to listen to a song now which is based on the legend of the Wild Hunt.  This is the cowboy version:

“Ghost Riders In The Sky” by Johnny Cash

An old cowboy went riding out one dark and windy day
Upon a ridge he rested as he went along his way
When all at once a mighty herd of red eyed cows he saw
A-plowing through the ragged sky and up the cloudy draw
Their brands were still on fire and their hooves were made of steel
Their horns were black and shiny and their hot breath he could feel
A bolt of fear went through him as they thundered through the sky
For he saw the Riders coming hard and he heard their mournful cry

Yippie yi Ohhhhh
Yippie yi yaaaaay
Ghost Riders in the sky

Their faces gaunt, their eyes were blurred, their shirts all soaked with sweat
He’s riding hard to catch that herd, but he ain’t caught ’em yet
‘Cause they’ve got to ride forever on that range up in the sky
On horses snorting fire
As they ride on hear their cry
As the riders loped on by him he heard one call his name
If you want to save your soul from Hell a-riding on our range
Then cowboy change your ways today or with us you will ride
Trying to catch the Devil’s herd, across these endless skies

Yippie yi Ohhhhh
Yippie yi Yaaaaay
Ghost Riders in the sky
Ghost Riders in the sky
Ghost Riders in the sky

I read:

This time of the year is also called the Blood Harvest.  After the grain harvest, at the autumn equinox, comes the blood harvest.  This is the time of the year when many farmers would slaughter some of their animals so they would have meat for the winter.  They would choose the animals that were the weakest and the least likely to survive the winter.  This is perhaps why we tell so many bloody horror stories at this time of the year.

My son reads:

The legend of the Wild Hunt is behind many of the traditions of Halloween.  So our Pagan ritual takes place around the same time as Halloween.  According to legend, people wear masks to scare the ghosts and goblins that come out of the underworld at this time of the year.  Because, if the Wild Hunt catches a person walking alone at night during this time of the year, it will carry them off to the underworld and they will become a part of the Wild Hunt themselves.  But if you are wearing a scary mask, the Wild Hunt will pass you by.

My daughter reads:

Halloween is also called All Hallows Eve, from which we get the name Hallow-e’en.  All Hallows is a Catholic holiday that honors all the saints on one day.  Hallows means “holy”, so All Hallows means “All Holy”.  The day after All Hallows is All Souls Day, when Catholics honor the dead.  Pagans use this day as a time for honoring the dead.  And some Pagans also use the day as a time for remembering the dark gods, because to Pagans they are holy too — so Pagans also call this time All Hallows, All Holy.

I read:

Today we are going to observe All Hallows by having a ritual chase.  The feeling of being chased is an important part of Halloween.  Most horror movies and ghost stories have a part in which someone is being chased, often through a forest.  One of the most famous ghost chase stories is the Legend of Sleepy Hollow.  We’re going to watch part of that movie together now.

[Watch last part of Disney’s “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow”]

My wife reads:

Now, the feeling of being chased is not just something that we feel at Halloween.  There are many things in our lives that we try to escape, but feel like we can’t avoid.  It may be the fear of not being liked, or the fear of disappointing someone important to us, or the fear of not being good enough.  And at some point in our lives, we all fear death, the time when our lives come to an end.  And this is something none of us can avoid.  Just as the winter must follow the summer, so death follows every life.

And we do all kinds things to try to run away from these things which scare us.  Some of the ways we try to run away from our fears mess up our lives.  Sometimes facing our fears is better than running.  Sometimes the way we run from our fears turns us into monsters and we become mean to other people.  Sometimes we turn into zombies and we space out watching television or surfing the Internet.  Tonight is about facing our fears.

[We proceed outside and gather around the fire.]

I read:

At the autumn equinox, we remembered the importance of sacrifice and we ate the bread that symbolized the body of the dying god.  Tonight we will also remember his sacrifice by pouring out red wine, which symbolizes his blood.  As we pour out this blood we will also be calling the Wild Hunt to join us.

[Each person pours some of the wine on the ground and repeats after me:]

“Great is the price that has been paid.
Yesterday green was the hill where lovers played.
Tonight it is red as blood and white as bone.
The sea is a cup of death and the earth is a bloody altar stone.”

[adapted from the Irish Lay of Diarmid and from Annie Dillard]

Tonight we are going to celebrate All Hallows with a chase.  One of us has been chosen to be the Huntsman, but I won’t tell you who.  You will know the Huntsman because he will be chasing you and not running from you.  When you hear the horn blow in the son, you must all run from the Huntsman.

Now here are the rules:  You can hide, but if someone sees you hiding, you have to leave your hiding place and run.  If the Huntsman touches you, you are caught, and you will become part of the Wild Hunt.  The Huntsman will give you a garter, stained with the wine we poured out, to symbolize your marriage to the Huntsman.  Tonight, we will all become “brides” of the Huntsman (even then boys).  You will then help the Huntsman chase down everyone else.  If you are captured by one of the Huntsman’s brides, then you also become part of the Wild Hunt.  When everyone is captured, we will gather around the fire and finish the ritual.

[The Chase of the Wild Hunt — Play “The Wolf” by Fever Ray during the chase:

Eyes black, big paws and
Its poison and
Its blood
And big fire, big burn
Into the ashes
And no return
Wooo (X4)

We took you out
From your mother’s womb
Our temple, your tomb
Can be your pick
Not pawned
The poison is blood
Wooo (X4)

We’ve been calling
Black paw who’s soaring
We go out in the morning
Down the trail
To somewhere
You are the sound that I hear (X2)

We are not standing
We are falling
Wooo (X4) ]

[Then gather around the fire again.]

I read:

Now everyone think about something that you fear, something that you have been running from in your own life.  Now think about how you run from your fear.  Now everyone turn to face the darkness outside the circle.  Hold you arms open and repeat after me:

“Come to me you who I most fear.
Come to me my lover so dear.
You are the hunter and I am your prey.
You are my husband and I am your bride this day.”

[Return inside.]

I read:

Thank you all for being a part of this ritual.  In less than two months weeks we will celebrate the winter solstice, called Yule by Pagans, near the time of Christmas.  At Yule we will celebrate the rebirth of the Sun as a little child of promise on the darkest night of the year.

We will close by reciting together a couple of hymns from the UU hymnal:

Now the day is over, night is drawing nigh,
shadows of the evening steal across the sky.
Now the leafless landscape settles in repose,
waiting for the quiet of the winter snows.
Now as twilight gathers let us pause and hear
all the slowing pulsebeats of the waning year.
May the season’s rhythms, slow and strong and deep,
soothe the mind and spirit, lulling us to sleep.
Sleep until the rising of another spring
keeps the ancient promise fall and winter bring.

When darkness nears and embers die,
the wind in trees a distant sigh,
the end of day like a lover’s voice nearby.
The night draws close, a fond embrace;
the heart then slows its frantic pace,
and fear drifts off as a calm breath takes its place.
The end of day, the passing year,
the rush of time need cause no fear,
we’ll love the night and its myst’ry now so near.

[End of Ritual – Conduct ritual critique.]

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