As the flavor of smoke and crackling leaves fills the air around my home, I listen to the silence. Halloween is here. I am witch enough to enjoy the secular nature of the holiday; mageia enough to remember with sadness and awe what this time of the year means to many, myself included. This is a time of remembrance, sometimes with joy, occasionally with tears, but always with the knowledge that the ancestors who have bequeathed us blessings are nearest during this time.
This is the time of the year for Hecatia and Pomonalia, festivals to honor Lady Hecate and the ancients we adore. We honor She of the Crossroads, the path to the Underworld, the revealer of what is hidden. I hear the voice of my grandmother. It is ten years today, since she made her presence known as a Samhain ritual.
I had often wondered whether my devout Baptist grandmother would understand my calling and love for the gods and a type of worship that was far from the monotheism of my childhood and adolescence. Samhain, 2005 answered that question. It was my grandmother’s voice through which Lady Hecate called me to the Craft.
In a nondescript suburban apartment, wreathed with the shadows of the setting sun, I joined a group of six people from a local eclectic group of pagan students. We gathered around a cauldron, resting upon a low coffee table. The host, Jim, asked me to act as priestess to his role as priest for the reading of the ritual. It was my first time, and I was not sure whether anything would happen. No longer a seeker, I was still skeptical about the visible presence of magic and the ancestors at this time of year. My dreams had been no more vivid than at other times of the year. Although I prayed daily and talked with the Gods at my altar regularly, no spirits knocked on my door or messed up items in my home or mark my consciousness in any way. My ancestors were silent. The one thing I do remember about that evening, was asking for a sign. I just wanted to know that I was on the right path as a witch. Was this a phase with people whose company I enjoyed, or was there more to it than that?
After lighting the candles, closing the drapes, and circling the cauldron, the host, Jim, asked me to act as priestess to his role as priest for the reading of the ritual. The presiding deities were Isis and Aphrodite. Being new to the Craft, I did not know yet which deities were called for which purpose or at which time of the year. This would be the first of three rituals in three different traditions that I would attend in three days to honor the season and my ancestors.
As I read the words on the sheets, I felt a keen wind and silence, even though the room was warm with carpet fibers nestling between my toes and the candle flames barely flickering. Jim had paused to start some music, a type of keening wail reflective of the evening. We gathered in a circle and held hands to open the portal. Truthfully, I wasn’t sure about what would come out or even if we’d done it correctly. We each stared into the black murky liquid for several moments before stepping back. Others looked quickly. When I gazed, with fear, into the cauldron, I thought nothing was happening.
Then I heard a voice from my past.
“Don’t forget the old ways.”
The gravelly whisper with a whine, a particular drawl born of Smithfield, Virginia and a later life lived on the Chesapeake Bay, took me back to 1999, when she died.
Grandma? I remember thinking that of all the ancestors, she would be the last one to expect. Looking back now, I can see that my grandmother’s presence was perfect: she was the one who gave me advice to love and enjoy life, from menstruation, through sex through marriage, through children, family and finally death. She also loved to talk, so if any other ancestor was attempting to get through, I could hear her pushing them aside.
“We love you. You need to write about the old ways.”
I was startled. Her voice was warm and real, as if she was in front of me. I felt her touch on my arm. I looked up to see her face, and she was gone. I touched my face. The tears flowed so hard that Jim came and asked what was wrong, quickly guiding me to a chair. I looked around. Everyone else seemed unaffected, as though they saw nothing unusual. For a few moments, I thought I was going crazy. Did it really happen? Had my grandmother just given her blessing to my new life as a Pagan? Or was I just hallucinating because I wanted to believe so badly in the ancestors and their presence at this time of year?
That night, after a very quick feast, I went home where my dreams were smooth, restful, and filled with the voice of my grandmother. Although it has been ten years, I have heard her at times of spiritual dis-tress, in the fall, in the season of Hecatia and Pomonalia. She continues to reassures me that the job of remembering the old ways, and the ancestors is an honor that does not end. I shed tears freely when I hear her through the veil. Now, I put a bit extra out on the altar to honor all my ancestors, including her.