Samhain – Burning the Old Year

Samhain – Burning the Old Year October 18, 2016

One of the first things I learned as a baby Pagan all those years ago was that Samhain – October 31 – is the Celtic New Year. Samhain is the time when the Veil Between the Worlds grows thin, when we can more easily commune with our ancestors and blessed dead, and if we are particularly daring, we can venture into the Otherworld ourselves and get a glimpse of what comes after death.

In most years I’ve been excited about the Otherworldly aspects of Samhain. Though I’ve gotten a lot better with practice, I’m not the most spiritually sensitive person around – the thinning Veil makes it much easier to see and hear the Otherworld (I’ve had spiritually sensitive people whose opinions I trust tell me they think the Veil is pretty much ripped to shreds these days, but that’s another post for another time).

But it is the turning of the year that interests me most this Samhain, because this year can’t end soon enough.

Denton CUUPS Samhain, 2015
Denton CUUPS Samhain, 2015

The year began with a wonderful Samhain celebration. Though perhaps, given the tone of this year, I should consider last year’s Samhain a wonderful close to the previous year. Just two weeks later I wrote “If there has been a more painful week in the Pagan community, I can’t remember it.” A bit of googling reminded me of two major controversies. I’m not going to name them, but you can find them if you just have to.

Three days before our Yule circle, a fire severely damaged the Denton UU building. Denton CUUPS canceled our Yule circle and we didn’t have full access to the building till the end of August.

The Gregorian year barely got started when we began experiencing the deaths of beloved artists and musicians – some world-famous, others known only within our community. David Bowie was the first – too many more followed, including some well before their time.

Politics are never pleasant, but this year has given us the most vile and vicious campaigning anyone in the United States has seen in their lifetime. My UK friends are dealing with the beginnings of Brexit, Syria is a disaster, and war between the US and Russia seems more likely every day.

Personally, while I had a wonderful trip to Ireland and Britain, and while my book was picked up by a major publisher for publication next year, things have been hard this year. I’ve had communication problems that can’t be blamed entirely on Mercury Retrograde. I’ve seen dreams crumble and I’ve lost friends who decided I didn’t agree with them 100% so I must be against them. And I suffered a rather ordinary back injury that took months to heal and still occasionally flares up.

I’m ready for this year to be over.

Denton CUUPS will celebrate Samhain on Saturday, October 29. This year’s circle will be especially attuned to our ancestors and to honoring them. But it will also include a corn god, an effigy made from the leftovers of the last harvest, which will be ritually burned to rid ourselves of the passing year. Sympathetic magic is one of the oldest and most widely practiced forms of magic – this act of cleansing will clear the slate for a better year to come.

pumpkins 2011 2October 31 falls on a Monday. I’ll carve a pumpkin and Cathy will pass out candy – we’ll do our best to maintain the Halloween traditions that were so meaningful to us when we were kids. After the last of the trick or treaters are gone, I’ll do my own burning of the old year. I almost never celebrate a high day on my own after I’ve celebrated with a group – it seems unnecessary. But this year is different. This year needs a group working and an individual working.

I haven’t written a ritual script – I probably won’t. But I have an outline of what needs to be done.

First I’ll light a fire in the cauldron, with prayers and offerings that it be a fire of cleansing. Then each of this year’s ills will be named and burned, with prayers and offerings that they return to the elements from which they were formed. I expect that to take a good while.

Clearing the slate is necessary, but I also want a good start to the new year. So after the burning is finished, I’ll make more offerings and prayers for a successful new year. For the world, I will pray for peace and justice. For myself, I will pray that I be attuned to the Gods I follow and that I will be ready and able to do that which must be done.

Magic does not make things happen – magic makes things more likely to happen. Magic will not stop a hurricane, but it might help get you out of harm’s way, or make it easier for you to rebuild once the storm has passed. Perhaps my Samhain working and all our Samhain workings combined will not be enough to turn the tide of what’s come our way in the past year. Perhaps all we can do is to make it less worse. I don’t know – my divination skills aren’t that good.

I do know next year will be challenging. I do know that world politics are entering a dangerous era of transition. And I’m completely convinced the spiritual world is shifting – there’s a lot more than a green glowing bird telling me the Otherworld is bleeding through into this world.

My hope, my prayer, and my intention for next year is to keep practicing diligently, to build communities and alliances where ever they can be found, to keep writing and teaching, and to keep doing what I’ve been called to do. I want to get that off to a good start.

But for now, I’m ready to burn this year to ashes.

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