Samhain Ritual For the Mighty Dead

Samhain Ritual For the Mighty Dead October 9, 2015

My annual “Samhain-season” has been incredibly busy and intense the last couple of years. It all started in 2012 when my wife and I (and what became our coven) put together a ritual for an open Pagan circle in Santa Cruz. That ritual is one of my proudest moments. The following year we didn’t participate in any public rites, but our coven ritual was powerful, transformative, and exhausting. In cowan speak that means “it was good.”

Out of the last three years it was 2014 that was the busiest. My coven re-staged 2012’s ritual for a different group, and a week later Angus and I were a part of another memorable and moving ritual. I High Priested and drew down the Dread Lord of Shadows on a Saturday night, eight days later I drew down the Horned One again, but this time as a sacrificial deity. In between those two rituals our coven had our own Samhain ritual. Since the other two rituals we were participating in were rather all-consuming we decided to go with a “lighter” Samhain ritual.

Banquo by Théodore Chassériau.  From WikiMedia.
Banquo by Théodore Chassériau. From WikiMedia.

Over the last few years I’ve been paying more attention to the Mighty Dead of the Craft. There’s some disagreement over just who (or what) the Mighty Dead constitute, but I generally view them as self-identifying Witches and Pagans who were an important (even vital) part of our greater community. I identify most strongly with Gardnerian members of the Mighty Dead, but as a part of the broader Pagan Community there many outside that sphere that I honor. My coven’s Samhain Ritual last year focused around the “installation” of our Mighty Dead.

Pictures of some of those individuals had already been put up privately in our ritual room, but I thought an out-loud and full-on coven ritual was something that was needed. It ended up being less intense than some of our other Samhain rituals (there’s no drawing down of Goddess or God in this rite) but I could still feel a few souls stirring in the breeze. Most of the Mighty Dead pictures that were a part of our ritual were taken from the GBG Year and a Day Calendar, but some were simply copies made on my printer. I don’t think the quality of pictures matters nearly as much as the intent.

A Few Ritual Notes

When my coven did this ritual I wrote all the passages honoring our Mighty Dead ahead of time and printed them up on parchment (looking) paper and then rolled them up and tied them with a red ribbon. I had every member of the coven select a scroll at random, read the words about the person we were honoring and then place a picture of that person up on our “shrine.” I had all the pictures laid out and ahead of time for easy access.

Our coven is lucky enough to have an entire room set aside for ritual. In that room is a “shrine” (bookcase) with our ritual tools, Books of Shadows, and various monuments to deity. It’s also where we placed the pictures of our Mighty Dead. If you don’t have a permanent home for your Mighty Dead you could place their pictures on a wall (to come down later) or your altar.

We did have one coven member mispronounce a name, somehow Alex Sanders became Alex Saunders. I didn’t say anything during the ritual, but you might want to make sure your coven knows how to pronounce the names of all the people you plan to honor.

When I wrote this ritual we chose to honor: Gerald Gardner, Doreen Valiente, Leo Martello, Cora & Victor Anderson, Issac Bonewits, Eleanor “Ray” Bone, Scott Cunningham, and Alex Sanders. This year we will (very sadly) be adding Margot Adler, Morning Glory Zell, and probably Robert Cochrane. We’ve decided to wait at least a year after a person’s passing to add them to our list of the Mighty Dead, we want them to feel at home in their new surroundings before summoning them back to watch our rites.

Speaking of summoning, the installation of our Mighty Dead is more of an extended invitation than an expectation that they will one day show up.

Our coven had made this ritual an annual event, but this year’s installation of the Mighty Dead will be taking place two weeks before Samhain. It’s safe to say one can use this ritual whenever the gates are thin.

This ritual is written with a “High Priestess” and a “High Priest” but that’s just because my wife and I tend to lead rituals together. (She’s my working partner!)

And now on with the ritual!

Ritual Cleansing
In my circle we cleanse with a pitcher and water. Other circles wave incense and splash salted water at everyone. Use whatever technique works for your circle.

Opening Chant

This is our usual opening chant, though we tend to sing it at a faster clip. As far as I know it was originally written by Selena Fox back in about 1980 or so.

IMG_1932Statement of Intent
High Priest: “We gather here tonight to celebrate the passing of the Old Year and to welcome in the new. We are here to celebrate Samhain, the final harvest, that time when the veil between the world’s is at its thinnest and those that have departed this world may return to it once more. Tonight we honor those who have gone before and may now return to us, tonight we honor our Mighty Dead.”

Blessing the Elements
High Priest: “I exorcise thee o Creature of Water and cast out from thee all impurities and uncleanliness. In the names of the Lord and Lady, so mote it be.”

In most Witch traditions it’s customary to set the water and salt being purified upon a pentacle. In this instance, the High Priest would place the bowl of water on the pentacle, and then remove it. The High Priestess does the same with the bowl of salt.

High Priestess: “Blessings be upon thee O Creature of Salt; let all malignity and hindrance be cast from thee, and let all good enter within. Wherefore do I bless thee and consecrate thee in the names of Lord and Lady. So mote it be.”

The Priestess then takes her athame and places it in the salt removing three measures of “earth” and placing it in the water.

High Priestess: “Thrice measured, thrice taken, thrice given. So mote it be!”

Salted water is set aside. The High Priest takes an unlit candle and lights it either with a candle already burning on the altar or a lighter/matches. He places the candle (in a candle holder) on the pentacle.


High Priest: “Blessings upon thee O Creature of Fire, let all malignity and hindrance be cast from thee, and let all good enter within. Wherefore do I bless thee and consecrate thee in the names of Lord and Lady. So mote it be.”

The High Priestess then takes the incense and sets it upon the pentacle.

High Priestess: “Blessings be upon thee O Creature of Air, let all malignity and hindrance be cast from thee and let all good enter within. Wherefore do I bless thee and consecrate thee in the names of the Lord and Lady. So mote it be.”

Priestess lights incense with the Fire candle and the incense is then walked around the circle deosil. High Priest picks up the salted water and follows the High Priestess sprinkling the water around the perimeter of the circle. For me the incense and salted water are about cleansing the circle, not so much the participants. With that in mind I tend to fling the salted water into every corner of my ritual room.

castingthecircleIMG_1949Casting the Circle
To cast the circle, start in the East, and proceed deosil three times while saying:

“I conjure thee oh circle of power, that thou may be a meeting place of love and joy and truth and as a shield against all wickedness and evil. Thou art a boundary between the world of mortals and the realms of the mighty ones; and an entry way to the realm of spirit. Wherefore do I bless thee and consecrate thee in the names of the Lord and the Lady. The circle is cast, so mote it be!”

Calling the Watchtowers

East: “Ye Guardians of the Watchtowers of the East, ye Powers of Air; Spirits of Clear Will and Knowledge, I do summon, stir, and call you up, to witness our rites and to guard our Circle.

(invoking pentagram is drawn)

Hail and welcome.” (Coveners repeat “Hail and welcome.”)

South: “Ye Guardians of the Watchtowers of the South, ye Powers of Fire; Spirits of Illumination and Desire, I do summon, stir, and call you up, to witness our rites and to guard our Circle.

(invoking pentagram is drawn)

Hail and welcome.” (Coveners repeat “Hail and welcome.”)

callingquartersIMG_1959West: “Ye Guardians of the Watchtowers of the West, ye Powers of Water; Spirits of Death and Initiation, I do summon, stir, and call you up to witness our rites and to guard our Circle.

(invoking pentagram is drawn)

Hail and welcome.” (Coveners repeat “Hail and welcome.”)

North: “Ye Guardians of the Watchtowers of the North, ye Powers of Earth, Spirits of Mountain and Plains, I do summon, stir, and call you up to witness our rites and to guard our Circle.

(invoking pentagram is drawn)

Hail and welcome.” (Coveners repeat “Hail and welcome.”)

Call to the God
“I call to the Great God, Dread Lord of Shadows, the Horned One, Leader of the Wild Hunt. We ask you to be with us tonight and join us in our circle. Help us to understand the mysteries of the world beyond, and to feel the presence of those we honor as our Mighty Dead! The Wheel turns, from light to darkness and we ask for your blessings this night of the final harvest! Hail and Welcome!!”

Call to the Goddess
“We call to you Great Goddess, Eternal Lady, Mistress of the Moon. Join us Great Crone as we celebrate the passing of the Old Year and the coming of the New. Great Lady, smile down upon us, illuminate us with your wisdom and grace. Allow us to draw close to those who both taught and lived the Craft! Stir our souls with passion and fire as we gather here tonight to celebrate the sacred Samhain festival. Hail and Welcome.”

Charge of the Dread Lord of Shadows
“I am the Dread Lord of Shadows, God of Death, Giver of Life, Keeper of the Gate through which all must pass. I am the Comforter, Counselor, Giver of Peace, and Rest and I bid you all to walk gladly and unafraid into my realms. Here in the Summerlands all are rested and refreshed among their dear ones, and then are ultimately reborn the grace of me and She who is Queen of the Dead and Mother of us all. By our love and wisdom all will be reborn near their beloved ones so all may meet, know, remember, and love them again. “

“I stand at the end of all things, and the beginning of all that is new. I take, and I give. I am the spark of life and he who extinguishes all. I stand with you in this journey and will walk with you upon the next. I am he who gives release from pain and brings to you all that is pleasurable. I rend, I rip, I tear. I love, I lift, I embrace. Blessed Be.”

"All Souls' Day" by Jakub_Schikaneder.  From WikiMedia.
“All Souls’ Day” by Jakub_Schikaneder. From WikiMedia.

Charge of the Goddess of Death
High Priest: “Now listen to the words of the Great Mother, the Lady of Death, who was once called Diana, Hecate, Kali, Ariadne, Persephone and by many other names.”

High Priestess: “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 immortality 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.”

“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.”

Calling to the Mighty Dead
High Priest: “Tonight we call to the Mighty Dead, those in the Craft who came before us and shaped our Witchcraft today. Without the efforts of those we honor here tonight the Craft as we know it would most likely not exist, or perhaps exist in a much diminished form.”

High Priestess: “Upon this Samhain night we throw open wide the gates that lead to the world of shadow and invite those whose works and influence led us to this place tonight. Pagans and Witches all, we honor the Mighty Dead and ask them to look over this coven and to lend their energies to our rites, if they so wish.”

High Priest: “It is not our place to demand the attention of the ancestors or those who have taught the Craft. We only seek the Mighty Dead to honor them and to offer them a place in our rites. We gladly accept any aid they might give to us, and also accept that as spirits with loved and dear ones they may not always wish to be in this space.”

High Priestess: “The names of those we honor tonight have all touched us in some way. Perhaps it’s a teaching they offered, passed down in books and tradition. For some its the trail they blazed, breaking down boundaries and and bringing the Lord and Lady closer to anyone willing to look. There are many honored here tonight whose words we say in our rites and whose energies exist in our blades and hearts.”

turning towards the West, “spirits of death and initiation.”

“Hear us O Mighty Dead that we call this night! Know that we respect and honor you in our rites and only seek to further understand your mysteries. We offer you a place in our circle in perfect love and perfect trust with harm to none.”

High Priest: “Our ritual tonight is simple, we have chosen several Mighty Dead to honor this night and place upon our altars. Here you shall find pictures of those individuals. On these scrolls are words about the individuals we honor. I’m going to have each of you walk forward and take a scroll from this basket. Read it aloud and then place the picture of that individual upon our shrine so our Mighty Dead will know they are welcome.”

“Every year when we gather in the late Autumn we will install more of the Mighty Dead upon this place of honor. Those that were lost to us this year will be placed here later so that they might have time to adjust to their new home. So come forward now and let us begin to honor our Mighty Dead.”

Jusepe deRibera, "Hecate, Procession to a Witch's Sabbath" from Wikipedia.
Jusepe deRibera, “Hecate, Procession to a Witch’s Sabbath” from Wikipedia.

The Mighty Dead Upon the Scrolls

What follows are the names of the Mighty Dead that were installed at our rite last year, in alphabetical order. What’s written below each name are the words I wrote for each individual, or couple. I make no claim that these little write-ups are any good.

Cora & Victor Anderson
“We are not of the line of Cora & Victor but their teachings have influenced us all just the same. They taught that all are worthy of the love of the Goddess and God, and made this area an important one in the development of Modern Paganism. The Andersons approached Witchcraft with creativity and imagination, as all good Witches should. For these reasons we thank and welcome Cora & Victor Anderson among the ranks of our Mighty Dead! Hail & Welcome!”

Eleanor “Ray” Bone
“Eleanor ‘Ray’ Bone was one of Gerald Gardner’s earliest High Priestesses. Ray was one of the many guiding lights of the Craft through much of the 1960’s and 1970’s. She represented Witches in public, taught new students, and initiated many who would go on to do great things among the Wica. Ray also helped bridge the gap between Gardner’s Wicca and others who identified as Witches. For these reasons we thank and welcome Ray Bone among the ranks of our Mighty Dead! Hail & Welcome!”

Issac Bonewits
“Issac was one of the first great American teachers of Paganism. He turned magick into a science and lived his life in service to both the gods and his
extended Pagan Community. Bonewits walked in many worlds. He was a founder of the Druid organization ADF, and an initiate into the mysteries of the Wica. He was a devoted husband, father, and friend. For these reasons we thank and welcome Issac Bonewtis among the ranks of our Mighty Dead! Hail & Welcome!”

Scott Cunningham
“Scott Cunningham removed the barriers in the way of those who sought the Craft. His work and teachings helped to make the Lord and Lady available to all seekers. Scott’s wisdom has touched an entire generations of Witches. Many of us ‘grew up’ with his work, a work that will live on far into the future. For these reasons we thank and welcome Scott Cunningham among the ranks of our Might Dead! Hail & Welcome!”

Herne on the Hunt by George Cruikshank. From WikiMedia
Herne on the Hunt by George Cruikshank. From WikiMedia

Gerald Gardner
“The influence of Gerald Gardner is upon all that would use the term Witch. It’s Gardner who brought the rediscovered ancient magick into the light of the modern day. Gerald was no prophet or messiah, but he was the nexus point that made the rebirth of Witchcraft possible. Many of us here are of the Wica as Gerald was, walking down a path that would not exist without the Grand Old Man of Witchcraft. For these reasons we thank and welcome Gerald Gardner among the ranks of our Mighty Dead! Hail & Welcome!”

Leo Martello
“Leo Martello was one of America’s earliest and most endearing teachers of the Craft. He fought for acceptance of Witches and was an early pioneer of interfaith efforts. Martello helped to create a welcoming space for gays and lesbians within the Craft, a lasting legacy that is often overlooked. He fought for the rite of all human beings to be treated with dignity and respect. For these reasons we thank and welcome Leo Martello among the ranks of our Mighty Dead! Hail & Welcome!”

Alex Sanders
“Alex worked tirelessly during his lifetime to promote the Craft. Many of Witchcraft’s most influential figures were taught and initiated by him. Sanders brought a flair for the theatrical with him to Modern Witchcraft. Any of us who have ever been photographed for a newspaper or magazine article are following in his considerable footsteps. There was no questioning Alex’s love of the gods. For these reasons we thank and welcome Alex Sanders among the ranks of our Mighty Dead! Hail & Welcome!”

Doreen Valiente
“Many have called Doreen the “Mother of the Craft,” a title fitting and apt. Her words echo in our circle and in our rites, the Great Lady we honor was in part revealed to us through her. Valiente reminds us to ever move forward. The world of the Witch is a wide one and the dedicated Witch is always learning, always experimenting, and always making magic. For these reasons we thank and welcome Doreen Valiente among the ranks of our Mighty Dead! Hail & Welcome!”

High Priest: “We of this coven declare that you spirits, our Mighty Dead, are welcome in our rites and our rituals. Avail yourselves of our hospitality, eat our cakes and drink our wine, and consider yourselves honored guests in our coven! To the Mighty Dead we say hail and welcome!”

The Great Rite/Cakes and Ale
High Priestess: “The days grow shorter, the night grow colder, but the gods have not forgotten us. Life is ever present, even when the darkness grows.”

High Priest: “Life is more than a gift, it is a promise. All that dies shall be reborn.”

High Priestess: “We now celebrate the most ancient of magics, the magic of joining.”

High Priest: “The athame is to the Lord”

High Priestess: “As the cup is to the Lady.”

Both: “United in Life and abundance. Blessed Be!”

greatrite9High Priestess: “We now shall bless this bread and this drink as it was done in days of old, when Pagans and Witches were forced to hide their art.”

High Priest: “In the names of the Lord and Lady we bless these cakes.”

High Priestess Touches athame to either the cakes or the plate they are being served upon.

High Priestess: “In the names of the Lord and Lady we bless this drink.”

High Priest touches his athame to the top of the cup. Cakes and drink are now passed around the circle.

Goodbye to the Lord & Lady

High Priestess: We thank the Lady, the Great Mother, the Eternal Crone for being with us tonight in our circle. Remind us of your beauty and your love in the days ahead. Help us to find the strength to honor you as much in the darkness as we do in the light. Hail and farewell!

High Priest: We thank The Horned One, Dread Lord of Shadows, God of Birth and Death for being with us tonight in our circle. We thank you for opening your realm to us. As death comes to our lands, help us to remember that you are a god of beginnings as well as endings. The Wheel turns and as you sink down into the shadows we say to you Hail and farewell!

Dismissing the Watchtowers
(Just like the beginning calls to the Watchtowers, but in reverse order and with the banish pentagram made before saying “Hail and farewell.”)

North: “Ye Guardians of the Watchtowers of the North, ye Powers of Earth,, Spirits of Mountain and Plains, you have joined us in our rites and have guarded our circle well. We thank you for joining us this sacred night. Hail and farewell!”

(Participants repeat “Hail and farewell.”)

West: “Ye Guardians of the Watchtowers of the West, ye Powers of Water; Spirits of Death and Initiation, you have joined us in our rites and have guarded our circle well. We thank you for joining us this sacred night. Hail and farewell!“

(Participants repeat “Hail and farewell.”)

South: “Ye Guardians of the Watchtowers of the South, ye Powers of Fire; Spirits of Illumination and Desire, you have joined us in our rites and have guarded our circle well. We thank you for joining us this sacred night. Hail and farewell!”

(Participants repeat “Hail and farewell.”)

East: “Ye Guardians of the Watchtowers of the East, ye Powers of Air; Spirits of Clear Will and Knowledge, you have joined us in our rites and have guarded our circle well. We thank you for joining us this sacred night. Hail and farewell!”

(Participants repeat “Hail and farewell.”)

merrypartTaking Down the Circle
The circle is taken down by walking widdershins around it three times with sword outstretched.

“I conjured thee oh circle of power as a meeting place to shield us against all wickedness and evil. Thou has served us well, and now we undo this boundary between the world of mortal and those of the mighty ones. We seal forth the entry way from the realm of spirit. All will now be as it once was, and what was once here has been dismissed in the names of the Lord and the Lady. So mote it be!”

Closing
“Another year has passed us and another year full of promise and hope stands before us. With the blessings of the Lord and Lady, the love of those around us, and the memories of those who have left us, we go from this sacred place knowing of the bounty yet to come in our lives. Merry, merry part, and merry meet again! And may the gods preserve The Craft!”

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