Samhain – The Poison and the Antidote

Samhain – The Poison and the Antidote October 7, 2016

The winds have shifted, my lovelies. The surge into darkness, the peak of receding draws nearer and the mists part between the worlds. There are whispers on that wind, and glintings from the corners of the third-eye…slipping betwixt and between to commune with the living. The Mighty Dead walk among us for this liminal time between times, so we light the lanterns, and set them a place of honor at our Samhain feast tables.

It is Samhain-tides again, the final harvest;  a time of acceptance that death comes for everyone in it’s own correct time. In reverence we embrace the sacred dark. Yet, in mirthful paradox, we affirm the deliciousness of life, staring death in the eye, raising our glasses to toast that today we LIVE, and live large to honor our beloved dead.

a tarot card featuring a dancing skeleton labeled "Death"
XIII Death Tarot Card, the sign of Scorpio, Thoth Deck by Frieda Harris and Aleister Crowley

Photo courtesy of Lipbone Redding (used with permission)

From ancient times, while the bones of modern paganism were forming, the grip of death was a constant companion. People lived far shorter lives, surrounded by more than a fair share of horrors, and far closer to the agricultural and hunting cycles of survival.

The final harvest of autumn was the time of the slaughter when the herds were culled, animals slaughtered, and their meats prepared for storage over the winter.  You can’t keep the entire herd fed over the winter, nor warm enough with you and the kids holed up in your yurt for 5 months, plus…the point of raising livestock is to eat it…the food chain, the circle of life, kill or be killed, pick your favorite euphemism, but the truth is that a successful harvest of meats once stood between your ancestors and a cold, hungry death.  So, this time of blood was vital and sacred.

The beauty of Witchcraft is the inherent poetry, the repeating patterns that echo truth throughout time, space and consciousness. I may not be a farmer, herder or a hunter, but I still must wrestle with my own mortality, just like everyone else.  At this Greater Sabbat when we celebrate the peak of the tides of autumn and the Earth’s decline, I acknowledge both the final reaping of whatever Great Work of my personal evolution I’ve been cultivating since Imbolc, and the “killing off” of anything within myself that no longer serves the highest good of the new and improved me that I’ve become.

Jack-o-Lantern / Photo credit Aileen Devlin (used with permission)
Jack-o-Lantern / Photo credit Aileen Devlin (used with permission)

When? The Question of Magickal Timing

But WHEN do we honor these things? Hallowe’en (a shortened term for All Hallows Eve) is celebrated on October 31st, which makes sense if you honor All Hallows Day on Nov. 1. But those are Catholic holidays on an arbitrary date on a calendar created by Pope Gregory XIII. It was introduced in 1582 so that the church could force Easter to land where it used to land.  While it is considered a Solar calendar, and was intended to accommodate lunar timing, for me, it is more a reflection of the outrageous hubris of the church, than any energetic tide I’ve ever felt. Now it is more useful for things like business and governance. Why would I anchor my magickal practice on something so man-made and mundane? (Wikipedia)

Yet, on this, and every other blessed topic in pagandom, there are many points of view. Culture, history, tradition, weather, geography, biome? These are all “compass needles” that point in the direction of individual answers for how the Wheel should be implemented. I choose the compass needle of the occult sciences that describe the repeating patterns throughout existence that I spoke of in my last post, Hail Mercury…in Retrograde.

So, I base my ritual practice on astrological timing. This works well for me, because it becomes synchronous to the pattern that is viewed at the largest scale, beyond any one consideration. This allows for an exact division of the Earth’s orbit into 8 equal parts, and therefore is in poetic harmony with patterns formed against the backdrop of the Zodiac.

In my neck of the woods, Samhain falls when the sun reaches 15 degrees Scorpio, the midpoint of the sign of sex, death and the occult.

The Great Work: Wheel of the Year

Original design in ink and watercolor by Heron Michelle
Photo courtesy of Lipbone Redding (used with permission)

The Pyramid of Power Meets the Wheel of the Year

As part of my particular style of witchery, I’ve developed a thealogy and praxis that maps elemental mysteries of the Witches’ Pyramid of Power to the solar, Divine mysteries of the Wheel of the Year. Learning to flow with the elemental energies so vital to life here on mother Earth keeps the system grounded in what is practical for both physically surviving, and spiritually thriving. Otherwise, we lose our footing while our heads are lost among the stars.

The keys to this mystery teaching are in the Hermetic principles of Polarity, Gender, and Rhythm:

  • “Everything is Dual; everything has poles; everything has its pair of opposites…”
  • “Gender is in everything; everything has its Masculine and Feminine Principles; gender manifests on all planes.”
  • “Everything flows out and in; everything has its tides.”

The energies of air, fire, water and earth, while possessing primary gender attributes must also hold within them the opposite gender; the yin holds that dot of the yang, and vice versa. The tides of each season ebb and flow, just as the year as a whole ebbs and flows, and our months, and our days, and our lives…the patterns repeat ad infinitum.

Each element’s mysteries are explored from Greater Sabbat to Greater Sabbat, whereas the seasonal mysteries are explored Lesser Sabbat to Lesser Sabbat. Its an overlapping pattern, so that while the season ebbs, the element flows…creating a tidy balance within itself.  Clear as mud? Refer to my graphic above. The outer ring shows the elemental cycles, while the inner rings reveal the seasonal cycles.

The Receptive side of Water: The Power to Accept

Chalice / Photo courtesy of Heron Michelle
Chalice / Photo courtesy of Heron Michelle

So, the elemental journey from Mabon (autumn’s initiation) to Samhain, (autumn’s peak), focuses on the receptive powers of water: the power to accept. Acceptance is about the vessel that holds the water, the chalice and the cauldron, the riverbank and pond’s edge. They are the boundaries that mold it and give it form.

There are necessary boundaries in life that it would be a waste of effort to even attempt to cross. Accepting these things is the true power of water. So, while I am preparing for the Samhain Sabbat, I accept that decline, death and decay are equally beautiful parts of the Divine Love of the Universe.  Embracing this truth, and releasing any vain fear of my mortality, is a powerful magickal key to Samhain’s Work.

This last harvest is about letting what no longer serves us die away, clearing out the refuse, and making space for that fallow period. It *can be* a somber, austere time, polar opposite of the juicy decadence of Beltane, which lies on the opposite side of the wheel. Whereas Beltane was the wedding, Samhain is the funeral.

But wait! Halloween is rife with parties, wild costumed shenanigans, nefarious tricks and the indulgence of delicious treats! These are pretty decadent traditions for a funeral. Consider the wheel of the year as a system of teaching a balance between the polarities. Each Sabbat has aspects that are medicine to cure what ails us, and other aspects that can feel like the poisoned pill, so hard to swallow. Yet, the antidote to cure us at one sabbat can be distilled from the poison of the sabbat on the opposite side of the wheel. One Samhain/Beltane polarity can be described as reverence and mirth.

For example, the antidote to mirthful over-indulgence in the rites of Beltane, known for sexual coupling, drinking and wild abandon, is acknowledging that too much of a fun thing can literally kill you, if done without reverence, discretion and responsibility for preserving your precious life. Thinking about things like condoms and liver damage can be a bummer in the heat of the moment, but should be the non-negotiable poison we swallow anyway.

On the flip side, think about funeral rites held when we are in deepest mourning for the loss of a loved one. The last thing a mourner wants to do is throw a party. (Trust me, I know from first hand experience.) The most beneficial rites are reverent, but they also include a family reunion, with the raising of glasses in toast to shared memories.  They bring people together, and love is shared openly; we gather together to eat, drink, and tell stories and laugh; to remind us that we live on to carry the torch of their legacy.  Plus, in the saddest, most stressful of times, a thorough shagging can help us process our grief.  No shame in that!

The Great Work: Wheel of the Year Original design in ink and watercolor by Heron Michelle

The antidote is distilled from the poison; in the most exuberant and mirthful of times, a dose of reverent sobriety can pull us back from the brink of self-destruction; in the most mournfully reverent of times, laughing, living and loving –throwing a party–are the medicine we swallow even when we’d rather go drown in our tears. This is part of what we accept.

The Projective Side of Earth: The Power of Silence

At the peak and turning point that is Samhain, we shift into the projective mysteries of Earth: the power of silence. We remember our ancestors by sitting in austere quiet, sharing the “dumb supper” with our beloved dead, setting them a place at a darkly lavish table, laid out with the finest delights the harvest has to offer, not with ghoulish suffering or horror!  We mourn our losses, but losses make us wiser…they pierce the veil and allow us to see further, and recognize the big-picture patterns forming around us. After dinner, break out the divination and scrying tools, and call on the Spirits for a vision of what the sacred dark will bring.

From Samhain, we then turn the inner eye back over the whole cycle and appreciate it’s end and what it taught us.  We, too, enter our time of silence, our “hibernation,” and should take this “between” time to contemplate, integrate, and “hold the space” in that still, dreamy period ahead; Winter is coming.

Samhain blessings,

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