I invite you to journey with me to a Witch’s Sabbat. Let this story offer an intimate peek at the Samhain Ritual held by our coven. Won’t you join us in our dance with the dead?
Dawning into Darkness
Our band of Merry Modern Witches celebrated on the weekend nearest to astrological Samhain, 15 degrees of Scorpio. In 2017, this falls today, on November 7th. (archaeoastronomy.com) This ritual was primarily written by our High Priest, Phoenix Eschelon, and is shared with a few adaptations of my own. Holding large group ceremonies is a daunting challenge, and after many years of (clumsily) working through the (significant) logistics, this year I think we finally got it awesomely right. As with any effective group magick, I emerged a stronger person.
The morning of our Samhain rites, The Sojo Circle Coven awoke in our camp-ground village erected on the beautiful grounds of at St. Anne’s Chapel. We’d been up late the night before, celebrating the first Croning Rite of Passage for an original coven member, newly retired. (Stay tuned for a post on that ritual.) On the full moon night in Scorpio we slept adjacent to the 100 year old cemetery on the chapel grounds.
Creating the Temple
Opening rites began just shy of noon, in an outdoor temple 21 feet in diameter, encircled by tiki torches., The bonfire lit in a ring of stones at the center. The witch’s altar was at the eastern circle’s edge, laid with consecration elements and our magickal tools. Long-burning tiki flames for the Deities and ancestors remain lit from opening rites until closing rites the next day.
We consecrate the space by incense, fire, salt, and water, then cast an energetic sphere, creating a crossroads of heavens, middle and underworld. After opening the elemental gates, we evoked the Crone Goddess, Dark God and the ancestors of land, blood and spirit to be present among us. Then, turning to face outward we chanted power-raising intonations, “Ka-Ra-Leem-Om-El,” repeating from low and slow to a peak of pitch and frequency, pushing the sphere to the edges of the property. The temple surrounded the campground, chapel, graveyard, and nature trail and labyrinth, so that everything we did was in the company of our Spiritual Hosts for the next 24 hours.
Once the circle was open, we held a Wiccaning Rite of Passage for the first baby born to Coven Members. (Stay tuned for a post on that ritual.) The afternoon was spent in relaxed preparation for the evening rites: cooking foods, setting tables, constructing the effigy of the Fallen King, and catching up with our friends.
Wake of the Fallen King
Upon the dais of the old chapel, the ancestor altar is dressed in dried roses and ceramic skulls, black, red and draping veils as backdrop to the old photographs of our ancestors. There are candles lit and incense smoking. The effigy of the Fallen King is laid in state across the adjacent bier, wearing a death mask of autumnal foliage. A dried arrangement of roses that was once the MayQueen’s bridal bouquet is laid across his chest – the symbol that the eternal Goddess of nature withdraws to the underworld with her fallen lover.
The effigy, a bit like a scare-crow, is made of branches lashed together with wire, dressed in a member’s old clothes, and stuffed with straw and color-flame packs for effect. Each participant added to his heart-space, the corn-dollies we each made at our Lammas rites to represent that old skin we shed so that we may evolve in the coming year. Together we created him in our own likeness, filled with our intention to release like death all that does not serve our future selves. An empty platter awaits the offering of food for our beloved dead, and will be left deep in the woods when all is done.
The chapel is laid out as a great feasting hall. A large family-style table, a chair for each attendee, is dressed with candles, foliage and open bottles of wine. Here we will dine in silent reverence with the Spirits of loved ones who draw near, a Dumb Supper in their memory.
Twilight falls, all is prepared, and our pot-luck buffet of ancestral foods is laid out ready to be served. Music is playing over the chapel speakers from our trusty Pandora Radio. “New Age Ambient” station, is served by an Iphone – a favorite tool of modern witchery. We convene in the courtyard outside the chapel doors, each smudged in sage smoke by our Gatekeeper of Air, and anointed with a Samhain oil by our Gatekeeper of Water.
We enter the chapel, and stand in large circle around the perimeter of tables. Upon the dais, the Priest and Priestess flank the effigy, joined by the MayQueen in her crown of roses, and Mayking in his Antlered Crown; they now aspect the Dark Lord of Shadows, and the Crone Goddess of the Underworld.
Priest: Rings bell 3 times, welcoming us all to our Coven’s Samhain rites, and gives a quick review of the events of the evening.
Priestess: Directs all present to push their energies toward the bounty of food set before us.
Blessing the Meal
“Great Ones! Gods, Guides, Guardians, all those beings of good will, gathered near! We give thanks for the bounty set before us, ever mindful that nature provides our sustenance, feeding upon itself, each generation rises from the remains of those who fell before. Death feeds life. This meal is born from the Eternal Mother, and rises as the Wild God, manifest as grain, fruits, vegetables and animals, who falls so that we may live on. We give thanks for the sacrifices made from field to table, and all the hands that cultivated and prepared them. May this meal be purified and blessed as sustenance to our bodies, minds, hearts and spirits, so they may fuel the Fires of Divine Will, and the magickal work yet to be done. Blessed be!
Participants: Blessed Be!
MayKing, wearing the Antlered Crown: Stands at the head of the effigy and states, “I was king but for a time. On behalf of my queen, I cultivated abundance for the people with my vitality. Gladly did I give of myself, but now I have sacrificed all that I have. With the last thresh of the corn, I am the fallen king.”
All: “Hail the Fallen King!”
With the priest’s help, Mayking takes off the antlered crown and places it on the head of the effigy. With this, the MayKing transfers the mantle of that aspect to the effigy. (The nice crown will be switched with a burnable paper and wood crown to be burned along with the effigy.)
Priestess: “Hear now the words of the Dark Lord! By his life were we sustained and now by his spirit he will guide us in this, the dark half of the year!”
Priest: Reads the charge:
“Samhain Night falls, the mill to tread!
Powerful and sacred, Ghostly haunting!
All about you, the ancestors are joining!
Break bread! Drink deep! Feast with the Mighty Dead!”
Participants: All line up to get their food. They are not to talk at all, only parents who need to help their children. Before they return to their seats they are to offer some to the ancestors on a platter that has been set aside especially for them. AGAIN, NO TALKING!
Priest: When everyone has returned to their seats he continues with charge, “Before you is set the bounty from my sacrifice! Blessed Be!”
Participants: “Blessed Be!”
Priest: “This bounty is possible by the stewardship of those whom came before you! Blessed Be!”
Participants: “Blessed Be!”
Priest: “For the sacrifice of those whose voices have gone silent honor them with this meal in silent meditation. As you eat this meal be mindful of the love, sacrifice, and hopes of the ancestors as you visit with them tonight. So mote it be.”
Participants: “So mote it be!”
We eat, focused inwardly, savoring each flavor and texture, recalling our loved ones who’ve crossed the veil. The energy of the room is dense from the crowd of Spirits pressing in. Emotions run deep, eyes red, tears falling as their faces are recalled so clearly in the mind’s eye, their voices heard once more. There is weeping by some and calm contemplation by others. The baby cooes in delight of this strange setting, flirting with smiles and giggles, reminding us that all life rises joyously again.
Everyone is free to rise for seconds or pie, or go outside to blow our noses, but it is all held without conversation. Just deep, personal enjoyment of the living flesh as a reminder that those who’ve gone before us, live through our DNA and memories. I sobbed into my mother’s famous casserole as memories of a long-ago meal we shared with my sister come flooding in, so profoundly detailed I could hear her laugh, and see the tilt of her mouth when she spoke.
I am not the only one weeping, and in a surging need to link, I take the hands of my covenmates to each side, a squeeze of fingers to ground in the moment. The linking of hands passes unplanned and naturally around the table until a circle is once again formed among us; the interconnected web of community.
In all my years, I’ve never enjoyed a more poignant ancestor supper as we did this night. I cracked up at the thought of how this mourning behavior so normally shunned by polite society is something we witches work so hard to allow at Samhain, and do it on purpose…in our spare time…for “fun.”
Samhain Funeral Pyre as Gateway to the Underworld
As dinner completes, the priest directs us all to rise and move back out into the courtyard. A drummer beats a steady tattoo as the four elemental gatekeepers, like pall bearers, take up the corner poles of the bier and carry the effigy out of the chapel and into the night. The priest and priestess take hands and lead the procession to the fire circle, the May King and Queen, following behind.
The fire is stoked to blazing as the funeral procession makes a lap widdershins, and lays the King’s bier down at fireside. At the altar, the Priest and Priestess light fresh incense and with a quick call to each, stirs and reminds everyone that the Elemental powers, Crone and Dark Lord, and Spirits of Good Will are both present and welcome among our rites.The bell is rung six times.
Priestess: “The veil between the world is most thin this Samhain Night – Height of Autumn – Our ancestors cross the veil to dance among the living once more. On this night we bid the Dark God, and Eternal Goddess farewell as they descend into the underworld to the rest and rejuvenation of the coming winter. The vitality of the Goddess – who is both the womb and the tomb – now withdraws from the middle world, into her time of seclusion. As winter’s dark blanket of death descends, she nurtures the spark of life within her that will be reborn as the newborn God into the next cycle at Yule.”
Priest: “The effigy of the God of Nature – known as John Barleycorn, the Oak King, The Dark Lord – is prepared for release this sacred night. As his funeral pyre burns, the veil is split and the way beyond is opened. The God and Goddess descend into the underworld. We send our intentions for personal evolution with them.”
To the beat of the drum, the priestess leads everyone in dance to grind the mill with heavy steps, widdershins around the widest part of the circle at first, as though all are pounding down into the underworld, descending down a spiral staircase. We begin the song loudly and boisterously, with a quickened pace, as we cycle through the verses in the order that feels right in the moment, and with the freedom for each participant to sing the ones they know or prefer – as unity isn’t necessary, the tune is the same each verse.
Hoof and horn, hoof and horn
all that dies shall be reborn
corn and grain, corn and grain,
all that dies shall rise again
Sage and crone, sage and crone
wisdom’s gifts shall be our own
Crone and Sage, Crone and Sage
Wisdom is the gift of age
We all come from the Goddess,
And to Her we shall return;
Like a drop of rain,
Flowing to the ocean.
We all come from the Horned God,
And to Him we shall return;
Like a spark of flame,
Rising to the heavens. (Source)
As we spiral closer to the fire we slow the pace, and quiet into a whisper until we are crowded around the fire light, and on the priestess’ mark we stab the remaining energy downward into the fire, as though piercing the underworld itself.
Consecration by Fire Breathing
The priest now stands over the fire and fallen king with a torch and bottle of moonshine liquor.
Priest: “I consecrate this pyre as the gate way to the underworld.” He takes a mouth full of the moonshine and blows it across the bonfire. “Ancestors Draw Near! The veil opens!” he takes another swig of moonshine and blows it across the bonfire.
Elemental Ministers: Pick up the effigy and place him into the bonfire.
Priest: “Dark Lord and Eternal Goddess! Depart to your rest in the Underworld!” He takes another swig of the moonshine and sprays it into the torch across the funeral pyre as it burns.
Celebrants all hoot and holler! Clapping as the effigy burns, and the color packs within it ignite and turn the flames green, purple and blue.
Priestess leads the chant by singing each line, and the celebrants join in on the “ancestor ancestor” parts. They repeat until the power is raised and directed by the priest.
Ancestors, ancestors, I hear you calling.
Ancestors, ancestors, I hear your stories on the wind.
Ancestors, ancestors, I hear you calling.
Ancestors, ancestors, I hear your stories on the wind.
Keepers of wisdom, ancestors, ancestors.
Teachers of Children, ancestors, ancestors.
Lead us to darkness, and beyond the veil. (1)
Priest: The veil is split. The Way is Opened! Release all that does not serve your highest good into the fires!
Priestess offers celebrants a hand full of blended cardamom pods, star anise, mugwort, frankincense, myrrh and cedar chips, to be thrown into the fires as we watch them burning away all that needs to be released.
Priestess: “The ancestors have heard our call, crossing to be here with us now! Tonight we celebrate with song, drink, and dance. Tonight we honor our ancestors with stories of their great deeds! We honor you! Hail and Welcome!”
All: “Hail and Welcome!”
Mayking: Recites the poem by Mary Elizabeth Frye
Do not stand at my grave and weep,
I am not there; I do not sleep….
…Do not stand at my grave and cry,
I am not there; I did not die. (2)
Priest: “We honor our beloved dead. I invite you to call their names.”
Many names of grandparents and fallen friends, Raymond Buckland and Margot Adler, Doreen Valiente and Gerald Gardner, Peter Paddon and many other witches who’ve paved the way. There were no limits, many calling artists like David Bowie, Prince and Robin Williams… we call and call until we are satisfied.
The bell is rung 9 times.
Womb and Tomb
Priestess: holding the chalice aloft, “Behold the chalice, the symbol of Her womb and tomb. From her all life proceeds and to her all life must return!”
Priest: Takes up the athame , “Behold the athame, The symbol of his vitality, the spark of life. On this night the Lord returns to the womb to be reborn with his life force renewed!” Priest points the athame down toward the chalice…
Priestess: Moving together to dip the athame in the wine, “The Goddess now receives the God in her womb!”
Priest: “The God has crossed the veil into the waters of life.”
Priest removes the athame, “But He will be reborn as the new light on the darkest night of the year! So mote it!”
All: So Mote it Be!
Priest: He then sprinkles the cakes with the wine, blessing them. He makes a libation to the Goddess and God, and ancestors.
Priestess: pours a libation of the wine to the Goddess and God, and ancestors.
The Chalice and cakes are passed around the circle so that all may sip and eat.
Witching into the night…
Drumming kicks in, and we sing and chant, howl and laugh, drink and snack and offer divination for each other into the night. Many tales of our ancestors heroics and misdeeds are shared. We might have fallen a bit too deeply into a few cups, but such is a life well-lived.
As we danced, our priest offered himself as a vessel of the god, to be ridden and channel individual messages. This is a profound gift, and for the first time the God chose to speak to me. This could not have been the voice of my friend. This was the voice of the Wild God, himself. He spoke to the deepest unspoken fears of my battered heart, my floundering will to Witch any further. He gave me the direct instruction to get my witchy butt back down the the crossroads, divine the messages I need, and to get back to The Work.
I have my marching orders, but more importantly, our Sabbat rites lit the fires of my personal will to be in alignment with Highest Divine Will. The light of that message helped me find my way to the path once more, and for that I am truly humbled.
When we awoke the next morning, after coffee and trading insights, we held closing rites to thank all Gods and Elemental powers present, and to thank our hosting spirits of the land that lay in the graveyard. We closed the temple, packed everything up, cleaned the land and chapel, and got it all home by 3:00. All this without a single harsh word or ugly incident, no quarrels, or diva drama. There were no witch burnings, no assholery, no weak links, and all witches present to win (3)- which is the only way that The Sojo Circle Coven will roll. These are my people, and I love them.
We came; We witched; We kicked all fear of death in the ass.
- This chant is a slightly modified version of the song “Grandmother” by Spiral Rhythm from their album, Roll of Thunder. We basically replaced the word “grandmother” with “ancestors.” Check out their excellent album for the tune.
- “Do Not Stand at My Grave and Weep” is a poem written in 1932 by Mary Elizabeth Frye. Although the origin of the poem was disputed until later in her life, Mary Frye’s authorship was confirmed in 1998 after research by Abigail Van Buren, a newspaper columnist. Source
- Our four rules of witchcraft in our coven are thus: Don’t burn the witch; Don’t be the Asshole; Don’t be the weak link; Must be present to win. For more on this thealogy, check out this article.