Passing Time: SamhainGuest Post, · Categories: Passing Time Rituals Series
Welcome to the seventh article in our rituals series. I went with the modern pagan wheel of the year calendar because several of us are familiar with it and it evenly breaks up the twelve months into manageable chunks of time. There will a mix of spiritual and secular practices and observations for each holiday–I can’t promise ahead of time if any will be weighted more one way or the other, but I’ll do my best to include something for everyone. I’ll post these the Wednesday before the holiday date. Thank you to the contributors! You are invaluable.
Samhain is the ancient holiday most firmly connected to the current one that still falls on the same day. It’s the season of ghosts, when the dead and the living share space again, however briefly. It’s a time for mourning our losses and patching up the holes made by grief. And there is, this year of all years, a lot of loss to mourn. Chester Bennington, George Romero, Chuck Berry, John Hurt, Debbie Reynolds, Carrie Fisher. Heather Heyer. Puerto Rico. Houston. Las Vegas. California. Barcelona. Somalia. The future we thought that we had on November 8, 2016.
I do not feel like I have the strength to mourn everything that needs to be mourned this year, but part of what rituals are for is to give us enough structure and support to do the things we cannot do on our own. And the thing about rituals that gives them that power is the repetition, the way your body takes over and completes the ritual without thought or effort on your part. A new ritual isn’t what anyone needs in a time of grief; what you need is old and familiar. Comforting. Something that reminds you of a time when you were more innocent, when you didn’t lose this much all at once.
I can’t tell you what that is for you. For me, though, when I think of Samhain, I always think back to the first year I discovered Wicca, when I learned that there were rituals for the things I yearned for and the things I believed. It was a perfect night, crisp and cool, the full moon bright behind wispy clouds, and I knelt in front of an altar I built in my bedroom with the window open so that no one would know I was burning candles and incense and whispered the words from Cunningham’s Book of Shadows into the night. I don’t do Wiccan rituals any more, for lots of reasons, but when I need something to hold me up when I cannot hold myself up, it’s still the shape that I return to. If you were ever that teenager, maybe it will help to hold you up, too.
Take a cleansing bath in salt water and set an altar with a black altar cloth, a white candle, and two candles representing the binary nature of life and death. Have also an offering bowl, a cup of wine or cider, and a piece of bread (if you can’t make your own, store-bought is fine). Mementos of your beloved dead are also appropriate altar decorations.
Cast a circle, summoning the spirits of the North, South, East, and West to guard and watch over you. Light the central white candle and the two others from it, and center yourself with deep breathing or a centering exercise of your choice. Then, extinguish the candle representing death, and say, “I come to mourn the dead and to honor their lives. I offer this light as a guide to their passing, a lantern to light their way.” Elaborate as you see fit: a list of those you wish to honor particularly is appropriate, as are any words you have to say about them, or to them.
Sit within the circle and feel time passing, your heart beating, the spirits moving through the world.
When you are ready, offer the bread and wine as sustenance for the spirits you honor and those who have protected you, and share some yourself. Center yourself again, and open the circle. The ritual is complete, although its effects may linger.
Hello, Mankanauts! It’s time to get spooky and spiritual. Our second-to-last holiday is Samhain, which takes place on October 31st. In its original Celtic form, Samhain marked the end of the harvest and the beginning of winter. As people stared down the coldest, leanest part of the year, their thoughts turned to survival–to life, death, and the boundary between the two. Samhain was considered to be a liminal time, when dead relatives might return in spirit for a home-cooked meal, and when boundaries between worlds were thin.
At Samhain, we are poised at the exit of autumn, ready to enter winter–trees are losing their leaves; delicate plants are dying off. Even if you live in a temperate to toasty climate, you’re still staring down the end of the calendar year. And many of us have lost a lot this year–loved ones, relationships, battles of various kinds. It is time to acknowledge Death, shake its bony phalanges, and invite it in for a pumpkin spice latte. Here’s a little ritual to sneak in amidst your Halloween celebrations.
Procure yourself a seed or bulb. If your local weather is still warm-ish and you feel like you can actually raise a plant, a spring-blooming bulb or wildflower seeds might be just the ticket. If you’re more like me, and you have a radioactive wasteland thumb in place of a green thumb, just grab some sunflower seeds, sesame seeds off a bagel, or an acorn out of your front yard. The symbolism is the thing.
Bury your seed. Give it a proper funeral–give it a pebble for a headstone, a tissue paper shroud, or whatever other funereal accompaniments you can devise. Sing it a hymn, or say it a prayer. The seed is the stand-in for whatever you have to grieve. Whatever has gone down into the dark this year, your seed will be joining it. Send a message along, if you’d like.
Water your seed, and water yourself with a libation of your choice. Raise your glass to your seed, and to whatever else is dearly departed, and remember that the seed will grow.
Oh, beloveds, what a year we’ve had. I’m not even sure I’m going to dress up for Halloween (something I’ve skipped only three times in over twenty years). I am fatigued in so many ways right now. On one hand it seems I’ve been going through a nightmare that lasts forever, but on the other it feels like I haven’t had time to breathe. Steeling myself for a ritual is not (ahem) in the cards for me this year. Perhaps this is true for you, too.
For those who don’t have the stamina for a keening ritual, set yourselves up with a bottle of whatever works for you, a comfy chair, a book, and a massive pile of candy for you and any trick-or-treaters that knock on your door. We don’t get many of them in our neighborhood, so we can afford a couple boxes of full-size bars from Costco and the look on a kid’s face when you drop in a full-size Snicker’s bar is a delight to behold. Exchange some empty-calorie treats for a child’s smile and absorb some of their joy and manic sugar-fueled energy.
If door-to-door kiddos in costumes aren’t a thing where you live, and you are assured of being undisturbed for the evening, take that bottle to the bathroom with some ~mood candles~ and pour yourself a hot tub with Epsom salts or other detoxifying things. My nutritionist recommended regular 30-minute soaks with 1 cup apple cider vinegar, 1/2 cup baking soda, and 1/2 cup powdered activated charcoal added to the hot water. The activated charcoal provides a nice spooky mood to bath time, but afterward you have to rinse the tub and yourself thoroughly.
A Halloween-season movie marathon with friends (or alone if you’re a masochist) is always an option and I’ll start a scary movie list thread in tomorrow’s Dump for possible viewing options.
And of course if you’re just not up for any of that it’s perfectly fine to use the holiday as an excuse to go to bed early and dream that perhaps this time the veil will be thin enough for some magic to slip through.