That was a very different Samhain weekend and it’s not really a surprise as this has been a very different year!
On Friday night I stayed up to play an online concert for the people of Circle Sanctuary, the organisers of the Pagan Spirit Gathering in the USA. I’ve been over to play at PSG three times since 2010 and absolutely adore the community feel of that week-long camp. The organisers have always been so kind to me that when they asked if I could support them with a show I agreed right away. It would be live on a specific Facebook group created just for the event, and the video would stay there for a week afterwards, which was all good with me. I was then told that the gig would be at 7pm their local time – 1am in the morning here in the UK on the 31st October.
I knew I could do it. When I played on the Friday at CalderaFest in 2016 I’d just landed the day before so was full of jet lag, and went on stage at the equivalent of 1 am UK time. So I had a ‘Nana-nap’ at 7pm and watched TV for the evening.
At midnight I received a text from the organisers asking if I was about to log in…
Of course. The clocks had changed here since I was told about the 1 am time. I’d just made a coffee, but legged it upstairs and did some vocal warmups before I logged in about 10 minutes late. When I did my first few online shows it was a little odd, sitting there playing to a screen, but after every show I went downstairs, poured a beer, and read through everyone’s comments. It’s easy to see that everyone was enjoying themselves, and loving being with their friends, even in an online situation. After 10 online House Concerts, I’m very happy knowing everyone is there, listening, dancing, singing, just as people have done for years at my live shows. So I thoroughly enjoyed being with everyone at the Circle Samhain concert. I also started earlier than I’d expected, and the show ended at around 1.30 in the morning.
Of course I was full of energy, so didn’t go to bed until about 3…
Samhain arrived. Our home was already decorated with many orange things, and as evening fell we wondered if we would get any children at the door this year. Cerri carved a pumpkin, lit a candle inside, and put it outside, just so anyone who might be out knew they would be welcome. Only one group of children this year being led by a very apologetic parent. I’m guessing they hadn’t been well-received by some of the other houses they had called on. I know the jury is out on Trick or Treat, but I have no problem with it at all – it’s a night of chaos, a night when the Wild Hunt rides out. I can handle a few children knocking on the door. We had a large cauldron of goodies and answered the door masked up. It was all good.
On Sunday we would traditionally have been at the Long Man of Wilmington for our Anderida Gorsedd Samhain open ritual. Needless to say it couldn’t happen this year. Since the Spring Equinox Cerri had been writing ceremonies that could be done alone or with family in peoples’ homes, and posting them to the Gorsedd Facebook group. Then after people had done the ceremony they posted photos of themselves after the ritual. It’s been lovely. But the Gorsedd Samhain ritual lent itself to being live on Zoom. We had a chat and decided to have a go. I’d seen a few. Some had worked, some hadn’t. I felt that the key was to make it interactive rather than just sitting watching a screen. So we asked people to have a few things close by.
With everyone gathered on Zoom, I asked people to close their eyes, to imagine they were standing upon that sacred hill beneath the Long Man, and as I cast the circle to feel me walking behind them, casting the circle as the rim of the Cauldron of Annwn, upon which we all stood. I called forth the Mists of Annwn to be before us, through which those who had passed over could hear our words, hear their names spoken into the air of Abred. When the quarters were called we described what we would see were we looking out to each direction whilst standing on that sacred hill. Bringing the ritual even more to life.
What did I learn from the Zoom ritual?
Firstly, make sure the people who aren’t speaking are muted. It felt odd to mute people, but sometimes computer microphones can pick up sound from the speakers, and that is then broadcast to the entire Zoom group, and it sounds horrible.
We unmuted everyone for the Gorsedd Prayer and Oath of Peace. No, it didn’t sound like we were all standing together nice a clear. Yes, the sound of peoples’ voices was odd and a little mechanical, but it did at least sound like we were speaking in a group, and with a little imagination it was fine.
For those moments of community, when we spoke the Prayer and the Oath of Peace together, I asked people to close their eyes and imagine themselves once more standing on that sacred hill below the Long Man, then to reach out and take the hand of the person standing next to them, then to say the words together. It. Was. Emotional. Yes, in that inner space we could actually be together, close, touching hands. It felt so good.
A major part of the Gorsedd Samhain ritual is the Ancestral Roll Call. Having cast the circle as the rim of the Cauldron of Annwn and gathered the Otherworldly mists I asked anyone who wished to speak the name of a relative or friend who had passed over to raise their hand. Slowly all names were spoken – reaffirming that all the time they are remembered, they live. There were more names added this year of friends who had passed over. Each one invited to share a feast of apple juice, salt, honey and bread. Everyone had these close by so we shared that feast with each other, as the Bards made their offerings in the Eisteddfod.
Yes, we would all prefer to be out there on the hill, but this is what we have, and it really is a blessing to be able to do this, and keep the traditional open rituals going during the pandemic. One day, next year, our feet will climb that hill again, but until then we will continue to hold the rituals over the internet.
After the ritual the day was finished with an evening on Dungeons and Dragons. Another blessing that the internet helps keep in my life. I would have found this all so much harder had I not been able to kick off some steam as Gorik, the Human Barbarian, once a week.
So I wish you all a blessed season as the Cealleach spreads her wings here in the northern hemisphere, bringing the dark and cold.