We had our Samhain open ritual at the Long Man of Wilmington this past Sunday. According to the calendar date we were a little early, but as I spoke about in this recent blog post I don’t see the four Fire Festival dates as fixed to the human calendar. To me they arrive when certain natural forces occur. So Imbolc will be when the snowdrops deck the forests and hedgerows, or when I see the first Spring lambs born. Beltane when the hedgerows are dripping with May flowers (one Hawthorn in blossom does not Beltane make). Lughnasadh when I see the harvesters out in the field and John Barleycorn is making that annual sacrifice, and Samhain with the first proper frosts. Sure enough the icy-chill breath of the Cailleach arrived dead on time on Sunday.
About 60 of us made the trek up to the flat circular hill below the Long Man and there I cast the circle as the rim of the Cauldron of Annwn, calling forth the mists of the Otherworld to fill the centre of our circle, the veil to part, and for those who had passed away to hear our voices through the veil, to hear their names being spoken, to know that they are not forgotten, and that they live on in our hearts. It’s an important ritual for many people and we do it the same way each year. That familiarity creates a safe haven for open emotion and connection. We blessed the circle with fire and water, invited the Spirits of the Four Directions to be with us, and spoke the Gorsedd Prayer upon the hill, under the gaze of the Long Man, and the ancestors above.
Someone then stepped forward and spoke for the Fey, who are always with us, but who are closer still at the time of Samhain, as the Wild Hunt rides out. The next spoke for the Cailleach – the every-present Spirit of Death who walks beside us, and who’s hand takes ours when we are led across the veil. And then spoke the Ancestors, of blood, of spirit, of tradition. From those who were buried within the round barrows above the Long Man’s head, to those who have taught us, and those who gave us life, been a part of our lives as friends or relations, and have moved on.
We then invited anyone who wished to step into the circle, into the mists of the Otherworld, and speak out the names of loved ones who had passed away. To speak their names, not just “my Nan” for as long as that name is spoken out loud, into the air of this world, so they will never be forgotten, and with the veil of Samhain, thin and delicate, they hear their name being spoken from that Other place. There were tears. There are always tears. And that is good. As any magician will tell you the open expression of emotion in any act of magic can only add to the potency of the spell, or the moment, and it was truly apparent there within the Samhain circle.
After the names had been spoken, and we confirmed that people were complete, I then took the ashes of a beautiful friend to the edge of the circle, introducing who she is, why she wished to add her Spirit to the Spirits of Place and the ancestors of the hill, then scattered her ashes at the bottom of a small blackthorn tree. There she joins Alex Sanders, Doreen Valiente, and many of our other ancestors of our traditions who have chosen to be scattered upon this Sacred Hill.
As Eisteddfod was proclaimed we shared a symbolic feast with those whose names we had called, and poets, storytellers and singers gave their offerings. All around us small rainstorms were swirling, and within those storms many rainbows appeared, but the hill remained mostly dry, blessed occasionally by a gentle shower of rain.
Then the Rite was complete. We swore the Druid Oath of Peace together, filled the air with the Song of Awen, then thanked the Spirits of the Four Directions and I closed the circle, withdrawing the Otherworldly mist, and the Cauldron’s rim, from that place.
Then down to the Giants Rest for a pint.
I know how busy peoples’ lives are right now, and sometimes there just isn’t time for a ritual as complex as this, but I always think it a shame if people want to celebrate a festival, and be within its energies, yet for whatever reason let it pass by. Do that often, and a feeling of disconnect grows, and that isn’t a nice feeling. So if any part of the ritual above inspires you to include any of it in your evening tonight, tomorrow, or whenever you celebrate, please use what you wish! Even if it is as simple an act as leaving a vacant seat at your dinner table for the ancestors to join you, maybe with a candle upon the place mat, then make that your ritual. A photograph of a loved one placed on your altar, a candle lit in your window, bringing to mind someone who has passed away, none of these are massive time-consuming activities, but they help us to be connected with our paths, and honour the time of year.
Of course it might be that Samhain has nothing whatsoever with the Thinning Veil for you, in which case do whatever feels right for you. I’m certainly not trying to tell anyone what to do, just to maybe drop a little seed-thought of an idea for those who are searching.
Whatever you do, or are doing to celebrate Samhain here in the Northern Hemisphere, may you be inspired, and may the Wild Hunt pass you by!
Peace, and blessed be.