Sabbats

Making Magic: A Tender’s View of a Samhain Ritual

We gather in a heritage hall on my island home for our Samhain ritual.  Warm bodies squeeze close together to form a circle of pagan and non-pagan folks, grownups and children, and even a couple of dogs, with the room filled to capacity.

As a Tender for our community ritual, my role is to be a guardian and observer as we enter the mysterious, powerful, sorrowful experience of Samhain.

It’s been a hard, heartbreaking year for our community. The Ancestors altar is covered with photographs and mementos of those that have passed. There have been many deaths, and the tragic loss of two precious youth in one September weekend that shook this island to its core. I feel this collective grief in my own heart, and in this gathering. Samhain is the time when we honor and name those we’ve lost this year, and commune with our Beloved Dead.

Yet there’s more than grief and loss in the room. At the opposite end of the cycle of life are the youth, our children, and the souls waiting to be born. These beings we honor on the Descendants altar, and through the naming of the newborns this year.

I stand beside the Ancestors altar with another priestess. Across the circle from us, two priestesses stay by the Descendants altar. The four us will be calling in the Ancestors and Descendants, and then shifting into paired partners of Deep Witness and Tender.

The Deep Witnesses don’t actively participate in the ritual. They sit — veiled, empty and silent — acting as anchors and observers of the deep dream of our magic. I’m one of the Tenders. Our priestess role is to support and protect our Deep Witness, and to stay by her side for the duration of the ritual.

As the ritual begins, I notice that I feel different than my usual, high-intensity magical engagement. I’m somber, watchful and empty present — a guardian and observer of the Deep Witness and our community as we enter the powerful, mysterious and mournful experience of Samhain.

Together we create sacred space. The circle is cast. We ground.  The Elements are called in through song.  Goddesses and other Mysteries are invoked.  Our priestess group calls in the Ancestors and Descendants.

I listen from the edge of the circle, attuned to the movements of bodies, weaving of energy, and quality of presence, more than the individual words and actions.  I step forward to do my calling in task, and then settle into my role as Tender.

I notice the seamless sharing of leadership, power and space — the many priestesses working together to co-create this magical experience for our community. The talent and expertise in this room are immense, diverse, breathtaking, yet I don’t sense inflated egos, jealousy or competition. 

We move on to the reading of the names of the dead who have passed this year — what is remembered lives. And the dead come, slipping past the veil that separates us, to drink of our grief, our love, and our honoring.

I notice how natural this is, how right for us to be with our honored dead in these ways. They move among us, touching the faces of their beloved kin with their hands of light, soothing the broken hearts of those left behind, letting us know that they are still with us, just a thought, a name, a song away.

Two priestesses begin to trace a path in the center of the circle, one drumming and together weaving a hauntingly beautiful guided trance to the Isle of Apples, the Pagan Land of the Dead.  Everyone settles into a comfortable position, and makes their way to the blessed Isle to commune with their Beloved Dead.

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Ritual Credit: This Samhain ritual practice arises out of the Reclaiming Tradition of Witchcraft.

Photo Credit: Janko Ferlič on Unsplash

A Samhain Teaching: Born Into Life, Born Into Death

The natural world and our human psyches turn toward the mysteries of death at Samhain. Cold and darkness descend upon the land, and the wild world shifts into decay and a death-like sleep. In many cultures, this time of year is marked by offerings and rituals to honor the dead, our beloved ancestors.

Death strips us to the basics: every breath is a miracle not to be wasted; every life is precious, sacred; and love, at the end of all things, is what remains.

Usually we don’t like to think about death. Most of us run as fast as we can from the frightening specter that decline and death conjure in us. It is the ultimate irony that the moment we are born into life, with our very first breath, we are also born into death. And we must live every moment, every breath, knowing that we will die, and that everything around us, all that we love and cherish, will eventually come to decay, to death, to dust.

Samhain teaches us that there is no hiding from death. It comes in the falling of leaves, the lengthening darkness and the cold grip of Winter. It comes in our remembrances of our beloved ancestors that have passed on. It comes in the wrenching of our heart as we witness a dear one slip from this world into the next. It comes with the graying at our temples, the sagging of our flesh and the unstoppable march toward our last breath.

And death comes with gifts in hand if we have the courage to show up raw and naked to our pain, losses and fears.

Death strips us to the basics:
that every breath is a miracle not to be wasted;
that each person, each creature and life form, is worthy, precious, sacred;
that life is oh so hard and oh so exquisite;
that pain and loss help us remember what we cherish most;
and that love, at the end of all things, is what remains.

Love is death’s most precious gift to us. Love, not money, possessions, career, social esteem and the many other alluring outer trappings of life, is the balm that soothes us in the face of death. Love is what connects us to those who have passed on. Love calls us to reach out and hold each other in our grief. Love is what joins us heart to heart and soul to soul to another. Love is our best offering from our Deep Self to the world.

Samhain is a time to contemplate the mysteries of death, not from a place of fear and resistance, but from an acceptance of death as a teacher and guide for the living. Yes we are born into life and born into death, and it is this very, inescapable fact that makes every moment so precious, fragile and bittersweet beautiful.

Death isn’t a summons to fear, it is an invitation to love, deeply, wildly, joyfully. And when death seeks us out at the end of our days, let our last breath be a prayer to love.

Excerpt from: A Path of She Book of Sabbats: A Journey of Soul Across the Seasons. Available in ebook and paperback--visit the Path Store.

Photo Credit: freestocks.org on Unsplash

Fall Journey: The Sacred Dark, Persephone and Your Hera Path

With the arrival of Fall, change is in the air as the seasons of light and life turn once more to those of darkness and death. One cycle through these elemental forces comes to an end and another begins. The Fall Equinox is the tipping point, a brief time of balance between light and darkness, before the living world surrenders itself to the waxing powers of the sacred dark.

Follow in Persephone’s footsteps. Begin your hera journey. Descend into the sacred dark in search of the deep roots of your next cycle of spiritual growth.

Light and dark modulate Nature’s primal cycle and responses. The weakening rays of the sun, nip of frost in the air, and ever-increasing erosion of daylight hours speak in the language of physical matter, and plants and creatures listen, adapting their appearance and habits in preparation for the coming Winter — trees shed their autumn foliage; plants give up their harvest, and then wither away; birds and animals shift into to their fall patterns of migration, hibernation, and stockpiling foodstuff for the barren days ahead.

These are the natural rhythms and ways of Mother Earth and Her wild inhabitants, dialed into a seasonal cycle that honors darkness equally to light, and balances times of outward activity and growth with inward focus and repose. In Fall, life instinctively returns to the rich, potent mysteries of the sacred dark where every new cycle and new beginning finds its deep roots and origins.

You too are an inhabitant of Mother Earth, with your primal instincts connected to these natural rhythms and cyclical powers of light, life, darkness and death. The softer light, colder weather and shorter days speak to your creature body, prompting you to make changes in your life.

On a physical level, this may mean wearing warmer clothes, eating different foods, spending more time indoors, or turning the heat up on your thermostat. Deeper still, on the level of soul, you can follow Nature’s lead by slowing down, making room for repose, and reflection, and turning inward to the realm of the sacred dark to seek out the deep, spiritual roots of your new cycle on your journey of soul.

Here, in the rich, potent mysteries of the sacred dark, you can source these deep roots of your spiritual growth in the secret desires, hidden treasures, lost stories, sleeping potential, and other gifts that can inspire and guide your spiritual pathwork of transformative change in the weeks, months and seasons to come.

Every Fall, a new cycle of transformative change begins in the potent depths and great unknown of the sacred dark. Yet we don’t heed this primal truth in our busy, modern lives. We’ve been trained to look outside of ourselves for meaning and direction, limiting our awareness to the material, well-lit world of the things we already know and understand. We’ve forgotten and fear the transformative mysteries of the sacred dark, of Nature, of soul, and of the Goddess.

Every Fall, the Goddess Persephone reaches out with Her ancient story to help you remember and reclaim these transformative mysteries. Persephone’s tale comes from Greek mythology, and is founded in much older Goddess tales of the hera’s journey of descent and return from the Underworld.

On your Fall Journey, Persephone can guide your hera journey of descent into the rich depths of the Underworld realm of the sacred dark, sourcing its hidden mysteries and gifts as you seek out the deep roots of the new cycle of spiritual growth emerging for you at this time. 

Persephone’s tale can inspire you to gather the courage and commitment to embark on your own hera journey. As you travel this ancient path, following in Persephone’s footsteps by your own choice and freewill, much will be asked of you. You begin this journey when you step beyond the border of your comfortable, known world, and open yourself to the vast, unknown realm of the sacred dark. This isn’t a journey you can control or predict. Trials may arise to test and grow you. Your fears of the dark, the unknown, and the shadow places within you may be triggered.

These things are to be expected and honored, because the Underworld, like life, is meant to test and hone you through challenges and trials. Yet great gifts and treasures also await your discovery, because what you seek is nothing less than the deep roots and wholeness of your true, beautiful Self.

Your Fall Journey, through integrated writings, activities and a guided meditation, helps you explore and embrace these powerful teachings, and make them your own as you set off on your hera journey in search of the new cycle of spiritual growth that‘s stirring for you in the depths of the sacred dark at this time.

Open to Nature’s invitation to heed the strengthening, elemental powers of darkness. Embrace the sacred dark in your spiritual pathwork of transformative change. Follow Persephone’s lead, and begin your own hera journey of self-discovery, spiritual growth and wholeness. Call up your fierce courage. Step past your fears. Leave behind the things that bind and block you from your deep roots and wholeness. Then descend into the mysteries of the sacred dark, within and without, and let them guide your Fall Journey in search of the deep, spiritual roots of your new cycle in the fall season.

Fall Journey – You Hera Path: Seeking Your Spiritual Roots

Step beyond the world you know.

Discover the transformative mysteries of the sacred dark.

Claim the deep roots and hidden gifts of the next cycle on your journey of soul.

Your Fall Journey awaits you!

 

Photo Credit: Annie Spratt on Unsplash

A Fall Equinox Story: It’s Time For Your Awakening

The path of spiritual growth and evolution first leads us into the dark. The lost parts of our selfhood and humanity — hidden treasures obscured amongst the shattered fragments of our pain and wounding, mysteries long repressed and forgotten in the waking world, secret stories that can set us free, wondrous possibilities not yet imaginable — await us in the sacred dark.

At the Fall Equinox, the sacred dark opens a portal that beckons you into its depths, and a new cycle on your journey of spiritual growth and wholeness.
A Fall Equinox Story

It’s the cusp of the Fall Equinox. I’m at a secluded Buddhist retreat center. The focus of our dharma talk is love. The teacher rings the bell to start our meditation. Within a few breaths, a vision comes to me. The wooden floor gapes open and reveals a stairway. A man is standing on the stairs, his hand extended to me. I can sense him more than see him. He emanates a powerful elixir of animal magnetism and ethereal beauty, as if he is equally woven of flesh and of light.

“Come,” he says, “it’s time for your awakening.”

I take his hand and descend into the waiting darkness.

So began a new cycle on my journey of soul, one that returned a precious missing part of my humanity and womanhood to me — my beloved — God, man, husband, father, brother, son and my own inner masculine. The promised awakening was one that led me over and over again to lost pieces of my Self and life story that held both my beauty and wounding, and the light and dark of my greater maturity and wholeness.

For the next several years, this soul work of reclaiming my beloved became the central theme of my dreaming, magical workings and personal healing, mending a tear in my soul that I’d carried since my early childhood, and lifetimes before. In the end, I came to the infinite grace and communion of love, with myself, with God and with the men and boys who blessed my life.

Persephone’s Tale

This vision isn’t unique to me. As the wheel of the year turns to the Fall Equinox — a moment of balance between the light and the dark, before the land retreats from the sunlit world of Summer into the cold sleep of Winter — a portal opens to the Underworld and the Goddess Persephone makes Her mythic descent into the sacred dark.

Persephone is a stunning Goddess maiden, full of the juice and joy of Her worldly powers and nature. But She is incomplete in the sunlit realm of Her Mother Demeter. The Underworld calls Her to seek out the missing parts of Her nature in the sacred dark. Persephone descends and walks among the dead and the rich mysteries of the Underworld, drinking in bitter tears and hidden magic. And She grows and matures through Her trials and sorrows.

In Spring, the powers of life call to Persephone once more. She stirs in Her Underworld travels, turning Her awareness to the rustling of green grass, freshening winds, and the life-inducing heat of sunshine on the waking landscape. She returns to the sunlit realm, no longer a maiden, but a Goddess transformed into Her full maturity and wholeness, Queen of the Underworld and Goddess of Springtime Growth. As Her feet touch the living Earth, flowers bloom in Her path, for Hers are the powers of transformation and rebirth.

Persephone’s tale is one of spiritual growth and evolution, woven of the ancient ways of the Goddess that remind us that we’re meant to live big, bold lives, sourced from our unique configuration of beauty, wounding and power. But these things don’t come easy. We must descend into the Underworld and claim the dark of our humanity as the twin and beloved of the light.

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Photo Credit: Photo by Will Fuller on Unsplash

Lammas: Lugh and the Miracle of the Harvest

Though the heat of Summer still burns bright and strong, the sunlit hours wane with every passing day. Now is the time of Lammas, the pagan Sabbat of the early harvest. Lugh, the Celtic God of light, waits for you on the summit of a hill, ready to guide you in the mysteries of life and rebirth held within the living land and your living body.

At Lammas, Natures reveals the miracle of the harvest: within everything is the seed of a new season, with its promise of a fresh beginning and future harvest.

The sun has begun is downward arc toward the horizon, and a panoramic view of golden fields, ripe for the early harvest, spreads out before you.

“Behold the great exchange of life,” Lugh says, “the mysteries of sunlight turned into grain to feed the hungry bellies of this world. But there is a price for this miracle: something must die to nourish the living, and for something new to be born. Everything has its season. One cycle ends so another can begin.”

With a wave of His hand, the scene shifts, revealing the elemental forces that underlie the golden fields. All is not well. The earth is parched and barren. The air is filled with contaminants. The fire heat of the sun is too harsh. The water in the nearby stream is clouded with murky sludge.

“Like the turning of Nature’s cycle of light and life at Lammas, humanity is also coming to the end of a cycle,” Lugh says, “For too long, your kind has forgotten the ways and rhythms of the Mother Earth. You have taken, and taken, and taken, despoiling the air, water and land that sustain you. This imbalance has come to an end point, and a reckoning is upon you.”

Lugh is grave and silent, leaving you to consider the import of His words. The stark evidence of humanity’s environmental excesses and disregard surrounds you. The Mother Earth is weighted down and weary, with Her fragile, precious systems stressed and failing.

“I don’t share these things to burden you with a vision of despair,” Lugh continues, “Look to Nature as your guide, with its Lammas teaching of the miracle of the harvest. Within everything is the seed of a new season, with its promise of a fresh beginning and future harvest.

“You too have come to the end of a cycle,” Lugh says, “and your personal healing and evolution are intimately intertwined with that of humanity and the Earth.

“The imbalance you see before you is also inside of you, side by side with your personal imbalances and discontent, and those of your human society. And the seeds of the new are there as well, within your living body and life story. With these seeds, you can mend and renew your life and this world.

“But there is a price to be paid for this miracle. Something must die, must be sacrificed, for something new to be reborn. You must be willing to change in profound ways.”

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Photo by Emma Van Sant on Unsplash