"We need an article about Samhain." I have a pretty standard approach to writing articles like this. First, I discuss the pronunciation and history of the word. Then, I explore the history of the Sabbat and its ancient origins, tracing them up to modern times. Finally, I offer samples of various modern practices utilized by modern Witches, Wiccans, and Pagans around the world to celebrate the Sabbat.
Before the events of September 11, 2001, this would have been the outline for this article. Somehow, the puny attempt to discuss Samhain in this manner seems dwarfed by larger happenings in the world today. Most of my attempts to live life as I used to seem rather puny nowadays.
The truth of the matter is this: as Mabon, the autumunal equinox approached, we Pagans were preparing to greet the returning night for the hours of daylight were waning. We were gathering to pass through the gate that separates the light half of the year from the dark half of the year. Suddenly, violently, and heinously, we were all catapulted through that gate into a darkness that struck us far deeper than we knew at the time. Now, we have had an opportunity to exist in that shadow for a while, and we begin to realize just how dark the world is becoming as a consequence of that dreadful September morning.
So, Samhain is upon us now. There are the usual things to be said. It is the Witches' New Year and The Feast of the Dead. It is a time for remembering ancestors and giving thanks to those, whether animal or human, who have given up their lives so that the living can get on with the business of living. It is the night when we welcome the spirits into our houses and into our psyches. It is that moment in the Wheel of the Year when the veil between this world and the next is at its thinnest so that we may most accurately perform acts of The Sight, divination, soothsaying, and fortune telling. We know it as the entrance onto the Celtic winter when, with the long hours of darkness, we can be introspective, contemplative, and wander the darker recesses of our spirits as we can no longer labor outside into the evening hours.
So, what exactly is the meaning of Samhain for us Witches, Wiccans, and Pagans in the aftermath of September 11, 2001?
Let us be remarkably honest with ourselves: we are not Christians. We are not required to walk paths of lightness, love, and forgiveness 24/7, although this option is available to us, certainly. However, this is Samhain, and we are Pagans. We recognize, welcome, and try to understand the darkness, the shadows, and the night. These are not merely symbols: these are very real and quite factual in their existence. As Pagans, Witches, and Wiccans, we know that darkness does not equal "Evil." We should not fear these roads less traveled by. Thus, we are free to walk these twilight paths, if we so choose. We have the freedom to amble down by-ways that pierce and curve our fears, that traverse those parts of ourselves which we really would rather not look at. Our philosophy does not declare such journeys as sinful or forbidden. In fact, we undertake such travels secure in the knowledge that the spring equinox comes in March and with it, the return of the light. We hold onto this knowledge, and it acts as our beacon during the process of realization and discovery which, of necessity, takes us into the dark.
Realizing all of this, how do we approach Samhain this year? When we gather in our covens, circles, groves, and groups, or when we prepare ourselves as solitary practitioners of our spirituality and of our art, let us remember what occurred on September 11, 2001. Let us remember the dead who may, to some of us, be faceless and nameless, but who were all connected to other people in webs of love, support, and devotion. Let us remember the families and friends of the dead, for they grieve and face a loss or an emptiness which most of us cannot guess at. Still, if we areweavers of energy and manipulators of forces that the eye does not see, we could feel this pain if we tried. This is a time to try.
Let us cast our Sight across the great puzzle of life and death because if we do so, we will see the rents and the tears in the fabric of the cosmos wrought by the events of this day. We must realize that it not only one day: it was years of days in planning and in making. So, let us also cast our Sight into the hearts and minds of the perpetrators, the planners, and the conspirators to discover the reasons why people from a faith which calls for peace would act so inhumanely with such great spiritual conviction. We, as Pagans, Witches, Wiccans, and manipulators of the other worldly forces might be the only people on the earth who are a) capable of "going there," and b) capable of coming back from there with any real insight. It would be a form of post-apocalyptic shamanism, done on a scale never before contemplated. It is time to contemplate such a scale.
In short, let us rise up as a spiritual people on Samhain, when the veil is thinnest, and look into the darkness to see what is in it. Let us really try to wrap our heads around it and understand it. In understanding, there may be a way out of this mess.
Part of that understanding is this: the Dark Goddesses will have their due, as we are so frightfully reminded. Their aspects walk among us no matter how much we try to whitewash them or sanitize them. The ancient deities of death, destruction, and war are very much alive, no matter the monotheistic, patriarchal rhetoric in which they are clothed. What the monotheistic patriarchs forget, however, is the light-in-darkness theory that we Pagan folk know. Despite Her fearful visage as Mother Death or the Queen of Phantoms, the Morrigan was also Ana the Virgin; Kali was the Dark Mother, but She was also the womb and the giver of life; Athena waged war on the Trojans, but She also brought wisdom, sustenance in the form of the olive tree, and beauty in the form of art to the people of Her city.
Let us help the world remember what the world will have a tendency to forget: that even in the darkness, there is a speck of light somewhere which will eventually transform into an inferno of blazing reality. That is the way the pendulum swings and the way that the wheel turns. We must help the world to remember that even in this dark time, there is much to be grateful for.
Finally there is this: the Pagan community grapples with the issues of waging war versus the opportunity to heal great breaches in humanity's net of understanding and of tolerance. We align ourselves with mighty predators such as hawks, eagles, owls, bears, wolves, the cats in all their forms, dragons, and snakes. These are forces of nature which live according to the call of instinct and survival. Justice and mercy are our concepts, not theirs. We call upon deities rich with dark power such as Hecate, Hades, Cerridwen, Kali, and Odin. Look at them carefully before you invoke these or call their names. Be certain of what you call forth when their names pass your lips. We are a modern people who are, perhaps, too squeamish for such primitive and elemental forces. Beauty and ugliness, pain and well being, war and peace, killing and mercy, vengeance and understanding?should all have their place in the Pagan view of the cosmos. Each of us, as individuals, must weave these threads into the fabric of our being and come to an acceptance of the cloak it creates. There is no better time to do this than at Samhain.
I remember that as the Gulf War was waged a decade ago, a call went out among the Pagan people at Imbolg to bring the war to an end. It had gone on long enough, we decided.. Like so many others, I came together that night with a group of like-minded Pagans, and we made magic for the ending of conflict in Kuwait. Not long thereafter, open warfare in Kuwait stopped.
Then, as now, I believe in the power of magic. I believe in our power to affect the world. Samhain opens a door between this world and the next. All the power of the present world and the Other World is available to us at this time. This Samhain, do not squander that power. Make the most of the opportunity presented, howsoever you view it. The magic we make could change history.
Dana D. Eilers