The month of October has been magical to me for as long as I can remember. Orange and black, dusky green, russet and brown--these colors appeared out of nowhere it seemed, and evoked a special sense of awe all by themselves. I knew instinctively from the first day of the month that the season was changing into a deeper autumn, the kind that gets cold and crisp just before the first snow of grey November. As a child, I associated colors with the months of the year: grey for November (stormy skies), deep green and holly red for December (evergreens and bright berries on barren shrubs for the winter birds), icy blue and grey white for January (wintry skies and bone chilling cold), pure white for February (a cleansing expectation of renewal), grey-toned greens for March (cold windy rains begin washing away the snow), spring greens, pale lavender, and yellows for April (budding trees and new life peeping up through the soil as crocuses and hyacinths), bright greens and brilliant colors for May (trees, shrubs, and flower beds in full bloom), deep blues for June (humid skies and cool lakes), pale blues and translucent greens for July (heat faded skies and plants), golden and pale yellows for August (wheat and corn crops harvested under full sun amid rising dust), deep maple reds, umber browns, and bright yellow orange for September (leaves turning colors), and then came Samhain with Indian corn, pumpkins, gourds, ghosts and witches everywhere.
The colors, flavors, and sensations of autumn have long influenced my decor, wardrobe, cooking and activities, being the season with which I feel the greatest attunement. There is an electric charge in the brisk air, invigorating and anticipatory, that peaks in October after its faint beginning in August and expansion through September. Languid summer gives way to a renewed zest for life. This is not the same as the renewal of life in March and April, however, for with Ostara there also comes that dreamy laziness called Spring Fever, when lying in the hammock inhaling the scent of flowers and fresh rain is the height of ecstasy.
But autumn brings to the senses a full awareness of life through the high contrast of impending death. The energy of the God, entered into the Earth at Lughnassadh, becomes palpable now, opening the way for the spirit to feel that there is nothing that may not be accomplished in the cool, sweet days before the shroud of winter covers all. The scent of the changing leaves, the crisp clean air, the crackling of internal energies all serve to stimulate activity aimed at preparing for the confinement of winter.
With all this animation it is no wonder that football season starts in the autumn when the excitement of the atmosphere can be spilled into outdoor competitions. I see football as a release for the natural energizing of the body for the hunting seasons of more primitive times.
Hunters today come into their element with October, stalking deer, pheasant, and other wild game through chilling woods and misting marshes, emulating the dark power of the God, for the God of Light has waned totally, moving among us now as the God of Shadow--the antlered, Horned Hunter.
Three Sabbats trine together beginning at Lughnassadh feasted with multigrain round bread and blackberry pies for the sacrifice of the God into the Goddess as Earth Mother; followed by Mabon celebrated with fresh pears, apples, grapes, and wine for the pregnant Goddess who walks alone upon the Earth and for the resurrecting God held in promise; and ending at Samhain commemorated with stuffed game hens, pumpkins, gourds, and squashes for the Crone and Lord of Shadows reunited in the restful realm of Underworld.
But the moment of triumph for the autumn is not at its humble incipience hinted in Lughnassadh, nor at its awakening energies in Mabon, but at that moment of transformation found in Samhain when all is Hallows.
Samhain is the culmination of the three Sabbats; the ending and beginning for the Wheel of the Year. Now is when the Lord of Shadows enters into the tomb of the Crone in preparation for his emergence from the womb of the Mother at Yule. This moment in Samhain is one of life triumphant for which Yule is the manifestation. In honor of the sacred time, all worlds open to one another in a period of holiness called All Hallows Eve--Hallow’ een, or Halloween. The veil between the worlds is thinnest now, lifting at midnight. Spirits rush back and forth as if in eager announcement of the reality of immortality. They seem to tell us to fear not the things that go bump in the night, for it is only they saying hello. That which today people identify as scary was in olden times called canny--meaning the sensation that strikes the immortal spirit within the mortal body when encountering unembodied spirits. The sharply sweet sensation is keenly anticipated, thrilled to in its presence, and missed with painful nostalgia when it passes--it is because of these wondrous feelings that speak to the spirit that people deliberately seek to generate such communion through the closest means possible with created haunted houses, scary costumes, and a night of roaming the neighborhood, ringing the doorbells of stranger’s houses, demanding treats to go away, all in the hope of attracting wandering spirits closer. The candy bag that is filled is symbolic of the tomb of the Crone being filled with the energy of the God, and when full, her tomb instantly turns into a life-giving womb as she changes into the Mother. This transformation of death into life enacted between the God and the Goddess is the sacred mystery of the Old Religion at the holiest time of the year for Witches and Pagans.
Carving a jack-o-lantern was always a family project when I was growing up. With my own children, there had to be a pumpkin for each to attack with knife and spoon atop a pile of opened newspaper with competition ensuing for the best, weirdest, funniest creation. The seeds would be squeezed from the slippery pulp, some for planting next season, the rest for roasting and later snacking. There has never been a year that I have not had a carved pumpkin, whether as a child, in college, single, wed, or with a growing family of my own--the jack-o-lantern always symbolized the season in one succinct image: the light shining from within. To light the carved pumpkin, we make a spirit candle. This is a white candle anointed with patchouli oil at the Samhain altar during the Sabbat ritual, which we hold early in the evening in order to accommodate the doorbell ringers. To make one for yourself, as the candle is anointed, say: “With this candle, by its light, we welcome spirits this Samhain night.” It is lit during the ritual, then placed inside the jack-o-lantern and set out by the front door. The pumpkin may be part of the ritual, blessed and consecrated at the altar in honor and memory of spirits passed and passing.
Also on the altar is an apple or a pomegranate which is blessed during the ritual as food for wandering spirits. After the ceremony, it is buried out back in the garden to remind the spirits of the promise of the Goddess as they consume the essence and refresh themselves during the night, for the pentagram lies at the core of the apple, while rest and revitalization in Underworld is found in the seeds of the pomegranate.
We end up, then, with a welcoming light at the front door and a meal at the back. This allows spirits to pass through, not to stay, for while we may form a tempting residence for spirits, we want to encourage them to continue with the journey of their destiny. For some it will be a period of recuperation in Underworld, for others it will be rebirth. But for family members who have passed on, for ancestors and the mothers of whose lineage we are the heirs, there is what is called the Dumb Supper. In my family, we light black candles and set a place at the supper table for the departed person. The meal itself for the spirit has varied over the years.
Usually, we place a chunk of whole grain bread on the plate with salt on it, and include a glass of beer, but sometimes, when it feels appropriate, we serve to the spirit the same meal as we are having.
During the supper, we speak of the deceased relative or ancestor, reminiscing about our times together, the person’s favorite things, or how important the ancestors are to us. In honoring the ancestors, we speak of the sacrifices and hardships endured by past generations, the warmth and love expressed in prior families leading up to our own, and our gratitude for their perseverance in hard times and for their contributions to who we are today. We invoke their blessings, and offer them ours. I know there are many who say this meal should be commenced backwards, setting the places widdershins, serving dessert first, going through the courses backwards, while eating in total silence. I feel this method is more likely to be used when you are invoking unknown spirits to partake of the supper as part of the simple feast of the Samhain Sabbat ritual, possibly including divinations and meditations in the process. But we celebrate the Sabbat using a loaf of dark bread and a dark wine or Opal Nera liqueur for Cakes and Wine, end the ritual, then have supper with spirits of the family and ancestors who are called upon at the start of the meal and farewelled at the end of the meal just as you would do for any living guest.
After the ritual and the supper, we always do divinations for the coming year, using the tarot cards in a twelve place spread (layout) for the year. Shuffle the deck until it feels right (usually the same pattern repeating is the signal to stop shuffling). On a large table top (we use the kitchen or dining room table), cut the deck into three stacks (right, center, and left), depositing the right from the bottom of the deck, the center from the bottom of the remaining cards, and finally the left is formed from the remainder of the deck. Reassemble into one stack by picking up the center stack and sitting it on top of the right stack, then setting this combined stack on top of the left stack. Now cut the deck into two stacks, placing the bottom half on the right and the remaining top half on the left. Taking cards from the top of the right side stack, place one card for each month of the year in a circle (not touching since there will be another round of cards after this one), starting with November at the top and ending with October of the following year to the left of the starting card. Now take one card at a time from the top of the left side stack, placing one on the left side of each of the cards you previously set out for the months in the circle, starting again at the top with November. You should now have a pair of cards (face up--if not, turn them over) for each month of the coming year. Read each month with the right card telling you the major event of that month, and the left card telling you what is the source influencing this event. By knowing what is in the air, as it were, you can then be prepared, or take action to alter things as you desire.
Apple cider, warmed and spiced with cinnamon to honor the dead, is served from a punchbowl throughout the night as we greet trick-or-treaters who come to the door. We usually consecrate caramel coated apples during the Samhain ritual, then snack on these later in the evening. Sometimes during the Sabbat ritual we write down resolutions, or things we want to banish from our lives, and burn them in the candle flame. The candle used in this case is buried at the end of the ritual, to either let something grow into fruition or to let it pass away. Each Samhain celebration is slightly different so that there is variety with every turning of the Wheel, just as each year of our lives differs in some way from the prior ones, yet the core of the Sabbat remains the same, just as each year of our lives is a continuation of the same life. The ethos of the night is such that you are open to the powers as much as they are open to you, and I have used this time for divinations, charms, spells, and automatic writing. The words that flow in the writing tend to be in rhyme but not always, with one of my favorites being the image of a lonely, round topped wagon, lit by a nearby campfire, with a dark figure dancing about it, and in the shadows, a watching wolf. Perhaps I was a Gypsy in a past life, or I glimpsed an ancestress silhouetted in a lively dance with skirts raised and legs leaping, on a vast hilly plain at night in the wilds of Nature:
“Tatters and homespun, dancing rags of black against firelight, arch of heavens, starry arboretum, fairy light and back lit horizons. Walker; wagon dweller; black wolf, dark eyes of the night staring forthright, unblinking. Lateen sailed Moon-ship, an outsider peeking in, sees the black legged spider becoming in dancing, the dance for the gods and the goddesses, looking at beauty not to claim, absorb or preserve it, but to live it, to be in life the art of living with joy and frolic, love, harming none, wrapped in the cloak of night, warding harm by the power of the stars and of life.” (Green Witchcraft II: Balancing Light & Shadow, Ann Moura, Llewellyn, 1999)
Late at night, when the children are no longer coming to the door, I like to return to my magic room, sit in the light of a single black candle with mugwort incense smoldering, and gaze into my black mirror. I have used this quiet time in different ways over the years, sometimes to see my own past lives, other times to call upon and honor the mothers of my ancestry, to travel to Otherworld or to Underworld, or to seek visions of the future. The power of Midnight, moment of transition for the God and the Goddess, holds me in full awareness of the transitions on my own life. My children are grown now, but they still enjoy the season, making their own jack-o-lanterns, going out into the night with friends, and following their own rituals. I have received from my mother as she received from hers, and I have passed along what I have received to my own children, as she did to me, and as I know they will to theirs. I feel a timeless circle and serene connection that spans the years and the generations, and there is comfort in knowing that I, too, am a full participant in the process of the life cycle, passing along what I can to others who will develop, adjust, trim, and embellish those patterns in the continuing creation of their own lives, as will those who follow them. The mystery of Samhain is not death, but life in transition, immortal, and unending.
©2001 Ann Moura and TWPT