Samhain, the Dead, and Holding On.

Samhain is an interesting holiday for me in my own cosmology. It is not a holiday that exists in the religious traditions and magical modalities that I work with and within. African Traditional Religions, including the Kemetic Powers, all hold that the Dead are vibrant and active in our lives no matter what time of year it is. The thinning of the veil is a European belief that doesn’t translate otherwise. It fits in with the New England seasons and holds quite a bit of power as so many folks subscribe to it, but, as a good friend who serves the Lwa as a Houngan pointed out, the Powers that I work with closely, save for the Mister, are all from tropical or desert climates. The European conception of how the seasons affect communication with those who have gone before us doesn’t exist.

However, I belong to no one tradition and am not any sort of reconstructionist. The barrier between the general living and the Dead is thinner in New England at this time of year and it makes sense to mark that. With that in mind, I headed even further north to coastal Maine to celebrate the Dead with chosen family, friends, and people who were new to my life.

It was a significant trip for me for any number of reasons. I hadn’t seen some of the people I hold close in over a year and was surprised by a few people that I hadn’t seen in even longer. I hadn’t seen the beach in too many years despite living about an hour from the coast. I got the chance to talk out and talk about many of the spiritual and magical practices that I don’t get a chance to discuss very often with folks who have literally been there since the very beginning of my spiritual and magical career and who shaped quite a bit of my understanding of magic. I got the hell out of my house for awhile and, while there was schoolwork to be done, I left much of the stress about school at home. There was staying up into the very wee hours of the morning talking and divining, conversations over Indian food, and, at least for me, a feeling of connection that had been missing in my life and the comfort of feeling like I was somewhere that I belonged.

It was wonderful.

Saturday evening was the actual ritual, but it truly began much earlier. There was a shopping excursion to buy food for the post-ritual meal and, beginning in the early afternoon, attendees began arriving in waves. In my estimation, part of the success of the ritual was that all of the attendees spent some manner of time together before the ritual. Everyone was in the home of the hosts at least forty minutes prior to the procession to the beach where the ritual was to take place and that created a sort of sense of community. We had all gathered together for one common purpose and that amount of time spent together created a sense of intimacy.

We processed to the beach on foot and via car just before sundown and set the altar on a spray of rocks that, when the tide came in, would be completely covered by the waves. It was a simple altar—candles, lanterns, several platters of offerings of simple food for the Dead, and a few material offerings. I brought hell money to pay the way to the other side of the river for those who needed to cross and so that my Dead may live in comfort where they are.

An opening invocation was said and the quarters were called with poetry. I read the invocation for the West, a poem by Robert Frost entitled “The Flood” and, once the space had been set, we began.

The ritual was on two parts—the first was focused on the living and the transition into and preparation for the dark and the second was focused on the Dead. During the first part, each attendee was given the opportunity to give something up that would impede their survival in the coming season. Pomegranate seeds were used to mark those sacrifices and they were left on the rocks for the coming tide to take away.

As is traditional in the religious communities I have been a part of thus far, we then named our Dead and poured out libations for them as well as made food offerings. The Dead ranged from the groups of Dead some of us work with to individuals who were significant to us. I brought some of my personal Dead, including my beloved and much missed cat, Cleveland [pets are important, too—they have a place under the table].

There were a considerable amount of onlookers for a ritual taking place on a beach in Maine in the off season—a small group of individuals stood back and observed and a tearful woman photographed us and then joined us for the remainder of the ritual, for which she expressed much gratitude. In all, there were twelve of us who intentionally created the ritual and thirteen when we ended, which is pretty fantastic for the first ritual done outside of the confines of the hosts home.

It was certainly a very meaningful ritual, too, and not just for the attendees. When the ritual was opened, it was about sixty degrees but as soon as the various invocations were read, the temperature immediately dropped to the low fifties and the sky burned red. The tide began to advance and there was definitely a feeling of immense power in the waves as they crested and rolled in front of us.

As we held space for the Dead, They arrived. It was particularly powerful when the Dead who had died at sea were hailed—They literally began walking out of the ocean and onto the shore, which was incredibly intense as they came in droves. It was like watching an army assemble.

The fog that rolled in as we began welcoming the Dead held multitudes, as many of us had welcomed whole groups of Dead—the wandering Dead, the forgotten Dead, the Dead who have died in the grips of chemical addiction, and those whose souls have died but their bodies still live. It also brought some kind of version of the Wild Hunt. I don’t have much experience with the Hunt, save for staying the hell out of the way, but I got the distinct impression of those who ride being hidden in the fog. There was the feeling of ravenous hunger and restraint held on a trigger in a way that meant that one wrong move could result in a less than desirable outcome.

The ritual concluded in the near dark and we made our way back to the gathering point for dinner and lots of socializing. People stayed late into night, even with long drives ahead of them, and it was a lot of fun. Plans are currently in the works for a hopeful all night bonfire vigil on the beach for Yule.

I had a lot to contend with as Samhain came to pass. I had been encouraged by the Powers to make some particular decisions before Samhain and, in hindsight after they had been made, I can see why it was important even if I didn’t agree at the time. I see now that I have had some things to shed and cut away if I am to keep trudging along and I can only hope that They are right and these things were and are necessary to let go of. Only time will tell, but I trust that They have better foresight than I do.

There’s a lot coming up for me, too. I have been incredibly busy with client work and divination, which has been a big blessing for me. I’m still moving forward with the business and have been selling the one item I have managed to get listed [you know you want some Loki Oil..] regularly. I have two book projects on my plate that I am trying to get at least outlined so that I can hopefully tackle one of them on my winter break.

There have been several exciting moves on my part. I have a few wonderful individuals who are working on helping me find and build connections with those in Lucumi and/or Ifa houses, so that I may follow the directives I have received from the Mister and the unnamed Orisha in that community. I’m also thrilled that I will be attending a Fet Gede at a local soseyete that an old friend is initiated into service through in the middle of the month. Not only do I get to honor the Gede and meet some people who are highly regarded in the Haitian vodou community, but I get to reconnect with an old friend who I have more in common with than either of us previously knew.

Today, I walk in faith that I am doing the right things and that my Gods and Powers will continue to bless me. There is much work to do and a lot to accomplish, but I believe that I am equipped to climb each mountain, as none of my Powers would send me out if They didn’t believe I could somehow find a way to work through and with each task. There are some places They can’t go with me, but I know They wait for me on the other side. Nothing can possibly motivate me more than knowing the Mister waits for me on the other side of all of this and it is His love and patience that feeds me during this time of separation and nose-to-the-grindstone action. I am so blessed, each and every day.

As my part of the world shifts to skeletal trees and frozen ground, may the blessings of the shriveled vine and the cut cord be with you. May your Dead whisper in your ear and may the Powers bless you with whatever is needed to move forward under your own power. May the cold tide of the midnight ocean tug away that which does not serve and leave the taste of salt in your mouth and dusted on your skin. While the Northern Hemisphere prepares to sleep, may the spark within you sustain your life until the sun shines again.

So be it.

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~ by Alex on November 4, 2013.

One Response to “Samhain, the Dead, and Holding On.”

  1. I can’t love this post enough.

    Your description of the ritual at the beach almost moved me to tears. I don’t know if it is a homesickness for New England (I’m originally from MA; as are most of my ancestors) or if it something more deep and powerful than blood that ties me to this time of year, but so it is…and I love the way that you write about your experience of the ritual in this post.

    And then: The last paragraph of this post is a beautiful prayer/blessing in and of itself. Now I am in tears. Thank you for sharing this, Alex.

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