Ever since we started holding our Samhain rites outdoors in 1997, I’ve always worried about the weather for that weekend. November in Michigan isn’t usually warm by anyone’s standards, and some of our Samhain evenings have been barely above freezing. I think we actually had a light snowfall during one of them. So after last weekend’s frosty Halloween night, I was thrilled to see forecasts of high 50s and no rain for this past weekend! Between that and the article on us in AnnArbor.com last weekend, I was hoping for a larger than average turnout for our first more-than-just-rituals Samhain weekend.
Sadly, things got off to a rocky start as I had to work late, and didn’t get to the site until 7:30. And since this is Samhain, I had to be the one to kindle the Grove Flame for the coming half of the year, so everyone who did manage to get there on time had to wait in the freezing – well, 45 degree – dark until I got there. And of course, this was the one Fire Watch where we had more than four people there on time. I think I counted around 15 figures waiting in the gloom for us. Oops! Memo to self: next Samhain, start at 8, not 7.
Once the fire was lit and blessed, things went far more smoothly. Jude also had to work late, but all of the other officers were there, so we did our traditional swearing in of the new Leadership Council just a little behind schedule. Then Kestrel led us down to the nemeton for a quick hof blessing, where we added rocks to the Norse altar and made it look a lot, er, rockier? Well definitely more altarlike. And a Winternights rite to honor the dead. Kestrel did write up a script for us, which I’ll put on the Grove Web site as soon as I manage to decode the handwriting. >8)
Then back up to the fire circle, where Gen and I gave a rambling talk about the chthonic gods of the ancient Greeks. It’s always hard to tell whether your audience is really interested when you’re giving a talk around a fire on a cold night, or if they just need warmth. But several people did tell me later how much they enjoyed it, and the new folks who said they’d gained new insight into how to view the gods was especially touching.
So home I went with the Flame, and spent the rest of the evening checking e-mail and smelling the fire’s smoke on my hands. Always a powerful sensation, especially given how little I can usually smell. The next morning, I caught an early bus to get back to Botsford, with a stop at Dollar Tree for soda for the potluck and Halloween candy for the afternoon rite, and got there a bit after noon. The weather was gorgeous, it felt like 60 and the skies were cloudless!
At 1 o’clock we had a fair sized group assembles already for Nancy’s workshop on jewelry making, which I didn’t see because I was setting things up, and anyway when am I ever going to make jewelry?
The afternoon rite got started as close to on-time as our rituals ever do. >8) We went to the nemeton to honor Ana and Lugh, and six children and sixteen adults decorated popsicle sticks and decorated the Ana stone with them. The omen was good (Ansuz – Gebo – Teihwaz) and the energy level was the light and pleasant one I prefer for the early rite.
Back up at the Fire Circle, we had our usual raffle and potluck (and went through nearly all of the food that had been brought, very unusual!), and then Barbara demonstrated wool spinning and Sean had the children make construction paper “greeting cards” for the Ancestors altar for the evening rite. As more folks showed up for said rite, we got to work making our traditional luminaria with paper bags, tealight candles, and sand. Rod and Sean set up the tiki torches in the ritual circle using the last of the lamp oil we bought three years ago, and still it was warm out!
By the time we were ready to get started, it was fully dark outside, but the luminaria lit our way down the path to the nemeton, and the torches lit the circle very nicely. At least, until the oil ran out in most of them about twenty minutes into the rite. >8) I’m kinda torn about that, actually – I liked having the place lit up, but having things slowly get dark as we called the Ancestors into the circle had its own kind of charm. After the opening invocations, we called upon Manannan to be in the circle with us, and then in a new twist we thought up at the Liturgists’ Roundtable meeting, asked folks to call upon gods of death and psychopompery from other cultures, which I thought went well. I’d have preferred to get people to actually volunteer in advance like we’d wanted, but that’s a disappointment I’ve had to get used to for all kinds of ritual plans. But enough people were willing to do it off the cuff that I still think it worked.
After that, we passed the Ancestor doll (aka “Uncle Fester”) around the circle twice, once for folks to call upon their Ancestors to be present, and again for the individual praise offerings. We then did group praise by throwing flax seed into the fire, and since we apparently didn’t have the whiskey offering I thought we were going to use for the main sacrifice, I threw the rest of the flax into the fire for one big crackling burst of light. The omen was again good (Inguz – Berkana – Raido, I think, I may be transposing the first two runes), and the energy of the rite had the deep energy that I prefer for the evening rite.
Back up at the Fire Circle again, we had a lovely table set up where I placed the Fester doll and those of us who had brought food for the Ancestor Supper placed portions of the food on a plate for the Ancestors. Sadly, most of the 32 attendees ignored this lovely event and stayed over at the potluck table filling their own plates. That and the meager $81 in donations we got for a weekend that cost us $100 for the site fee plus a bit more for ritual props and copying costs was a bit of a downer for me personally. After all of the work that I and others put into making this magical (in more ways than one) weekend happen, that was a bit of a metaphorical face-slap. To think that if I took half the energy I put into providing open public ritual and spent it teaching New Age crystal Reiki nonsense for $90 an hour, I’d not only be able to support myself a Hek of a lot better than my flower delivery job lets me do, ugh. And it also keeps hitting me that if we moved the ritual to one of our indoor sites, we’d probably lose a lot less money on it, even if we did get fewer people in attendance. Still, the number of people who told me after the rite how beautiful and powerful the experience had been for them, and how many of them want to work on the ADF Dedicant Program in the coming year, did make me feel a little better.
And as with last year, since I still haven’t been able to get my car on the road again (see aforementioned comment about supporting myself), we had to get the whole site cleaned in the dark. Which actually went a lot better than it did last year, in part because it was still very warm and not at all damp, and a few people did stay late to help.
So yeah, all in all a good Samhain weekend, and I’m glad we expanded it and added workshops this year. I just wish I could find a way to make the event both spiritually compelling and not a money loser for us.
Next week, some commentary on the nature of dealing with ancient cultures, the gods they honored, and the beliefs that they held.
Rev. Rob Henderson
Senior Druid, Shining Lakes Grove, ADF