So when my Samhain preparations began in earnest on Thursday, things started out both well and not-so-well. I left the plates for the Ancestors Plaque at the etching store, and it looked like everything there was going well, so I called Don to make sure he knew we were coming to the preserve this weekend. I thought we had left him a newsletter last time so he’d know when our Samhain was, but I wanted to make sure. Well, no, he’d had no idea we were coming this weekend, had thought we were coming last weekend because “don’t you usually do something at Halloween?”, and had tried calling me on my haven’t-used-it-or-paid-for-it-for-eleven-months old phone number – and had heard my message on the voice-mail and left me a message. Seriously, T-Mobile? I can understand your not assigning the number to someone else yet, but you didn’t see fit to disable the damn thing? Visions of eleven months of inquiries about our Grove and our rituals never being answered danced angrily through my head as I went home to pack and get the orders of service and my Greek ritual script ready.
Friday went smoothly enough at work, giving me time to go to the store for ritual supplies, get the newly-etched plates for the Ancestors Plaque reattached, and getting the orders of service printed up. I got to Botsford at 6:30 to get the firs started, only to discover that the big fire-lighting matches I keep there had been moved from their dry safe spot and the striking board wouldn’t ignite them. This being one of the two rituals where we have to rekindle the Grove Flame, I hadn’t brought a lit candle from home as I try to do for the fire lighting, but Don had a propane igniter and I did manage to get it going. A new person showed up at… 6:35? Not sure what she was expecting to see 25 minutes before the official starting time, besides me putting wood on a fire. Folks did start to arrive a bit after 7 and we got the fire blessed at 7:30. The swearing in of the officers for the coming year was delayed by Rodney not being there yet, one phone call plus fifteen minutes later he arrived and we took our oaths.
In full darkness now, we laid out the food we’d brought for the Ancestors’ Supper, and sat around the fire talking about our Ancestors for a little while. Last year we’d tried to do this after the Saturday evening rite, but I think all of five of us went over to the table where we had it set up, with everyone else grabbing potluck food and socializing with each other and ignoring my requests to join us in sharing food with the Ancestors. It’s not often that I’m disappointed in the piety of Neo-Pagans, since my concept of it is pretty loose, but that was definitely one of those times. Determined not to let that happen again, we moved it to Friday this year, and even though there were only nine of us present at that point, we were all taking part, and that felt a lot better to me.
After changing into my white chiton (with shirt and trousers on underneath, even by my standards it was getting cold), we got the ritual to Demeter underway. I’d first intended to do it at Lughnasadh three months ago, but hadn’t come up with any good theme for it, and our attendance that weekend was abysmal, so I decided to hold off on it until Samhain weekend. After discussing it at An Bruane on Tuesday, and further discussions with Gen, we hit upon a good plan: a sort of mini-Thesmophoria, where we would offer terra cotta pigs into a pit, along with libations, and dig up the pigs on the night of our Beltaine Fire Watch to be given out to the participants. I assembled a script from the basic Noumenia outline I’d used at Midnight Flame, plus Callimachus’ hymn to Demeter, which talked about her sad wanderings in search of her daughter just like the Homeric hymn did, but in about one-fifth the space. (Hey, if the Hellenes had had to perform rituals in 35 degree Fahrenheit weather, they’d have kept it short too!) We got a few of the smaller tiki torches lit and carried them, along with the libations, to the nemeton – there’s definitely something awesome about a torchlight processional! And then I found that the torches were bright enough to read by, so that was a bonus, not having to hold a flashlight to read the hymn. We dug a small hole between the Well and the herm, and made the offerings there, and filled the hole back up before returning to the fire circle. I only stayed for a little while after that, thankfully the Kellers stayed the night to keep the fire going. I brought the new Grove Flame home and got it into a seven-day candle, where I see it burning brightly even as I type this.
The next morning, I made sure I had all the supplies we needed for the rites, and amazingly, I did! So no need to go into town early for more shopping. I ran into heavy traffic in Ann Arbor at 11:45 for a football game that was scheduled to start at noon, and I had to resist the urge to roll down my window and shout, “THE GAME STARTS IN FIFTEEN MINUTES, WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU PEOPLE?” I was at the preserve at noon, Rodney got there not too long after that, and we managed to get both the fire circle and the nemeton set up by about 1:20. Candy brought the new donation box she’d made for us, with the Grove logo hand-painted on it, which looks great!
It warmed up to somewhere around 45 degrees when we got the afternoon rite started. Fifteen of us (including a whole two children, Damon and Dylan, for the “family friendly” half of our Samhain rites) went to the nemeton to honor Ana and Lugh’s reunion for the dark half of the year, and decorated the nemeton with pipe cleaners – oops, I mean “chenille sticks” – and craft sticks and ribbon. The omen was good (Berkana – Nauthiz – Eiwaz) and we drank the sparkling grape juice that Sean was kind enough to get us when both Candy and I forgot to bring the Meijer Goblin Juice we’d both meant to bring.
Back up at the fire circle, we had our usual raffle and potluck, and then I did the brief “how to use the Greek Alphabet oracle” presentation and Val did her workshop on Roman household religion that we’d both originally intended to do at Lughnasadh. (Funny how so much of this weekend seemed to be things from Lughnasadh that we didn’t have enough people to do then!) All of two people showed up for the “drumming circle” that Don had told me would be there from 4 to 8, and they ended up joining in our festivities, despite not having any idea what Samhain or paganism were.
Several of us got the luminaria assembled and set up in plenty of time, and I think we could actually have started on time at 6:45 if I’d really wanted to! But no, I’m too inherently nice and I knew that people would have a hard time finding the place in the dark, plus several folks ran off for coffee right before the appointed time anyway. So at around 7:15 a grand total of 26 of us processed to the nemeton. I’d forgotten that we had talked about actually having orders of service printed for the evening ritual, even after Gen ordered the mini-flashlights from Oriental Trading so people could read them. Sadly, this also meant that I didn’t have a sheet to work with, so I had to run the ritual from memory. It actually went pretty well, except that I called Manannan earlier than I’d originally intended, we usually call him, after the other Kindreds but before the Ancestors, making him sort of a co-Deity of the Occasion along with the Ancestors, who aren’t a Deity but you know what I mean. I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised when I realized I’d made that mistake, after all the early signs were that Manannan wouldn’t be as heavily involved in the rite this time. And then I forgot that we’d planned to pass a bottle of whiskey for Manannan as the focus object for individual praise, too. Let’s say I was waiting eagerly/worriedly for the omen for most of the rite. >8)
But the central part of the rite was fine. We passed the Ancestor Doll (aka “Uncle Fester”) around the circle, asking folks to call their own Ancestors to be in the doll and join us for the rite. As we hope for every year but only manage sometimes, this was a very powerful experience for the participants, many of whom sniffled a bit. (But maybe that was just the cold!) I then placed the doll by the plate and cup we had prepared as an offering back at the fire circle. We used the bowl of pumpkin seeds for the individual praise, then offered flax seed to the fire for the group praise, and for the main sacrifice we poured the whiskey into the fire for Manannan and took the Ancestors’ food/drink offerings out into the woods. The omen did turn out good, by Rodney’s reading at least (Berkana – Raido – Isa, a new beginning as we move into the winter) and so we passed the pumpkin seeds around as the return blessing, which I really should have carried around myself so people weren’t trying to hold the bowl and the scoop and put seeds into their hands all at the same time. (Remember that for next year, Rob!) I also did a quick blessing for Barbara’s new sword, per her request.
After closing up the ritual space, we went back to the fire circle for food and socializing. Many folks left immediately or close to it, but most of us stayed for a few hours, including the drum circle folks, who drummed until Don shined the bright light from his building which apparently means, “hey, it’s after 10, stop drumming!” Gen’s jack-o-lanterns looked very impressive, especially with the flashing disco lights inside. (We really should have gotten pictures.) Most of us left around 10:45.
And this (Sunday) morning, Rod, Sean, Kris and I went back to the site at 10 to clean up. Rodney got the ritual stuff packed up the night before, but there was still enough to keep us busy for nearly an hour. I stopped by the nemeton one last time to say goodbye to it for the winter months, wondering what it will look like come April when we return to prepare it for Beltaine. Hopefully not too many fallen trees this year!
So all in all, it was a really incredible Samhain weekend, with lots of different people taking part in our many different activities and having a great time. The only annoyance? It was ten degrees warmer today than it was yesterday, and it’s going to be ten degrees warmer than that on Tuesday. Why couldn’t we have had the warm part a few days early? Ah well. I’ll take cold and dry over not quite as cold but wet for any Samhain.
Rev. Rob Henderson
Senior Druid, Shining Lakes Grove, ADF