One Last Samhain In The Old Place Before We Go

While the themes of the holidays are very different, I’ve always felt like Samhain is a lot like the Pagan version of Christmas, just because it’s the holiday that involves the most running around frantically on our parts. Lots of parties, rituals, and other commitments all hitting at once.  The week before my Grove’s Samhain, I went to Cedarsong‘s Samhain in Lansing, trick-or-treating with Janek in Ferndale, and an An Bruane at my house.  Okay, not a huge drive for that one, but it still took time.  And then with my promise to write a song parody because Missy was going to come all the way from Columbus to be at our rite, and the items I’d need to buy for the rite, and getting my car packed, it was quite a week.

So, car packed (for the first evening, at least) with firewood, and photocopies made, I got to the site at around 6 PM, and got the new fire going before sunset.  I confirmed that nobody was living in our nemeton this time, so that was an improvement over last time, but the one and only bathroom on the site was locked and had an “Out of Order” sign taped to it.  This was probably my biggest annoyance of the weekend.  If they’d told me the week before when I called to make sure the preserve hadn’t been sold, we’d have rented a port-potty for the weekend.  But now, people were going to be leaving the site periodically all weekend long, and missing our activities.  Grr.

Folks did arrive slowly but surely, and we got the fire blessed not too long after 7, and then swore in the new year’s Leadership Council.  Missy, Tamie, and Anna from Three Cranes Grove in Columbus joined us for the weekend, and presented three of the SLG officer with a piacular offering of bacon, a popular commodity at 3CG from what I hear!

At around 9, we went down to the nemeton for the brief rite to Hermes Psychopompos, which went well despite the cold.  (Actually, I think it was a bit warmer than average for the weekend, so it definitely could have been worse.)  With an attendance of fourteen, it was our largest Hellenic rite, well, ever!  Gen was kind enough to help pour libations and also donated several feather butterflies from her flower shop for the return blessings.

After that, we went back to the fire circle for stories and singing, and apart from a brief visit by the police (given that nobody’s living on the property right now, I don’t blame the neighbors for panicking when they saw a fire there), it was very relaxing.  I took the newly kindled flame home and put it on my home hearth altar, where it will spend the winter not being seen by anyone else because all of our winter rituals will be at a site that won’t allow candles.  Yeah, I’m still not thrilled about that, but if we can’t get enough donation money to pay for the site that does allow candles, then that’s what we have to do.

So Saturday morning arrived, I drove the car to the side door to load more firewood and my Saturday robes and such, and then…  the car wouldn’t start again.  The battery that got me to the side door decided to lose just enough juice to keep me there for a while.  Thus died my chance to have breakfast before the rite or get good potluck items, but Sean drove out from the preserve and gave me a jump start (and also loaded up his vehicle with more firewood – and given how little we finished with that night, that was probably a good thing) which got me to the preserve, and then to the party store at Maple and Miller for bad potluck items, and then back to the preserve.

I was still there at noon and just a bit before Rodney got there, so the nemeton was set up by about 1, in plenty of time for Sean to get his mead making workshop started on time.   They started a batch which will be bottled as “Botsford’s Best”, in honor of our last time at the preserve.  We were joined by many of our usual attendees, and also by several members of Cedarsong Grove, and a somewhat surprising visit from Fox and his son Aidan!  (Sean joined us for the evening rite.)

The weather was sunny and fairly warm as we processed down to the nemeton for the afternoon rite.  It’s our only scripted ritual, so the kids can take part in the ritual roles if they choose, but with only two children among the twenty-three people present, that wasn’t much of an issue this time.  I did have Dylan help me hallow the Portals, at least.  Missy led us in the chants that we used (except for the Wedding Dance, which nobody outside SLG knows).  We did our usual decorating of the nemeton to honor Lugh’s reunion with Ana for the coming winter months, and the omen was good (Berkano – Kenaz – Laguz), so we blessed and drank cider for the return flow.  Not our most exciting afternoon Samhain – actually, I don’t think any of our afternoon ones ave been exciting – but I thought it was a good one.

Then we held the potluck and raffle (which had way too many items, even for the above-average crowd we had), but I had to dash off to the side so Missy and I could finally get the tune prepared for the song I’d written.  Once that was set, Missy began her concert (I think there was a bathroom trip in there somewhere as well) and she did many of her usual songs at the prodding of Tamie and Anna.  I did my song as well, which thanks to Sean, you can actually hear here.  People seem to like it, so if I can afford to go to any festivals next year, it may well be heard again!

As Missy finished up her set, folks started getting luminaries assembled for the evening rite, while Gen got the altars decorated as usual for Samhain, next to the bile’ rather than on the edge of the circle.  More folks arrived as the sun set, and by 7, everything was set.  We processed down the luminary-lit path one last time, through a red veil that had been set up on one of the overhanging fallen trees (there seem to be so many on the path this year) and into the nemeton, where Missy was playing her guitar as we entered.

The evening rite is always a special challenge for me to lead, not just because it’s Samhain and the emotions tend to run high, but also because it’s dark and I hate to be the guy with his flashlight out, shining it on a piece of paper and being distracting.  Fortunately, I did actually remember everything we needed to do and in the right order, though I did forget one or two of which people had volunteered for the roles.  So that worked out, at least!  (I still think we should have done “Standing at the Crossroads” instead of “The Portal Song”, though.  The latter just isn’t as Samhainy as the former.)

Once the opening was done, we passed around our Ancestor Doll (aka “Uncle Fester”) and had everyone invite their Ancestors to be in the circle.  Once it was back in my hands, I read Michael Dangler’s invocation for the dead (we’ll see if I can find it online anywhere) (yep, here it is), thankfully the torch light was enough to read it by so I didn’t have to use my flashlight, and then we took turns making our offerings to the Ancestors and other spirits present.  I’m sorry to say that young Janek was acting up at this point in the rite, but hopefully Paul and Val got him under control without causing too many problems for everyone else.  (Myself, I do think he caused a disruption, but not as much of one as not having a bathroom available.  Yeah, I’m still annoyed about that.)

After doing some toning into the flask of oil for the group praise (I’m no big fan of toning or other high energy work in a High Day rite, but I didn’t have any better ideas for the group praise, and Missy’s good at it), we poured the oil into the Fire one last time.  The omen was again good (Mannaz, Uruz, and another third-place appearance by Laguz), so we blessed more cider and our traditional “rune candy” (dark Reeses cups with a rune sticker on each), and closed up our ritual space of eighteen years for one last time.

The twenty-seven of us walked back up the path, through the red veil, and up to the Fire Circle, where we had folks present food for the Ancestor Dinner (minus everyone who left temporarily for bathroom reasons – honestly, it was dark, and Don always told us to go in the woods whenever possible!), and then the folks from Columbus did a sumbel around the fire (somewhat differently from the others I’ve attended, but I’m told there are many variants out there), before we all drifted away from the site by 11 or so.  I’m sorry I didn’t get to say a proper goodbye to our guests from Ohio, but they took off before I had the chance, and then had to leave early the next day.

But it wasn’t over for some of us, as six of us came back to the site the next morning at 11 (or noon, I have got to stop being nice about saying “noon DST” and confusing people) (but I’d feel worse of someone got there an hour early) to clean the site one last time.  Once the ritual gear was safely packed and the fire circle garbage cleared away, we made final offerings to the Land Spirits in the nemeton, and took away our herm (now residing here in my house for the winter) and one stone of the hof (Rob Steiner took that one home) so we can set them up again in our new outdoor ritual space, wherever tht ends up being.  We may come back and try to save the bile’, or just chop it up so we can use it in our sacred fires.  Even knowing how little chance we have of returning, though, I didn’t want to do it then, since that would be admitting that our relationship with the preserve was over.

Anyway, a few last random thoughts here:

* Rob Steiner’s technique for opening the Gates is still very effective and well-liked by all.

* I’m glad that people liked the Hellenic rite, and hope that the other non-Celts in the Grove will offer to run small evening rites in their own preferred cultures.  Yeah, we tried doing it at An Bruane, and that was as much a failure as nearly any event we try to add when our members live so far from Ann Arbor, but we actually already get people to attend Fire Watch, so we might actually get participation there.

* I’m still annoyed about the bathroom.

* I was surprised that we didn’t get any new people for either rite.  Sure, we did get a lot of members we hadn’t seen recently (I almost thought Alison had fallen off the face of the earth), ut Samhain is usually a time for new people to get brave or enthusiastic enough to show up.  Maybe the hoopla about the last rite at Botsford made it sounds intimidating.

* It was great having visitors from Three Cranes, and I hope we all learned a little something about how other Groves do their rituals.

* Okay, I admit it.  My song was really good.  (I still need to change a few words, though.)

* I’m going to miss that nemeton.  I’m sure that we all will.


Rev. Rob Henderson
Senior Druid, Shining Lakes Grove, ADF