Poll any witch about which of the four seasonal rituals would be their favorite and I bet that most would say that Samhain is.
I can understand why that would be because it is the “Season of the Witch” and many other things that are said to go bump in the night. Many of our favorite horror and spooky movies are on the television and you are never too far from a store or merchant that sells Halloween related items. Here in the United States, many of our stores begin putting out their Halloween items for sale mid-July and they increase their footprint of Halloween décor, both chic and even tacky, as we get closer to the night of October 31st.
I tend not to do too much Halloween decorations this time of year, and that is probably because we have so many other magical and mundane things we do this time of the year. (We’re witches – we ARE HALLOWEEN!)
On a fun note, a local nature preserve for wolves has full moon visits, and the Wolfa Coven is planning on attending in October before celebrating the appropriate seasonal: The Rite of Winter, or All Hallows. Hopefully, we are in no danger of lycanthropy or animal transmutation that night and we make it back to the covenstead safely without too much howling at the moon that night. (I guess you will find out if we are able to write the Imbolc 2017 article or not!)
The theme of The Wiccan Rede for the Samhain 2016 season is the Night, or Going into the Dark. This theme is most appropriate with how we bring in this time of year. While magic happens at all times of the day, the rituals, spells, and meditations are typically performed by our coven after dark this time of year. That is easy to do since the amount of light hours has decreased. Many go to work in the morning when it is still dark and don’t arrive home until it is getting dark at this time!
In my opinion, the Sabbat Seasonal is not just something you do on that day, but either an initiation or response to change with the quarter days of the year marking the initiation of the season by a celestial event. When we reach the cross-quarter day, we observe how it marks the earth’s response to the celestial and stellar change that occurred during the previous Quarter day.
The Fall Equinox initiated the Fall Seasonal when the day and night hours were equal and giving us the appropriate signs which initiates the earth’s response at Samhain – the time of going into the dark, repose and rest. This theme is typically marked by the understanding in many covens that the Horn’ed God will take over the dark half of the year as the Great Mother Goddess leaves her coveners in his care during this time of the year until she takes it back at the end of the Spring Equinox Rite and takes over the season fully again starting with Beltane.
So what are some of the things that our own coven may do as we go “into the dark…?”
One thing that our coven enjoys doing on some years is a full-ceremonial Dumb Supper in which we join together to sup’ with our beloved ancestors. This is a lot of work to do and prepare for so we do not perform it every year.
The full ceremonial Dumb Supper ritual takes MANY days of preparation by our High Priestess because she is given the list of the attendees that reside in the spirit realm many days before the actual Dumb Supper begins and she then begins the process of calling them in up to the night of Dumb Supper itself in which she will instruct them to take their seats as the designated spots. This is a form of necromancy at its finest.
These particular acts are not for the faint of heart, as she will tell you that during this time, she will experience many ghostly and spiritual phenomena in her home at this time as the dearly departed begin to come in when they hear her call in preparation of the rite.
The circle we create is more of a tomb that we enter for this ritual – which is different than our normal circles. We are also very careful not to call into the Dumb Supper anyone deceased that made passage in less than one full year. For those relatives or any other that we wish to honor, but not sup with, we will typically lay out a specific area in which we will light candles to pray for their progression and transition.
Why do we typically not invite those that have passed in less than one year?
During this time, it is believed that the soul is in transition and there is much work to be done. This includes the separation of the upper soul from the lower soul – the upper manas and lower manas.
The first thing to be shed at death is the physical body, the etheric body (aura) and the vital body. These are all things in which the spirit and soul use to dress with, in the physical incarnation.
The next section of this process of transition is of the soul: which is broken down into the upper manas (mind) and the lower manas. The latter is where most of our karma is generated and accumulated from – which is connected to our desires, fantasies and wants.
Not only do our actions and responses generate karma, but our thoughts and desires generate karma as well – for all actions that happen in the physical must first start with the power of “thought” or in response to thought.
Some of these thoughts are very fleeting and some are long lasting and this depends on the level of emotional intensity that is applied to the desire-thought. These “desire-thoughts” are said to build up in our astral bodies which then is said to shade our senses because like attracts like – our desire-thoughts attract like desire-thoughts crafted by others too which is then said to be able to influence the way we receive, perceive and interpret sensation and data received through our senses.
An example of this above may be described as interpreting an e-mail from a friend that is sent to you: one person may read the e-mail and interpret it in a friendly and kind manner and another person may interpret it as possibly passive-aggressive or possibly even dismissive manner. How we interpret this is said to be tied to our collective experiences: both action and thought which collect in our astral bodies and filter the stimuli we receive. This is said to be why each person may have a slightly different interpretation of the same exact e-mail. It can be more easily defined as cause and effect or even the “Law of Compensation.”
When someone passes from physical life on this earth, it is said in some esoteric teachings in our coven that they begin to go through this transition – in which they shed not just the physical body, but also that lower mind or desire-mind that is said to generate most of what we call our “karma.” So the process of waiting for one year until we call upon the dearly departed in a Dumb Supper is to respectfully allow the proper time for passage and transition to occur.
While during incarnation, we start from the spirit and work down to the physical body – the opposite is true at death where we work from physical body to spirit. The last piece of this process of transition is the Spirit when death occurs, which is the least understood part. This is the part that connects us to the All, or Universal Mind that we typically call the “Supreme Being”. Hence, why the spirit and the higher part of the soul are seen as indestructible, whereas the rest is recycled and begins the disintegration into base form. The upper soul and spirit are why we as witches hold firm the tenet of reincarnation which says that from this Supreme Being we have all come and to it, we shall all return. (This is also why many witches teach that most of the karma we collect is worked out in this life rather than in the next – because at passage, the lower mind, astral, vital, mental and physical body is shed. The higher mind collects a higher kind of karma).
Also, the lower mind that has been shed which begins its process of disintegration is said to become an astral shell which can become inhabited by lesser beings and spirits of phantasm. During the process of making most magical circles, we attempt to cast out spirits known as phantasms. This can best be described as “talking to a stick or a stone.” If I pick up a stick and call it “Skinny John” for a period of time, Skinny John just may after a time begin to answer me. What has inhabited the stick at the time may not always be of benevolent intent!
In our coven, we have two old rituals that are used when a witch in the coven passes. The first is the “Rite of Passage” which is performed when a witch first dies. The second is the “Rite of Transition,” which is performed to aid the deceased witch in the process of transitioning so they may be able to progress cleanly and quickly with the aid of the coven. Those of us of the “Old Religion” believe that it is not just this life we are connected to – but also in the next life and the life after life after life and so on. In fact, many witches begin to experience bits of Déjà vu when in the presence of other witches – feeling that this may not have been the only circle we have traveled together in. So why would we abandon our fellows that we have traveled so closely with just because they have passed? We believe it is our duty to help our fellow coveners that have passed in death as we did in life.
This Death or Darkness we all must eventually enter is but a place or space of rebirth. (Believed by many witches.) For like a seed that we plant in the ground and cover in darkness, it only grows and germinates because of this darkness. It must reach below (roots) before it can spring forth above. This is why some witchcraft rituals begin circumambulations widdershins before ending by closing clockwise. The anti-clockwise movements are done for the purpose of winding up the power in order to allow the natural process of release which will propel the power outward clockwise. You must pull back the arrow on the bow to build resistance and then when you let go of it, it will naturally propel forward. It is the witch that aims the power to its target… Nature then does the rest of the heavy lifting, although most witches today only very rarely use anti-clockwise circumambulations in their ritual work.
Some witches even look at the passage and transition as a form of “graduation” to the next stage – meaning we have learned all that we possibly could in the current life and we graduate into the next life.
As part of our coven’s above rituals and rites, one custom that I can share here is that the besom of the deceased witch makes its way back to the covenstead and is added to the North wall of the temple so that it has a place of remembrance and honor.
An evergreen tree, such as a Yew, could be another outer symbol to plant in the earth in remembrance of the deceased loved one. (Evergreen trees are sometimes seen as representative of immortality in folklore)
So what other types of Samhain activities are engaged in by witches during this time of year?
A popular custom in our coven is to prognosticate a message for the coming New Year. The ladies of the coven have preferred to use a spirit-board for this process, but in reality, many types of divination tools could be used based on personal preference. I will say that the benefit of the spirit-board is that it can spell out a word or phrase easily!
This prognostication in our coven is typically performed by the ladies of the coven only – but the men of the coven are permitted to watch the ladies at work outside of the circle. They have performed this ritual most beautifully I must say in year’s past!
One of my favorite forms of divination at this time of year is the tea-leaf reading. Our coven has engaged in tea-leaf reading some years as part of our Samhain celebrations and it is deceptively simple to do so!
The way that I conduct a tea-leaf reading is by putting a teaspoonful of black tea into a tea cup and fill with boiling water. I don’t recommend adding milk or cream to this tea after it has properly had time to brew as the milk or cream can change the color of the tea leaves and make them stick together too much when it comes down to reading it – but sugar and lemon is good to use. (I personally like Earl Gray for these readings because it is acceptable to add lemon to it!)
You may then enjoy your tea at this time as you wish. You do not need to think of any particular question at this time if you don’t wish to, but you may if you have one.
When you have a little bit of liquid left (maybe a few teaspoons) in the cup and it is no longer too hot to touch, take the matching saucer and place it on top of the tea cup (cup-side over mouth of tea-cup) and flip it over so the tea-cup is upside down on the saucer and taking care not to spill the liquid on the floor or on furniture. This shows why for this you should have a proper teacup with matching saucer that can hold any liquid that is spilled out – hence, why you only have a little bit left in the cup.
You will next spin the cup a couple of times and begin your psychic readings of the shapes in the tea leaves left inside the cup. You can always look at various fortune-telling books for a few ideas if you wish such as Sybil Leek’s Book of Fortune Telling which will give you some guidelines to get you started in doing such readings.
If you have watched Season Three of American Horror Story: Coven; in the last episode when the witches are performing the Seven Wonders, one of the tasks is to be able to divine in pebbles the location of a particular object. Reading tea leaves is a similar type of skill – although, we are not typically looking for locations in the shapes formed by the tea leaves – but when you throw pebbles down, they may take a particular shape or pattern that can be read like tea leaves.
Exercises in psychic phenomena can be arranged as well. If you wish, you can take two old metal coat/clothes hangers and bend them each into an L so that you can use them as cheap and easy made dowsing rods to find or locate items. Also, if you wish to exercise your telekinetic abilities as a witch, you can have one witch stand at one end of the room and another witch stands at the other end. One witch would hold the dowsing rods still while the other witch would then attempt to move the rods with the power of their mind. (Some witches even try using a Crook’s Radiometer to measure this, but the old metal clothes hangers are cheaper options!)
A recipe that I enjoy making this time of year and sharing with the coven during the Samhain season is spiced red wine or spiced apple cider. You can heat this over the gas stove or over the Sabbat balefire!
Add the following ingredients to a clean cauldron full of red wine or apple cider: cinnamon sticks, whole cloves, nutmeg, allspice, star anise, orange peel and lemon peel. (Cackling while doing this makes the process even more enjoyable!) Some may even want to add a few slices of apple. Gently heat this – served warm after the herbs have been adequately, but gently warmed in the cauldron pot. (Make sure that no one is allergic to any of the ingredients because there are a number of people allergic to herbs such as cinnamon!)
As you can see, this above recipe has many herbs that are considered “warming herbs”. This can aid the witch in helping to keep his or her body warm on cooler autumn nights when working magic out of doors with the coven.
Another activity that seems to work well in keeping the body temperature warm on those cool Samhain nights with the coven that was taught to me is called a “candle meditation.” To do this, close your eyes and conjure up the image of a candle in your mind at least 25 feet away from you. As you slowly take a breath in, move the candle a foot closer to your third eye mentally (or any other part of your body you wish to warm up) and on the exhale – hold the candle still without moving it. Repeat this process until the candle is right in front of you. Open now your eyes – you will feel warmer. Also, you can cool down your body temperature by performing these steps in reverse – starting with the candle in front of you and moving it away. Witches typically have a number of magical tricks up their sleeve that work!
Samhain is called the third harvest festival by many witches of today. An impromptu ritual that I lead recently with other witches outdoors around a burning balefire is one of thanksgiving. If this time of year is called by some the third harvest feast, then why not have a section of the ceremony itself where every witch around the magic circle says a few words of blessing/dedication to the coven or also what they will take away from this Seasonal/Ritual experience? This procedure helps to build up positive thought-forms in the aura of the coven thought-form and also the aura of the individual witches. Like attracts like!
To do this, I took coarse sea-salt and added to it fragrant herbs and flowers from the garden. Each witch then took a handful of sea-salt and spoke a few words of dedication to the coven and then tossed the salt into the flames of the balefire. This tossing of salt is said by some to “feed” the fire elementals because you will hear a bit of crackling as the salt hits the heat of the flames dancing on the burning hardwood logs. (I have even heard of some witches cutting and drying apple wood and soaking them in brine to burn in their hearth fires, but I have not personally done this. If anyone has, I would love to hear about the results of what it was like so that I may try it sometime!)
The scourge and the boline are two Wiccan tools that serve as appropriate seasonal symbolism this time of year. The scourge is appropriate because its movements are like the flail which was a threshing tool used in harvesting grains from the husks. This tool can have symbolic uses in spells and rituals in which the power is released from the body in a safe way with harm to none. The boline is another important tool because the sickle is also used in harvesting crops, herbs, plants, etc., so it symbolically can cut away those mental stumbling blocks by cutting a cord in two which has been given the name of said problem. The boline is then used to cut this cord in half from your life symbolically.
On a fun note, I wanted to end with a final activity and then a story about the activity before giving the parting blessings:
A fun activity that you and your coven and friends might want to engage in is a Ghost-Walk or tour. Many towns have them, but since our coven is located near Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, which is the Ghost-Hunting capital of the world, then a seemingly unlimited number of opportunities exist every night of the week! The candlelit tours at night can be fun, and so can the ghost tours by bus! Even just listening to other people’s experiences and the stories told by the tour guide can be interesting and at times comical.
Now a humorous story about a ghost tour: A witch of our coven attended a ghost tour and the folks guiding this tour quickly noticed the spiritual activity that reacted very strongly to her. (Of course, right? But they didn’t know she was a witch!) Even when she would wave her hand through the air, orbs and other psychic phenomena were recorded each time. During the use of electronic equipment such as recording EVP’s (Electronic Voice Phenomena), they soon discovered the ghosts would answer the questions that she posed to these “ghosts” when they would play the recordings back. It seemed like the tour itself should be paying her for all her witchy parlor tricks that “impresses the locals” rather than she paying the tour company!
So how was this phenomenon created or caused?
(Sachs Bridge, Gettysburg Ghost Tour)
Witches are adept at using their minds to influence the base forms of force known as the elementals which take shape and react based on the thoughts we infuse with them. The process of doing this and creating these physical manifestations by manipulating these base forms of force are held as closely guarded secrets even amongst witches!
Does that mean all ghostly phenomena are created by this manipulation of base elemental bodies that reside within the astral plane? Not at all, but it does account for some!
Now I would like to end with the following:
Here in the United States, the election cycle is burning red hot and many folks are divided right now and quite upset with each other based on their political views and stances. It is so sad to hear of friends on social media discuss how they are not speaking to certain family and friends because their relationships have been strained over differences in political viewpoints that cause heated discussions. This type of “Darkness” that we enter is one that I am not a fan of. I almost wish that the general elections were not held in November because with the winter months coming in, it makes for added stress on the psyche of many people who react negatively to the political fights people engage in through fundamentalist attitudes in politics.
The media encourages this type of “reality television show” by exploiting the most shocking forms of visual and audial stimuli they can until some people just feel numb or jaded to it all.
I sincerely pray to the Great Mother Goddess that after this election season is over that we can grow wiser and kinder to the people around us. Let this coming Darkness of Winter that we now enter be a rebirth of inner compassion, understanding and wisdom for our fellow man.
- To learn more about holding a ceremonial Dumb Supper and other rites associated with Samhain or Hallowmas, our coven recommends The Sacred Pentagraph by Tarostar. It can be purchased on Amazon or directly from Left Hand Press. Also, page 46 of the book includes a photograph from a ritual called “Centering of the Cone” that was in our coven temple. This book is highly recommended by our coven.
- Sybil Leek’s Book of Fortune Telling, by Sybil Leek (1969) is a great little guide to introduce you to fortune telling techniques. It is also very easy to read. Others by Sybil such as Telepathy and ESP: The Magic of You are also great guides. They are currently out of print but can be obtained through second-hand booksellers. Another helpful and useful guide is The Complete Illustrated Book of Psychic Sciences by Walter B. Gibson & Litzka R. Gibson. (My edition is from 1988 but it was originally published 1966)
- To learn more information on how the power of thought can affect things, our coven recommends the book Thought Power: Its Control and Culture by Annie Besant (1909)
- To learn a little more about the beings that inhabit the astral plane and some information on reincarnation, the book titled The Hidden Side of Things written by C.W. Leadbeater is helpful. (1923)