This past Sunday ushered in the month of Beltaine (or Bealtaine, as it’s spelled on modern Irish calendars), and for the first time in a long while, we gathered in person at Glenwood Farm, EarthSpirit’s home in Western MA, to celebrate. More than 70 people joined us for the Sacred Land Walk and the Beltaine ritual. The day was glorious and warm, and we visited shrines, danced a Maypole ritual, sang, and shared food and conversation.
But not before burning away Old Man Winter. Kate Richardson led us by eulogizing the old codger, and then burned his effigy in the ritual fire. We share her eulogy with you here, and wish you the brightest of Beltaine Blessings!
Eulogy for Old Man Winter 2022
We’re gathered here for a joyful occasion: to welcome the spring and the summer to come. But before we can do that with our whole beings, we have to dispose of the Winter that has passed. The old man that was Winter stands here before us in effigy, and we should take a moment to remember him before we dispatch him. As he burns away he can take with him any ill luck and bad feelings from the past season, leaving us free to celebrate what’s to come. Each year between Samhain and Yule a new Winter is born. We welcome him with feasting and songs, gathering with friends and family to remind ourselves of the bonds of community which will keep us safe and warm through the hard and cold times. As this Winter drove us indoors, he still kept company with the pestilence of the last two years. Although the Rona seems now more ubiquitous but less deadly, it managed to sow discord, anxiety, illness and distress. We were reminded more than ever to take care of each other, even if that meant keeping a distance. As the Winter reached maturity, going from Yule to Imbolc, he showed off his strength by biting the extremities of hopeful apple tree wassailers, and casting snow in the way of gatherings. And yet, for folk who can enjoy the outdoors, there was snow enough for skiing, and ice enough for ice fishing, as is right and proper for our climate. Waning in strength after Imbolc, and on to the Vernal Equinox, he still maintained an imposing presence. But there were cracks in his mansion when warmer weather peeked a toe, a finger, a nose, through for just a moment. Winter gripped tight but the trees knew, the birds knew, that his end was coming. The sap flowed sweet, as it is supposed to. The snow and ice melted in the sunny places. Finally, after Equinox, he came into his dotage, a cranky and unkempt being. The mud season he bequeathed us was the stuff of legends. He petulantly threw late-season frosts and snowfalls our way. But now we declare that he is well and truly gone. Any lingering chills will be in his memory, and not from his presence. But let us not forget the lessons of Winter:
★ That we must turn to each other to get through the reign of tyrants with hope intact. ★ That we have strength and resilience, fed by songs and stories, by gathering and breaking bread together. ★ That we can get through tough conditions if we plan and prepare, and help each other out. ★ That kindness matters, and can counteract the cold. ★ That there can be great beauty in difficult conditions.
What lessons and blessings has the Winter brought to you?
All that said, we are properly glad to see him gone. He was cold and nasty, and we are ready for the warm and growing times. We may mock him for the bully and codger that he was, for he is gone, and we are all still here to see this turn to the warm times. Go ahead and make fun of him; this effigy will carry the bad words and feelings away. Then we will sing and dance our way to the tide of returning life, taking our place in the turning of the season’s wheel.
At this time of year I feel especially conscious of the deepening darkness, the stark stillness of the Earth. As the sap slows down in the trees and the animals gather food and ready their homes preparing for the cold, I too look into the cold and the dark and prepare, recognizing my own fragility and mortality in the face of the winter to come. I stack the wood, rake and mow the grass, put away the tools and toys of summer, and I go out to tend the Ancestor Shrine.
Nestled deep in the woods by the stream and against an old stone wall, this space is dedicated to those beings whose lives have made ours possible, and to the ones we love who have gone before us into that other way of being that we call death. I rake the path and brush off the leaves that have accumulated in the Shrine, revealing the growing moss and stones beneath. I uncover the trinkets that have been placed there and offer libations to the ones whose bits of ash or hair are buried beneath the trees. I make sure that the clouties tied on the branches are not preventing growth. I add this year’s offerings – a stone, a key, a yarn-wrapped stake.
It is now, at Samhain, in the quiet of the twilight of the year, that we can find an opportunity to truly see, to feel and to listen – to be fully aware of and acknowledge those who came before us, and those who came before them. I feel surrounded by my ancestors, by the spirits of the woods, by the songs of the stream and the caress of the wind. I feel welcome and a part of everything.
Today’s post is by Deirdre Pulgram Arthen. Deirdre has been a witch for over 30 years and is the executive director of EarthSpirit.
I spent the day today in the presence of my ancestors – beginning this morning as I raked and prepared the path through the woods to the Ancestor Shrine, lay the fire and collected the tools that I needed. Then this afternoon, as a part of EarthSpirit’s Sacred Lands series, I led a ritual of remembrance and honoring as I have for the past several years. It is a simple ritual and sometimes that is the best.
At mid-afternoon a small group of us walk in silence through the meadow, under the archway of trees and into the woods alongside the stream, which talks and sings as we pass. Dry leaves crunch underfoot but the winterberry is in full display and the moss on the wooden
The ancestor shrine at Glenwood
board we cross over is thick and green. We travel over the hemlock-needled trail until we reach a stone fire circle. Beyond that is the shrine. This whole area is dedicated to those who have gone before us and even at other times of year you can feel their presence in the dark moss, mushrooms and rotting wood. Today the feeling is stronger still.
We have brought a decorated pole from the web ritual at Rites of Spring and some of us set to work planting it in the ground. Two people set the shell spirals from Twilight Covening in their new places and a others light the fire.The ritual is simple, as I said. We gather and open to the natural space around us with words and song and then we sit on the logs around the fire each with a stick to add when we choose to speak. As in a dumb supper without the food, each one of us in turn calls to mind and speaks of an ancestor or loved one. We make an offering to the fire in their honor, the bell rings three times, and we take white cotton cloth to tie as a cloutie on a tree near the Shrine where it will remain until it rots.One call follows another – this person’s mother, that one’s brother, a family dog, ancestors long past, an aunt, a grandmother – all join with us in the web of creation which is made of all we know. We finish with a cup of cider raised in honor of their lives, another song and time for ourselves in the woods there by the stream. Then, as we are ready, we make our own way out of the woods.
Samhain is a season more than a day. As the leaves fall and October slips by, the closeness of the spirit world is tangible and the call to enter in grows stronger. Our ancestors, whether of blood or heart, of spirit or of tradition are part of who we are. This is a good time to reach toward them and remember.