Samhain Musings

by Deirdre Pulgram Arthen

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. 

photo by Deirdre Pulgram Arthen

Ancestors

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

Ancestor shrine in the woods

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.