It seems that merchants put out the holiday trappings earlier every year. “Halloween” is no exception. For many, it’s all about ghouls and goodies, but it’s not all screams and tales from the dark side for those of us who practice the Craft.
For me, it is a somber time. The gentle hues of fading grasses against a back drop of brilliant color presents a view that is breathtaking. Honking Geese on the fly fill the skies and I frequently offer a smile and a wave with the cheery send off of, “have a nice flight”.
Yesterday, as I sat in the griffin chair on my stoop, an unlikely pair of birds perched side by side in ‘Evelyn’, my crab tree. A Robin and a Black-eyed Junco. One, the first sign of Spring and the other the first sign of Winter. It’s so soon for the Junco to make an appearance…early snow. Many will not be happy, but you must trust Mother’s omens and signs. Reading them is what Witches do.
Samhain is also celebrated as the New Year in many Craft traditions so as Nature appears to be dying back, we are looking forward. We put to rest things of the past and plan for the decent of the dark times when days continue to get short and we take to the comfort of hearth and home. Deeper and deeper we go… into our studies and spells. Divination in candle lit rooms, heady with clouds of incense smoke that smack of damiana and dragon’s blood occupy the evening hours. My scrying mirror, awake now, as I remove it from its protective bed of mugwort. The Celtic knot work forms a circle with the center, a bottomless black pool. By flickering candle flame the myst will form and then part when the visions come.
Not to rain on anyone’s costume parade, I don my pointy black hat that I designed to be so very ‘me’. A yard or so of fine black tulle, black roses and the brim a flutter of feathers. My night wear is the same as my day wear so I don’t have to change a thing. Long black skirt, black velvet shirt and mile worn ‘granny’ boots, the leather soft and buttery. I sit in the Griffin chair, partially hidden behind an iron trellis of clematis, faded to a crispy mass of vines.
One by one they come, some remember from years past that a Witch lurks in the shadows. I sit out there to prevent the Cats going bonkers from the doorbell and the constant jumping up from the sofa to answer the call. Besides, it’s fun to give them a reason to be scared. A caramel apple martini sits on my twisted twig table to ward off the chill…this is the night for ‘spirits’ after all…
A shudder of my spine puts me on edge. It’s her. With her spritely red gingham over dress and her white eyelet petticoat…and those damnable ruby red shoes. As I drop the candy in her bag I lean into her and hiss, “I’ll get you and your little dog”. She looks at me, all saucer eyed and confused. “I don’t have a dog” she says haughtily. Come on kid, if I have to play this silly game then so do you.
The Ninjas, the vampires, the superheroes and the unrecognizable form a steady stream from road and side walk. They love to come to this neighborhood so a line of cars accompanies the walkers. “You got the good stuff” one girl exclaims with glee. “All we usually get is dum-dums”.
The little Witches get told how gorgeous they are and Harry Potter is always a welcomed sight. At random, when the voice within tells me ‘this one’, I reach into a velvet pouch and remove one of my Magickally charged crystals. “This is a Magick crystal” I explain as I slip it in with the candy. “Use its powers wisely and kindly”. One teenage girl was so overjoyed she clutched it tightly and taunted her friends. “I’m the only one who got one”. “Don’t give any body a face full of zits with that or it will backfire”, I caution.
I never mind if the kids get older than most find to be the acceptable age to join in the candy raid. I figure if they’ve got the balls to dress up and ring door bells for a box of Nerds, then I shall oblige. I’ve had a few adults as well. It’s funny that people that never even acknowledge each other with so much as a neighborly wave now commune with laughter and so much joy and merriment that it is sure to keep any evil far, far away.
But, when the porch lights go out and all falls dark and silent, the real reason for this season comes to light. I set the fire pit ablaze in the backyard and the Moon and star cut outs flicker in the darkness. Now is the time to remember them. Those who have passed on, beloved and missed, as well as those whose Earth walk never crossed with mine.
I reverently part the veil and offer a recitation of gratitude for the victims of the burning times. Was it their frightful appearance that has inspired the image of what has become the stereotypical Witch? Women, beaten and bruised until their flesh took on a greenish hue. Noses broken and crooked, teeth knocked out and hair yanked from scalps until it was little more than scraggly strands that hung limply, encrusted with blood and grime.
For those who were tortured and murdered, many whose only crime was to be unmarried or widowed. They owned land that would become church property in the event of their deaths so declaring them Witches made it all too convenient. The midwives who may have heard the first cries of their executioners when they helped to birth them. The practitioners of folk medicine whose herbs and potions brought relief and healing. As accusations flew, anguish and death would follow.
It is with pride that I practice my Craft openly and honestly. Something that they were not allowed to do after the old ways became a crime worthy of death. What a sacrifice they made. Those who truly practiced the Arts and those who simply lived a solitary, quiet life that wrangled suspicion.
For my ancestors, who had long passed before I ever heard their names. Some memories were shared around my grandmother’s table and I listened to the stories with eager ears. She is long gone too, but I can still see her snow white hair and dancing blue eyes as she rocked with laughter at the telling of the tales.
It was her collection of books and magazines that I dashed for right after I met with the barn Cats when my 5 year old imagination was vivid and undeniable. I’ll never forget in later years, reading a magazine that she had that featured an article about Sybil Leek, a real Witch. How fascinated I was…something stirring deep inside me that predicted my calling to the Craft many years later.
The ‘silent supper’ is observed in many a Witch’s kitchen. A place is set for someone who has left this incarnation and the meal is consumed in complete silence to honor the life of this invisible guest. A beautiful tradition among many that mark this final harvest holiday.
Stews of root vegetables flavored with dusky herbs steam in large bowls accompanied by slabs of grainy bread, saturated with melting sweet Irish butter. Cinnamon, cloves and allspice simmer in pots all day just to scent the air and entice prosperity when whispered spells are offered skyward with the steam. Out into the ethers they go, sure to bring health, wealth and love, riding upon the winds of change.
More than monsters and ghosts, this is a sacred time. I am quick to educate those who seem to think that people like me have lives that revolve around that kind of stuff. Like with many things, the lines for the observation and celebration have become more blurry with time and the chance to capitalize and merchandise is all too compelling.
Have fun and enjoy the trappings. But, when the silence falls, please take a moment to remember someone who has crossed over. The veil between the worlds is thin, they will hear you and they may speak. Listen, because the message will be one that will be important and will serve you well.
Blessed Samhain. Happy New Year.