Archive for death

Honoring the Dead

Posted in History, Ritual, Samhain, Spellcraft with tags , , on November 1, 2011 by theredlass

This is always a busy time of year for witchery, and in many ways it’s a bit like Christmas for us. We sometimes forget the ‘true meaning’ of Samhain in favor of just how popular we become during the October month. Frankly I’ve been to three parties, a ritual and a school sponsored thing in the last two weeks. I’m pooped!

But even through this I was determined to do something for the dead. The last year or so I’ve admittedly half assed things a bit. *sigh* I’M A BUSY WITCH DAMMIT!


Oíche Shamhna (Irish), All Soul’s Day (Catholic), Festival of the Dead (Japanese Buddhism), Dia de los Muertos (Mexican), Calan Gaeaf (Welsh), Allantide (Cornish), Halloween (American)

October 31st-November 1st

            You stand before the fields as the blood of livestock is poured into the ground as recompense for an excellent harvest. Bonfires blaze high into the darkening sky, the warmth emanating from them fighting off the chill growing in the air. Cow, sheep and pig are being butchered, their meat hangs packed with salt and drying to preserve it for the cold months ahead. Their furs are given to the women to make cloaks and the bones and horns to the druids for their own purposes. The moon hangs low in the sky, for it is early yet, and the dust from the fields has turned it a ripe shade of orange-red. Tangible now more than ever, is a sense that one is being watched over from the close knit trees and shadows. You can feel it in the air, even smell it in a strange way. There is a familiar presence all around the villiage. Everyone works with great speed and diligence, not from fear, but from excitement. Tonight is for celebration. Tonight is Samhain!

Samhain is well defined as the Celtic New Year, the time when the dark tide of the year overtakes and drowns out the light. We move into the time before life, when souls who have died in the past year are remembered and honored, even invited to join in the celebration. Ancestor worship goes back to Paleolithic times, when people believed that their familial dead watched over them and protected them from the Otherworld. Even today, Shinto shrines in Japan mark the names of anyone in their province and marks them so that in death they will become an ujigami (氏神), a family god which will ensure the families good standing and prosperity. Many people from various faiths have claimed to see their recently dead visit them within days after their passing, assuring them that everything is alright or even warning them of impending trouble.

Huge bonfires would be lit outside the village walls and the livestock would be driven between them to cleanse and purify them. All the other fires in the clan were extinguished and everyone came to lit their hearths from the great purifying bonfires. There is a strong family significance here wherein the people are bound together through ritual and purification. Broken pots would be returned to the earth from whence they came and offerings would be left to ward off wicked or malicious spirits. And yes, people believed in wicked spirits, for if someone was wicked in life it only made sense that they would be wicked in death until they moved on through the veil.

Samhain is believed to be the time of year during which the veil between this world and the next, the Otherworld, is at its thinnest. Spirits from the recently deceased to the gods themselves have an easier time getting through to communicate. This is a time when divination is very prolific. The ancient Druids would read the entrails of slaughtered livestock to determine future events such as war, kingship, and harvest. This practice, minus the ritual slaughter, has survived into modern day from scrying to apple divination.

This was also the time of the year when trade and warfare ceased. Troops and (as well as any other travlers) returned to their home villages rather than be caught out in the fierce winter. Many tales, (especially in the Ulster cycle of Celtic mythos), start during these gatherings such as Echtra Nerai, Cath Maige Tuireadh and The Boyhood Deeds of Fionn. It was a good time to tell stories of heroic escapades and brave battles fought in the defense of their lands. Songs, poetry and food flowed freely and great feasts were held.

Today, Samhain remains one of, if not the biggest festivals for witches, wiccans and pagans. So much of the holiday is historically and symbolically significant to our faith that it’s hard not to be attracted to its celebration and traditions. Many groups have their biggest turn outs both on this night and on its’ opposite festival, Beltane.

Personally, for me Samhain is a chance to have a gathering of my friends. Most are not pagan, but in this particular instance it isn’t significant. This gathering is more about what Samhain meant to the common people, a chance to gather, feast and celebrate before it became difficult to get together during the snowy months. I provide the main course and everyone brings something to share from cakes to chips to alcohol. We watch scary movies, talk, tell stories and just in general have a really good time. I usually hold the party a week before Halloween to avoid clashing with Beggar’s Night.

Samhain itself I celebrate on the traditional October 31st. Though my ritual differs from year to year, I typically make a plate of goodies, everything from honey spice cakes to baked apples and a healthy glass of rum or red wine. I decorate the plate with flowers and incense and a candle and place it outside on my porch so that the dead traveling through can have sustenance on their journey.

I also open my home to any kindly or honorable spirits for the night, in case they require rest or are exhausted from their travels. There are requirements of course. My house must not be left in disrepair and my family may not be accosted in any way or the invitation will be revoked just as quickly as I would kick any rude guest from my home! Otherwise, the spirits are allowed to come and go as they please, using my house as a way station for the night. They must be on their way by morning, after all guests should not overstay their welcome, and I do a house cleansing the following day to be sure that any lazy or lounging spirits have dispersed.

It’s also beneficial to do a thorough cleaning both on the mundane and spiritual levels on November 1st,or earlier depending upon your climate. The house needs to feel fresh and well stabilized before you have to close everything up for the winter. Nothing makes a home feel stuffy and uncomfortable like clutter so take this opportunity to clean out your rooms and spiritually clear out the bad air.

Dinner for the Dead

-Dinner for the dead is a tradition taken from the Mexican holiday Dios de los Muertos, or the Day of the Dead. During this time, families visit their ancestors graves and bring food to the site, celebrating with a small picnic and enjoying a few hours with their dearly departed. We prepare a plate of dried lavender, whisky, and homemade bread or pan de muerto, for the dead to enjoy and add candles and incense so that they can find it in the darkness.

Offering Chant
I call to the wandering dead.
To those who walk the night roads on their way to the Otherworld.
I call thee to come forward on this night,
and be known by those who would see you.
On this night I give you offerings of food and drink,
to give you strength in your passing.
I open my house to the spirits who may bring blessings,
good fortune,
good health,
and kindness into my home,
that they may rest on their journey.
And as the sun rises and dawns light burst forth,
I pray that you find your way home to the land of milk and honey.

Necromancy Bottle

-A necromancy bottle can also be called a spirit bottle or a grounding bottle. It’s intention is to help aid ancestors and spirits in grounding themselves in this world. It makes it easier for them to manifest and make people aware of their presence. The bottle includes items that symbolize death and the spiritual. It has to be cleansed and washed with sacred salt and water and purified using sage. I used clay to create a simple skull topper to apply once it has been filled and waxed shut. Methods vary, but I will be using the following:

(from bottom to top)

            Graveyard Dirt– has to be procured with an offering of coins for the dead.

Snakeskin-is symbolic of knowledge and wisdom, as well as rebirth and healing.

Marshmallow Root-commonly used in voodoo to attract benevolent spirits

Birch bark-traditionally associated with Tir na nOg, the Celtic land of the dead and

Kosher Salt-is used to purify an area and in this case it’s made to prevent any negative energies from making their way through. the Otherworld.

Incantation
I call upon Persephone
She who dwelled in the underworld and returned to the light.
*eat six pomegranate seeds*
I call upon Hecate

She who dwells at the crossroads.
*drink a shot*
I call upon the ancestors of my family
Who have become the gods of yesteryear.
*raise sword*
Aid me in my workings on this night
That I may build a better connection with you through this ritual.
*light the black candle*
I call my ancestors to the world.
To those who would aid me and show me how to honor their memory.
I bring offerings to you on this night to show my dedication to your presence.
*offer drink and food*

I also want to give credit to the Witch of the Forrest Grove for providing so much inspiration.  http://networkedblogs.com/pbrhw

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