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Excerpt: Path of She Book of Sabbats
The natural world and our human psyches turn toward the mysteries of death at Samhain. Cold and darkness descend upon the land, and the wild world shifts into decay and a death-like sleep. In many cultures, this time of year is marked by offerings and rituals to honor the dead, our beloved ancestors.
Usually we don’t like to think about death. Most of us run as fast as we can from the frightening specter that decline and death conjure in us. It is the ultimate irony that the moment we are born into life, with our very first breath, we are also born into death. And we must live every moment, every breath, knowing that we will die, and that everything around us, all that we love and cherish, will eventually come to decay, to death, to dust.
Samhain teaches us that there is no hiding from death. It comes in the falling of leaves, the lengthening darkness and the cold grip of Winter. It comes in our remembrances of our beloved ancestors that have passed on. It comes in the wrenching of our heart as we witness a dear one slip from this world into the next. It comes with the graying at our temples, the sagging of our flesh and the unstoppable march toward our last breath.
And death comes with gifts in hand if we have the courage to show up raw and naked to our pain, losses and fears.
that every breath is a miracle not to be wasted;
that each person, each creature and life form, is worthy, precious, sacred;
that life is oh so hard and oh so exquisite;
that pain and loss help us remember what we cherish most;
and that love, at the end of all things, is what remains.
Love is death’s most precious gift to us. Love, not money, possessions, career, social esteem and the many other alluring outer trappings of life, is the balm that soothes us in the face of death. Love is what connects us to those who have passed on. Love calls us to reach out and hold each other in our grief. Love is what joins us heart to heart and soul to soul to another. Love is our best offering from our Deep Self to the world.
Samhain is a time to contemplate the mysteries of death, not from a place of fear and resistance, but from an acceptance of death as a teacher and guide for the living. Yes we are born into life and born into death, and it is this very, inescapable fact that makes every moment so precious, fragile and bittersweet beautiful.
Death isn’t a summons to fear, it is an invitation to love, deeply, wildly, joyfully. And when death seeks us out at the end of our days, let our last breath be a prayer to love.
Honor the Mysteries of Samhain
with the Path of She Book of Sabbats.
Photo Credit: freestocks.org on Unsplash
Posted on:  Nov 22, 2020 @ 10:00 Posted in:  Path BasicsOne Reality:
I’m in magical circle, celebrating Samhain. We’re in a group trance, traveling to the isle of the dead to commune with our beloved Ancestors. I’ve done this meditation many times before, yet this time is different. As we reach the shore of this blessed isle, we unzip our flesh coats and step forth as beings of pure shining light, tethered to our living, breathing bodies by a silver cord.
There will never be enough words to capture such a lightness of being. For this blessed time, I’m free of my human body, and my mindscape of fears and tangled habits that make me less than I am. I’m pure light, untainted love, unbounded beauty, in the company of other bright shining beings, both my living companions and our blessed dead.
I understand, in the deepest parts of my being, the truth of this moment: that I am this being of light, always. This is my naked, true Self, and our naked, true humanity. We are, always, pure light, untainted love, unbounded beauty. When I follow my silver tether back to my human body, and zip myself back into my flesh coat, my skin seems to loosen its fibers, letting more of that inner light shine outward.Another Reality:
A few weeks later, I’m on the treadmill at the gym, working to make my body strong. There’s a screen in my face, blasting out the daily news: a gang rape by teenage boys from a Catholic high school; a high profile, high drama murder of an international journalist; the latest political fiasco. My heart squeezes tight and my adrenals spike. Barely halfway through my cardio routine, I’m already drenched in the toxicity of status quo reality.
Damn! It’s caught me again, off guard, that constant, outer noise pushing its way past my defenses, triggering my fears and negative mindset, trying to spellbind me into believing in the worst of my humanity. I forget, in these short moments, my Samhain experience of the light being in my core. Loathing rises up in me, and horror, grief and rage. I feel dirty and ashamed of my flesh coat and our collective humanity.
Big breathe in. Big breathe out. I tune out the screen, and focus instead on the reassuring rhythm of my striding legs, my hard-working muscles and sweating skin. I love my wondrous flesh coat; I clear my mindset of fear and loathing; I remember the shining light of who I am, and the true, untainted nature of my humanity — the spell of our shadow humanity is broken.Two realities. Two versions of our human nature. Which do we choose to believe in? Which do we give our attention and juice to? Which do we allow to steer our choices and actions? Which will help us build the world we want to live in?
The shadow side of our humanity is true. We are doing terrible things to each other and our planet home. Rape, murder, social injustices and political fiascos are daily occurrences. Our flesh coats and mindsets are burdened down by fears and tangled habits born out of our personal and collective histories of trauma and wounding. Yes, these things happen; they are real and seemingly omnipresent.
The pure, shining brilliance of our humanity is true. We are blessed with the glorious gift of living in a light and beauty infused world. We ourselves are light and beauty infused beings. Love, kindness, justice, compassion, creativity, courage, humor, sensuality, and so much more: these are the shining of our inner light outward. These things are real and truly omnipresent.
We talked about this dual nature of our humanity at the end of our Samhain ritual, and the overwhelming challenges and atrocities that have come to dominate our shared society and non-stop news cycles. How can we be a force of positive change, we asked ourselves? How can we make a difference?
Nothing or no one can ever dim our lightness of being. We’re meant to shine bright, gifting the world with the brilliance of our pure, naked Self, unbounded beauty and untainted love. But we’ve been convinced to do the dimming ourselves.
Individually and collectively, we’ve been bullied, shamed and abused. We’ve been indoctrinated into the shadow reality of humanity, fed to us constantly, unrelentingly through the one-sided messaging of mass culture. We’ve been spellbound through lies and illusions about our unworthiness and tainted nature. We’ve become lost and fear tangled, our flesh coat and mindset made into prisons, and our shining inner core forgotten.
Big breathe in. Big breathe out. Tune out the outer noise. Focus instead on the reassuring rhythm of your beating heart, the wondrous motions of your hard-working body, and the caress of air on your sensing skin. Reach inward to that shining light at the core of your being. Unzip your flesh coat, just a little bit, as much as feels good and safe. Take a little bit of your light into today, and tomorrow after that. Little by little, breathe by breathe, moment by moment, shine your lightness of being outward, and brighten the world around you.
In each of these undimmed moments, the shadow spell of humanity is broken, and you are set free. You may forget, be caught off guard, or choose to hide again. Don’t worry, these are natural parts of your journey of reclaiming your full-shining Self. Once you unzip your flesh coat, and taste your own innate brilliance and beauty, even a little, you’re no longer lost. You’ve woken from your spellbound sleep, and set your feet on a path that will guide you home to your true Self, undimmed moment by undimmed moment.
Trust that this journey takes time and practice. It’s done in small steps and big leaps, where, again and again, you choose to wake up, disconnect from the negative, shadow-reality messaging and experiences outside and inside of you, and re-align yourself with your shining core and a positive, love-filled vision of our humanity.
In these small steps and big leaps, we build the world we want to live in, each of us bringing a little of our unzipped light into today, and tomorrow after that. Together we can break the spell of our shadow humanity, forever, and bask in our collective, undimmed lightness of being. From this vast, untapped resource of love, beauty and power, anything and everything are possible.
Photo Credit: Seraphina Capranos & Ben Skorguson
Posted on:  Nov 4, 2020 @ 10:00 Posted in:  Sabbats
My friend comes home after an evening of dancing and moving energy with her activist friends. She’s exhausted from an intense week of community gatherings — first a Samhain ritual in honor of the beloved dead, with so many passing this year and so much collective grief in the air, and now tonight, a passionate, full-embodied group prayer for peace and justice.
All of this was a preparation for what awaits her. Death has arrived on her doorstep.
The bucks are exhausted, terrified. Fortunately she has a friend who is a gentle hunter. When he arrives, he’s able to take clean shots, killing the bucks instantly and saving them from an agonizing death. Strangely, in their dying the second stag lands on the first. In death, the combatants lie serenely on top of each other, like a pair of sleeping cats.
As sacred witness and gentle hunter, these two friends speak to the fallen bucks, pray for them, and mourn their passing.
The image of the bucks and the story I’ve just shared, in the words of my friend, appear in my Facebook feed. I stop what I’m doing, my heart wide open and broken, understanding that these bucks have gifted my friend, our community, this world, with a powerful vision that speaks to the tumultuous change of these times.
I too have been sacred witness this week, at our local Samhain ritual. In this role, I sat veiled and silent, dropped into the deep dream of our magic, watching between the worlds as the names of the dead were spoken, and our community danced a spiral in honor of the blessed newborn.
Another powerful vision that speaks to these times: a thousand deaths for a thousand births — we are living an epic death-rebirth moment
These two vision brew in me, colliding with the intense drama and building momentum of political, social, economic and environmental crises and unrest, and the mythic forces moving through our world calling us to an evolutionary, change-or-die revelation.
We know, in our flesh and bones, that things have reached a tipping point; we just can’t keep doing what we’re doing to the planet, and to each other, without dire and lasting consequences.
Take a deep breath. Feel your warm heart beating inside your precious body. Don’t despair. We’ve been heading toward this exact moment for years, decades, millennia.
This net is our known world, woven of the threads of our inner and outer conceptions of reality, and the infrastructure of culture and society. This net is everywhere, interweaving every aspect of our life in webbing that is strong, resilient and specifically designed to ensure there is no escape. Many of us call this net patriarchy, colonization, white supremacy, global capitalism.
Together in this net, we thrash about, stuck in the stories we tell ourselves about our world, each other, and this mess we’re in. We lock horns with the enemy, be it our politicians, those who hold contrary views, or who live by values and beliefs we find abhorrent. We lock horns with our inner demons and personal wounding that tangle us in our pain and our past. We lock horns with our judgments, rage, fear and despair.
Many of the stories we tell are true, and the battles are necessary to protect the Earth, the vulnerable and marginalized, and each other. Yet there’s always a combatant, across the battle lines, with a different story and agenda, ready to meet us full on. So we thrash about, terrified, exhausted, and headed for an agonizing future that will take us all down, and our planet home with us.
The sacred witness knows she can’t stop this battle. She can’t disentangle the combatants from the net. She honors death as a messy, heartbreaking business. She can only witness what is, knowing that this stuff of life — the angst and longings and beauty and horror and struggle and triumphs — is the crucible of our greater becoming and our deepest dreams coming true.
From a thousand deaths come a thousand births. Rebirth is not possible without death.
Her only desire is to ease the suffering for both sides of the struggle, and to bring a quick, clean ending. So she calls the gentle hunter to her side — to speak, to pray, to mourn, to facilitate death. This gentle hunter can be many things — a loving touch, a listening ear, an open mind, an incisive word, compassion, forgiveness, goodness, gratitude, tolerance, justice — qualities that are deep and ancient, arising from the best of our nature, outside of the net, outside of the battle.
What comes next for our humanity is unknown. We ride the razor-sharp edge of our evolution, still in the midst of the battle and the tangle of the net, and things have definitely taken a turn for the worse.
I won’t pretend that I totally understand these visions that I’ve shared. They’re new, raw, emerging out of the depth of my community’s magic, the power and presence of my friend, and my own deep-dreaming soul.
We’re combatants, tangled in the net, fighting for our life, our beloveds, the vulnerable and marginalized in our midst, and the Earth. We’re sacred witnesses and gentle hunters, bringing love and presence to the battle and the combatants. We can hold all of this, be all of this — complex, resilient, bruised, wise, powerful, loving — knowing that death will come, one way or another, because the world as we know it, the net of patriarchy, colonization, white supremacy, global capitalism, has run its course.
In these visions and realizations, I find my hope, my inspiration, and this prayer, from my open and broken heart to yours: out of our struggles, out of the pain and suffering of so many, out of the great harm we have inflicted on our Mother Earth, out of the thousands and thousands of deaths, rebirth will come; we will live once more from the love, beauty and goodness that are the best of our nature, and the world will be forever changed.
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Photo Credit: Shellyse Szakacs
Posted on:  Oct 30, 2020 @ 10:00 Posted in:  Sabbats
We gather in a heritage hall on my island home for our Samhain ritual. Warm bodies squeeze close together to form a circle of pagan and non-pagan folks, grownups and children, and even a couple of dogs, with the room filled to capacity.
It’s been a hard, heartbreaking year for our community. The Ancestors altar is covered with photographs and mementos of those that have passed. There have been many deaths, and the tragic loss of two precious youth in one September weekend that shook this island to its core. I feel this collective grief in my own heart, and in this gathering. Samhain is the time when we honor and name those we’ve lost this year, and commune with our Beloved Dead.
Yet there’s more than grief and loss in the room. At the opposite end of the cycle of life are the youth, our children, and the souls waiting to be born. These beings we honor on the Descendants altar, and through the naming of the newborns this year.
I stand beside the Ancestors altar with another priestess. Across the circle from us, two priestesses stay by the Descendants altar. The four us will be calling in the Ancestors and Descendants, and then shifting into paired partners of Deep Witness and Tender.
The Deep Witnesses don’t actively participate in the ritual. They sit — veiled, empty and silent — acting as anchors and observers of the deep dream of our magic. I’m one of the Tenders. Our priestess role is to support and protect our Deep Witness, and to stay by her side for the duration of the ritual.
Together we create sacred space. The circle is cast. We ground. The Elements are called in through song. Goddesses and other Mysteries are invoked. Our priestess group calls in the Ancestors and Descendants.
I listen from the edge of the action, attuned to the movements of bodies, weaving of energy, and quality of presence, more than the individual words and actions. I step forward to do my calling in task, and then settle into my role as Tender.
I notice the seamless sharing of leadership, power and space — the many priestesses working together to co-create this magical experience for our community. The talent and expertise in this room are immense, diverse, breathtaking, yet I don’t sense inflated egos, jealousy or competition.
We move on to the reading of the names of the dead who have passed this year — what is remembered lives. And the dead come, slipping past the veil that separates us, to drink of our grief, our love, and our honoring.
Two priestesses begin to trace a path in the center of the circle, one drumming and together weaving a hauntingly beautiful guided trance to the Isle of Apples, the Pagan Land of the Dead. Everyone settles into a comfortable position, and makes their way to the blessed Isle to commune with their Beloved Dead.
The Sacred Witnesses don’t make this journey, nor do we, their Tenders. Together we anchor this magical circle, while the Sacred Witnesses hold vigil and observe all with their dream eyes. My only job is to stand guard. I don’t pry into the visioning of the ritual participants, nor of the Sacred Witnesses. Whatever is happening here is intensely soul-to-soul private.
The two priestesses speak once more, calling the ritual participants to rise up and dance the Spiral Dance with their Beloved Dead, and with the Souls of the Unborn who also reside on the Isle of Apples. Hand to hand, the dancers form a moving spiral that turns inward toward the circle center, and then back outward again. Dancers pass each other by, shining face to shining face, with voices raised in song.
I first notice how crowded the space is, not only with the living, but also with our unseen guests of the Beloved Dead and the Unborn. My guardian instincts kick in, and I expand my energy to create a protective barrier between the Sacred Witness and the dancers.
Yet the Sacred Witness is unfazed. She rocks and sways with the music and building energy of the dance. This energy is immense, intense, but also peaceful, harmonious, and so, so heart-wrenching.
This is how we hold our grief and losses; with this much love, power and presence. We are one community: the living, the dead and the yet to be born. The spiral dance is life itself, a turning into and out of the mortal coil of our flesh and bones form.
As the Spiral Dance and guided journey come to a close with words of parting and gratitude for the Beloved Dead and the Unborn, it’s time to honor and name the newborns for this year, and to circle back to the celebratory beginnings of life.
Then there’s one last task before the circle is opened: the Deep Witnesses speak on behalf of the Ancestors and Descendants.
The Ancestors remind us that we are each a light in these dark times, and we must shine our brightest to make this world a better place. The Descendants tell us that special souls are being born to this world, and that we must make space for them and heed their teachings.
For this Samhain eve, our magic is done. We devoke, thanking and saying goodbye to all that we’ve called in. Priestesses and participants alike are called back from the Mysteries to return to the waking world. Our circle is opened, yet unbroken.
As a community, we share food and conversation afterwards, and I continue my Tender duties until my priestess companion is returned from her Deep Witness journey, and fully grounding in her human form. Then it’s time to go home, nourished, healed and transformed by our evening of magic.
Let this wholeness be our prayer and our practice in the year to come.
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Ritual Credit: This Samhain ritual practice arises out of the Reclaiming Tradition of Witchcraft.
Photo Credit: Janko Ferlič on Unsplash
Artwork by Sarah Sheil