This will be a short post. Not because I didn’t celebrate Samhain, but because… well, it’s a holiday that’s becoming important to me, but in a very fuzzy sort of way. I don’t like the name (I don’t do anything remotely Celtic) and I’m not really sure where it fits into the Roman calendar.
But, at the same time, I’ve come to believe that it marks Proserpine returning to Hades. After all, why else would world cultures all have a sort of celebration of the dead around now? Because the dead are coming to welcome their queen.
At least, that’s how I see it now.
I had enough time to actually do a big deal. But, a big deal just wasn’t in the cards for me.
Instead, today, on the last day that I could do the ritual and have it count towards my Dedicant’s Path, I did a minimal ADF ritual.
And it was enough. I’m glad I did it… but I think I’d feel better if I took the time to figure out how Samhain fits into my own little worldview.
After coming across a thoght-provoking blog post on The Green Wolf, I realized that in a way, I’d always agreed: we shouldn’t make things all about ourselves. But also, that I of course usually did. (See my struggles to ‘see more‘ as an example.)
So, yes, I need to make things less about me.
But also, there’s something I want to tag onto the conversation: I’m not super special. Don’t think only the super-special nature matters.
I’m thinking now of my neighbor, a non-pagan friend of nature and his inability to understand why I feed the sparrows. “I like to see them outside my window,” I said. “And I know that, if we didn’t live here, they’d have more habitat. I’m just giving a tiny bit back.”
“They’re dirty, disgusting birds.” He said. “I can understand feeding chickadees and blue tits…”
The conversation moved on. But still, it’s one that I wish I could go back and continue because I realized something: I’m a dirty, disgusting human. It’s not like only the Brittney Spears and Colin Kaepernicks of the world matter. I also want to eat. Why shouldn’t unremarkable birds get food?
I’ll probably never get to go back to that conversation and hit my neighbor with my knock-out argument. (This is obviously just one more thing that’s about me.) But, it’s opened my eyes to all the organisms that go about their work busily every day and I overlook them.
They’re just as special as the deer and the wolves that make us catch our breath when we see them. And, to be honest, I imagine that my spirit animal is more likely a sparrow than an eagle, so why not take care of them?
I will write up the ritual more thoroughly soon, but here’s the script I used. It’s basically an adaptation of the one I posted in 2015.
Altar (Tree, fire, well)
Container for drink
Container for birdseed and grain (will end in bird feeder)
Drink (Whiskey for ancestors, wine for the shining ones)
Paper / Pen (or phone, for recording omens)
Grounding: The two powers meditation
Honor the Earth Mother: Using Magna Mater as name, offer praise and gratitude. Offer half the grain.
Statement of purpose: Something to the effect that equinox is here (and past) and that I’m prepared to mark this event with the kindred, and to use the opportunity to offer of my own generosity, so that, in time, they might offer of theirs.
(Re)create the Cosmos.
Put the silver dollar into the well. Say something spontaneous to the effect of: “The well, deep within the Earth Mother, the realm of the ancestors, and of Pluto and his bride.”
Light the candle. Say something spontaneous to the effect of “The realm above, home of the shining ones.”
Offer water to the tree. Say something to the effect of “The middle realm. My home, as well as the home of those I know and love best, and the other nature spirits.”
Invoke the Gatekeeper, open the gate
Invoke Proserpine. “Proserpine, you who move between the worlds, bringing life and joy everywhere you go. I ask that you assist me in this ritual as my gatekeeper.”
Open the gates. “Proserpine, gatekeeper, join your magic to mine and help me open this gate.” Making a spiral gesture, visualize a portal opening above the well and fire.
Invite the Kindred
Invite the ancestors. “Ancestors, old ones, whose blood flows in my veins, whose passions inhabit my mind, I ask that you hear me this day. Accept my offering” — pour out some drink — “and from beyond this mortal realm, join me this Equinox in ritual.”
Invite the nature spirits. “Spirits of the land, of beast and wing, of stone and tree, I ask that you hear me this day. Accept my offering” — offer some bird seed — “and join me this Equinox in ritual.”
Invite the Gods. “Shining ones, matrons and patrons, from your realm on high I ask that you hear me this day. Accept my offering” — pour out some drink — “and join me in this Equinox ritual.”
Beings of the occasion. Apollo and Diana, as we mark this shift from light to dark. Something along the lines of “Apollo, I single you out for honor and gratitude today after the long summer spent in enjoyment of Sol’s light. Take my offering and my gratitude as you prepare to work shorter hours, turning the illumination of the Earth over to your sister.” Pour out drink. And then, “Diana, as you prepare to play a more active role in our world once again, I ask that you accept my offering and my gratitude.” Pour out drink.
The beings of the occasion. A simple request for feedback, nothing more.
Speak earnest praise individually for the ancestors, the nature spirits and the gods as the Tarot cards are shuffled. Maintain focus on their presence and the presence of the gate.
“I take these three omens, that I might know the will of the ancestors, of the nature spirits, and of the gods in this rite and in my life.” Turn over one card as each Kindred is mentioned.
Contemplate first impressions — Deeper ‘book’ meanings will be looked up later.
Thank the gods. “Shining ones, I thank you for your participation in this ritual today. Your presence has inspired me.” Pour out more drink. “I praise and thank you.”
Thank the nature spirits. “Nature spirits, I thank you for your participation in this ritual today. Your presence has encouraged me.” Scatter more birdseed.
Thank the ancestors. “Ancestors, I thank you for your participation in this ritual today. Your presence has strengthened me.”
Thank Proserpine with an offering of drink. “Proserpine, without you, this offering would not have been possible today. I thank you.”
Close the gates. “Proserpine, with gratitude for the assistance you have provided me this equinox, I ask that you once again close the gates.”
Thank the Earth Mother. “Magna Mater, I thank you today not only for the bounty from which we live in excess, but for your presence here today.” Offer the rest of the grain.
Close the rite. “With [Insert emotion here] I hereby end this ritual.”
An advantage of doing this is that, since writing this, I’ve realized I’ve had the Queen of Wands as an omen before, as recorded in this post on trying to communicate with my grandfather.
At the beginning of the week, I took my omen the way I usually do: in a semi-ritual in front of my altar, recapping my plans for the ancestors and asking for their wisdom. My heart always sinks a little when I get a reversed omen, but that’s what I got.
Now, of course, I can’t recall exactly what I said to the ancestors. But I think it was something along the lines of “I have a lot to do this week, and on top of that I want to invest more time with the kids and I’m feeling overwhelmed.”
That said, the omen made sense when I looked it up.
Delight in your strength – avoid bitterness
Looking in Seventy-Eight Degrees of Wisdom, the meaning seemed pretty clear to me.
As with the King the upside down Queen shows the reaction of such a person to opposition and sorrow. The basic good nature and positive attitude of the Queen, as well as her energy, make her invaluable in a crisis or disaster. We can see her as the kind of person who will take over the running of someone’s house when they have had a crisis and at the same time offer advice, consultation, emotional support, all these things coming from a natural impulse rather than any sense of duty.
At the same time this good nature demands that life respond in a positive way. Too much disaster or too much opposition from life (and the weakness of such a person can be a tendency to think of life as ‘unfair’), and a nasty streak can emerge. She can become deceitful, jealous, unfaithful, or somewhat bitter.
It seems a pretty clear response to my week: you have the choice to delight in having the strength and character to confront such a week, or you can let it make you bitter.
I’m not going to say that drawing the omen made my week better. Or even that it was an easy week. I was tired on Friday. But, it was nice to have someone say “hey, you can manage this, if you choose to.”
So, I focused on getting the exercise that I’ve prescribed myself, and getting out in the breaks that I have. Even though I laid down on a bench in the woods rather than going on a long hike.
And, I got through the week. This coming week is a pretty difficult one again. Add to that the fact that I’d like to add in a Autumn Equinox ritual sometime, and I know I’ll have to manage the same thing again.
My conception of the Wheel of the Year is still forming. And yet, the equinox seems easier to reflect on than the cross-quarter days. The equinoxes are obviously about balance, right?
Some thoughts on balance
But the autumn equinox is also about preparation: about balancing our enjoyment of the light we have now, with the preparation to survive the coming darkness. Just balancing those two things. I could go crazy just contemplating what it means to prepare for “the coming darkness” if you’re not living in an agricultural society.
We — in temperate zones, at least — enjoy a balance between summer and winter. But, it’s worth remembering that our balance comes at a cost. I cannot know what a diety thinks or feels, but I strongly suspect that Ceres, Proserpine, and Pluto are genuinely satisfied with the balance we enjoy.
In fact, this seems like a pretty decent time to remember that our balance is the result of Zeus’s wisdom, Ceres strength and willingness to compromise, and Proserpine’s ability to subordinate whatever he wishes were to the common good and to make the best of the situation that was presented to her.
I don’t yet know how I can adequately honor all those things in a ritual.
A time of looking forward
For me, the darkness is a time of turning inward: a time to renew my attempts at meditation (why does it seem easier in the winter?) as we’re still trying to get out on every sunny afternoon, to enjoy every sunny weekend, it’s worth thinking about the time that is coming.
A balance I’d like to have more in my life — in addition to balancing meditation and physical exercise, mental and physical fitness — is between doing “useful things” and art. And now, before the darkness settles upon us, seems like a time to begin investing in those things, so that they’ll be available to me as a comfort when the darkness comes.
A time of looking backward
Just as easily as we can say that we’re entering into a time of preparing for the darkness, it’s worth reflecting on the possibility that our harvest is not one of vegetables and grain, but of growth and memories. But, that they are no less deserving of collection and of “putting up.”
I don’t know what that looks like.
It’s not a hobby of mine — and it won’t be, not in the coming months — but this seems like as good a time as any to catch up on scrapbooking or journaling.
I don’t do either (does this here count as journaling?) but I rely on Google Photos to manage my photos and it automatically generates compilation videos. For a while, I’ve been thinking that it might be a nice Yule tradition to watch a compilation of the compilation videos. Now might be a good time to do that.
Additionally, it might be worth thinking about how I’m different, how I’ve grown, since my last autumn equinox and to try to put that in writing. That is about as much as I can think of by way of ‘laying up,’ the growth I’ve experienced.
Preparing a ritual
I’m not going to manage my ritual on time tomorrow. But, the equinox isn’t here yet and I’ve been thinking about it. I’ve been thinking — by my standards — rather deeply about it. Other than words, what can I do in a ritual to acknowledge all those things that I’m beginning to think about the equinox?
My rituals tend to be the same thing, over and over again, with only mild variations. I state a different purpose, maybe I rephrase something when I draw an omen. But, I don’t know how to make the equinox feel different than any other ritual.
Reading an interview with Sharon Devlin in “Drawing Down the Moon,” I came across this quote that resonated with me:
I do not believe that the past was the Golden Age. Any time in which children are sacrificed or old people are sacrificed, or where slavery exists or where blatant sexism exists, is not a Golden Age.
I completely agree. I’m in love with ancient Rome as a setting for novels in biographies, or as a thing to learn about as I look for things I can include in my own life… But, I certainly don’t want to live in ancient Rome or any other historical period.
I have an unusual relationship with Proserpine. She’s the goddess who first made me feel accepted by the Roman pantheon and, though I don’t have much of a connection to any of the Gods, she is at the center of my spiritual worldview.
A goddess I can relate to
To be fair, I know nothing of being a Goddess. I privately chafe at my own mortality, but I’m certainly not ready for the wisdom or the weight of forever, not to mention the outsize egos with which one probably has to contend. I find humans difficult. Gods are probably more challenging.
And yet, I think of her often. Like me, she has to leave her family behind to be with her spouse. Like me, there is reason to think that she’s not living in her first choice of locations. And yet — hopefully also like me — she’s making the best of it.
Even more, despite being a Goddess it seems large parts of her life were decided for her without any consideration of what she wanted. I feel that it makes her easier to understand than, say, a Zeus or Apollo.
A seasonal Goddess
A big part of my pagan worldview is tied up in the seasons. Sometimes, it’s the Sky Father and the Earth Mother, but just as often, it’s Proserpine making her annual pilgrimage that fascinates me. I don’t see why it can’t be both.
In fact, when I think about the Wheel of the Year, she’s integral. For me, Samhain (I need a better name) is about the unique mixture of sorrow she’s leaving behind on Olympus and the joy she’s bringing in Hades. I can relate to Hades rejoicing at seeing his love again. And, now a parent, I can relate to the loss Ceres feels each year.
The Wheel of the Year is a hard thing.
Weirdly, I can relate to her better in the winter. In general, I think I reach out to the kindred more when I don’t have the sun to power me. That could be the reason. It could also be that I can’t imagine her having time for me when she’s enjoying her brief stay on Olympus.
I don’t know.
A liminal being
I love the word liminal. It means ‘between two worlds.’ And, though Janus is the traditional gatekeeper of the Roman pantheon, I can’t think of a being more liminal that Proserpine, who moves between Olympus and Hades, blessing the surface of the Earth Mother with her magical presence.
When I made the move from the Celtic pantheon to the Roman one, Proserpine served as my gatekeeper. It’s been a while since I performed a proper ritual (note to self, the equinox is coming up!), but she’s the spirit I would turn to first. Partly, this is because of a negative omen I got the time I thought about asking Janus to serve in that role. And, partly it’s because I still feel… accepted by her.
My own cornerstone
It’s true that I don’t invest a lot of time or energy into the gods. I’m more of a Magna Mater and the ancestors kind of guy.
Nonetheless, hers was the first story that got me engaged in mythology in general and in the Roman pantheon in general. It was by reflecting on her story — often dramatically in front of students (I give some interesting English lessons) — that I realized what a badass Ceres is. Through her, I’ve learned an affinity for Ceres which falls shy of wanting a very strong relationship with her (I sense she might find me too weak).
Via Proserpine, I’ve found myself interested in Hades, of course, and his own unusual and underestimated role in the whole pantheon. It’s probably not a good idea to enter into a relationship with a god because you’re fascinated by his wife — hardly the foundation of a solid relationship — but it’s made him a more complex figure in how I see the world and I’m always certain to respect what I suspect are his feelings in all of the drama of the Wheel of the Year.
And, again via Proserpine, I’ve taken an interest in Jupiter. Conventional mythology doesn’t make him sympathetic (though the The Olympians series of comic books makes him a more relatable figure). And that’s enabled me to see that even he is in a position that I couldn’t have mastered any better.
Proserpine, it seems, is not only my gatekeeper. She’s the gateway I used to apprecaite the Gods as something more than “of the harvest.”