Samhain Follow-up

I have returned from my Samhain weekend at Circle Sanctuary. It was a very good weekend and while I am not on the same path as probably 95% of those who go to Circle events are, I got something out of it, I feel better and am glad to have gone. This is also a good step on me easing myself back into the pagan community after having been burned so badly and taking a couple years to heal. It is a slow process, I know. I’m working on it. I am eternally a work in progress.

Let me preface this with saying that it was cold as a bitch’s biting wit on Friday morning when we departed Green Bay for Circle (which is south of Madison). As in it had snowed in parts of the state Thursday night into Friday morning and we saw it along the highway on the drive. I was bundled as much as I could possibly bundle and still move around with any degree of ease. We were able to check into our hotel early, then got out to Circle’s grounds and check in there, said hellos to people (I find it hilarious how people will know my face and then not remember my name, and you can visibly seem them struggling to remember it, because I worked Pagan Spirit Gathering staff for five years and busy staff at that… I just took two years away from most Circle activities of any nature at all which had nothing to do with Circle as an organization and more to do with the attendees and their entitlement issues, but I digress). I signed up for my mandatory workshift, since we were one of the first to check in, I got prime pickings… and took the first gate shift for Saturday (easy peasy, though cold!).

Now, I’ll just touch on the highlights because, it was a weekend long festival and I had a lot go through my mind.

Friday I went to the Margot Adler Memorial Circle. At first, I wasn’t going to go. I’d only met Margot a couple times through Pagan Spirit Gathering, those times she still had her incredible long black hair (this was before she started her treatments) and I remember as a younger pagan in my 20s being so impressed without how humble and… everyday, she was. People got starstruck around her, I guess. I don’t really, not even around tv celebrities (ok, I may have whimpered at Ioan Gruffudd, but that was totally his accent that was making me melt because he just kept talking and talking and talking and talking… actually, now that I think about it, I seem to have a thing for that Welsh accent… talk about another time…) So, we were all seated in this circle of chairs in the Temple Room. I was sitting about where I normally do when I’m in there, which is in a chair near the stairs up to the owls nest. On my right was a little table that is usually some altar or another, but this time it had some flowers and a copy of Drawing Down the Moon and a lot of pictures of Margot on it from different stages of her life.

I’ve never been to any sort of memorial before. I understand the purpose of them, just like I do of wakes and funerals, but my family never does that sort of things. I’ve never been to a wake, or a funeral. Nothing. When my grandmother (dad’s side) passed away, and I was close to her, I was called and told that she was probably going that night and that if I wanted to say goodbye that was the time to come down. I started packing my bag. Less than 20 minutes later I got another call that she was gone and I shouldn’t bother. She was sent off, cremated, and I don’t know what my father did with the cremains. I don’t have any mementos from her either. My family sort of.. shuns death, locks it away. My family is so small and I don’t know anything about them because everything is kept quiet, questions are never answered and those that would have answered them… are gone. But now I’m entering at point in my life where I have friends that are dying…

It was a beautiful memorial, Selena read a biography of Margot telling the things that most would know but then things that only those close to her would know, or perhaps not. Then all these stories from people who knew her were shared, a woman I really wish I could have known better because she sounded so amazing. Selena officiated her wedding and she officiated Dennis and Selena’s. Dennis telling everyone the story of Margot’s officiation of the wedding was so funny there were tears of laughter. What a wonderful thing to do. It is sad when people leave your lives, but to gather together and share the good memories, to laugh and cry together… is a celebration of the life that person had instead of a regret at the loss. Are memorials like that common?

I had a grand time at the Witches’ Ball, though I think only three people knew my costume without my having to tell them who it was. One of which as the well-educated older Jewish fellow (I’m not quite sure how he ended up at a Pagan Samhain festival, but to each their own, maybe he wasn’t practicing anymore, I didn’t ask… seemed tacky, but he talked about the Jewish order he worked with so I’m not sure if that was past or present) that I had a wonderful set of conversations with throughout the weekend.

Edna Mode, dahling. Why have so many people not seen ‘the Incredibles?’

But, I did some dancing, hovered by propane heater, met a woman from Gaia’s Womb that I  swear I have met before but we could not find a single thing we have overlapped at before this weekend. But it was so cold in the little valley part that Circle’s land sits in that I guess someone said their thermometer on their tent read -6 F overnight. Yikes. Officially they were saying only like low 20s or something. Still. Too damn cold for camping and was so grateful we had a hotel room.

Pagans dancing around. Just a small section of the revelry.

Pagans dancing around. Just a small section of the revelry.

Pulling back in on Saturday morning there was a thick layer of frost on everything. I took a few photos, but it was insane. Grabbed some breakfast from the farmhouse, some coffee and then sat on a chair next to the firebowl at the gate to check off people as they came in for the next two hours. One girl and her mom were camped, from Iowa, said the propane tank on their tent heater froze up and wouldn’t work. That’s the point when I say, “Nope!” to camping. When the heater gives the middle finger, I’m done.

Crunch, crunch, crunch went the frost underfoot on my way to the gate

Crunch, crunch, crunch went the frost underfoot on my way to the gate

That is one beautiful, white, frosting of nope on the campers landscape.

That is one beautiful, white, frosting of nope on the campers landscape.

I attended a workshop period that was designed to help you focus on your dreams and your legacy… how those will affect your community -because it should never be just about yourself, and what steps to move forward with that. I very nearly had a breakdown in the middle of the workshop because after the whole meditative thing I realized… I have none. I remember distinctly having dreams and goals, impacts I wanted to make and changes I wanted to see in the community around me -big or small. Both of the ones I had and worked so hard toward were stripped away by outside forces beyond my control and now I’m left with an empty whiteboard. Some may see that as a blank canvas to work with, but I don’t even see a dot to start from. It’s just… empty. Which is alarming and intimidating and… really frightening when you are really used to always having some sort of higher goal to work toward. When you’ve always felt like you’ve had a purpose, something bigger than yourself to put energy into and you find yourself with nothing, it’s an empty, empty hole and very hard to dig out of.

I liked doing volunteer work, I wanted the organization I ran to do so much more than the pittance we did which was why a few of us did outreach to try to find more. But, that group is dead now. I mentioned to Tereesa this weekend that I had been idly considering swallowing my path and finding a Christian Church to join not for mass but for that sense of community in the community. Something pagans lack. Will you ever see more than 3 or 4 pagans doing an adopt-a-highway or working a soup kitchen or anything that requires actual labor? Likely not. It would need them to be reliable and organized. Two things they hate because it is too dogmatic. But I can’t just do those things on my own. Well, I could, but the impact isn’t the same, and joining a church for self-serving reasons like that without the actual belief is just… wrong. So, yeah.

Ritual itself was in three parts. The first part was an optional Ancestor and Memento Reflection. I didn’t have anything on the ancestor altar because… I don’t have anything other than a few glossy photographs -thanks family. But, I still went in (bundled up with many layers including hat, scarf, gloves, cloak… yep) and just sat in one of the provided chairs. I just sat there, thinking of how many people I’ve known that have passed on and I never got to do anything: no wake (not that it is necessary), no funeral or memorial… no really chance to say goodbye or mourn. Nothing. It’s just a, “well, they are dead now. Close the chapter and move forward.” Like you are supposed to just forget the or something.

What the fuck is wrong with my family?

Which leads me into this part where I feel mostly forgotten these days. If I don’t go out of my way to contact my parents, I’ll not be contacted. I hear everything that happens in the family through my sister. With that in mind, I’m sitting in the chair, bundled, listening to singing bowls, candle light all around, and crying for whatever reason. I don’t even know. Now, given that I am prone to all sorts of hallucinations on their own because of brain issues, I tend to take a lot of stuff with a grain of salt, but I know there was no one behind me and in this rather convenient timing, it felt like there was a bit of pressure on my shoulder and I heard a male voice say to me, “even though you feel alone, abandoned and forgotten. You are never alone.” It was unusual because it was male. The reassuring voice usually sounds like my grandmother to me. Does it matter who it would have been or if it was my subconscious? No. The message itself has truth and merit, regardless of origin: internal or external.

The ritual moved into a large somewhat heated tent outdoors where everyone sat in a large ring, about four rows deep. It was about freezing outside, temperature wise, so I was grateful for the heated tent. Lights were some string lights and a contained flame in the center. Everything was fairly as I would have expected until the keening started. On its own keening is a bit unnerving to hear even when you are prepared for it. But having an enclosed area where you aren’t sure if all 100 or so people in that tent are doing it or not, just all that wailing, is such an overwhelming thing to behold that I wasn’t sure what I was feeling. I know I felt heavy. Physically heavy, like there was a boulder pressing down on my chest and an anvil on top of that. It was akin to a deep meditative feeling where you feel on the verge of sleep where you are entering another stage of consciousness, except this was very not intentional and I was very not okay with it because I wasn’t sure what was going to happen.

I sat upright, to try to force control on myself -because that’s what I do (after so much time of guiding others through things I have a lot of trouble just letting myself relax and let other things happen), and ended up looking down toward the grass between the legs of the white wooden chair in front of me. They were all white wood, I only mention that because of the color contrast drawing attention to things.  Here was where I ran into the part where my scientific and analytical, logical mind started to conflict with the part of me that was very certain there was some message to be divined in what I saw.

“That’s just leaf litter mixed with shadows…” “No. Look. It’s the shape of a griffon looking at you, but… somewhat skeletal. That has to mean something?”
“Leaf litter. Be logical, Dawn.” “What would that even mean? That’s not any known symbol. That’s… no. Huh. Weird.”
“I’m hallucinating again. That’s all this is. I’ve been having issues with that lately anyway.” “But what about that voice earlier. Look at the detail on the wings. It really looks as if there are actually feathers there…”

I have no idea what to make of that, if there is even anything to make of that. A skeletal griffon in miniature? The hell?

I was extremely relieved when we moved to the final section and processed to a large circle around a huge bonfire at another section of the grounds, though, because I was having a lot of difficulty maintaining control of my consciousness. I don’t really know what that was about either. Alarming, at best.

The final part of ritual, photo by Selena Fox. So beautiful.

The final part of ritual, photo by Selena Fox. So beautiful.

Other than being frozen down to the core (it was in the 20s F when we left), we opted to skip the candlelight labyrinth walk that night and returned to the hotel, it was a nice ritual. We stayed up chatting and tried to sort things out. There was a bit more on Sunday before I came home, but I might come back to that another day, more thoughts to work my way through and organize. Right now… I’m not sure what to do with what I have here.

Not at all.

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4 Responses to “Samhain Follow-up”

  1. I am glad that I was much closer to my immediate ancestors, some of whom were born in the 19th century. I’m still in the process of figuring out a major annual honouring since I am Russian-German. So, instead of doing the 3rd day of Anthesteria, I’ll be doing one day during the Yule season. I’ll be taking out several bottles of schnapps out to the cemetery along with a chair and have a drinking party with my dead. They don’t do water libations. I’m not even sure if my Russian Grandfather’s last name is really his. He gave a short German name at Ellis Island; but, he had “skipped out” because he didn’t want to serve in the Tsar’s army (though his father was a Cossack), first to Hungary. You don’t need anything, really, to honour your ancestors. Start with the water libations at Anthesteria, They’ll let you know what they want. They like being remembered.

    • It would be easier if I knew who any of them even were, and I don’t really mean that I would have to have met them. It’s all so hush-hush for some strange reason. I’m going to start some genealogy digging, with or without the assistance of the living immediate family. I have a small amount of information to work with… I guess I’ll try to go from there. That’s the best I can do, right?

      • Do the digging — but, do the honouring as well. You don’t need any names for that! However, I am sure you do know your immediate ancestors.

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