by Diana Paar
Welcome to the first of my regular postings about the Wheel of the Year – solstices, equinoxes and the fire festivals in between them – which are holidays (holy days) acknowledged and celebrated by contemporary practitioners of earth-based religions (which include druids, wiccans and heathens amongst others).
Panaradia is an anagram of my name (dianapaar) and while it is a very personal connection to my ancestors & deities, it also stands for a specific approach to awakened spirituality:
“As Above-So Below” (Aradia is a lunar goddess of reflected light: shining wisdom down from above and receiving the devotion of those who look upon her) blended with “As Within-So Without” (Pan is a god of earth – all that is around us and within us is alive & sacred when we look around and see it).
So, the Panaradia approach is two-fold: an up-down view of worship, devotion & praise (“ghosti” is an Indo-European term used for the reciprocal benefit of spiritual practice between a human and the divine used in ADF druidry) blended with the in-out approach of “look around you at the season, the land and your life in this moment and allow it to connect within the deepest part of you”.
MEANING & INTENTION
Let us begin by looking around us to see the shortening of the days, the cooling of the temperatures and the darkening of the year. After summer’s bright blessing and autumn’s bountiful harvest, we are beginning to wind down the year, slowing to perhaps its very end, finding ourselves at the cross-quarter point we call Samhain.
Most systems acknowledge this to be the time period between October 31st and November 1st (midnight to midnight if you’re being really Celtic!) but others prefer to celebrate Samhain on the actual day that is the midpoint between the autumn equinox & the winter solstice. This year that date falls on Thursday, November 6th.
Samhain is a Gaelic word pronounced “sow-in” or “sah-en”. Please do not give in to the temptation to say “sam-hane” despite it’s English spelling; you’ll get used to it and Sow-in will roll off your tongue like you’re a native Celt. It is thought to have represented the end of the harvest season, the bringing inside of the livestock and the closing down of the active portion of the rural year. Some also believe that it represents the beginning of the next year (i.e. the “Celtic New Year” you may have heard about) but I belong to the school of thought that this holy day is the beginning of a “gap” between the end of the old and the beginning of the new at Yuletide (winter solstice) which makes my wheel of the year more like a Celtic torq (a neck ring with a gap between the two ends of metal).
Regardless, Samhain is popularly respected as one of the “liminal” times of the year for pagans – when the veils between the worlds are at their thinnest – allowing communication with spirits, ancestors and the honored dead to be engaged in with ease and to our mutual benefit. Whether you approach this time of year as a one-day open channel between those who have gone before and those of us who are still alive or you treat the entire six-week period as an aperture between the realms – there are certain traditions and practices that can make Samhain (and Halloween, it’s pop culture cousin) a meaningful and joyous turn of the Wheel of the Year.
TRADITIONS & PRACTICES
CONNECT WITH YOUR ANCESTORS
- Visit their graves. Many contemporary pagans have been inspired by the Mexican day of the dead traditions – where you can take favorite foods, flowers, perhaps stories of praise and gratitude to share with them. Have a picnic or quiet ritual at their gravesite. Keeping them linked in to your current life acknowledges the gifts they’ve bestowed upon you in the past and presumes they are still interested in what you’re up to now!
- Hold an Ancestor Dinner with your friends and family. Each person makes or brings a dish to a potluck representing an ancestral link for them of some kind. Food is a powerful memory tool and can be used to connect us to childhood memories of a favorite item, cultural symbols of our ethnic roots or evoke a comforting scent of home & hearth. Sometimes a single dish accomplishes all three! This dinner is also called a “dumb” supper as it can be eaten in silence and it is traditional to place the first portion of each item on the Ancestor plate, which is placed at a seat of honor at the table.
- Spend time on ancestry websites researching your blood ancestors, if you can (adoption is a whole other topic) and take this time to update and take care of the photos, trinkets and memorabilia of your beloved dead. Display them, if they aren’t already out around your home. You can even create a special place for them to stay all year – your Ancestor Altar – offering candles, coins & incense or things they like.
- If you have living ancestors: mothers, fathers, grandparents and/or others please TALK to them! Ask questions, listen and record them. Learn their stories while they are still here with you because it is Your Story, too.
HONOR THE DEAD
- Some traditions, including my own, acknowledge the gifts passed down to us by Ancestors of Hearth Culture and/or Spiritual Path, as well as those of blood. By hearth culture I am referring to the pantheon of the deity/deities you may have a relationship with in your earth religious practice: Celtic, Norse, Greco-Roman, Egyptian, Native American, etc. And you may be called to honor heroes, myths or previous advocates of these cultures in an ancestral practice. Many of us are including NPR journalist Margot Adler, who died in 2014, in our ancestor veneration this year. As the Wiccan author of the seminal “Drawing Down the Moon” book we feel bound to give her honor and gratitude for paving the way for many of us to find our spiritual home in neo-paganism.
- From parlor games to “look into the well to see the face of your future husband” to deep rituals of seeking what the year ahead may hold for you – the liminality of this time of year is wonderful for Divination of all kinds. Get a tarot reading or an astrological consultation. Have a reading exchange party or ritual with your friends, if you’re willing to be open to each other. Think about what you want to know, then research a way to look between the worlds to perhaps get a glimpse of it: cards, runes, coins, crystals, scrying mirrors – all are effective at this time of year.
- Speaking of which, those of us who work with divination frequently as a profession or as part of our spiritual practice, often take this opportunity to perform a ritual of the Blessing of the Tools. While you should be smudging and cleansing your cards, crystals, etc. on a regular basis – you can create an official ceremony of cleansing & consecration to be performed at this time of year. Think of it as Samhain cleaning!
- Oh my gods, it’s Halloween! Despite all the commercialization of the holiday, it’s still a time of costumes & parties, tricks & treats and just plain old spooky fun while the wind blows and the house creaks! Try to get outside at dusk during this time of year – you can often feel the veil thinning as the dark night descends. Make your jack-o-lantern and be sure it’s lit & on your porch by October 31st so the tricksters pass you by. Light a fire in the back yard and tell scary stories around it while you bundle up together. Visit a haunted house event or contact a paranormal group to see what they’re up to this time of year. Have parties, research superstitions and balance the seriousness of Samhain with the high hilarity of a rip-roaring good old Halloween time! Safely, of course. And don’t drive while intoxicated. Ever.
There is so much more you can do at this time of the year: make ancestor dolls as object links to your honored dead, create new traditions unique to your family or culture, etc. Remember to slow down a little, watch the leaves perform their brightest show of the year before falling off the trees and enjoy the sweaters, shawls & loved ones wrapped around you to take off the chill.
Diana is a practicing druid with Ár nDraíocht Féin (ADF) where she has served as Liturgist, Priestess and Ovates (Seeress) for over 20 years. She is also an initiate of a transformational spiritual path that integrates western mystery and post-tribal shamanic traditions. A professional intuitive, Diana offers consultations, classes and workshops in tarot & astrology.
Note: she is not a scholar although she hangs out with several. Please feel free to do your own research into pagan histories and traditions – this column is about engaged spiritual practice. But you can contact her at [email protected] with a request for resources.