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Author Topic: What to Expect at a Samhain Ritual  (Read 8963 times)
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« Topic Start: October 18, 2008, 07:49:18 pm »

There is a small group of pagans that meet in my area. I recently attended their Full Moon Ritual and signed up to also attend the Samhain ritual. The full moon ritual was very Wiccan-ish and I suppose the Samhain ritual will be as well.

My reasons for going are similar to my reasons for being here on TC, to connect and interact with other pagans. I took my teenager who is currently on a path of Druidity exploration, who thoroughly enjoyed it and is looking forward to Samhain.

So my question is, not being Wiccan, what should I expect at the Samhain ritual?

The only clues I was given were that costumes are encouraged (as long as kept PG rated) and there would be a small bonfire and dancing. I always thought that a Wiccan Samhain ritual was more of a solemn event and this seems counter to that notion so any advise/wisdom would be appreciated.

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« Reply #1: October 18, 2008, 09:27:24 pm »

The only clues I was given were that costumes are encouraged (as long as kept PG rated) and there would be a small bonfire and dancing. I always thought that a Wiccan Samhain ritual was more of a solemn event and this seems counter to that notion so any advise/wisdom would be appreciated.

Asking them is really the only way to know for sure.

On the solemn/not-solemn front, some public rituals go the latter route, because it's much harder to design a meaningful ritual where you get deep into grief/remembering/etc. for a) a larger or unknown size group or b) a group where there isn't some pre-existing trust/expectations/etc. This is even more so if kids or teens are welcome, because you're adding age-level understanding in there.

It *is* possible to do more focused solemn rituals - but the ones I've seen done well generally take an unusually high level of advance planning, or a really solid core of people (at least 1/3 of the attendees) who can be relied on to help keep the energy focused in a more solemn direction.

(My first Samhain ritual, btw, was a large - 100+ people - ritual at MIT. That ritual had been going for at least 5-8 years when I went, and it did more or less the same steps most years, with a core of people who knew what to expect and so on. It was a *fantastic* ritual, and still really high on my list of examples of how to do large scale meaningful ritual, but I also know now - from experience - how hard that is to pull off.)

I also don't think that Samhain *has* to be all doom and gloom - anymore than Beltaine has to be all about sex. There are other ways to honor ancestors, remember loved ones, etc. that can have an element of joy and pleasure in there. (Just as there are other ways to honor relationships, love, romantic attachement, etc. at Beltane) But to know if I'd be comfortable at that ritual, I'd ask a bunch more questions.

(I'm actually contemplating going to one of our local public rituals, assuming I can make some scheduling work out, but I'm pretty clear in my own head I'm going mostly for the networking and community stuff, and if I get a deep and meaningful ritual experience out of it, that's a lovely added bonus.)
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« Reply #2: October 19, 2008, 12:37:45 pm »

Asking them is really the only way to know for sure.

The organizer said more info would be coming. So guess I will just hold on.

This will be a small group, 10 people tops.  I don't expect it to get too ritual heavy because it is open to all.

I just don't even know the first thing of what to expect other than a circle and fire. I am pretty Wiccan ritual ignorant.  Embarrassed

From what you say it sounds like there can be a lot of diversity in the ceremonies.  Are there standard chants, prayers, ritual items, etc. or is each ceremony more or less up to the individual organizer then?

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« Reply #3: October 19, 2008, 01:41:21 pm »

From what you say it sounds like there can be a lot of diversity in the ceremonies.  Are there standard chants, prayers, ritual items, etc. or is each ceremony more or less up to the individual organizer then?

It depends a lot on the organisers - and whether it's a Wiccan group, or a Wiccanesque/Wiccan-influenced group.

That said, there are some general sorts of ritual steps that are common. Some of the stuff below may happen in a different order, or may happen without much attention being called to them (for example, in some larger group rituals, people may do the banish and bless steps before other people enter the ritual space, to save time of people standing around not participating). Different traditions also have differnet specific practices - we do banish, scribe, bless, which is not as common, for example, as the version I've put down here.

But in general, it goes roughly like this:

1) Ritual preparation:
Preparation of the space includes everything from things like rearranging furniture if needed to setting up the altars. It may include things like energetically cleansing the space as well. A main altar is most commonly either in the north, east, or center, depending on tradition, many groups use quarter altars at the four cardinal directions as well.

Individual preparation might include a formal pre-ritual bath (generally done at home before you leave) but at the site may include something like being cleansed by someone passing incense over you, or by symbolically rinsing your hands in a bowl of water before you enter the ritual space. Generally, if you show up clean and tidy, people will be fine.

2) Banish the space:
This is removing any unwanted energies from the space - particularly important if you're using a rented space which has lots of other stuff going on in it. This might be done through sound, through sweeping, through visualisation lead by someone, or a number of other methods. (I'm fond of sound - chimes make me happy here.)

3) Bless the space:
Once you've cleaned out the stuff you don't want, you want to put in the stuff you *do* want - generally, this involves blessing the space with the four Platonic elements (usually through a combination of salt water - earth and water - and incense - air and fire.) Different groups have their own methods/words for it.

4) Scribe the circle.
(Some people refer to this step as 'casting' - but we use 'casting' to describe the entire process from beginning ritual until we hit the 'insert working here' step)
Scribing is creating the ritual container and temple - it generally forms a specifically designed globe within which the ritual energies are contained until released, and which helps provide focus, protection, and a way to interact outside of normal time and space.

Most common for this is a specific ritual phrasing - our tradition uses a total of 12 lines (in 3 passes around the circle), but there are a number of other methods. During this, someone may either walk the outside of the circle or pivot at the center, often using an athame (ritual blade) or sometimes a wand to help focus or direct energy. (Where they are often depends on the space.)

5) Call the quarters and/or guardians
Some people believe there are elementals (beings wholly of one element - traditionally called sylphs, salamanders, undines, and gnomes. but consider those more like 'traditional catch names' rather than 'the whole picture'.). Some people feel that each directional quarter is associated with an element (there's a lot of discussion about this, but the two most common options you'll see in the Northern hemisphere are Air-East, South-Fire, West-Water, North-Earth, or with Air in the North and Earth in the East.) Some people feel there are guardians associated with each direction.

Which combination of things you think is true will affect how the quarter calls happens (my tradition calls all three - guardian, spirits and ancients of the element, and things corresponding with the direction) There's a whole bunch of methods for doing this, which obviously vary quite a bit depending on what you're doing - some groups will draw an invoking pentacle to open a doorway in the circle to that particular quarter. Some don't. Generally, these start in the east and finish in the north, but not always.

6) Call/invite deities
Which ones depends on the group - Wiccan practice obviously involves a God and Goddess who are close to one another, Wiccan-based practice may vary quite a bit more. Generally, there should be some good reason for the choices. (You've heard Randall's horror story of the ritual where they picked names out of hats, right?)

How this is done may vary quite a bit - some people do planned invocations, some people use music, some people are moved on the spot and speak from their hearts.

7) Insert working here
Here, you do whatever it is you're doing together. For Samhain, this might be remembering loved ones who've died, scrying or divination, a Dumb Supper (silent meal eaten with the dead), a meditation, etc. It may be more than one thing, depending on the ritual. A spiral dance is also sometimes common at Samhain - if so, there will be chants to go with it. (But 10 people is a little on the small side for an effective one - this is just one form of dance, in which people will see each other's face as they go by - you spiral into the center, reverse direction, and spiral out again, then reverse one more time, so you get to see people directly twice.)

Cool Great Rite and Cakes and Ale
The Great Rite in symbol is the joining of blade and cup, representing the joining of God and Goddess in union (sexual and otherwise). Done right, there's a pretty major energy flow. Generally, after this, there is the passing of Cakes and Ale - a token community meal, sharing bread and a cup (which might have wine or some other alcohol, or not, depending on the group). There are some other variations for the bread - for example, some groups do small little individual cakes like mini-scones.

There may also be time here to discuss what happened in the working, now everyone's had a few minutes to gather their thoughts and come back to themselves.

9) Thank deities, guardians
Now you start working backwards in your circle construction as you wrap up - many groups work 'last in, first out', so that you thank (and where relevant, dismiss) those you worked with in reverse order of how you called/invited. And then you open the circle, generally using a parallel method to the one you used to scribe.

Music
Varies widely - there's a lot of local and group variation, too. If you want to look at some chant resources, I have a bunch up on the new coven website: http://gleewood.org/phoenixsong/?page_id=37 which include links to sound files. However, which ones they're going to use - that's harder to tell.

Most groups will teach the chants briefly before ritual.

Some common ones that might show up this time of year:
- We all come from the Goddess
- We are a circle
- Hoof and Horn
- The circle is open (really common at the end of the ritual.)

Also any of the elemental chants. Plus any chants relating to specific deities - Herne, Hecate and Cerridwen in particular at this point in the year, but it might be worth asking about chants in advance or which deities they expect to be calling.

Does any of that help more?
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« Reply #4: October 19, 2008, 02:46:57 pm »

The organizer said more info would be coming. So guess I will just hold on.
This will be a small group, 10 people tops.  I don't expect it to get too ritual heavy because it is open to all.
I just don't even know the first thing of what to expect other than a circle and fire. I am pretty Wiccan ritual ignorant.  Embarrassed
From what you say it sounds like there can be a lot of diversity in the ceremonies.  Are there standard chants, prayers, ritual items, etc. or is each ceremony more or less up to the individual organizer then?

Hey, yes! That was a big help.

Sounds similar to the moon ritual I attened. I assume they cleansed the area before we participants got there as the circle was already cast (using candles).  They called the quaters using elements and then called the Goddess and God. There was a water ritual, partaking of milk and cookies, a chant and a prayer. So I think what you described gives me a good idea of how Samhain will go as well.

Thanks!

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« Reply #5: October 21, 2008, 10:44:37 pm »

There is a small group of pagans that meet in my area. I recently attended their Full Moon Ritual and signed up to also attend the Samhain ritual. The full moon ritual was very Wiccan-ish and I suppose the Samhain ritual will be as well.

My reasons for going are similar to my reasons for being here on TC, to connect and interact with other pagans. I took my teenager who is currently on a path of Druidity exploration, who thoroughly enjoyed it and is looking forward to Samhain.

So my question is, not being Wiccan, what should I expect at the Samhain ritual?

The only clues I was given were that costumes are encouraged (as long as kept PG rated) and there would be a small bonfire and dancing. I always thought that a Wiccan Samhain ritual was more of a solemn event and this seems counter to that notion so any advise/wisdom would be appreciated.



That sounds great! I wouldn't mind getting away from my solitary work to embrace the other pagan/wiccan groups in Australia, but am not too sure where to find them. I suppose that also why I am on this forum.

I am very jealous of you, Nile_Lily  Wink
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« Reply #6: October 22, 2008, 12:19:29 am »

That sounds great! I wouldn't mind getting away from my solitary work to embrace the other pagan/wiccan groups in Australia, but am not too sure where to find them. I suppose that also why I am on this forum.

I am very jealous of you, Nile_Lily  Wink

Search witchvox.com for local groups in your area. Usually for Sabbats (and sometimes Esbats) some local group is doing a public ritual.

In our area a few groups (a coven, our Pagan recreation group, and one or two other groups that may or may not incude themselves plus a few other solitaries) get together to celebrate the Sabbats with a public ritual in the afternoon or early evening - leaving midday and midnight for their/our own celebrations.
Lots of interesting info focusing on Pagan news and networking on this global website (Australia is included). I hope you find one in your area!
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« Reply #7: October 22, 2008, 01:02:27 am »

Search witchvox.com for local groups in your area. Usually for Sabbats (and sometimes Esbats) some local group is doing a public ritual.

In our area a few groups (a coven, our Pagan recreation group, and one or two other groups that may or may not incude themselves plus a few other solitaries) get together to celebrate the Sabbats with a public ritual in the afternoon or early evening - leaving midday and midnight for their/our own celebrations.
Lots of interesting info focusing on Pagan news and networking on this global website (Australia is included). I hope you find one in your area!

I found a link to this site shortly after making my post and will be looking further into it. It seems very sociable which gives me hope. I have seen some advertisements of "working groups" near me but they cost money and I don't mind having a donation or contrabution but I am not keen in group learning or group work, but rather getting into interactive rituals for major/big/important occasions, so hopefully the above mentioned site will provide. Thanks for the link.Smiley
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« Reply #8: October 22, 2008, 02:46:46 pm »

The only clues I was given were that costumes are encouraged (as long as kept PG rated) and there would be a small bonfire and dancing. I always thought that a Wiccan Samhain ritual was more of a solemn event and this seems counter to that notion so any advise/wisdom would be appreciated.

My favorite (and first) public Samhain ritual was fairly solemn and intense for the ritual part, and around a bonfire.  Afterwards there was a potluck and some dancing and drumming and chanting around the fire.  (Apparently this was the first time dancing had happened, thanks to me and a friend.  But it was appropriate and appreciated.)

I like having some "decompression" time after ritual, especially intense ritual. 
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« Reply #9: October 23, 2008, 04:13:53 pm »

I like having some "decompression" time after ritual, especially intense ritual. 

IMO, this is not only nice, but necessary. After a particularly intense ritual, I find that I'm not as "high strung?" if I have some "easy" time within the circle before grounding leftover energy. It doesn't seem to make any difference to some people, but for myself, it helps a lot.
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« Reply #10: October 23, 2008, 08:18:48 pm »

That sounds great! I wouldn't mind getting away from my solitary work to embrace the other pagan/wiccan groups in Australia, but am not too sure where to find them. I suppose that also why I am on this forum.
I am very jealous of you, Nile_Lily  Wink

I have been a long time solitary practitioner, but completely new to group practice. I found this group through a Unitarian Universalist Church, it is free of charge, no dues. The church lets them use the outdoor facilities (which includes a fire pit in a lovely wooded setting) because some of the members of the group are church members.
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« Reply #11: October 23, 2008, 08:55:01 pm »

I have been a long time solitary practitioner, but completely new to group practice. I found this group through a Unitarian Universalist Church, it is free of charge, no dues. The church lets them use the outdoor facilities (which includes a fire pit in a lovely wooded setting) because some of the members of the group are church members.

Still jealous Grin

I prefer Solitary work to group work but wouldn't mind finding a group to work with on Samhain in May (because of the seasonal change for the southern hemisphere, etc. etc.) but will need to study a bit more as I don't want to embarass myself, plus finding a group will be a bit of work!

Great to see you found a group that doesn't charge! Not a  scab, but a ritual of importance such as Samhain (new year technically) should be open to large groups for maximum energy and progression to the new year, imo, and money, unless a little donation for food, area, etc, would ruin the atmosphere...imo Grin
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« Reply #12: October 23, 2008, 10:29:54 pm »

After a particularly intense ritual, I find that I'm not as "high strung?" if I have some "easy" time within the circle before grounding leftover energy.

In this case, it was actually after the circle was closed.  But I've sometimes had a feast in circle that included some decompression time.  I don't personally need it *during* ritual, but afterwards is nice.  (And I keep wanting to make an analogy with kink aftercare, heh.)
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« Reply #13: October 24, 2008, 07:22:49 am »

(And I keep wanting to make an analogy with kink aftercare, heh.)

I've used that analogy before, with people it'd make sense to.

I definitely believe ritual aftercare is an important thing in certain situations (and that it's worth being particularly attentive to any time you're doing something new, in specific.)
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« Reply #14: October 24, 2008, 04:27:39 pm »

Still jealous Grin

I prefer Solitary work to group work but wouldn't mind finding a group to work with on Samhain in May (because of the seasonal change for the southern hemisphere, etc. etc.) but will need to study a bit more as I don't want to embarass myself, plus finding a group will be a bit of work!

Great to see you found a group that doesn't charge! Not a  scab, but a ritual of importance such as Samhain (new year technically) should be open to large groups for maximum energy and progression to the new year, imo, and money, unless a little donation for food, area, etc, would ruin the atmosphere...imo Grin

Hopefully you will find a group too!
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