In other inaugural news, I’m proud to present my first-ever guest blog post.
Bill Baldwin is a fellow writer, and I met him recently at the Book Group Expo in San Jose. He graciously accepted my offer to write about modern-day witchcraft here. In October, he organized a Samhain ritual—Samhain is the pagan precursor to Halloween—and here he writes about that experience.
Thanks, Bill, for sharing this information. I welcome any comments that I can pass along to him.
So what do modern Wiccan Witches do? Do they have anything to do with the witches we read about from hundreds of years ago? “Yes and No; How would we know?”
I don’t know so much about medieval witches, but I know quite a bit about modern Witches. I’m a legally recognized priest of the Covenant of the Goddess, a witches’ organization. And I often organize community rituals in the San Jose area.
The Samhain (Halloween) ritual I recently presented was intended for a medium-sized group (25-30). South Bay Circles has been offering the eight Wiccan sabbats to the San Jose Pagan community for over twenty years. Its rituals include the basic Wiccan elements of casting a circle and invoking the directions and the Goddess. But I also wanted the ritual to hold personal meaning for me and the participants.
My basic concept was Shamanic – the willing offering up of the shaman to symbolic death and dismemberment in order to achieve wisdom for the sake of the Community.
But I didn’t want the ritual to be too scary. How could I make people laugh at Death? Of course Halloween-time is also the time of the Mexican Day of the Dead.
In the spirit of play I decided to include children’s songs and games: “London Bridge” (to represent Death by Engineering Disaster), “Ring-A-Round-The-Rosie” (to represent Death by Disease), and “Rock-Paper-Scissors” (to represent Death by Violent Competition).
I also decided to perform the entire first part of the ritual counter-clockwise, the reverse direction from usual, to represent dissolution.
I began by honoring witches killed in the witch persecutions. Then, invoking the Three-Form Goddess, I remembered friends and lovers who had died.
Then the children’s games, one by one, left all participants on the ground – “dead” – waiting for rebirth – as I read passages from T. S. Eliot’s “Ash Wednesday” and performed a brief drumming meditation on death, dismemberment, and disintegration.
Then I invited people to awake in the Land of Hades and Persephone. We shared a meal with the Dead -- in contrast to classical myths where you are *forbidden* to eat in the Underworld. By eating with the Dead we accept their deaths, our own deaths, and our connection to those who have gone before us.
Then reconstitution and resurrection, to the song “Them Bones”, based on the Biblical vision of Ezekiel. And a Spiral Dance, leading into the circle counterclockwise, then bending back on itself to return from the circle clockwise.
From here on, everything continued in the clockwise (sunwise) direction of growth. We had offered ourselves for death, met Death, communed with the Dead, been reformed, and returned to Life. What we have learned in this encounter is meant to help us live a better life.
And we have remembered our loved ones who have died, acknowledged that we too shall die, and resolved to live in service to the Community.
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