Echos over time

About half an hour ago, I finished the major work I wanted to do for this year’s Samhain.

It reminded me of one of the powers of tradition. In my tradition, the Samhain ritual has been one we’ve done in much the same way for my time in the tradition (ten years and a bit). Of course, it’s been adapted – for number of people present, for number of people to take roles, for overall energy.

This year, I’m 1500 miles away from others in the tradition. (And in fact, I’ve been in Maine for 13 weeks.) And I’m working by myself, so many of the pieces of my tradition’s practice are simply not going to happen.

And yet, there are ways in which I stepped into ritual tonight, and all the chords of all those rituals were right there with me.

I hear certain music, in the dark, in the midst of ritual, and there is no space but the space of the circle, no time but those shared moments of dark and remembered grief, and yet hope for the coming year, mingled and echoing across the years.

Bites of food in ritual remind me of how amazing ritual foods taste – there is nothing in the world like the first bite of pomegranate on Samhain night, or even of the meat pie that’s been my contribution to ancestor feasts for those ten years. [1]

So what did I do?

My basic ritual plan was pretty simple: standard circle set-up, some time with the deities I honor, remembering my beloved dead.

(That part was brief, as I expected it to be, both because I’ve not had to add to their number in a few years, and because I’m expecting to do a bunch of stuff centered on my father later this week – both the usual anniversary of his death, and because the day after that, I’ll be going to Boston for a performance using some of his translations.)

And then, looking at both remembering what has passed this year, but looking forward towards what the future might hold. There’s been a whole lot of harvest in my past year (what else do you call finding a new job than the harvest of past work?) and there’s also a whole lot of new, that I’m still figuring out what to do with.)

Anyway, most of what I wanted to do was a method of musical meditation I’ve done before: put together a reasonably substantial playlist, and let my focus wander where it’s called. Some of the songs are songs my tradition’s used regularly for years, some were my additions. In particular, the tail end of my music choices were structured to build toward that “Ok, new year now, let’s go into it in the very best way.” in a very general sense.

And here, I had that experience that I think many experienced ritualists have – of losing time. That mix list? 40 minutes. And yet, I started ritual at 6:30pm, and ended at about 8:15. The circle set-up and take down are maybe 20-25 minutes total when I’m working by myself. Somewhere in the midst, there was a lot of time (45 minutes) that went… somewhere.

While there’s a part of me that looks at that time slippage and goes “hmm”, there’s a part of me that loves it: loves knowing that my brain is off doing something and that it’ll work itself out. That I – who can be all-too-pragmatic sometimes, got out of my own way, and let my subconscious do what it needed to.

This was my first full-blown ritual since I moved, as well. (I’ve been trying ritual in my bedroom, and it has been Just Not Working. Tonight, I moved it out into the front room, which has some complications, but felt much better, especially with dim lighting.)

Over Lammas, I was actually moving. (Well, arrived the 2nd) and my ritual work was understandably pretty low-key. My basic theory about the fall equinox is that there should be awesome conversation, good company, and interesting food (and so I spent it in Montreal, at a small SF convention with a number of friends.)

And there’ve been the ongoing stamina issues. I’m still not quite up to doing ritual cleaning and prep *and* ritual on the same day, which makes scheduling a tiny bit annoying. (And even today: I made the meat pies, but did not manage the batch of bread I was hoping to do.) But there continues to be slow and steady improvement, which is excellent.

But this ritual? There were some rough spots, the places where lack of practice is obvious to me. But there were a lot of things that worked, and that clicked into place, and that were where I hoped I’d find them, energetically speaking. And I have some definite ideas on what next steps are for getting back into a more structured ritual practice again.

[1] Really, I’d like to do steak and kidney pie, a favorite of my father’s, but a) at least half the people I know won’t eat it and b) it holds very poorly during a long ritual anyway. So I do a pork pie that’s designed to be eaten cold. This year’s had pork, apples, walnuts, cheddar cheese, and a bit of nutmeg, cinnamon, and galangal in it.

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  • Sherry Merriam

    Your story reminds me of when I first moved to Minnesota in 1999, and I had one last long-distance ritual — near Samhain actually — with my coven.  I had never really tried astral travel before (or since), but OH MY GODS did it work that night.  I really felt like I was with my coven sisters in ritual space.

    I think your plan of doing ritual prep in advance for stamina reasons is wonderful.  I’ll remember that, as I try to get back into a regular practice habit, too.