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Samhain Ceremony

I don't generally like to post other people's work on this site, but I thought it would be nice to have a Samhain ritual in time for the holyday. The following ceremony is eclectic (read: a hodgepodge of different traditions) but it flows well. Where there is an asterisk, the following line or paragraph is from another source. Click the asterisk to see the source.

Samhain Ceremony

The altar is set with the things of Winter and Death. Have a cauldron, a pomegranate, and an offering dish. A gate is set in the north-east of the circle, with the besom laid across so that all step across it in order to enter.

Previous to the ritual, all participants write out a petition to Deity on one piece of paper stating wishes and New Year’s Resolutions on another. Another slip of paper lists undesirable traits of self or of situation that are to be banished during the following year.

All shall bring an item representing one or more deceased to be honored during the ritual.

The circle is swept, censed, and asperged. The circle is cast. Coveners enter singly through the gate and anoint self, then move deosil to their places.

Circle Call

Priest: "The energy and Life of Summer yet remains, even throughout Winter's hibernation. Winter is a time of sleep, of rest, of contemplation. Let us not forget to pause throughout our journey, in order to contemplate our existence. Soon the Earth Mother will fall into slumber, and all the world will be wrapped in snow and ice. The Sun and the light season are gone, and the world wrapped in darkness, yet do we celebrate. For as much as we like warmth, we must learn to celebrate the invigorating nature of the cold."

If there are any present that are not yet in the circle, the Maiden addresses them.

Maiden: “If there are any present who wish to join our circle in celebration of our most sacred holyday, step forward to the gateway.”

If any step up, a doorway is opened in the circle’s wall. All who gather before the gateway are censed and anointed, then guided to stand around the circle’s edge. When all have entered, the doorway is closed and sealed.

The General Invocation

*1Priest: “We meet within these blessed bounds to celebrate Samhain, the time of passing from one season to the next, passing from the old year to the new, passing from life to death to life. The pumpkins are ripe in the fields as the North wind chills the air. The Earth is dark and cold and brown--the Earth that was so fair. The Wheel has turned full cycle, from birth to death at last; and we look back for knowledge from the life that now has passed--the knowledge that is the seed of all we will be and feel--the knowledge that comes from living the turning of the Wheel. “Now let us invite the Goddess and God to our circle.”

The Goddess

*2High Priestess: This time and season are your time, Grandmother Crone. You, the keeper of wisdom, mistress of magick, keeper of riddles. You who wore the Maiden's white and the Mother's red cloak now wear a cloak of black. Ascending the throne of the Queen of the Night, you who ruled beside the Sun, now oversee his exile. Join our rites, if you will, showing us the wisdom of this time.

Candle is lighted.

*3Priestess: “Illumine our hearts, our souls, our bodies, our minds.”

Covener #1: “Welcome, Goddess.”

All: “Welcome, Goddess!”

The God

*3Priest: “In this time and in this season, O lord of the Sun, now you leave us for the Summerland, to hide your face for a time, to sleep in Mother Gaiea's sheltering embrace, under ice and snow, safe until your return. In this time of darkness and renewal, we call upon you, O Ancient Lord, to join our rites, if you will, and bless us that we may know the wisdom of the Wheel. That we may remember that in death there is rebirth, in sorrow, there is also joy.”

Candle is lighted.

*3Priest: “Illumine our hearts, our souls, our bodies, our minds.”

Covener #1: “Welcome, God.”

All: “Welcome, God!”

Invocation to the Elements

Priest: "Let us call now upon the Five Powers, the five great rivers that traverse the lands of the dead."

West: "We greet the presence and power of the great Cocytus, River of Ice. Grant us the power to melt the ice within our hearts."

South: "We greet the presence and power of the great Phlegethon, River of Fire. Grant us the power to release our passions, our inner fire."

East: "We greet the presence and power of the great Lethe, River of Forgetting. Grant us the power to forget the pains of years past, and look with cleaned minds and new hope to our brighter future."

North: "We greet the presence and power of the great Acheron, the River of the Life-Force that exists in Death as strongly as it does in life. All rivers are but tributaries of the Acheron, for the same Life-force flows through all things. Great Acheron, help us to unleash the boundless Life-force within ourselves."

Priestess: "The mighty river Styx surrounds the land of the Dead, and it surrounds us now. For we have stepped over the threshold into the land of the dead. But here, in our sacred circle, we live yet."

Covener #2: "Indeed. Our hearts, our minds, our eternal spirits, shall live for ever, whether in this world or in worlds yet to come. For our spirits traverse the great Universe, and find joy and contentment in worlds yet undreamt of."

Covener #3: "We shall for ever enjoy the cycle of life, death, and rebirth. Let us now invite the wisdom of those who have gone before us. Great ancestors, you who at this time walk in the Light beyond this world, we humbly invite you to join us and share with us your great wisdom."

Allow a long pause for contemplation.

Main Working

Priestess: Lift the libation dish, with the pomegranate, and speak to the Goddess. *6"Great Goddess, some call you Mary; some, the Shekkinah; some call you Cerridwen; some say Rosemerta. Some call you the Morrigan; some, Hecate. Some call you Breid; some, the Lady. Some call you Isis; some, Kuan Yin. I call you now to enter, come in. Whatever name of face you wear, you are the Source of All. You are the moon that tugs at the sea, and the tides that respond, and the Earth that the waves wear away, and the heavens that watch. Stars are the sequins on your endless cloak; from your womb's blood flows all creation. Mother of All you are, and mine as well. Hear now the cry of your children, born fresh again now at the center of your circle. Many are my needs of you, yet tonight, I ask but one: that you be here with us, that you grace this pure space with your presence, and your blessings on our work. Let all the Angels called herein know you are watching, sovereign of the Universe."

Priest: Slice the pomegranate over the libation dish while saying,

*5"On this night of Samhain I mark your passing,
O Summer Sun, through the sunset into the Land of the Young.
I mark also the passing of all who have gone before,
and all who will go after. O gracious Goddess,
Eternal Mother, You who gives birth to the fallen,
teach me to know that in the time of the greatest darkness there is the greatest Light."

The Priest spills seven seeds onto the dish. Moving deosil, he brings the pomegranate to each person in turn, coveners last. All taste of one seed and contemplate the turning of the wheel of the year.

A time is allowed for contemplation.

*4Priest: “Samhain is a day and not a day. It is the day of the traditional "year and a day", a day of endings and beginnings when the division between this world and the next is thin. In this night, we remember those who have passed from this world in the past year. Our memories of their living selves are fresh and strong and recent. Those who wish may name loved ones who have passed in the last year, share a memory and so invite them to be present in our circle tonight.”

Priestess: “There are loved ones that have passed before this year began, but the pain of their passing is with us still. In time must we release the spirits of our loved ones, though we keep our memories of them. It is their time to move on as others have. Now is a time to share some memories of ancestors, friends, pets and other loved ones who have gone in years past. As we remember these, remember that the newly dead tread the path that has been followed by other beloved souls and will, someday, be followed by each one of us in our time. Who would like to share a memory?”

As each person (pets are included also) is named and shared with the group, a flower is placed on the altar.

Priest: “Let us now decorate this altar with tokens of our honor for the beloved dead. Let us fill it up with signs of our enduring love and fond memories.”

Photographs and momentos may be put on or around the altar at this time.

Covener #1: “This candle is placed on the altar to represent all of our beloved dead, from the dawn of time until today, and on into the future. All those whom we have loved and have passed are honored by this light.”

A black candle is lit and placed upon the altar.

*4Covener #2: “We welcome those who, though no longer living in body, live on in our hearts, with our families and our friends, in our stories and our memories. Be with us tonight as we reflect on joy and sorrow, how we let go and what we let go, and how we keep what is precious to us.”

*4Covener #3: “It is not only our loved ones that we need to release in our path through life. We have experiences, habits, pain, mistakes, embarrassment, beliefs that no longer serve, even dreams which are no longer useful. As we sit in this circle, we may reflect on that which we would like to release from our lives, knowing that each of us at some time, has something to let go of.”

*5Covener #1:

"Wise One of the Waning Moon,
Goddess of the starry night,
I create this fire within Your cauldron
to transform that which is plaguing me.
May the energies be reversed:
From darkness, Light!
From bane, good!
From death, rebirth!"

Need-fire is lit.

Priestess: “Take time now to reflect on what you would like to release and what you would like to remember about that which is being released. Is there something good to be gleaned from this experience and the act of release? You may share your thoughts or just meditate silently. Whenever you are ready, approach the altar.”

When a person comes to the altar, the Priestess instructs him/her to place the list of negatives into the fire and say, *4"May the (pain, sorrow, shame, uselessness....) of (what I cast away....) be carried out of my life. May it be replaced by good things in the future."

All approach the Priestess and the altar, coveners last.

*4The coven begins to chant:

“Remember the way of the Wind
And breathe and blow,
Remember the way of the Fire,
And sparkle and glitter and glow,
Remember the way of the Water
And ebb and flow
Remember the way of the Earth
And abide until Springtime, then grow....
What is remembered lives.”

Repeat the line “What is remembered lives” eight times, for a total of nine, or continue chanting until the power peaks.

Covener #2: "Death and birth are the children of Life. In time we are born; in time we die. Life is immortal. As it was in the beginning, it is now and ever shall be. Blessed be."

All: "Blessed be."

Covener #3: “The negatives have been addressed and burnt up in the flames. Let us now send our petitions up to the realm of the gods. Let the power of the flames carry our hopes and dreams to the realm of the Blessed Ones.”

*6Priest: "Go into death... go into Light... go without fury... go without fight... go with the coming... go with the going... here is the reaping, here is the sowing."

The coven continues to chant, "Here is the reaping, here is the sowing."

The Priestess guides each covener to the Priest in clockwise order, starting with the East. The paper written with petitions is dropped into the cauldron fire.

As it burns, the priest anoints the petitioner. Everyone comes to the Priest in turn, coveners last.

*6Priest: "So it is done. Change is the way of the Wheel as it turns, year after year, age after age, time without end. As it was in the beginning, it is now and ever shall be. Blessed be!"

All: "Blessed be!"

*6Covener #1: "This is the night of Samhain, the festival of the dead, and the Mother that was the Maiden is now become Crone. She is the Scribe of Souls, in whose dread Book of Shadows all names must be written with the ebbing blood of life. She is the Dark Goddess, the Broomstick Hag, whose icy breath shakes us shivering upon the Tree of Life. She is the Veiled Lady, the Destroyer, whose other face is salvation and rebirth. She is the Queen of Life in all its many forms, the Old and the Wise, whose bittersweet gift is death. In token and remembrance of this gift by which life renews itself do we bring to her altar on this night a gift of ourselves, that we may thus renew ourselves. For we are as the symbol in the eye and a reflection in the mirror, the Goddess beholding Herself."

*6Covener #2: "O Goddess, Queen of all Witches, on this sacred night of Hallow'een do we invoke thee as Morrigan, Mistress of death and sorcery, Lady of spells and shadows, sovereign Queen of all spectre and spirits, and Queen of Light, so I am also Priest/ess unto thee, O Queen of Death, for to deny thee is to be blind in one eye, and but half alive. Therefore do we call thee both from within and from without, for we are of thee as thou art of us; such is the mystery of the Goddess."

*6Covener #3: "Let us reflect that the mysteries She shares with us are part of the very fabric of the cosmos, and are not in themselves evil. For the waning moon and all it symbolizes are as compelling to the mind and eye as the waxing moon, and we as Her children are therefore wise to have an understanding of both."

There is a time of silence and contemplation.

*6Priestess: "Samhain, Hallow'een, All Soul's."
All: "Night of the dead."
Priest: "This night death walks the streets and the dead wake."
All: "Day of the Dying."
Priestess: "When the veil is thinnest between the worlds."
All: "Lady of Magick."
Priest: "When the gates open between the worlds."
All: "Triune Lady of Magick."
Priestess: "The Goddess offers her magick to all those at the crossroads. To all those who ask it, it is given."
All: "It is given."
Priest: "Let us then thank the Gods and the elements, and celebrate Samhain with a feast!"

Cakes and Wine, and Libation Offering

The cakes and wine are blessed by the priest with the athame and the priestess with the wand.

*3Priest: “Gracious Goddess of Abundance,
Bless this (wine, juice) and infuse it with your love.”
*3Priestess: “Great God of the Harvest,
Bless this/these (bread, cakes) and infuse it with your love.”
*3Priest and Priestess together: “In your names, Mother Goddess and Father God,
We bless this food and drink.”

A single cake is placed on the libation plate, and a tiny bit of wine is spilled as a libation. If this is not possible, a little is saved to be given outside later.

A covener passes round the circle distributing the cakes, and another follows behind with the wine.

Thank the God and Goddess

*3Priestess: “O Ancient Antlered One, Beloved God, we thank you for your presence and your blessings within our sacred circle. Go if you must, stay if you will; to guide and guard us along our path.”

*3Priest: “O Grandmother Crone, Beloved Goddess, we thank you for your presence and your blessings within our sacred circle. Go if you must, stay if you will; to guide and guard us along our path.”

The elements are thanked and the circle is dissolved. The libation dish is left out as an offering for tiny animals. If it remains at dawn, bury or compost what is left, except the dish, of course.

The Feasting Begins

Now is the time for a potluck feast. Stews, late autumn fruits, and corn is traditional. If there are carnivores in your midst, fish and beef are suitable. Pumpkin pie, pumpkin seeds, and Hallow’een candy are especially appropriate.

Return to the Sanctuary

Sources

1. Adapted from The Turning of the Wheel by Stanley J. Modrzyk.

2. Adapted from Seasonal Dance, Broch and MacLer, p.33.

3. Original text by Melissa Creighton of WHUUPS - Web Home for Unitarian Universalists and Pagans.

4. Adapted from Celtic Magic by D.J. Conway.

5. Taken from Wicca: A Guide for the Solitary Practitioner by Scott Cunningham.

6. Unknown