Of Meditations Volume Seven


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At dawn the fire is built up again and a second Service performed at which all the Third Order Druids who are present exchange their red ribbons of the Season of Life for white ones of Sleep. There is pure water in the chalice, and the words and chants of the winter half of the year are spoken. Grove elections are held and the new order invested. Rest and peace are invoked and all the members go home to sleep.

Samhain Explanation

An interview with Andrea Davis

Alumni and Druid of Carleton College

October 20, 1996

Davis: [Samhain] is a time of death and of the cycle. It’s the Druid new year but its the time of...if you follow the Wiccan tradition like the dying of the god. And so I always see it as a time of things are dying, and you have to acknowledge that things are dying, but in that death you also have to see hope. There are a number of songs about this time. Some of the songs we’ve sung are:

“Hoof and horn, hoof and horn, all that dies shall be reborn.

Vine and grain, vine and grain, all that falls shall rise again.”

There’s also:

“We are the flow and we are the ebb,

We are the weavers, we are the web.

We are the flow and we are the ebb,

We are the weavers, we are the web...”

That’s just a connection to the cycle of life song whereas the other one is more specifically a Samhain song.

I also see it in the traditional sense that this is the time when the dead are walking the earth, that the worlds are closest, and that this is the time you say good-bye to the people who’ve died that year. You can feel free to say things, and ask questions and question my concepts as well, that’s fine. Its just times like, from traditions like the Mexican tradition of El Dia de los Muertos. That really used to be a holiday about going to the graveyards and cleaning off the ancestors graves and making sure they had flowers and basically a big party that they held in the graveyard. I think American culture has moved away from. It’s a natural process with death, we’re all so afraid of it - we avoid it so much.

In a ritual- for myself I always use it as a time to say “Okay,” and I take and light a candle in the evening and I’ll sit there and I'll talk to the people who have died last year and tell them what I remember about them and things that I wanted to tell them but maybe didn’t. I think it really helps with the letting go, with the accepting of the transition, and I think it also helps to have a designated date that this is when you do this.

I see it also as a time of shucking down, preparing for winter. I see the equinox more as a joyful harvest time and Samhain as “Yes it is starting to get cold, winter really is going to happen soon!” You have to prepare yourself and so you clean out all your baggage and lighten yourself up in preparing for winter where your really not going to have as much energy. You try to let go of things, letting go of your dead. If there were things about yourself that you were trying to let go it really helps to mention them in the ritual circle. I find that things, that New Years resolutions made in a ritual circle tend to be more likely to happen, they tend to have more strength or resolve if you tell this group of people in this context. It works better, and I don’t know if that's psychological or if that’s magical but it works.

There are many ways you can do this: you can burn things, that's always fun to do. You have a bonfire and tell people to bring things that represent what they want to get rid of or what they want to say good-bye to. If they have poems that they want to send the dead; you know in China the tradition was that any wishes or hopes that you wanted to send to the dead you wrote on a piece of paper, and then it was burned with them and that way traveled with them. Many people believe that by burning things you can get them to the spirits, so that's one way to release that energy. Another way that I learned when I was touring with the Environmental Theater Group Action Project Council of All Beings was: you take a stone, kind of at the beginning of the ritual, you do some other things at the beginning of the ritual, talking about traditions and fall, a little singing, a little chanting, and you let people just hold their rock for a while, or two rocks, or whatever, and think about what they have lost and what they are in mourning for. Towards the end everybody takes their rock and puts it in a cairn and tell what it’s for, you either explain the story behind it or just say “Okay, this is for my grandmother who died this year.” Some people did this a couple of years ago here and for this one guy it was just like we were doing this total group therapy session for him; all this stuff just came pouring out, he had so much stuff that he was putting into this rock. But then you take the rock and you put it away from you in the cairn, and in the end you just have kind of a grieving session or all kind of howl with a sad feeling, and then, having let go of all that you kind of have a joyful dance afterwards. You’ve let go of these things. You know that there's been a transition and that life is going on and you're very happy about that. That’s a good one.

Interviewer: Some native American peoples use a similar sort of ritual, and add to it that whatever you put into the rock stays there. They believe that someone else picking up the rock can be affected by whatever grief or pain is put therein.

Davis: I believe that, which is why I clean the rocks afterwards. When you soak them in salt water that tends to draw out excess energies, then you can scatter the salt water. If it is grieving or sadness that kind of energy can fade away from the rock into wherever you put it if you leave it for a while. If it is something like murderous wrath now, you can’t get that out of a rock! There’s just no cleaning it. With most of the rocks I’ve used people were putting some sadness into it.

(Editor’s note: In the time since beginning this the tape has vanished. There was more there, but Andrea’s thoughts on Samhain proved influential ones during the 96-99 period. Be careful charging rocks like that. They sometimes get kind of active.)

Samhain Essay: Summer’s End

A Druid Missal-Any Samhain 2000

By Stacey Weinberger

The season of Samhain is upon us. Summer has finally come to an end in Northern California with the warm days of an Indian summer swept away by some of the windiest nights in 50 years. Cold, rainy weather has returned, heavy sweaters are pulled out of storage, the heat is turned on. Time for hot tea, mulled cider and wine!

Samhain, summer’s end. Traditionally whatever is left over from the harvest is left in the field for the birds, and mice, and other wildlife, and the Sidhe--the spirit folk, to glean for preparation of the coming winter. Samhain signals the beginning of the Celtic New Year. It is the end of the Summer half of the year and the beginning of the Winter half. This is the time when the veil between the worlds is the thinnest and when the ancestors, departed family and friends are said to return to visit the land of the living once again. The dead are honored and feasted on this night. Food is set out for them and they are remembered in word, song, and deed. Astronomical Samhain occurs when the Sun is half way between the Fall Equinox and the Winter Solstice and is on November 6 this year. As the “night precedes the day,” Baccharis Grove will be celebrating Samhain on Sunday, Nov. 5 at sundown, which will be at 5:06 p.m.

After a nine year hiatus, the Missal-Any has found a new home. Though it had been in the back of our minds to resume publication without any particular start date, this Samhain seemed to be fitting. Our Grove celebrates its one year anniversary and is going strong. Interest in the RDNA and what we do seem to be on the rise. It is our sincere wish that we are able to continue the tradition started by our noble founder, presenting information, resources, history, and not a little bit of humor. So it is to him, Emmon Bodfish, that we dedicate this first issue.

Samhain Essay: A Thin Time

A Druid Missal-Any Samhain 2001

By Stacey Weinberger

Samhain, Samhuinn in Scots Gaelic, Sauin in Manx, from sam fuinn "Summer's end," marks the Celtic New Year, the day when the veil between the Worlds is the thinnest. Fires were lit on sacred hills this night. It was customary to extinguish the household fires, symbolizing the end of Summer, and then relight them from the ceremonial fire marking the beginning of the new season, Winter, the Season of Sleep. For the first time Baccharis Grove will be enacting this tradition during the service when the Third Order Druids exchange their ceremonial red ribbon for white. After the New Year’s revelry and merrymaking rejoicing in the bountiful harvest of the previous year, we prepare ourselves for this long period of darkness as our thoughts turn to contemplation, reflection, and renewal.

A Few (?) Thoughts About

Samhain and Sacrifice

A Druid Missal-Any, Samhain 2001

By Mortus, the Morose Druid

(Please refer to the NRDNA’s 1979 article: http://www.geocities.com/druidarchives/pent3-2part2.html titled “Now, About Those Human Sacrifices….” about Celtic Gaul.)

We all know that there are only three certain things in life; Death, taxes and idiots. As much as we dislike them, often all three arrive together. But with this essay, please tolerate the first and third.

Well, it is Samhain, so it’s time to bring up that perennial subject; death. (Fun activities at the end.) Yes, death, a subject rarely brought up willingly in our modern cult of youth and life. It is a huge far-reaching subject, on which I’d like to endlessly ramble for a six pages. It is a huge topic that we all are deeply concerned about. Life is, of course, not separate from death, it only looks that way because, “Death stares old men in the face, and lurks behind the back of youth.” Perhaps one of the reasons we are so shocked in our society by sudden violent death, is that we persist in that infantile belief of immortality, bolstered by medical and social advances that virtually promise us a death by old age. Death always comes out of season to us, it seems. Yet, throughout history, death was a daily possibility and old age a rare achievement; therefore worthy of respect. (Possibly, a reason why current seniors are not respected is that there are too many of them?) Talk to an insurance salesmen if you really want the morbid statistics of modern dangers. Our fear of death, combined with our materialistic fear of economic loss has made the whole concept of “sacrifice” particularly unpleasant to many today.

The very word “Sacrifice” tends to ring warning alarms to pagans, who must constantly prepare arguments and defenses against ill-informed persecution; “Oh, we only use vegetables or Sacagawea Dollars,” or such. But while this word is bandied about in this preparation of America for a “new” war, let’s pause to reflect on it’s meanings. Here’s a popular view of sacrifice from the O.E.D. (abridged edition);

“sacrifice: n. 1.a. The act of offering something to a deity in propitiation or homage, especially the ritual slaughter of an animal or a person. b. A victim offered in this way. 2.a. Forfeiture of something highly valued for the sake of one considered to have a greater value or claim. b. Something so forfeited. 3.a. Relinquishment of something at less than its presumed value. b. Something so relinquished. c. A loss so sustained. 4. Baseball A sacrifice hit or bunt. [Middle English, form Old French, from Latin sacrificium: sacer, sacred; see SACRED + facere, to make. ]

To “sacrifice” is to “make sacred,” which means:

“sacred: adj. 1. Dedicated to or set apart for the worship of a deity. 2. Worthy of religious veneration. 3. Made or declared holy: sacred bread and wine. 4. Dedicated or devoted exclusively to a single use, purpose, or person: sacred to the memory of her sister; a private office sacred to the President. 5. Worthy of respect; venerable. 6. Of or relating to religious objects, rites, or practices.

Many cultures make daily offerings, to “respect,” “feed,” or “bribe” the spirits by setting aside something they want to “pay back” the gods for the kindness of giving it to the devotee in the first place. Taxes operate on a similar level, by our repaying society for the conditions that gave us a good business environment. The ancient Celts, to take but one collection of cultures, would sometimes bury sacrifices of food, animals, dislikable neighbours, in special pits; perhaps as a fertility-death cyclical bargaining (I give you one skinny deer in the fall, you give me six months’ interest…say, three fat deer in the spring?) The Celts were also quite fond of throwing treasures and leaden body-shaped-parts into hot springs, pools, rivers, wells, fountains, oceans or anything wet. The Romans drained them and took the loot; initiating perhaps the first recycling campaign? Hopefully, the gods will further bless us and the government will further improve our economic security and quality of life; a cycle of thanking. Uh-huh, that’s the theory. And what is the greatest of material losses, but the death of our physical body? What do we get in return?

As a falling tree produces an arboreal opening for a new saplings to grow towards the sun; so does death provide new space for youth to grow. What we call ourselves now, is not the same self we will become in five minutes. You can’t step in the same river twice. Even physically, parts of us come and go, with every breath and excretion. I was told that our complete skeleton is reformed on a cellular and molecular level within every seven years, and few cells in your body were atomically or biologically present 10 years ago. Life is a process not a stationary condition. (Decomposition and reclamation are processes too.) We merely do not notice the death that is around us, when the forces of growth are more apparent or ascendant. Yet we fear the loss of something we’ve lost many times before. We want quid pro quo; “if I die and give up this body, I WANT eternal life, or…I’ll be really miffed about it!” The truth of the matter is that we probably didn’t choose to be in this world and we likely won’t be able to choose when and how we’ll go. They also say, you can get by in this world with only half of what you’re born with, if used rightly. That’s all a hard pill to swallow and many religions and industries are built upon this grievous issue. I guess, it’s what you do in between that makes all the difference, and be glad that we are such a potentially long-lived species among animals.

Some of us have gone beyond a greedy desire for maximum duration of life to assist others (but not me, yet.) We all revere our parents, teachers and heroes for the hardships and injuries they have sustained on our behalf. Why do good people suffer? That’s a $60 billion dollar question. I’m not going to go into a good and evil debate, because I’m not convinced they actually exist beyond the level of concepts. Some say that death and suffering inspire us to use our time wisely, and they are inherent to the biological reality of life on Earth. Around Sept 25th, the Rev. Jesse Jackson said the 9-11 disaster has had some positive impact;

“Suffering breeds character, and character breeds faith, and in the end faith will prevail. This suffering has allowed, in the darkest hour, the light to shine most clearly.”

Some of the reasons for tragic death are probably poor preparation, unforeseen consequences, and just plain bad luck. Such comfort takes a longtime, if ever, to reassure the victims. Starvation and wasting away are not inherently noble in themselves. Mother Theresa once said, “I pray much better when well-fed and dressed comfortably.” Another troubling issue, is that the people most directly responsible for the tragedy died in hopes of receiving divine reward for what is mostly a political statement in a “David and Goliath” act, where we were the loser. While suicide for reasons of depression or cowardice are often not esteemed, but doing fool-hardy acts for a cause or to save a group are oft considered heroic; even if the same result is dead people. I guess for many moderns, it’s not a question of “if” they die, but how they live and die. I believe, however, that you shouldn’t make that choice to die for others without their permission. All too often, violent acts are result of cheating and are used in place of long-term remedies, ostensibly due to time constraints; thereby dampening rather than solving a problem.

Now, as you all know in the Druid Chronicles “The Early Chronicles,” it was determined in April 1963, that the RDNA would not choose animal or human sacrifices (lawyers and politicians were included in 1965,) irregardless of their purported effectiveness. Most, if not all, Druid, Wiccan and Neo-Pagan organizations since then have followed a similar tradition to ours. There is, of course, the agonizing issue of whether fungi are to be treated as plants or animals, as they have characteristics of both! There are strangely no records on how to choose a sacrifice, but there is some guidance on how to do think about a sacrifice:

“For one man, the sacrifice of life is the offering up of himself to a god or gods. To another, it is an offering up of his mind to a search for truth.”–Book of Faith, v.9

“If one but says “Dalon ap Landu” with the knowledge of the power of it, truly the whole Universe will be forever consecrated.”–Thomas the Fool, 1970

Many peoples believe, that spirits with feelings inhabit all objects and creatures, not just “Homo Sapiens Sacrificius.” I, personally, try to take only willing sacrifices by divining the feelings of the plants or objects, which might take a long time. And as always, thanks and apologies before and after are to be recommended. I’m moving towards vegetarianism, but still occasionally eat reptiles, fish and bugs. I try to reduce the frequency of consumption and have rarely done the butchering (cowardice on my part, not unlike many Hindus) but I try to be respectful. After all, according to “Babe” they say, “What you eat, walks and talks tomorrow” and “You are what you eat, from your head down to your feet.” What goes in, will come out. My wife says that means I’ll become a vegetable as I grow older.

In my experience, a sacrifice is rejected when there is a hastily chosen unwilling plant, a poorly directed purpose, misguided intentions of participants, or the gods are in a plain weird mood; and killing for no purpose is not commendable. From my observation, the most common sacrifices in the RDNA have been; leaves, branches, berries, tufts of grass, acorns (plantable afterwards,) flowers, home-grown vegetables, ect. The divination of the winds will decide whether the sacrifice is acceptable, and we must patiently await and abide by their decision, not ours. I sometimes cheat though, by only holding services on windy days in areas with many birds…(By the way, bringing hand-held fans is strictly prohibited! An area, largely unexplored, is how to have an RDNA service or activity without intentionally harming anything, (if such is possible, counting the squashed grass under our dancing feet, airborne microbes, ect. See Jainism.) Would it be too much to bring the ceremony to the uncut offering, which would then live a life of service?

It would be well for the squeamish Neo-Pagans to remember that animals are still routinely raised and killed for religious feasts throughout the world. Examples could include Thanksgiving Turkeys, Christmas Goose/Ham, Easter Lambs, July 4th BBQ, Sajigor goat sacrifice in Kalasha India, Kosher meat preparation, the ever-popular Uidhyah goat sacrifice for Eid holiday in Islam, the reverent buffalo slaughters among Native American plains tribes to teach their children, pig feasts in Borneo, Santeria rites, etc. Christianity prizes the voluntary human sacrifices of its founder and martyrs. Historically, the pre-diasporic Judaic kingdoms had their own fair share of temple sacrifices (and possibly may have again if a few hard-core Orthodox Jews can ever remove the “Dome of the Rock” mosque from the site of the Solomon’s Temple.) For those tribal hunters who are still in an ever-present-holy-moment-union with the Earth, any act of hunting is a religiously imbued activity. Ancient tribes are especially afraid that angering an animal’s spirit, would reduce the hunt next year. All this goes on, yet journalists would be delighted to uncover a report on a dog killed by some pathetic Satanists. And yet in America, home of the top animal protein consumers, husbandry and abattoirs are conveniently efficient and simply barbaric; if not unhealthily operated as a whole, tastefully out of sight. No one prays during their deaths.

But why do people kill things in a religious service, if most religions are life-affirming, in theory at least? A possible theoretical liturgical reason, offered by the venerable Isaac Bonewits (2nd Epistle, Chapter 7,) is that a living (plant, fungal, bacterial or animal) creature allegedly releases energy on its death, (and some while it’s alive, too,) which might amplify the resonance of a magic raising activity. (I wonder if a flashlight, a plutonium cell, dancing, sex, or campfire could substitute the necessary energy in place of living sacrifices?) Perhaps it is so.

I also disagree with the above definition’s hint that only “victims” are sacrificed. While all religions have offered material sacrifice in some format, most ancient cultures freely accepted the necessity or advantage of sacrifice of living creatures, some even considering it such an honor as to volunteer themselves. In some cases, the volunteer would be instructed with lengthy messages to convey to the deities involved, kind of like a court witnesses being briefed by lawyers to present their villages case. However, I suspect that the vast bulk were less than thrilled with their candidacy, often being the criminals, disliked trouble-makers, or prisoners of war of a society. Civilization helped make it possible, as self-sustaining small villages needed as many people alive as possible, due the death rate; but cities often have less-than-necessary inhabitants to be mistreated or sent to war.

With rare exceptions, death is irreversible and final; so unsanctioned killings have been punished more severely than non-fatal injuries by legal codes of most states. It’s not my purpose to wade deeply into the debate the pros and cons of capital punishment (see China, Florida, and Texas,) but it’s interesting that priests are still an integral part of the execution process, although few would label these priests as “blood thirsty;” rather, they’re merely there to comfort the victim and restrain the vengeful passions of bystanders, and perhaps to mitigate the executioners’ guilt for breaking one of their 10 commandments. To their credit, that great Fertility Cult, (known as the Catholic Church) now tries to sacralize life; and prevent such state-sponsored murders, albeit sometimes to excess. The Druids, themselves, were often also present at matters of life and death, like councils of war, exiling (which equaled death) or executions. Depending on the individual, perhaps they enjoyed or dislike the responsibility involved. One could also make the case that vendettas and war are a “viral” form of human sacrifice that is out of control and self-feeding (like an inferno,) soon bereft of whatever religious impulses that may have motivated or restrained the initiators. Once life is stripped of its holy aspect, fearful things become conceivable.

I can think of three attitudes towards death. 1. If you feel that death is an end to all existence, it is a dirty distasteful thing to be feared and avoided at all costs and deeply mourned. 2. If you feel that death is a one way journey to a (hopefully) pleasant place, then death should be an acceptable; if not desired. Of course, “A man’s dying is more the survivors’ affair than his own,” so you shouldn’t recklessly hasten your death, widows really hate being told “He’s in a happier place.” 3. If you feel that death is a two-way or cyclical journey, then the above applies, plus any apprehension or anticipation of having to start all over again from scratch; either in re-birth or re-incarnation. Perhaps it is so.

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