The Witches' New Year

Samhain is a time for both honoring the dead and celebrating renewal.

BY: Starhawk

 

Continued from page 1

Besides our intimate home celebrations, Reclaiming, the network of witches with which I work, puts on a huge public rite here in San Francisco called the Spiral Dance Ritual. Last year, for its 20th anniversary, we danced a spiral with 1,800 people. We build amazing altars; invoke the directions with stilt walkers, trapeze dancers, and fire jugglers; and raise a cone of power that sometimes seems to literally raise the roof.



In the heart of the ritual is a long, quiet meditation in which we read the names of those who have died in the past year. The death of someone we love is too hard to face alone. When someone dies, we need the comfort of community support. A public ritual to acknowledge the dead is a statement that grief is valued. Even though we believe the dead are not severed from us, we understand the pain and loss of their going.



Samhain is also a celebration of renewal. When we dance our spiral, we weave a vision of all that we want to create in the new year:



May the old ones and the young be loved,


And all the forms of love be blessed,


And all the colors of our skin be praised,


And all the cycles of life be saved.


May all who hunger now be fed,


May we heal the earth that grows our bread.



Many of the elements of our ancient festival have turned into secular folk customs. The candles, costumes, ghosts, and spooks are all dim memories of a time when people welcomed their beloved dead back to their homes and propitiated spirits with offerings.



For your Samhain, try one or more of these rituals:


  • Think of the candy you give to young trick-or-treaters as offerings to the ancestors, who return as the children of a new generation. Imagine that with each treat, you also give a blessing.
  • Gather your friends and family and set out pictures of your beloved dead. Light a candle (perhaps in a jack-o-lantern), then tell their stories and give thanks for what they've given you. Gaze into the candle flame, envisioning the renewal you want to support in your own life, community, and the world. Share your visions, write or draw them, or set out objects on your altar that represent the rebirth you hope for.

  • Share food and leave a bit of each dish on the altar (or outside, near the compost) as an offering for the ancestors.

    Halloween is a time when powerful forces converge. Our most sacred holiday is also, unfortunately, the time when anti-witch propaganda may abound.

    I believe the way to respond to fear and misinformation is to tell the truth about what we do. Halloween gives us a great opportunity to educate the public by speaking at your child's school or giving an interview to the local press. In 25 years of public life as a witch, what amazes me is not the prejudice I've encountered, but how many open and supportive people I've met.

    When we counter fear with openness and truth, we can truly bring about the renewal that this season promises.

    This year may we renew the earth
    This year may we renew the earth

    Let it begin with each step we take
    And let it begin with each change we make
    And let it begin with each chain we break
    And let it begin every time we awake.


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