When the sun goes down on October 31st, magick happens. Samhain, (pronounced So-when or Sow-en) is one of the high holy days of Wicca and several other forms of Paganism and runs from sunset on the last day of October until sunset on the first day of November. In Wicca as in many faiths, the day begins at sunset, and sunset on Samhain, which coincides with Halloween, is seen by Wiccans not just as the last sunset of October, but as the last sunset of the year.

Samhain is a holiday to remember what has passed in the year. Things to be aware of, things we miss, people we've lost.

Wiccans see the changing of the seasons as part of the grand cycle of which we all are a part. This transition day, from one year to another, marks the end of the old cycle and the beginning of a new. As such, Wiccans practice many rites and traditions recognizable in other "New Years" celebrations. Some make resolutions, from the familiar decision to work out and lose weight to the simple decision to try to be more aware of the world around them. Some Wiccans welcome the new year with fireworks and champagne parties, others by forgiving debts and making vows. The solemn reminders a passing year brings mute most of these celebrations. We look around our circles, to family and friends joined together in celebration and see new faces, but we also see absent faces. Samhain is a holiday to remember what has passed in the year. Things to be aware of, things we miss, people we've lost.

A few years ago, just a few weeks after Samhain, my priestess, Jayne, an elderly woman of considerable bearing and a wry wit, journeyed to the Isles of the Blest. She was strong, brave, openly liberal and lesbian in a time before Stonewall, when the death of someone like Matthew Shepard wouldn't have made the news and coming out of the closet in the southern town where she taught was the same as stepping into the coffin. I approach, with trepidation, another Samhain without her. I know what will happen this year, as it did last year. I will go through the movements of casting the circle, the ritual act that both separates the place of our rite from the secular world and binds the celebrants together in "perfect love and perfect trust," and as I cast that circle, my heart will feel burdened, the words that leave my mouth reflect back to me, not in my deep contralto, but in Jayne's crystalline soprano. My shoulders will ache for her supportive clasp, and tears will form in my eyes as I feel the eldritch flame of the energies of the circle creeping up my body, welling in the small of my back before traveling up my spine and out to my fingers. I will feel, for a moment, like the perfect faith my coveners have in me will be shattered, that I cannot go on with the ritual. I will be caught up in nostalgia in the truest meaning of the word, the pain of looking back.
And I will keen. The great Celtic warriors of my ancestors will rivet my body in place, and I will wail, like the banshee, like the highland wind, like the thousands burned or hung or tortured for their faith. My ears will ring with it. New coveners, who have never heard the death watch sounded will look around to old friends in fear. The air will shake with my cry of anger, sorrow and rage for anyone killed because of beliefs or sexual preference, or calling the divine an unacceptable name, the ground will vibrate with the resonance of anyone who has ever lost. I will stand in solidarity with those who have been wronged. I will cry out the names of Angel, brutally raped just days ago, I will scream for justice for the fire at my childhood friend's synagogue, I will keen for the soldiers on the Cole and the Kurst. I will keen for Jews and Muslims who would probably hate me for my faith but still didn't deserve to die in violence. I will keen for childhoods ended too soon, for lovers lost, for spouses, children and parents gone and for the little death those they leave behind face. And I will keen for Jayne, not really that she has passed but for the part of me that went with her.

And then, she will be there, calling from the Isles of the Blest, her spirit one with mine, her voice ringing with mine, one octave above, as it has in the past. Not just Jayne, but all the ancestors who've tapped into this power a chorus, reaching through the ages, of people who accept loss and pain as natural facts of life that can break up or make us strong. I will not break. I will not falter. My spine will straighten like a rod of iron and the pain will burn away into the ether, replaced by nothing but the love of the gods, my friends, and myself.

And as my voice breaks and I fall silent, I will hold to the heavens a rough hewn blanket I made myself, and I will call to my Lord and Lady, gracious parents and beneficent symbol of all that is, and I will say. "This blanket is for a child born just last week. I cry this rage and pain in the hopes that when he, too, faces loss, he feels the strength of his ancestors in him. He feels the love of his family, friends and mates in faith. May he confront the pain unfrightened and may it temper him and make him strong."

And then we will share in a feast to honor the dead, leaving food at the doorway for the hungry ghosts, visiting the graves of people forgotten by the living. We will speak the names of those we honor, and relinquish our anger at those who have wronged us. A fire will be built, and as it burns away old paid bills and letters from loves turned sour, our own katabasis will be complete. We will have descended, like Persephone, into the underworld, and like her, we will leave a part of ourselves behind...but we are strengthened by it.

We will take that strength to the streets and to the polls. It will face the Bob Barrs and Fred Phelphs of the world unshattered. It will face those who tell us our faith is wrong or substandard and it will spit in their eyes with the simple beauty and truth that we radiate, the undeniable fire within of people who not only know the love of the Gods, but love for them too.
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