(Part two of three)
Imagine a damp, grey evening, the last of twilight taking leave of the sky. You walk through a few wet, quiet streets, finally stepping off the pavement into a muddy track. Your feet squelch in the mud. If you hadn’t come this way once or twice in the daylight you might never know where the opening to the trail begins. You dip into the opening, a hollow between some branches. The branches slide over your face and grab at your hair and coat, and then you are through. The last of the light is gone and your eyes adjust to the shadows. Barely. It’s been a long time since you were last out at night. Dead leaves rustle and crunch under your muddy boots. An owl hoots overhead. A light rain patters onto your head now, onto the leaves next. Up ahead a ways you see a lit jack-o-lantern sitting on a rise at your right. You scramble up the embankment. Another jack-o-lantern lights the rickety stairway down into a gully. You stand and breathe. Listen. Feel. Adjust. Say hello under your breath to Ana and Arddu.
It’s time to begin, so you descend the stairway made of concrete blocks, tree roots, slopes of earth. A jack-o-lantern greets you at the bottom. A circle of low stone sits in the gully. Trees lace overhead, catching most, but not all, of the rain. A small fire glows in the middle of the circle. You step to the entrance. An owl hoots again. A figure looms in front of you – tall, draped in a hooded black cape, faceless. The fire lights it from the back and smoke billows out all around it. A sword touches your neck and startles you into recognizing a smaller figure, masked, standing directly in front of you. “How do you enter?” he asks.
Hell yes, this a promising start.
But let’s back up. The ritual began for me before I left the house. It’s not often I have the opportunity for some ritual. The baby was asleep, the boy occupied. I decide to prepare myself with a bath. Ritual cleansing is something that many religions observe – from the merest flick of holy water on the fingertips or forehead, to full-blown fasting and scrubbing. I decide to carve out some space for myself, cleanse myself within and without, and get myself into a sacred mindset. I gather my materials and start running the bath. I strip down and into my bathrobe.
Wait? Is mama in the bathroom? Well, then the three-year old must be in the bathroom too! ‘Watcha doin’ Mama? What’s that? Why? Why? Why?’ What’s the surest way to send my boy into apoplectic fits? Lock the bathroom door. He sits on the other side of the door, pounding, weeping, yelling. ‘Mama, MAMA, DON’T LOCK ME OUT!’ It’s two parts absurd, one part heart wrenching. I decide to get on with things.
I start by making kala. For this I need to raise some energy. One of things that I’ve learned to do in the last few months is use anything around me to help me raise energy. I have been sick for a week, only just starting to improve, so I don’t have much in my energy reserves. I listen to the running of the water. Breathe. I sit with my own breathe, knowing that all breath is energy, is life, even if it doesn’t feel particularly juicy. I listen to my son sobbing on the other side of the door and I breathe that powerful energy in. I complete the rite and say the Holy Mother prayer. I grab handfuls of epsom salts and bless them, dumping them into the water, by the earth which is her fertile body. I light some incense, for the air which is her vital breath. I light a candle in a red glass votive, for the fire of her quickening spirit. I pour in the last of the water from St Non’s Well, sacred to Ana, by the waters of her teeming womb. I say a prayer for cleansing and healing.
And then I open the door. A tear-stained, snot-smeared, blue-eyed little boy stumbles into the bathroom as if nothing was ever wrong. I let him throw the sugar skull bath bomb into the steaming water. I get into the bath and immerse myself. I look up to see my son, stripped down and ready to climb into the tub with me. I’m not annoyed at any of this. It’s sweet. He wants to know what everything is, but mostly he wants to sit on my lap in the waters and watch the fizzy bath bomb bubble.
Bubble, bubble, toil and trouble, indeed.
Time winds down and I have to get going. Thankfully, it’s a dark outdoor ritual so fashion is unimportant. I throw on jeans, a top, my wooly Icelandic jumper, a black and silver scarf, some red lipstick, a rain coat, and my stripy wellies. I grab some dark chocolate in case we need offerings.
The ritual, as most public rituals tend to, erred more on dramatics than on magic. I’d heard some stupid drama that occurred just before the circle was prepared and I suspect that shifted the energy of the event some. While nothing deeply meaningful occurred, it was a pleasure to be out in the dark and the wet and the trees. It was a pleasure to absorb some myth and theatre. It was a blessing to say goodbye to all that happened over the past bright months. Part of Samhain is letting go. We have harvested the fruits of our efforts. The dark months are for rest and gestation of what is to come. I said goodbye to my PhD program. In another, earlier preparation for the holiday I had emailed my professors and formally withdrew from school. I said goodbye to the Virgin Mary, who has been the focus of my research. Because I am no longer in school my visa is forfeit, so I said goodbye to Wales. We leave this town on the 21st of December and the UK on the 28th.
My night was a blessing. Wales has been a blessing. How was your Samhain? What did you let go? What are you letting rest? What gestates within you?