DP explanation of High Days #1 – Samhain

Samhain, celebrated October 31, is the third and last harvest festival. The themes of this holiday are the beginning of the winter season, the re-making of the world and the return of the spirits to the world of the living.

Known also as the Calend of winter, Samhain marks the beginning of the winter season, a change that had impact on our ancestor’s life. Because the sustenance of Celtic populations came mostly from agriculture and livestock,  the beginning of winter marked the end of the work on the fields: the harvest had been reaped, the animals had been brought home to the safety of their sheds and those who went to pasture with the animals came back home too. The festival of Samhain was held after all this work had been done and it was believed bad luck to harvest after the festival.

To the Celts the alternation of light and dark had a profound symbolic meaning. The year was divided into two halves: the light began with Beltane, the dark with Samhain. The gap of time during which the celebrations takes place are a “time out of time”: because they are boundaries, they are both within this world and outside of it. This is the mythic time during which the world is destroyed and remade. Chaos prevails only to be followed by the re-creation of the world:

“during this interval the normal order of the universe is suspended, the barriers between the natural and the supernatural are temporarily removed, the sídh lies open and all the divine beings and the spirits of the dead move freely among human beings and interfere, sometimes violently, in their affairs”[1]

The belief in the return of the spirits are reflected in the customs of the feast. The dumb supper, for example, survived up to the 20th century: food would be left out for the ancestors who walked the land during the night. An offering of corn or potatoes might also be left outside the house to the fairies, to propitiate good luck and a good harvest for the incoming year. Going out during the night was deemed inappropriate, as fairies fly from mound to mound and one could be snatched by them. Those brave enough to go outside disguised themselves, as Scotland costume demonstrates: masked and often with faces painted black, young men went around causing mischief during the night.

[1]Celtic Mythology by Proinsias MacCana, pp. 127-128

Sources
Celtic Mythology by Proinsias MacCana
Stations of the Sun by Ronald Hutton
Celtic Heritage by A. Rees and B. Rees
http://www.tairis.co.uk/festivals/samhainn/
http://www.maryjones.us/jce/samhain.html

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Week 1, aka: I’m bad at writing liturgy

I’m trying to work on the first oath that I intend to perform during the equinox rite. The oath is just a self-commitment to the work the ADF stands for and an affirmation of the dedicant in front of the Gods, Ancestors and Spirits.

While reading the book the fellowship gives you for training, there was a small oath to be performed and I did it. You know, when pagan books tell you to “stop everything” and recite the occasional small prayer for this or that purpose? Exactly that. I was firm in my decision and recited that first oath, but it came out a bit…impersonal. Which is why I decided to make a simple, but full, ritual as it is outlined in another work: The Dedicant Path throgh the Wheel of the Year, an awesome resource that is helping me organising my work. Many thanks to M. J. Dangler for writing it.

However, while trying to write something, writer’s block came in: how should be the structure? The pace? What’s wise to include? (It’s still an oath: I don’t want to dedicate myself to works I can’t sustain.)
I ended up writing almost an exact copy of the already-existing oath and thinking that whoever wrote those words probably knows better than me, as there’s no other way I could phrase my commitment to virtue, piety and study that sounds better than those lines. They’re simple and on point. I added some tweaks here and there: personal things I value or believe important in my practice, and that’s that. It’s still (mostly) identical to the one printed, even though I know I’ll work on it a bit more.

So yes, turns out I’m not great at writing prayers. My solitary practice has always been mostly silent because you can’t chant while mom and sis have tea in the kitchen, unless you want to solicit their attention. My prayers have never been written down, I’d just start speaking. This is all new, the ritual structure seems complex and in any case it’s different from what I was used to, and I’m starting to get frustrated with all the things I don’t know. When they said that building a Druidic practice would “challenge and irritate you – we promise!”, I didn’t believe it would happen so soon!

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