Tag Archives: Samhain

Death Becomes You

The signs of the changing season are many and plentiful: there is a new crispness in the air, the days grow shorter, the leaves begin to fall, pumpkin spice flavoring has been injected into every consumable, and the yearly barrage of educational outreach posts from the Pagan community are making the rounds.

I used to do a fair bit of that myself.  The confluence of Pop-Culture Halloween and Pagan Samhain makes for a pretty tempting public relations opportunity.  Watch as we slide a little truth in there between your fun-sized Snickers and your yearly viewing of The Great Pumpkin.

I gave it up though, because mostly people don’t want to be bothered with it.

And of those who do show some interest, trying to explain Celtic Ancestor Night traditions to someone who’s cultural understanding of death is rooted in Western Christianity is a serious undertaking.

There’s just no easy way in.

Except that is for Dia de Muertos.

The growing popularity in the States, of the Mexican ‘Day of the Dead’ has, on several recent occasions, given me something a little more tangible to point to.

But still, the conversations tend to go something like this…,

Me: “It’s like ‘The Day of the Dead’ but without the Sugar Skulls.”

Them: “Huh?!”

So, it seemed like the best thing to do was to just give up again, when suddenly this…,

The Book of Life

The Book of Life.

It came out in 2014, and I’ve just now watched it.

How did I miss this movie?!

It is without doubt, the best representation of a modern cultural rite of honoring the dead, that I have seen on film.  The movie is cute and funny, even while treating the subject with a particular reverence, and most importantly, it is rich and beautiful to look at.

In a time when the rotting flesh and gnashing teeth of the zombie has become a year round staple of popular culture, it is nothing short of miraculous to see the dead depicted as beings of both whimsy and grace, who care for their living descendants as fervently as we should care for them.

Do not be fooled by the corruption of the grave.

That is not death.

Death is not something that happens to us, it is something we become, and in so doing, we carry away all that is beautiful within us into that next realm.  How could what we find there be anything other than glorious to behold?

Watch the movie.  Smile and laugh at the story, even as you catch a momentary glimpse of a truth beyond our mortal reach.  Do that, and maybe you’ll understand the things we do.

We dress the graves to honor them.

We kindle the fires to light their way home.

We share with them offerings of food and drink.

We remember them to each other in the stories that we tell.

And we pray that we will be remembered when we have passed beyond the vail.

Do not fear the grave.  Death becomes you.

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Filed under Culture, Death, Holidays, Religion, Traditions

Approaching Change

Sometimes I sit down to write these posts and I know exactly what I want to say and how I want to say it.

There may be some notes I’ve jotted down, or links to some relevant website containing information I plan to reference.  There may be a few books stacked up with torn envelopes stuck in them, marking pages or passages I want to look back on while writing.  And if you ever found yourself driving alongside me, on one of those weeks, you might look over to see me talking to myself, as I run again and again over how I want a particular idea to read and sound.

Those weeks have become increasingly rare.

More often, I start out with a fairly good idea of what it is I’ll be writing about, but it is not until I get into the actual business of putting it down that the true objectives reveal themselves.

Sometimes this involves a long protracted battle, rewrite after rewrite until the thing is battered into a form which, if not entirely pleasing to me, is at least satisfactory.  Frequently, this battle is won (or lost) at some disreputable hour of the morning, just shy of the intended publication time.

And then there are those magical nights when I sit down to write and the muses come and work their will upon me.  In these rare moments I experience the same euphoric energy that I used to feel while painting or sculpting, and the words seem to flow out of me and onto the page.

Reading that last paragraph back, it sounds as if I’m saying the process is effortless.

It is nothing of the sort.

The words, the images and ideas: they flow — like blood from an open vein.

And when it happens, it is as exhausting as it is exhilarating, because I…, because WE are tapping into the power of creation.

We’ve all heard the phase, “Putting yourself into your work.”

When we write a story, when we make art, or perform, or invent…, and when we do it as an act of passion, we put a bit of ourselves into that thing we are making.

For those of you who are Harry Potter fans, think of it like a Horcrux, except that no one had to die in the making of it.  You’ve given the thing you made a life of its own, and in the bargain, you will live forever, through the things you create.

This is a power that we share with the gods.

Temple Raven

Sometimes I sit down to write these posts and I know exactly what I want to say and how I want to say it.

This is not one of those posts.

I started us off with just two words – Approaching Change.

I guess I was hoping that the muses would take it from there.  But I’m not feeling it tonight.

Perhaps my intention was to discuss changes great and small that I feel in the air.

Samhain is nearly upon us and it is at this time of the year we are most aware of the great wheel in its turning.

The Pagan and Polytheist movements appear to be gaining some small traction, even as other forces work desperately to roll the clock back to some imagined golden age.  The politics of the day seem to have become increasingly fractured and divisive.  Our next-door neighbors have become strangers, while our ability to inspire, and to be inspired, by people in far away lands has become almost second-nature.

This is indeed a time of great changes, I have no doubt.

What I do doubt is my own ability to roll with those changes, to be have a voice in them, to add my own small creative power to that of so many others in this ongoing act of creation.

The muse I spoke of comes too infrequently these days.

My work schedule is too chaotic.

My sleep is haphazard.

My ‘free’ moments are too choked with worry over financial obligations, and not enough time spent making art or traveling, reading or building.

And always on the edge of my vision there is a project which is currently beyond my resources, my skill, my reach…, and always will be unless I begin to make some real changes of my own.

And what better time to begin (or is it continue?) that process than in the cool shadows of Samhain, when the dead and the living – the past and the present – mingle and become one.  The old torch sputters and dies, and a new light is born out of the darkness.

I’ve talked a great deal about sacrifice in these pages.

The time has come again for me to make a few of my own.

And that begins right here.

This is the 179th post I have published since April of 2012.

When I started, I never expected I would last so long.

Next week, on Monday, November 2nd. I will publish post number 180

And that will mark my last regular post here…, for a while.

I’m not done here, not by a long shot.  This blog has always been a means to an end, but my writing here has begun to drift away from the original intent and it is high time I made a course correction.  Without the self-imposed weekly deadline, I can turn my attention to other areas, other changes and projects that, it is my deepest hope, I will chronicle here.

If you have stuck with me this long I hope you will hold on a little bit longer.

The road gets twisty up ahead.

Time to make a decision: hit the breaks or step on the gas.

Approaching Change.

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Filed under About this Blog, Art, Holidays, Philosophy, Spiritual Journey

October Stories: The Fields of the Dead

The weeds, so late in the season, had been reduced to clumps of tall spindly stalks.  They reached almost to our knees as we stalked our prey across the field, tawny spikelets rasping together in the cooling October breeze.

We fanned out slowly.  Each taking a few large steps forward and then sweeping one leg forward and across in a low arc, the crunch of tall grass bending and breaking underfoot, while we scanned the ground before us for any sign.

Another few steps.

Another sweep of the leg.

And again, widening our distance.

And again.

And there!  A flash of white between grayish-green blades of grass.  My hand thrust downward, looking for purchase, for something hard and rough wedged into the earth.  And then the grip and pull against a resistance from roots above and soil below.

A few moments spent shaking the dirt away before I can properly see what I’ve found.

“Got one,” I shout to the others, “I think it’s a shoulder bone!”

“Good, now look for the rest.  We’ll keep going.”

Smiling at the club-like form in my hand, I give it a couple more good shakes, dirt flying from a thousand hollow pockmarks which seem to line one flattened edge, and then I give it a gentle toss into the low grass at the edge of the field.

I make that sweeping motion with my foot again, and then again, until I see more white peeping up from below.  More bones to gather, weathered and stained, from the hungry earth.

She does not easily yield that which she has been given.

***

Throughout my high-school years my parents and I lived next to a small cattle ranch.  Its glory days long since passed, the property was held by two elderly ladies, mother and daughter, who kept their small herd more out of habit than anything else.

I fed the cattle and my father sometimes pitched in when the owners needed him for fence repairs or brush removal.

There were never more that a couple dozen head wandering the fields in those days, and there was more than ample space for them to roam and graze.  As I recall, there was only one small field closed off to them: the grassy crown of a wide hill, hidden back behind the main house and the barn, surrounded by trees and left to seed.

We called it the bone yard.

From time to time, one of the herd would die, usually of age, and the owners would hire someone to throw a chain around its neck and drag it off with a tractor, into that lonesome circle.

There the bodies were transformed, by scavengers and time, into a loose collection of bones, picked clean and scattered across the area of flattened grass where the carcass once lay.

Still more time would pass and the bones, bleached by sun and rain, would begin their slow progress into the earth.

Or maybe they where dragged downward.

Certainly the roots seemed loath to give them up.

***

And those old bones might have vanished into the ground forever, had my father not volunteered to run the P.T.O Spook-House at my High School’s fall carnival.

Halloween in a small towns of Texas, populated as they tend to be, by the more evangelical flavors of the Christian faithful, can be a complex bit of business.

Oh the people do chatter about paganism and devil worship, and everyone is doing it, and everyone knows that everyone else is doing it, and they all pretend that they are doing something else entirely.

It’s very much the way they deal with sex, except that sometimes there are costumes involved…,

…so, I guess it’s exactly the same.

Halloween is therefore rebranded as a “Harvest Festival” or a “Fall Carnival”, which in an astonishing coincidence, includes costumes, bobbing for apples, a scavenger hunt, and a spook-house.

Oh, and a cake-walk!

And I can tell you, having participated in both, that nothing so closely resembles a poorly managed Neo-Pagan rite, than a cake-walk in small town Texas.  Particularly when the participants are trying ever so desperately to avoid the appearance that they might be involved in a dance of any description.

And that might make a good topic for another day…,

…but I was trying to explain why we were out in a field gathering animal bones.

That’s no great mystery really.

If you live in the country and are looking for props to decorate a spook-house, why pour good money into a bunch of cheaply made plastic crap, when there are entire skeletons in some neighbors field that can be dressed up in spiderwebs and a blacklight.

Because bones., skeletons…, the dead…, these things are frightening.

Or so I am given to understand.

***

A lot of time has passed since that day spent with family, harvesting cow bones under an October sky.  And in that time I have often been drawn to the fields of the dead.

In recent years have walked across hills dotted with dolmen and crouched in the heart of mighty passage tombs.  These are the necropoli, the cities of the dead, built by our prehistoric ancestors to house and honor the dead.

In my college days I spent a lot of time in the special collections section of the University library.  There I found old property survey maps that showed every graveyard in a five county area around my home.

Many of these I visited, when I could find them at all; so many have become forgotten, resembling little more than a weed-choked jumble of markers, the names and dates long worn away.  Still others were in surprisingly good condition, considering their remote locations.

I walked these places by day, looking at the names, the dates, words love and loss and hope etched in stone and left to us – to remember, or to forget.

Old Grave

On rare occasions, when the whim took me, I would visit at night.  And I’ll confess that on more than one of these nocturnal visits, I brought a date.

There is something primal and powerful about wandering among the graves with only the moon and a flashlight to guide you.  I do not recall ever experiencing the supernatural dread which people attach to these places, but the feeling of nervous excitement they generate is, happily, both contagious and easily directed toward other ends.

In my experience, however, the dead do not linger in the places where we lay their bones, but are far more occupied with that point in space where their existence slipped from this world into that other realm which parallels our own.

Perhaps those shades would spend more time there if the living were more frequent visitors by day…,

…or night.

***

I drive through my neighborhood and I see yards decorated with plastic skeletons and faux grave stones.  We erect pretend graveyards on the lawn to inspire seasonal fear, and we avoid actual graveyards like death itself lingered there.

Movie Skeletons

Is this what people are worried about, that the dead are going to suddenly spring up like skeleton warriors from the Hydra’s Teeth in an old Ray Harryhausen movie?

Did you know that in the 19th Century, cemeteries were treated like parks?  People strolled the paths between the stones, they picnicked on the wide green lawns within sight of the markers of family and friends.

In the early days of the Roman Republic, the dead were buried in the homes of their family, where they could be properly honored and cared for by those who loved them most in life.

We think of ourselves as an advanced culture, sophisticated in ways that the ancients could never hope to understand.  And yet as we have advanced, we have drawn ourselves further and further from the fields of the dead.  Empty bones have become objects of dread and ancient feast days must be rebranded so as not to offend those with delicate sensibilities.

Say what you will about the dead, the living are just weird!

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Filed under Culture, Death, Holidays, Modern Life, Religion, Spiritual Journey, Traditions

Sacred Space: Back to the Altar

Altar Cup and Book

The Sun rises, its light breaking through the naked trees and piercing the heavy bedroom curtains I have drawn against the dawn.  The patterns of branches in a golden glow sway against the cloth, inviting me to step out into the morning, promising warmth and comfort in the dawning of a new day.

These are lies.

Yes, the lizard on his rock would tell you that the Sun’s rays are all the warmth one could ever need, if that is, he were not frozen to that rock in the 20°F air.

It’s cold out there folks!

It’s winter in Texas, and while we may not have to deal with snowplows and the like, it is too damned cold to be doing much of anything outside this morning.  And this from someone who likes the cold, and abhors the sweltering heat of Summer that all my friends and neighbors are already crying out for the return of.

The winter chill, drives us indoors and away from any outdoor project that is not of critical importance.  And so, by necessity, my backyard temple/shrine project has been very much on the back-burner these past several weeks.

AltarCandle

Oh sure, there are things I could be doing – out there.  But I want this project to be a ‘labor of love’ and quite honestly, I find no benevolent inspiration in the numbing of my fingers.

Also, there is the small matter of a recently cracked rib.  Which is, itself, another story and entirely beside the point I was trying to make.

It is enough to say that the cold weather does exactly what it is supposed to do.  It drives us home, and to the sacred hearth, if we have one.

If my small house had a fireplace, it would be dressed as the primary place of worship – the very heart of the home.

Altar Cernunnos

Lacking that, I have instead, a small altar – the expression of Sacred Space within my home.

It is spare, at the moment, in reflection of the Winter season.

It changes in design and content with the passing of each Celtic feast day.

The altar will begin to bloom again with the coming of Imbolc.  It will grow wild and chaotic in Beltane’s passing, and will take on rich, golden hues when Lughnasadh holds sway.

Altar Base

With Samhain, comes the season of closure, of sleep, and of the sacred balance between the light of life and warmth, and the darkness and the cold that lie just beyond.

There is no particular arrangement to my altar.  The sacred geometry of that space reveals itself to me each season, as I dress it anew.  Next winter, it will doubtless look very different, than it does today.

Altar Morrigan

There are some constants of course…,

There are the images of the primary gods and goddesses of my worship…,

There is the great book, where I will record the myths and traditions that shape my belief…,

A cup, for libations and sacrifice…,

A candle against the darkness…,

A sphere of gold-sheen obsidian, to represent the blackest night, and the promise of light that hides even there…,

And, of course, there is the sickle, Druids’ blade and harvest tool, its razor crescent turned outward in warning, because the harvest is done, and this is the season when the Earth bites back!

Altar Geometry

All this, and more, set upon a heavy wooden frame.  Totem and tool, symbol and sacrifice, a physical expression of the sacred, as warming to me as a roaring fire.

It is a place to go, when driven inward by the cold.

The deceitful Sun is moving higher into the air now, and I have much yet to do, this day.  Some of those errands will drive me out into that hard, bright chill, and I will bring the warmth of the gods with me into the day, and then back again.

Back to the altar.

****

This is the sixth post in a series following my progress (or often, lack thereof) in the planning and construction of a small temple space on my property.  If you wish to follow along with my progress you may see other posts in this series by clicking here.

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Filed under Celtic Polytheism, Religion, Sacred Space, Spiritual Journey

The Sixth Day of the Moon

I don’t want what you are about to read, to give you the wrong impression of me.

The simple fact is that I love Halloween.  I love every single waxy-candy-corn-polyester-spider-web-plastic-bat-cheap-sound-effect-paper-skeleton-fog-machine-gooey-candy-booze-soaked-thriller-zombie-great-pumpkin-watching moment of it.

And so, you’d think that it would be easy…,

Because it is common knowledge that this time of the year, more than any other, has held on to so many old traditions and associations, it should, therefore, be the easiest time of the year to be Pagan.

Which is not to say that we stop being Pagan during the rest of the year.  We are what we are, and do not change religious status as matters of convenience…, (well come to think of it, I suppose that some of us do, but that’s another topic altogether).

But as conventional wisdom would have it, it should be easy to be a Witch or a Druid in these waning days of October, because everyone is just a tad pagan come Halloween.  Tis the season of dress-up and pretend, ghosts and goblins, tales of hauntings told around a fire, and the incessant cackle of that animatronic crone which the neighbors (who look at you funny all the rest of the year) have propped up on their front porch, standing guard over a bowl of candy shaped like a cauldron with a bloody human hand thrust out of it.

It’s okay to be different from everyone else, because this is that special time of year when everyone is trying to be a little different.  And if you are lucky enough to be ‘the pagan’ in your social group, well that has its own very special benefits…,

“Hey, (‘nudge-nudge’ goes the elbow) I read an article in a magazine I bet you would have liked.”

“Oh, yeah?”

“Yeah, it was all about the REAL origins of Halloween (their head does that ‘wise nod’ thing).  I can loan it to you if you’d like?”

“Ummm, I’m good, thanks.”

And it’s not as if we can be upset about it, because we know that they love us and they just want to know us better, and to feel included in a part of our lives that they really don’t understand very well.  Society has told them that Halloween is their best opportunity to gain that deeper understanding, and to truly share something with us.

Because, for the Pagan, every day is Halloween.  Right?!

Ugh.

No.

Stop.

If you are a Christian reading this, I beg you, stop trying to understand us through the lens of Halloween.  Imagine, for a moment, trying to bring your gospel to the natives of some far away land, who’s only previous exposure to your religious tradition comes from repeated viewings of that 1969 animated Frosty the Snowman special, as narrated by Jimmy Durante.  Same difference, trust me.

And my fellow Pagans of every stripe, I beg you with equal fervor, to stop trying to educate people about our traditions by doing that same tired old compare/contrast between Samhain and Halloween.  Honestly, 99% of your audience stopped listening the moment they figured out Jack Skellington wasn’t going to make an appearance.

Halloween is not an educational opportunity – it’s a party – so just enjoy it.

And, if I may dole out one more piece of advice: don’t allow your spiritual practice to get caught up in the orange and the black.  Halloween is not an accommodation that the world makes for us, and neither should our Samhain be an accommodation for the rest of society.

So then, what am ‘I’ doing for Halloween?

Sixth Day Harvest

This year I’ll be taking a break from handing out candy to all the little ghoulies, and will instead be having a long overdue dinner with a dear friend and her new gentleman.

And what about Samhain?

This year, I’ll be participating in an ancient rite which I have studied for years and yet never experienced first hand.

“The druids…, hold nothing more sacred than the mistletoe and a tree on which it is growing, provided it is a hard-timbered oak. Mistletoe is rare and when found it is gathered with great ceremony, and particularly on the sixth day of the moon. Hailing the moon in a native word that means ‘healing all things,’ they prepare a ritual sacrifice and banquet beneath a tree…, A priest arrayed in white vestments climbs the tree and, with a golden sickle, cuts down the mistletoe, which is caught in a white cloak…,

—Pliney the Elder, 1st Century CE

The Sixth day of the Moon, being the sixth day since the moon was reborn from darkness, and that point when it is entering the midpoint of its transition from New to Full, a time of balance between darkness and light, falls (to the best of my calculations) in the early evening on Thursday, October 30th.

I usually do not celebrate Samhain so early, but an opportunity like this is rare, and this year, more than most, I feel the need to make a change in my usual habits.

Oh, I will still feast, and honor the gods and the dead with the sacrifice of meat and drink.  I will build a great fire for them, and I will pass bodily through the flame that burns in two worlds.  And when I am done, I will take the mistletoe leaves I have gathered, which my ancestors called Uileiceadh – the cure all, and hang them to dry.

And when Imbolc dawns, come February, I will welcome the spring with a hot cup of Mistletoe Tea – a new tradition for a new year.

A blessed Samhain and a Happy Halloween to you all.

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Filed under Celtic Polytheism, Culture, Holidays, Interfaith, Religion, Traditions

This Season of Fear

Fear is a Superpower

“Let me tell you about scared.  Your heart is beating so hard I can feel it through your hands.  There’s so much blood and oxygen pumping through your brain it’s like rocket fuel.  Right now you could run faster and you can fight harder.  You can jump higher than ever in your life and you are so alert it’s like you can slow down time.”

What’s wrong with scared?  Scared is a superpower, your superpower!  There is danger in this room.  And guess what?  It’s you.”

—The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), “Listen,” Doctor Who

We are a society in love with fear.

We crave it.  We spend hard earned money for the chance to experience it, if even for a moment, and in doing so we prop up a billion dollar industry dedicated to delivering it to us in easily digested packages.  And as we move into the final weeks of October, that industry is in full gear, churning out slasher flicks, haunted houses, horror fiction and ghoulish costumes, all designed to sate our need for a good scare, and to whet our appetite for more.

But why?

Why do we want to be frightened?  Why are we willing to go to such great lengths to lose our nerve?

Think back on those lines from Doctor Who, which I quoted at the beginning of this post.  Fear makes our blood race, makes us stronger, alters our perception of the world around us.  Fear is a drug – totally legal and, given the industry that has grown up around it, highly addictive.

We want to feel afraid because we enjoy the rush we feel when the boogyman jumps out at us from the darkness.

And I’m not standing here saying that there is, by necessity, anything wrong with that.

I myself, enjoy a good scare – from time to time.

All things in moderation, after all.

I’m just not so sure that, for society at large, ‘moderation’ is on the menu these days.

Look at the way certain media outlets, and WAY too many regular people, are simply pissing themselves over the scourge of Ebola, which even now rides roughshod across the United States like Pestilence upon his White Horse, killing fewer people to date than an average drive-by shooting.

We are, by far, the safest, most comfortable, best cared for and educated society, that this world has ever seen, and we are, by all indications, frightened of absolutely everything.

And the only reason which I can find for it, the only reason that makes any sense, is that, missing that essential component of danger which our more ancient ancestors lived with on a constant basis, our bodies crave fear in concentrated doses in order to compensate.  Unfortunately, like the drunk who cannot afford another round of the “good stuff” and must take his ease in a bottle of cheap cough suppressant, we find ourselves fishing about for something to keep us nervous until the next big scare comes along.

The ancients, I suspect, did not have this problem.  While the conventional image many people hold, is one of frightened savages clinging to each other in the dark as lightning crashed above and hungry wolves prowled outside the light of the camp fire, there has never been any real evidence to support this view.

Our ancestors seem to have been a people, deeply rooted in the rhythms of the natural world.  They hunted, and were hunted, they lived and worked and died and I rather suspect, hadn’t the time (or need) for the sort of fear we revel in.

Oh sure, there are stories of kings who were frightened into violent action by the appearance of a rogue star in the sky.  But consider for a moment, it is the royalty in these stories, the most comfortable members of their society, who are driven mad with fear.  Certainly there have been uprisings, inquisitions, executions and mass suicides, which were driven by unreasoning fear.  But these things seem far more common in later ages, when security and comfort were in greater supply.

The days leading up to Samhain have always been understood to include an thinning of the borders between the lands of the living and the dead, but it is only in later centuries that this season has been met with, first religious dread, and more recently with a strangely commoditized variety of fear.

Under the Bed

And so, where is the harm?

If just the thought of a hand snaking out from under your bed to grab your ankle, makes you shiver – what harm?

If there really is some deficiency of experience that is satisfied by repeated doses of pre-packaged fear, isn’t that just what the doctor ordered?

Perhaps.

But I’ve been thinking more and more about that quote from Doctor Who that I used to start this whole thing off.  It’s been gnawing at me for a while now, and I wasn’t sure why until I started to write this post.

“What’s wrong with scared?  Scared is a superpower, your superpower!  There is danger in this room.  And guess what?  It’s you.”

The real danger may not be in the thing that makes us afraid, but what WE do once the fear really sets in.  The casual drug user may be fun at a party, but an addict is a very real danger to both himself and others.

Perhaps we have grown too comfortable for our own safety.  Or is it that we are too safe for our own comfort?  Either way, what we really need may be a world which is less safe, and sure, and comfortable, than the one to which we have grown accustomed.

Above all, we are terrified of change.  We don’t want to lose the things we have gained for ourselves.  Yet, what if the only answer, the only escape from this season of fear, was to let go of our creature comforts and actually live in the world again, rather than despite it, as we currently do.

Are you afraid?

Good.

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Dead Man’s Party

Dead Man's Party, Skeleton Toy, Halloween

I am exhausted.

My girlfriend and I have been working on our yearly costumes almost non-stop, for the last several days.  We enjoy attending an annual costume party that takes place on the Saturday before Halloween.  Many, if not most, of the attendees put a great deal of work into their costumes, and in response we have really pushed ourselves to be more creative in our endeavors.

The theme of this years party was “recycling an old costume” and we decided to take that theme to heart by revamping a couple of old store-bought numbers from a few years back.  We had made the perfect Halloween cliché, me in my black crushed-velvet wizards cloak, replete with golden stars and moons and her in a natty witches outfit sporting a black-dyed cheesecloth hat.  Never had more dreadful apparel slid from the confines of a cheap vinyl bag.

Horrors!

So, seeking redemption for costuming sins past, Donna began revamping her witch ensemble, and I began the work of transforming yesterday’s off-brand wizard into a somewhat more compelling Necromancer.

Mostly, I thought, this would prove an excellent opportunity to try my hand at building my own costume props by casting foam in silicone molds.

Yeah, I’ve been watching far too much Face Off.
(I WANT that studio!)

Making costume props from silicone molds.

A quick series of photos showing the progress of one of my costume props
from initial clay sculpture, to silicone mold, to final painted foam.

And what have I learned?

Well, for one thing, silicone is damned expensive.

Also, good mold making and being in a rush are two things that DO NOT go well together;  subtle detail in modeling clay will disappear by the time you get to the finished foam piece;  cast the foam in the shape you want, and do not assume you’ll be able to bend it much after the fact;  budget twice as much time as you think you really need;  budget three times as much money as you think you will need – did I mention that silicone is expensive?

The most important thing of all is having everything well planned out in advance.

These lessons were all learned the hard way.

We didn’t make the party.

All that work and expense — for nothing.

Except, of course, for the experience — lessons learned, knowledge gained.
(and we have emergency backup costumes for next year, in case this happens again)

There are those who might wonder why I put so much effort into something so frivolous.

Among my fellow Pagans, there are many who prefer to embrace the serious, spiritual aspects of Samhain while ignoring, or even pooh-poohing, Halloween in all it’s kitschy, secular glory.

What a bunch of freaking spoilsports.

Samhain, my friends, was not meant to be a purely sombre occasion!

It’s a party.  Specifically, it’s a dead man’s party.  It’s something we do for them, to draw them back, to celebrate them and to earn their protection and guidance.

It’s a dead man’s party.
Who could ask for more?
Everybody’s comin’, leave your body at the door,
Leave your body and soul at the door…,

I believe that the dead, having found their way once more among the living, are drawn by boisterous energy and lively activity.  The fire light and cheerful voices draw them in from the cold far better than any dreary, silent ‘dumb-supper’ ever could.

So yeah, we may have missed the costume party, but the main event is still a few days off and there are still decorations to put up and trick-or-treaters to prepare for.

Heck, maybe I’ll wear the costume while handing out candy.  That will give the little ones something to remember.

And then, on the next day, while millions of children are still coming down from their sugar induced high, the real celebration begins.  We will awaken the night with bonfire, and feast, and stories, and offerings to ancestors and gods alike.

Don’t be afraid of what you can’t see
Don’t run away it’s only me…,

—All lyrics by Danny Elfman

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Filed under Celtic Polytheism, Holidays, Modern Life, Traditions