A brief Samhain memoir

An apple cut starwise

The leaves crunched underfoot as we trooped into the small tract of woods we’d selected for its privacy.  In my pocket I had a bunch of notes that I had scratched down from a friend of ours who had done this sort of thing before.  We had a cup and a beverage, an apple and a knife, and four of us who would each be celebrating our first Samhain this night, twenty-five years ago.

I was excited.  My stride, already quick, lengthened to use my entire leg, and threatened to leave the women behind.  We were about to hold a Pagan ritual on the most Pagan night of the year!

We didn’t write down exactly what we were going to do.  I had those notes, but none of us were acting like priests or officiants.  We just wanted to celebrate nature, honor the unseen spirits, and join the Pagan community.  We didn’t know anything about “books of shadows” or training or manipulating energy or even really what gods, if any, we were planning on honoring.  We just knew that Halloween was also Samhain, and wanted to be part of that.

Until that time, my life’s priorities had to do with being in the woods as much as I could, preferring trees to people.  Making the transition from loving nature to worshiping it came easily.  We called the quarters, one for each of us, and we called for those gods who wished to witness our rite to do so — but we were cautioned to word that carefully, since some gods enjoy possession, and none of us were even remotely prepared for that.  We shared a beverage — I couldn’t recall what it might have been but it certainly wasn’t alcoholic — and we cut an apple in half horizontally, starwise, so named because of the design thus revealed.  That was a new trick we had learned, and were eager to try.

There was no libation, no fire, no songs, no remembrances.  Just four college kids, trying to connect with the world in a way that made more sense than other things we’d each tried.  It was a simple rite, performed simply by people who had never laid eyes on a Pagan book, and had only met a self-identified witch for the first time a day before, at a Halloween talk in one of the dorms.

A quarter-century later, I think at least three of us identify as Pagan.  I know the years have a surprising way of changing some world views, while leaving others untouched.  I still think the woods are most excellent, and that the earth and nature are worth worshiping, but now I have a regular practice focused on the Hellenic gods, which include Gaia herself.  I still feel like I know very little, but I am far more aware of the wider Pagan community, and it asks a lot more of me.  Samhain is not one of the important holy days of my present Pagan path, but it is still one of my favorite days of the year.

I’m incredibly grateful that I had friends who were willing to start down this path with me; I could not have taken that first step alone.

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