In my old Coven, at Samhain, we would go around the circle, usually counter-clockwise, and take turns naming our dead and our losses. For each of those, we would put a memento into the cauldron, bowl, paper bag, or origami box that we had in the center of the circle. The year my grandfather died, for example, I saved my boarding passes from the flights to and from Florida, as well as an extra copy of the funeral program, and put them into the bowl. We would always have a supply of paper to write things on as other losses came up, and dried leaves, dried flowers, and pine needles to burn as well.
After we'd finished going around the circle, we would take our mementos to the fireplace, or take them outside, to burn -- to return those mementos to the elements, and symbolically return our losses to the Goddess, to the Earth, Air, Fire, Water, and Spirit. We would sing while burning -- Breaths; Hecate, Cerridwen; more. Often, we would cry.
Then we would come back, and go around the circle again, usually clock-wise, naming the babies and other new beginnings born that year. We would name each as we put a corresponding birthday candle on the birthday cake made especially for circle; some years, we would also light tea lights (a staple in Roses, Too! Coven) for each birth or new beginning and place them around the room. Then we'd light the birthday candles and sing -- Happy Birthday, of course; We Are; others. There might be more tears, the joyful kind, at this point.
(Yes, we had a serious fondness for Ysaye Barnwell and Sweet Honey in the Rock.)
Then we would feast. (Important aspects of Feast Food in Roses, Too!: chocolate, bread, cheese, fruit, tea or clear water. Variations depended on the season. At Samhain, apples, and birthday cake, always. Challah, often.)
This year, for the first time in many years, I am celebrating Samhain by myself. So after all the trick-or-treaters have gone home (or after we're out of candy), I will take the names I've been writing on pieces of paper and putting into my little cauldron, and the pine needles and dried leaves I've collected, and burn them in our charcoal grill. The names of friends and acquaintances and family who have died this year, or in years past but are still with me; the names of my grandparents and other family members; my beloved and not-so-beloved dead. The endings from this year; the losses that have come through ways other than death, but that cause mourning -- the end of my brother and sister-in-law's marriage; the attrition of volunteer and paid staff colleagues. The losses that cause relief and joy as well, such as the healing of illness or injury. And then I'll welcome the new beginnings and new babies from this year. I haven't entirely decided how yet, but it will involve something sweet, likely chocolate, and a birthday candle.
So, as Samhain approaches, I ask folks who read this:
- Who are you mourning?
- Who are your ancestors, known and unknown?
- What losses are you grieving?
- What babies do you welcome this year?
- What new beginnings are you celebrating?
Who and what would you put into the Cauldron of Cerridwen, into Hecate's Cauldron, the place of death and birth and change and transformation, to recognize this Samhain?