A Samhain ritual for the SGP

Samhain is a time to reflect on sadness, loss, and grief. But it can also be a time for remembrance, empathy and deep, deep love.
The Queen of Red Death is close at hand at Samhain tide; Saint with a dripping bloody skull, pungent with the smell of iron, salt and roses. She wraps bony fingers around our hearts and squeezes and we know exquisite pain, and through this pain we know we are alive.

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Image description: a red candle in a black bowl, filled with water. Surrounded by tarot cards and altar decorations.

In Australia Summer is more often the season for dying, with it’s crushing heat and raging bushfires. But as the sun grows distant, melancholy creeps in with bitter wind.
The wheel turns, but its measure has been made difficult and uneasy for people not long tied to this land.
European trees settle in to sleep through a snow which in most places never arrives, allowing delicate mosses and lichens to prosper on their bare limbs. No matter how homesick and nostalgic settlers became for the birdsong of England, irrevocably changing the landscape with their introduction, the gum trees remain thick with foliage and many flowers bloom late into the autumn.
While the equinoxes and solstices are astrological, mathematical events, celebration of the transplanted cross-quarters requires an acknowledgment of colonization and its ongoing traumas.
It’s not enough to debate the merits of whether to simply shift the seasonal calendar forward six months for anyone in the Southern Hemisphere, but to dwell on the circumstances that brought us to this question in the first place.
Thus Samhain is an excellent time to reflect on Indigenous survival, sovereignty, and struggles, to learn and engage with a compassionate and open heart.

It is also a time to connect with our own ancestors and beloved dead, be they of blood, culture or law. Genetics has no bearing on this definition of ancestry, nor species; I include my dearest cats in my celebrations. Knowledge, love, and art all form the fertile soil from which we grow.

The Dumb Supper

This ritual is a simple variant on the traditional ‘dumb supper’, so called because it is performed in silence. The idea is to host a simple quiet dinner party, with places set for departed loved ones. It’s best done in the home, and can be done alone or as a group.

Tools:
White candle
Tealights
Red candle
A bell, chime or piece of crystalware
A meal
Altar decorations

At the head of your dining table, set a place as if for a guest, but turn it into an altar by draping the chair with red, white, or black fabric. Decorate the table at this placement with skulls, sweet-smelling flowers, heavy incense, cups of spring water, harvest fruits and bowls of salt. On the plate, set a red candle to represent the Red Death. As a force of nature, she does not require offerings of food like that which will be served to the dead.
Arrange enough tealights on the table to create a warm, low-lit atmosphere.
Set the rest of the table as normal, with a place for each diner. Each living guest should position themselves so they are sitting opposite to their deceased guests, facing them.

To begin, light a white candle by your front door or window, to act as a beacon for the souls of your beloved dead to find their way to you. If you wish you can open the door and beckon them inside, pull out the chair for your guests, be as theatrical as you like. Some may wish to do this at dusk, or before they start cooking/preparing food. A home-cooked meal works best, but whatever is within your means is appropriate. If you know your guest had a favourite food, prepare that.

Find a bell or some other tool that creates a pleasant chiming sound. Lightly tapping a piece of crystalware will have the desired effect. Bonus points if it’s a family heirloom. Ring it once when it is time to begin the ritual of quiet and of not speaking, and dish up the meal to all guests. Don’t worry about wasting food; a small sample is all that’s needed for the otherworldly. The dead are light eaters.

Take your place at your place at the table and enjoy the meal. Chew slowly. Be mindful of the sensations, the taste, the texture, the warmth and the smell. There is no purer expression of what it is to be alive than to eat.
Sit with your emotions. Do you hunger for sound? Distractions? Do you weep? Does raw powerful grief bubble up inside from a deep underground wellspring? Do you feel numb? Filled with love and bittersweet nostalgic joy? Are you shying away from anything? Is there anything you avoiding?
Be attentive to the place set for your guest.
Do you feel any sensations, faint impressions, polite requests? Do you feel a shift in temperature or energy? Does your guest ask you to season their food with a little more pepper, please? Do they chide you for forgetting they hate peas? Glad for the company, good-humored, or sorrowful?

When the meal is done, ring your bell to indicate the evening and silence is over, and thank your guests and usher them back out the door when you feel the time has come to draw the ritual to a close. Spend the rest of the evening in low-energy, introspective activities and contemplations. Listen to soft music. Journal your experiences.

Later, dispose of the dead’s leftovers at a crossroads, or by fire. Take care when doing so, and be sure not to look back when returning. You don’t want any scavengers following you home. The following day, open your windows and sweep your floors.

Traditional Southern Hemisphere date:
Sunset to sunset, 30th April, to 1st May
Astrological date:
Evening, 5th May 2018

More information on the Sovereigns of the Golden Path (SGP) can be found here.

SGP glossary here.

More information on the Queens of Death can be found here.

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Devotional cooking: Koresh Fesenjan for Hekate

Suffering chronic fatigue, I usually don’t have the energy for big, flashy ritual. Once a month on the day of the new moon, I clean my house as best I can in service to Hekate, and we share the evening meal. If I’m able, I try to incorporate relevant foods such as egg, garlic, leek, honey, and pomegranate.

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Last month I made Koresh Fesenjan-a Persian chicken, walnut, and pomegranate stew.

Ingredients:
(I don’t measure things when I cook; it’s why I’m terrible at baking)
2 spoonfuls of honey
Sprinkle of cinnamon, nutmeg, pepper
Salt-I don’t normally add salt to my food but Hekate requested extra after I’d plated it up
Chicken tenders, cut into small strips
Cup of chopped walnuts
Liquid chicken stock
White rice
Olive oil
Pomegranate molasses

Process:
1. Toast the walnuts in a pan for a few minutes until golden brown and fragrant.
Lightly crush with a mortar and pestle. When cooking for two, using a food processor isn’t worth the effort it takes to clean.
2. Cook the rice.
3. Lightly brown the chicken in a pan and toss in the spring onions with a dash of oil.
4. Add chicken stock, and bring to a boil.
5. Add spices, honey, walnuts, and pomegranate molasses.
6. Simmer until the stew is no longer watery.
7. Serve with rice, garnish with walnut, parsley or pomegranate arils.

It’s a very sweet and sour, rich tasting dish.
I lit a candle and served it with a cup of fruit tea. Hekate seems to have a penchant for dark chocolate as well, which we had for dessert, although she seems insistent on sharing whatever I’m eating. Afterwards, I take her portion to my three-way crossroads altar, as well as a customary offering to the restless dead which I do not eat from.

Some months I’m not able to cook the food myself or make anything quite as elaborate as this, but it is my duty to share this meal and to remember the dead.

Necromancy and the Queens of Death

Red Death is for the living. Green Death is for the already gone. White Death is for us all.

Death is a heady subject among pagans. It’s large. It’s divisive. It’s inevitable.
As a necromancer, how do I approach death, my own mortality and that of my loved ones?

This is my framework for conceptualizing death.These aren’t gods or regents but anthropomorphic personifications of natural phenomena. A symbolic representation, but powerful forces nonetheless. 

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Death as depicted in the Rider-Waite tarot.

The Three Monarchs of Death:

The Red Queen of Death is for the living.
She’s sexy, provocative, reckless and impatient. She tastes like the blood in your mouth from a kick in the teeth.
If you get too close to her she’ll burn your fingertips. The wounds will either cauterize and make you numb, or hurt worse than anything you’ve ever felt. They always scar, but sometimes the scars fade with time-time you have because you’re still alive. She’s a gushing, ragged wound; roses and rotting meat. You can hear her laughing when a speeding car misses you by an inch. She claws into your chest and squeezes your heart when you watch a loved one slip away in their sleep. She’s pain and violence, fear and finality.

The Red Queen is always with me. Sometimes she steps behind me and out of my field of immediate focus, but she is always there-trauma, mental illness and chronic ill health see to that.
My relationship with her is intimate and deeply personal; my perpetual dance partner in a tango.

The Green Queen of Death is for the already dead.
She’s motherly, patient and persistent. She tastes like forest mushrooms. She’s the roots of a tree cracking open a skull with slow but inexorable force. She’s a bountiful feast for smaller animals, insects and organisms. She’s silence carrying an ellipses into a promise…of something more. She’s the softness of rotting wood and the hardness of fossilized bone. She’s the serene marble statue of a saint in the vaulted halls of the church of nature.
The Green Death is where I do most of my necromancy work.

I love all of my specimens. However, I knew none of the numerous preserved animals in my collection before they died.
To love them as they were once alive would be to grieve for them in passing. Sadness is too sticky; I can’t flush it out effectively and it lingers. I’ve opted out of preserving anything I’ve had the misfortune of needing to help ease from this world. If I knew them in life, I couldn’t sever their connection to the Red Queen. If possible, I bury them, so they may rest and heal.

It is better for me to love my specimens as I first met them; already dead, belonging to the Queen of the Green Death. In my necromancy practices, I do my best to serve their modest demands. They require a pauper’s supper.
The Red Queen on the other hand, is ravenous for blood. Like fire, she’ll consume everything you let her.

“…Man’s heart is a ditch full of blood. The loved ones who have died throw themselves down on the bank of this ditch to drink the blood and so come to life again; the dearer they are to you, the more of your blood they drink.”

―Zorba the Greek, Nikos Kazantzakis

What to do then, when a beloved, close family member dies? In most instances in my life, it has not been my decision to make.
When it is, due to their connection with the Red Death, my regular preservation techniques would be too personally traumatizing.

Skulls are spiritually weighty objects which require no context. The spirits which inhabit dead remains have also been irrevocably transformed from their living selves.
Cremains themselves are only as meaningful as that which is ascribed to them by the living; given to a stranger, ashes may as well be a box of dirt.
For this reason, I had my cat-grandmother and cat-son cremated. This process creates a symbolic abstraction of their whole physical bodies without the removal of soft tissue usually associated with preservation.
This way I can continue to carry them with me in my life and in my heart-at least until my own death-as I remember them, as they were. The two boxes of ashes sit upon the mantel at the heart of our home. Their spirits are part of the household itself; friendly shadows slinking around corners just out of sight.

 

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It was much harder to take selfies 15 years ago

 

There is also a third monarch, The White Death, the Grim Reaper. This psychopomp has a single appointment to keep with every living thing and serves as a reminder not to take it all too seriously; because it’ll all be over soon enough.