Samhain/All Saints: The Great Cloud of Witnesses

greatcloudTherefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us.  [Heb 12:1. NRSV]

As we approach the celebration of Samhain as well as All Saint’s Day, I love the term the writer of Hebrews uses to describe those who have made the transition from our world to the next. The “great cloud of witnesses” in Hebrews are those who sit in the eternal stadium seats, cheering us on, as we “run with perseverance the race that is set before us.” I have always found this image to be rather comforting. It reminds us that the blessed dead still have a role to play in our lives as a source of wisdom and strength.

So who makes up this great cloud? One of my teachers, Byron Ballard, gave three distinctive classifications of the blessed dead in a class I attended. In looking at each, I hope it expands our understanding of who makes up those we label as our ancestors.

ANCESTORS: People in your direct bloodline who are dead.

BELOVED DEAD: People you honor who are not your ancestors who are also dead.

MIGHTY DEAD: Those you claim and honor as your ancestors. Heroes, writers, warriors, people who inspire you who, again are dead.

On my ancestor altar this year there are a few that fall into each category. I have pictures of my Ancestors such as my great-grandfather and his family. I also have pictures of the Beloved Dead such as dear friends who are no longer with me. Finally, this year’s Mighty Dead include Scott Cunningham whose magical work continues to resonate with me and inspire me.

Everyone’s great cloud of witnesses is different, yet each of us has people who continue to inspire, challenge and comfort us even thought they are no longer with us. Who are the Ancestors, Beloved Dead, and Mighty Dead you are honoring this Samhain/All Saint’s Day?

Copyright ©2020 by David Taliesin, http://www.sabbatsandsabbaths.com

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Listening to the Gabble Ratchets

Flying_geeseI was out in the yard catching up with my next door neighbor. What we heard next brought our conversation to a screeching, or shall I say honking, halt. It was the sound of a flock of geese flying overhead in a V formation. The volume of their conversation was almost deafening, and the two of us just stood there awed by the sight and sound. A week later, I would learn a term to describe this cacophony of sound…gabble ratchets.

What in the world is a gabble ratchet, you might ask? The phrase sounds a bit ominous but it can also be seen in a positive light. In days of old, gabble ratchets were the spectral hounds who roamed the night sky, searching for the souls of the newly dead. Some also thought that if one heard their bark or whelp, it was an omen of impending death. Gabble ratchets are known by many other names and appear in a number of European folk traditions. The most common alternative names are the Gabriel Hounds, the Hounds of Hell (Welsh) or the Wild Hunt (Germanic).

In our day and age, we know that gabble ratchets are only geese doing what they do this time of year. However, because the veil between the worlds is at its thinnest I would like to think that their other-worldly song is leading all lost souls to the place where they belong. I see it as a sign of blessing and comfort, especially during the pandemic when so many people have died before their time. It’s a reminder that the Divine Presence surrounds us always, even in death, and hold us for all eternity.

Copyright ©2020 by David Taliesin, http://www.sabbatsandsabbaths.com

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Remembering a Man I Never Met…Talking to My Ancestors

muertosaltar14

Dia de los Muertos 2014

Henry was my great grandfather who emigrated to this country with his wife many years ago. Together they learned English, lived through the Great Depression and found a way to raise 10 healthy, happy children. Although I never met him face to face, I have always felt connected to him ever since the day I saw his picture on my grandmother’s bedroom dresser. She told me he was a wonderful father who loved music and adored his kids. He had a zeal for life that never faded, even when he and his family were going through the toughest of times.

During the month of October I construct an ancestor altar in the style of Day of the Dead. It has pictures of departed loved ones, with Henry front and center. It also includes fresh flowers, candles and calaveras (skeleton figurines engaged in everyday activities). Every time my family sits down for supper, we light the candles and dine with our ancestors. At other times I meditate in front of the altar, burn a little mugwort (which attracts the spirits) and ask Henry to give me the wisdom and strength I need to face the challenges of the coming year. I know some people might think that’s strange, but I find it comforting and uplifting.

Ancestor veneration is practiced throughout the world in some form in every culture. Unfortunately, it has mostly fallen out of favor in the United States. Yet if there was ever a time for us to revive this spiritual practice, it is most certainly now. Our world is a mess with violence surrounding us one every side. Our environment is also in peril and we need all the advice and strength we can get from our ancestors to help us navigate these perilous times.

As we approach the celebration of Samhain, All Hallow’s Eve, All Saint’s Day, or Dia de los Muertos (depending upon your spiritual path), many of us believe the veil between us and those on the other side is thinnest. It is the perfect time to commune with our beloved dead and draw strength from them. If you’ve never constructed an ancestor altar before, start small. Use the top of a dresser or a shelf in a book case. Include pictures of those you wish to remember, along with small mementos, a candle, and maybe some fresh flowers or incense. Use this altar as a place to meditate and pray in the coming weeks and see what wisdom the beloved dead have to offer you!
If you’re like me you will discover that you won’t want to dismantle this altar after the month of October comes to an end. Personally, I reluctantly take the big altar down but I also construct a smaller one in my office where it remains for the rest of the year. It is a visual reminder that our ancestors and Ancient Ones are always with us, building us up and cheering us on every step of the way!

Copyright ©2020 by David Taliesin, http://www.sabbatsandsabbaths.com

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Full Hunter’s Moon: October 1st

full_hunters_moon-resizedAccording to the Farmer’s Almanac, the Algonquin Native American tribes referred to October’s full moon as the Hunter’s Moon because it was time to go hunting in preparation for winter. As the days grow visibly shorter, perhaps we can use this full moon to contemplate what resources we need in order to make it through the approaching winter season.

We can think of this preparation as either literal or metaphorical. Some of us have Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and have to surround ourselves with the people and coping skills we need in order to keep us healthy. Others are feeling like they’re slipping into a winter season of their lives. If this is the case, be intentional about doing what you need to do in order to keep yourself strong and grounded.

Since, the veil between the worlds is also thin this time of year, it’s the perfect night to seek the wisdom of our Ancestors and Beloved Dead who can help us to navigate the perilous journey ahead. Candles, mugwort, marigolds/calendula, pictures, etc. can help us draw closer to those on the other side. We all need to feel their love and encouragement in this stressful and angry world.

So, put the energy of this season and this powerful moon to good use. We have another full moon on October 31st which, of course, is absolutely wonderful. This gives us two opportunities to harness the moon’s power during this magical month!

Copyright ©2020 by David Taliesin, http://www.sabbatsandsabbaths.com

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Spells For Tough Times

When I shop at my local pagan store, Asheville Raven & Crone, I don’t always know what I’m looking for. Sometimes I wait for something to “call” to me, especially when it comes to books. I trust my intuition and it never lets me down.

Such is the case with Kerri Connor’s Spells For Tough Times. I just knew I had to have it, and it didn’t disappoint. The subtitle of the book is “Crafting Hope When Faced With Life’s Thorniest Challenges” and it sounded like the perfect book to buy during the pandemic.

Connor is a practitioner of The Craft for over 25 years and is the High Priestess of The Gathering Grove. This is not your Instagram “love and light” kind of magic. It’s practical, down to earth, and comes from someone who clearly understands the nature of suffering and our need to reclaim our power in the midst of it.

In the introduction, Connor writes “Through some of the biggest challenges in life, I never thought to include Her or Him in them. I never thought to use my magic in a way that would truly help me. I realized that by only dealing with these problems in the mundane world, I was missing out. I was limiting the spirituality and magic in my life at the times when I needed them the most.” Spot on! It’s a valuable lesson for all of us to learn. Magic has always been about more than love and money. It empowers us and gives us hope when we find ourselves in the darkest of times.

Connor’s book is organized into eleven areas of spells that pretty much cover everything from home and family to legal problems and death. The ingredient list for each spell is simple and practical. Each spell also contains lots of practical introductory advice regarding whatever issue you’re dealing with.

I love the spells she’s written in this book. I know some people love spells that rhyme or have lots of arcane language in them. I’m not one of those people. Connor practices magic in a way that is similar to mine. Her prose is clear, concise and comes from the heart. She also leaves lots of breathing room of the Divine Presence to decide what’s best for us.

In closing, as the leader of a faith community, I recognize someone with an authentic pastoral heart when I see it. Connor is one of those people. It’s clear she has walked with many people through their dark night of the soul and helped them find a way out of it.

Spells For Tough Times is a really wonderful book and will be an invaluable resource no matter what spiritual path you walk. While I encourage you to buy this through your local pagan store, you can also order it from Amazon. Here’s the LINK.

Copyright ©2020 by David Taliesin

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Harvest Festivals

HARVEST FESTIVALS
Compiled by Tree Higgins and David Taliesin

Harvest festivals have been with us since the earliest of times. The basic theme for these festivals is 1) giving thanks and 2) reflecting on the sacrifices necessary for us to survive the coming winter months.

In modern times, the first harvest festival is Lammas or Lughnasadh. Contrary to what you’ve read on the internet, they are NOT the same festival.

Lammas is the English harvest festival which occurs on the same day. The word is Anglo-Saxon for “loaf mass” and was celebrated by Pagans and Christians alike. It celebrates the first fruits of corn, wheat and barley. The main food for this festival is bread in one form or another.

Lughnasadh is Gaelic for the modern Irish word “Lunasa,” meaning August. In ancient times the Sun God Lugh was honored.

Green Corn Festival is an annual ceremony practiced among various Native American peoples including the Cherokee. It is associated with the beginning of the yearly corn harvest. Historically, it involved a first fruits rite in which the community would sacrifice the first of the green corn to ensure the rest of the crop would be successful. The Green Corn Ceremony typically occurs in late July–August, determined locally by the ripening of the corn crops.

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The second harvest festival is known in modern times as Mabon. In early times it was simply referred to as the Fall or Autumnal Equinox. It is the day when light and darkness are in balance with one another.

Mabon is a modern term coined by Aiden Kelly. It’s a reconstructed celebration that incorporates many of the old ways of celebrating the Autumnal Equinox.

Michaelmas was first celebrated in 1011. Named for the archangel Michael (protector), Sept 29, became a harvest festival and a time of taking stock, hiring help an settling debts. Around Michaelmas families decided which animals to keep through the winter and how many to sell or slaughter. Intended to replace Harvest Home, Michaelmas marked the point near the end of the reaping season and concluded with a dinner for landowners and tenants. These dinners gave landlords an opportunity to collect their seasonal rents.

Harvest Home is the English name for the harvest festival that occurred near the Fall Equinox throughout Europe. Some ancient Pagans also referred to this time as the Ingathering. Many of these traditions came from old Pagan fertility rituals; over time the ruling church dedicated the rituals to Christian saints instead of the original Pagan gods.
Other adaptations of the Harvest Festival are Oktoberfest in Germany and Rally Day in Southern Christian churches. You will see elements of the old celebrations reflected in each.

The Christian hymn known as “Harvest Home” or “Come, You Thankful People, Come” reflects the themes of the harvest in a way that may sound surprisingly Pagan! Here are the first two verses:

Come, ye thankful people, come, raise the song of harvest home!
All is safely gathered in, ere the winter storms begin;
God, our Maker, doth provide for our wants to be supplied;
Come to God’s own temple, come; raise the song of harvest home!

We ourselves are God’s own field, fruit unto his praise to yield;
Wheat and tares together sown unto joy or sorrow grown;
First the blade and then the ear, then the full corn shall appear;
Grant, O harvest Lord, that we wholesome grain and pure may be.

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The third harvest festival is Samhain, which also includes other elements such as divination and communication with the other side. Christians adapted this festival and transformed it into All Hallow’s Eve and All Saints Day.

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Harvest Festival Symbols

Corn dollies—The word “corn” in Europe referred to all kinds of grain, not just the maize crops familiar to North America. Because of this, the term “corn dolly,” meant a figure fashioned form grain—usually wheat, but rye, millet, oats, and even maize also suited the purpose. There is evidence that this tradition does not originate in Europe, but came from ancient Egypt.

Cornucopia/Horn of Plenty—In classical antiquity, the cornucopia was a symbol of abundance and nourishment, commonly a large horn-shaped container overflowing with produce, flowers or nuts. he cornucopia became the attribute of several Greek and Roman deities, particularly those associated with the harvest, prosperity, or spiritual abundance. In modern times it is associated with Thanksgiving and harvest.

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Falling Leaves Meditation

Here’s a meditation exercise I wrote several years back. It’s a powerful tool for sharpening your magical intentions and life goals during autumn.

FALLING LEAVES MEDITATION

Materials needed: printed copy of the tree, pen or pencil

1. Place the image of the tree in your lap or on a table in front of you where you can see it.

2. Sit still and upright, relaxed and alert.

3. Focus on your breathing. With each exhale let your body relax more deeply.

4. When you are ready take a look at the tree. Focus your attention on the TRUNK of the tree. This represents a GOAL you’d like to accomplish in this season of your life. When a goal comes to mind, write it next to the tree trunk. Don’t force a goal to materialize. Spend some time in silence listening to your heart and spirit until it emerges with absolutely clarity.

5. When you have a goal in mind, turn your attention to the LEAVES on the tree. Think about the THINGS YOU NEED TO LET GO OF in order to make room in your life for this goal to be accomplished. This is a time to think about the things that no longer serve a useful purpose in your life. When these things come to mind, write them next to the leaves on the tree. If you have trouble letting go of things, remember that they will become the compost that provides nourishment for the tree. (Some people might find it helpful to close their eyes during this part of the meditation.)

6. Finally, turn your attention to the ROOTS of the tree. Think about the PEOPLE AND RESOURCES you will need to bring into your life in order to accomplish your goal. What kinds of things will feed and nourish your goal as well as yourself? When these things come to mind, write them next to the roots of the tree. (Some people might find it helpful to close their eyes during this part of the meditation.)

7. As a last step, close your eyes and take the image of this tree into your minds’ eye. Sit with it for a while and see if any additional insight arise. If they do, write them down on the page after you open your eyes. Keep this image with you and refer to it on a daily basis until you achieve your goal. Continue to write insights on the leaves and roots as they come to you.

Copyright ©2020 by David Taliesin, http://www.sabbatsandsabbaths.com

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Oak Spell For Courage

(I cannot remember where this spell came from. If you know the author, let me know so I can attribute the source.)

Here is a simple spell that uses something many of us have in ample supply this time of year: acorns! I have a huge 100 year old oak tree in my back yard that produces a voluminous supply of these little magical nuggets. They’re quite popular with the local black bears but they always leave some for me to use as well.

This spell can be used as a meditation mantra, while in a magic circle, or even placed in a mojo bag. The choice is yours. Let your intuition guide you regarding how to use it. We could all use a little courage these days so I hope this comes in handy.

The mightiest of trees springs from a tiny acorn.
Help me to remember that the small can be vicious.
Bless me with the strength and will of the oak.
Grant me the voice of the thunder.
Help me to roar when I would normally squeak.
And help be to make my voice louder than my insecurities.

Blessed be! David Taliesin

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As We Approach 200,000 Covid-19 Deaths

I’m not here to argue politics or statistics. I’m not a fan of conspiracy theories, either. (If you are, then scroll on by!) I’m a spiritual leader who desires to offer a ritual of remembrance as we hit the 200,000 mark of deaths in the United States due to the coronavirus. These are sad times we live in and those who have perished from this dreadful disease often did so hooked up to a respirator with no family to surround them to help ease the transition from this world to the next. I was a hospital chaplain for many years and it was always my desire to give others a “good” death. There are no good deaths when Covid-19 comes knocking. Therefore, it’s up to us to help ease their transition if their spirits are between the worlds.

So, how can we help? The simplest approach is to say a prayer. Work with whatever form of the Divine resonates with you. If you do any work with the Ancestors/Blessed Dead ask for their aid as well. You don’t really need a formal prayer. Just speak it from the heart. Honor those who have lost their lives due to this virus whether you know their names or not. They were somebody’s grandparent, parent, sibling, etc. Remind them they were loved and pray that the Divine/Ancestors will help them find their way to the other side in a way that is peaceful and loving.

If you’re at a loss for words, I’ve always found the following prayer meaningful. It’s from the Jewish Yom Kippur liturgy:

“In the rising of the sun and in its going down, we remember them. In the blowing of the wind and in the chill of winter, we remember them. In the opening buds and in the rebirth of spring, we remember them. In the blueness of the sky and in the warmth of summer, we remember them. In the rustling of leaves and in the beauty of autumn, we remember them. In the beginning of the year and when it ends, we remember them. When we are weary and in need of strength, we remember them. When we are lost and sick at heart, we remember them. When we have joys we yearn to share, we remember them. So long as we live, they are now a part of us, as we remember them.”

If you want to do a bigger, more formal ritual, here is mine that I’ve been doing on at least a weekly basis since we passed the 100,000 mark.

After I’ve cast a magical circle and called the quarters, I raise some energy and sit in the center of the circle in front of my home altar. I spend some time in meditation until I’m peaceful and my mind is clear.

I prepare a “name paper” to put under a mugwort candle that sits on my altar. On this small piece of paper, I simply write the number of deaths such as 200,000. I anoint the candle with rue oil and light it. (Click HERE if you want more info on candle magic.) If you don’t have a mugwort candle you can burn a little mugwort in your incense burner before you cast the circle. You can also use any other type of candle that speaks to you. This is your ritual so the choice is ultimately yours.

I then spend some time in prayer, asking the Divine Presence and Ancestors to help these lost souls make the journey from this world to the other side. I channel the energy that I raised in the circle and direct it toward the candle, along with my prayerful intention.

Next, I do whatever other magical/energetic work I need to do and then close the circle, returning whatever energy is lingering back to the ground.

I’m sure you can find your own way of observing this sad milestone in our coronavirus journey. Hopefully I’ve given you a few ideas of how to observe it. Blessed be!

Copyright ©2020 by David Taliesin, http://www.sabbatsandsabbaths.com

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Reaping an Abundant Spiritual Harvest Ritual

Here is a small group ritual (socially distanced, of course) that can be done as we move toward Mabon/The Fall Equinox. If you are a solitary practitioner, simply change the pronouns to singular. Please feel free to adapt this in order to bring it more in line with your spiritual path/practice.

 

REAPING AN ABUNDANT SPIRITUAL HARVEST

MABON INCENSE—Llewellyn’s Sabbat Essentials: Mabon

Pinch dried marigold/calendula
Pinch dried spearmint
Pinch dried sage
2 to 3 cloves or a small pinch of ground clove

Mix together and store in a jar in a cool, dry place. Use a pinch of it on a charcoal briquet as we journey toward Mabon.

CASTING THE CIRCLE
Incense all four directions with the following chant. Use a feather or feather wand to waft the smoke in each direction.

May the harvest be plentiful in our lives
That we may be agents of change and transformation
In our community and in our nation.

CALLING THE QUARTERS—David Taliesin

Guardians and Ancestors of the East, Spirits of Air, keepers of wisdom and mystery, whisper into our ears all that we need to know. May the cool fall breezes that rustle the leaves beneath our feet point us in the direction we need to go. Hail and welcome!

Guardians and Ancestors of the South, Spirits of Fire, purifiers of heart and mind, burn away the clutter and confusion from our lives so that we may have absolute clarity regarding your will for our lives. May the bonfires of fall that give us light and warmth, bring comfort to our weary souls tonight. Hail and welcome!

Guardians and Ancestors of the West, Spirits of Water, vessels of peace and compassion, may our thirst for justice and equality be quenched. May the fall rains which nourish the roots of the trees, give strength to the dreams you have planted in us. Hail and welcome!

Guardians and Ancestors of the North, Spirits of Earth, stewards of hearth and home, gather around us the community we need to make us feel safe and loved. As the fall harvest continues, we ask you to bring about a harvest of good things into our lives, Hail and welcome!

As we draw closer to Mabon, the Fall Equinox, things come into balance, day and night, light and dark, God and Goddess. As we journey into the dark time of the year, May the Divine bring balance into our lives and into this Circle. We are honored by your presence and draw strength from you.

Hail Demeter and Lugh, Mabon and Osiris.
Hail Parvati and Tammuz, Pomona and Dagon,
Hail all harvest gods and goddesses
Who see us into the dark half of the year,
We bid you welcome!

The Circle is cast. We are in protected space.
May we use this time to gather what we need
For the journeys which lie ahead. Blessed be!

MEDITATION ON BALANCE [Mabon Activity Sheet and then discuss if in a small group]

CLOSING THE CIRCLE—David Taliesin

We ask the Divine Presence, who is known to us by many names, to help us find balance in our lives May the Fall Equinox inspire to to take the steps necessary to accomplish this task. We also thank the Divine Presence  for the wisdom and insight we have received tonight. Blessed be!

We turn to the North and give thanks for the Guardians and Ancestors who dwell there. May the Spirits of Earth keep us grounded in the days ahead and surround us with people who make us feel safe and loved. Stay if you will, go if you must. We bid you farewell!

We turn to the West and give thanks for the Guardians and Ancestors who dwell there. May the Spirits of Water calm our fears, and increase our ability to be compassionate to the struggles of others. Stay if you will, go if you must. We bid you farewell!

We turn to the South and give thanks for the Guardians and Ancestors who dwell there. May the Spirits of Fire give us the energy and motivation we need to accomplish the goals we have set tonight. Stay if you will, go if you must. We bid you farewell!

We turn to the East and give thanks for the Guardians and Ancestors who dwell there. May the Spirits of Air blow through our lives, filling them with magic and mystery. Stay if you will, go if you must. We bid you farewell!

Our Circle is now open but never unbroken
Because it is a circle woven in love.
Whatever energy is left in this space
We return to the earth with a spirit of gratitude.
Merry meet and merry part, and merry meet again.

Copyright ©2020 by David Taliesin, http://www.sabbatsandsabbaths.com

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