Samhain Altar 2016
Today is October 29th. It’s the day before the new moon in Scorpio and though my Samhain altar is just about finished, there are a few things left to do before I bring in the Sabbat; which for me will start tomorrow. Something I have yet to do is write out some words in dedication to my mother, who passed away three months ago.
I have never built an altar quite this elaborate before, written out a ritual or celebrated any of the eight Sabbats. I’ve had an interest in Neo-Pagan spiritual practice for about five years now and have done a lot of reading on it, however I never quite got to the point where I felt inspired to create a full ritual in observation of one of the eight seasonal holidays.
This year is a different story however. My mother passed away three months ago and since then I’ve had trouble processing my grief. Neither up or down at any point, I often just feel flat. While I know that grief is something that can’t be judged, rushed or bypassed, this feeling of not feeling is unsettling to me. It’s my hope that doing something cathartic will allow me to confront grief and mourning in some way where I can bring it to the surface with some intention and meaning.
Once October rolled around I started thinking more and more about Samhain and the symbolic significance of the holiday. The closer it came, the more I couldn’t help but notice some spiritual synchronicity (some might call these signs) that made me feel as though I couldn’t let it slip by me without commemorating mom and remembering her in some way.
Samhain (pronounced Sow-ain) is a harvest festival which was historically observed in the old days by Gaelic and Celtic traditions. Today it has been adopted by various Neo-Pagan groups which are often (though not always) eclectic and who express their spirituality through various religions, practices and pantheons. Samhain represents the third and final harvest of the year (the word literally means Summer’s End) and it falls between the autumn equinox and winter solstice. It is one of two Sabbats of the year where it is believed that the veil between the physical world and the spiritual is at its thinnest. As such there’s a lot of death metaphor and symbolization. Skulls, ravens, jack-o-lanterns, fallen leaves and autumn foliage are some of the imagery and symbols used by people who observe the holiday. Often they will remember the dead and honor their ancestors, sometimes by leaving out small plates of food or drinks that the friends and family members liked. The energy of that food is what feeds the ancestors and deceased friends and family members, and it’s common practice that after the Sabbat is over, the food is brought outside and buried or given to nature in some way or form.
There’s a ton of literature and websites out there that go into more detail about Samhain and the mythology surrounding it than I have here; however as I don’t have much time to get ready and do all the things I’d like to do before I get started in my own observation of the Sabbat I’ll leave that to you readers to look into if you’d like. Before I move on from this post I want to share a bit about the astrology behind my mother and how it’s syncing up with the Sabbat this year.
Laura Lee Bond (Peets) was born under a Scorpio full moon on May 23rd, 1956.
moon phase calendar: May 1956
On October 30th, 2016 (Samhain Eve) the moon will be in Scorpio, just like it was on her birth.
The difference between the Scorpio moon during mom’s birth and the upcoming Sabbat is that when she was born the moon was full. Tomorrow will be a Scorpio New Moon— the full moons opposite, when it is completely dark in the sky and reflecting no light.
Mom’s day of death (July 31st, 2016) was in the final day of the waning crescent, which is the day before a new moon begins. July 31st is also the Eve of the first harvest according to the wheel of the year.
Moon Phase Calendar: July 2016
In other words, she passed on a Sabbat. Sabbats don’t always happen to fall on new moons, it just seems to be the case for Lammas and Samhain this year.
The moon is considered full or new just three nights a month. The sign that it’s in at any given time lasts for a day and half. When I looked up information on the moon elements for these days, I found the astrological patterns jarring and significant where my mother is concerned. Even the sign Scorpio corresponds to death and mystery, so as soon as I researched this information, I knew I wanted to plan something for the Sabbat where the dead are honored.
As I collected items for the Samhain altar I built for mom, I found even more interesting parallels between her and some of the things she enjoyed or were meaningful to her in life— some of it though is significant just because it reminds me of her; and that’s really all it needs to be.
Lavender Essential Oil
Lavender was a scent and a flower that mom loved. She often had lavender candles as well as bath soaps and mineral baths, and she liked the purple shade of the flower (her fondness for the color is why I chose purple for an altar cloth as well). I have lavender essential oil at home already because I like it too, so I knew that I would use it to anoint my Samhain candles with.
Earlier this week I went to a metaphysical shop to pick a white sage smudge because I usually burn white sage while I cast a circle (also known as opening sacred space) when I meditate, but while I was in the shop I caught sight of a couple lavender bundles. I immediately thought of mom when I saw them so I picked some up to use on Samhain.
When I got home I looked up the spiritual significance of lavender smoke. As it turns out it is associated with the element of air (my mother’s sun sign was Gemini which is an air sign), and it is often said to ease the suffering of depression, grief and sorrow which makes it perfect for Samhain; though I had never seen Lavender in correspondence with it before. I also learned that lavender is sometimes called Elf Leaf because it is traditionally associated with elves and fairies; which in turn are also associated with Samhain.
My mom’s nickname when she was little, interestingly enough, was Pixie.
Online source: Lavender smudging
Christ and Christianity:
There was a point in mom’s life when she had a lot of religious décor (most memorably an elaborate glass case with a statuette of The Madonna inside and a prayer written on a plaque). She was never openly religious or much of a church goer that I can remember, but I know that she thought about God and Jesus sometimes because she would talk about it. Some of my most memorable conversations with her were about religion and I know that she believed in things, though she never really said what. One of my Aunt’s told me that she was talking about God and Christianity before she died, so I’m choosing to take that to heart when considering the upcoming Sabbat.
If you look at the photo of the whole altar you’ll see an angel who is resting over a waterfall with a lamb at her feet. Inscribed under the statuette is version of proverb: 23 titled “Serenity— ‘Trusting Soul’.”
The Lord is my shepherd,
I shall not want.
He makes me lie down
In green pastures,
He leads me beside the still waters,
He restores my soul.
He leads me to paths of righteousness
for His name’s sake…
Surely goodness and mercy shall
follow me all the days of my life,
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
The releasing of Burdens:
I was watching a YouTube video of someone elses altar tour (Charlie from CharleSaysGo) and during her video, she talked about the significance of the Burden Basket in Apache tribes. It’s the idea of placing a small basket out for the dead so that they can lay the burdens that they’ve carried through their lives down and be free of them. The burdens are emptied of the basket in some form of spiritual ritual; though I’m not exactly sure how as a lot of Native American spiritual practice is kept closed to their communities. Charlie made a great point about being careful not to rip off of indigenous spirituality as much of it is kept closed. There’s a lot of turmoil in our country regarding appropriation and the issue of boundaries and respect in religion. This gets complicated in Neo-Pagan practice as a lot things are borrowed from various spiritual paths that have either been long forgotten or kept closed to certain communities yet are taken, commercialized and sold for profit.
My own take is to be conscientious of why (and how) you borrow and include elements from other religions and practices. The fact that God, Christ and heaven was something that mom was thinking about in the months before she died (as well as during other points in her life) makes me feel validated in placing a psalm and a cross on my altar because it was (is) significant to her through her life. As such they are significant in my commemoration and the respects I pay to her. As far as Christ goes; though observing a Sabbat is Pagan in execution and aesthetic, I bar no God, Goddess, Mesiah, spiritual teachers, prophets or archetypes from my meditations or practice; however it evolves and changes over time. Because this is how I feel, the fact that Paganism is often eclectic is what drew me to it to begin with.
When it comes to the Burden Basket, all I know is that it has a specific design that isn’t quite like an ordinary basket; I know nothing else about it except what it is said to be used for. Whatever rituals are involved in its spiritual uses are a mystery to me.
What I do know is that my mother carried many, many burdens throughout her life. If there was anything I ever wanted most for her while she was alive, it was for her to let go of a past which haunted her constantly. She never did.
While Charlie talked about the burden basket it felt so right in my heart to find a way to implement that idea on mom’s altar somehow. While I was at Goodwill one day I went to the back of the building where they keep their shelves of baskets to look for something that I could use for mom’s Samhain altar— not knowing if using a basket (even just a regular one) was “ok” by some peoples standards or not. All I knew was that it felt right to find something that could symbolize the releasing of burdens for her.
Eventually I found this jewelry box sitting on the shelves with all the baskets. On the jewelry box there’s a little door that flips up that looks sort of like a bread box.
The first thing that I thought of was a bread box that mom used to have with a door that flipped up just like that. Synchronicity rules again with Christ symbolism. I decided that for mom, I’m going to leave the “bread drawer” open with a written intention inside for the releasing of old burdens, along with a small piece of bread.
Some other things on the jewelry box include a precious moments knickknack that belonged to mom with her birthstone on it, stones in a purple bag that correspond to Gemini (citrine, tigers eye and agate) a cat candle and knickknack, and two blue glass bowls. Tobacco will go in one, coffee grounds in the other.
I’m running out of time to explain everything in detail and this is getting very long… but to anyone who knew mom, that’s all her.
There will be another blog post for my plans for Samhain night if I can find the time. October 31st won’t be quite as intense or mom focused; if anything it’ll a night to just simply meditate and decompress from what I feel is going to be an emotional night.
I really hope to have a good cry… I feel like I just need to.
Happy Halloween and Samhain.