Samhain, the old Celtic pagan holiday underlying Halloween, has recently passed. It’s the old New Year, and it’s a time of endings and beginnings. It’s also a time when the residents of the other world — gods, sidhe, and the dead — are more able to reach out of their realm into ours. For most modern pagans, Samhain is a time to honor ancestors and teachers who have passed away.
We took our children to Celebrate Samhain, a gathering hosted by the Spiral Scouts in Peterborough, New Hampshire. The price of admission: nonperishable food items or winter clothing in good condition. (The Spiral Scouts, which you can learn more about here, is an organization analogous to the Boy Scouts and the Girl Scouts, but you don’t have to be monotheistic to join.)
It was an evening of talks, workshops, vendors, food, crafts, and ceremony. When we arrived, it was already in full swing. My wife wandered around the vendors tables, and I took our kids to join in the drum circle led by Tara Greenblatt. Tara is a local musician who uses drums for ritual and therapy in addition to professional musicmaking. She had a knack for striking up a strong beat and drawing us all in. Some of the children danced; others just pounded their hearts out. A local journalist took pictures of two of my daughters, who were dressed in identical pumpkin costumes.
When we came out of the drum circle, my wife handed me a bag of about 10 books she bought, and we headed over to the craft table. Here, the children made masks and corn husk dolls. After that, I took the older children to see Ellen Hopman speak. Ellen is an engaging speaker with a knack for finding just the right anecdote to connect with her audience. Everyone agreed that her time was up way too fast. It’s clear there are plenty of people in the pagan community who want to learn more about the old Celtic ways.
We went to another drum circle, and shortly afterwards, it was time for the main ritual. The ceremony, which was Wiccan, was led by Lyrion and Raven ApTower; and it had a simple, elegant structure. Thanks were offered to the God and Goddess for the harvest, and we broke bread together, drank rosemary tea, and pinned sprigs of rosemary on our shirts. Each of us also approached the altar and lit a candle for the beloved dead that we wished to invite into the circle that evening. There were obviously more people there than expected, which was wonderful.
My youngest daughter, who is two, couldn’t hold still for the ceremony, so my wife had to take her out; and my four-year-old and six-year-old didn’t really get the point of it all. But my eight-year-old was deeply moved.
For our family, it was a great event for building community. We are just now joining the circle of pagans, and it was wonderful to feel the open, welcoming spirit in Peterborough. We all made friends we hope to see again next year — if not before.