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Sunday, October 31, 2010

Celebrating Samhain

Setting a place at the table for spirits and ancestors on Halloween

On Halloween night, when trick-or-treaters in peaked hats and green makeup roam the neighborhood streets, a roomful of real witches sit in silence at a dinner table illuminated by candlelight.

The witches, and members of the area Pagan Group gather in silence for "Dumb Supper," during which the hope is to summon up spirits.

During "Samhain," an ancient, pre-Christian celebration of honoring -- and hopefully reuniting -- with the dead, pagans gather with friends and family at home for the feast.

An extra place at the table will be set for the ancestors, who, in Silicon Valley, for example, might include such luminaries as Charles Babbage, the 19th-century inventor who originated the concept of the programmable computer. Pagans eat in silence and wait, watching for signs of the departed souls.
Pagans typically practice nature religions. Some seek connection with ancient African ancestors; others are witches or goddess worshipers, pagan revivalists and re-constructionists who study ancient texts to learn about the roots of pagan rituals and practices, she said.

On Halloween night, some pagans will go all out, planning to welcome costumed visitors with "lots of treats."

"A lot of pagan religions assume reincarnation. From the perspective of reincarnation, the child asking for treats is seen as the ancestor reborn. Halloween is the festival of ancestors, and it is also the festival of children."

The veil between worlds is thin at Halloween and children personify the trickster spirits. At Samhain, the supernatural is most likely to appear. Sometimes there is the sense of a presence, more like a thing seen with the mind's eye.

Sightings are relatively rare; some people have only one clear encounter with a deceased person during the dinner ritual. But the experience can be unmistakable. An ephemeral human form hovered in the darkness, for example.

"I had never seen a ghost or 'shade.' I looked to my friend who was sitting next to me. He was staring and pointing and nodding."

The ghost made a sound like bats do.

"You read Shakespeare, and he talks about the 'gibbering ghost.' I always thought that was a metaphorical phrase."

Far from gatherings over boiling cauldrons of foul-smelling brews, pagan groups meet to learn about pagan practice.

Some practitioners have a scholarly bent, sharing information about rituals and picking up practices or reviving others based on archeological transcriptions of ancient texts. When Greek papyri about ancient rituals were finally translated in the 1990s, they provided a gold mine.
On a recent weekend, some members gathered to make masks for Halloween. Such gatherings are often a family affair, including children.

"Pagan religion is about practice and values. It's unusual to say, 'What do you believe?' Everything changes. The assumptions you make change based on experience. It's more about, 'Do you value some things in common?'"

The bonds in the pagan community mirror the kinds of social benefits people get from churches and other groups, helping each other or volunteering.

"Many people work with and for our local community. Those are things that not only do good for the community but foster the more genuine bonds between people."

An excerpted article, to make the point in order to broaden horizons on All Hallows Eve, Samhain & Halloween! Have a happy & fulfilling one!

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