Friday, October 7, 2011

Question From a Reader Regarding Samhain

Last week, a reader asked, "What is the best way for a fledgling solitary to celebrate Samhain with little supplies and practice?"

I know how daunting it can be to keep up a religious practice alone with little or no encouragement and/or community. I have been there! I was solitary from 1989-2006 (2006 is when I found and was accepted as a student into the small Witchcraft tradition to which I now belong). During that time, I experimented with practices, traditions, ideas, and communities. My practice was unsteady and fluctuated from extremely devout to practically non-existent in those 17 years.

When I was a solitary, "gear" seemed really important. It was my connection to the Craft because my other connections were tenuous. Having no coven or community meant I read what I could get my hands on and took what public rituals and workshops that were out there, regardless of whether they felt "juicy" or "true" to me. It also meant I felt much more need to have lots of supplies and gear.

Having been a Witch for quite some time now, and now being one that is initiated into a specific tradition- I don't see that expensive gear is all that important. What is important is your connection to what you do have and what you bring to your workings. That means you do not need a candle in every color, fancy elementally corresponded altar items, or an expensive wand that you got over the internet. A branch that you, yourself, took while on a hike from a willing tree serves as the best wand. White candles do everything that colored ones do, I promise.

These dead people could really use some attention!
What Samhain (and similar autumnal holidays in many cultures across the globe) is all about is ancestor work and connection to the dead. Witches work on this day involves honoring those who came before- whether you knew them personally, or you feel a connection with them because of who they were or what they stood for.

My suggestions for things that you could do as a solitary are in bold italic.

One way to do this is to build an altar to the dead in your home. I actually have two altars dedicated to the dead in my home:

A beloved dead altar- for dead folks in my family, friends, and people I have been inspired by and wish to honor. Uncles, grandparents, companion animals, famous people like Keith Haring, Oscar Wilde, and Hildegard of Bingen live here. Pictures, mementos, ashes, graveyard dirt, and more are all stored here. I personally keep this altar in the main living area of my home- usually the dining room, so the dead can get offerings regularly and they are a part of the routine of the home.

A mighty dead altar- these dead folks are Witches, magicians, and root doctors who I feel represent a line of Witch knowledge that has contributed to my upbringing and education as a witch. All the dead in my Witchcraft tradition are represented there (the ones that I do not have personal effects for have a sugar skull that I myself made and decorated, meditating upon them and their gifts to the tradition).

 Which brings me to something I do every couple years (including this one): I make new sugar skulls for my altars and for ritual. It allows me to commune and think about the dead that I am honoring. It's not expensive at all to make them- you just a few specialty items, all of which are available here. what;s great about this project is that you make the skulls, then must allow them to dry before decorating them, which is at least a few days. This period of limbo I use to contact these dead and get visual inspiration as to how to embellish their skull. I always make extra skulls for Samhain rituals that I attend- that way people can bring home a skull and decorate it themselves.

Another activity that is completely appropriate is to visit the graves of the dead, clean them, and decorate them. Many people across cultures make offerings of food, liquor, and flowers on graves at this time and staying and picnicking at a gravesite is common.

Anyone else out there have suggestions for a solitary Witch on Samhain?

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