Before 2012 I had been a solitary witch for years, but began to find myself drawn more and more into the public rituals planned by the local Northbay Reclaiming community (witches of all genders and generations). I’d taken a class back in the 1980s with Starhawk, so knew Reclaiming’s mix of ecstatic ritual, activism, and broad LGBT inclusion was a comfortable fit for me. At first I’d slip in and out of the public rituals, thanking the folks who planned and facilitated them, but never lingering long. Yet, by Lammas 2012 I’d been attending enough that I was asked to be a last minute fill in for someone who couldn’t be there to invoke “all the beings who swam in the waters” (a very ironic thing since I had an irrational fish phobia).
“Stirring the Wyrd we honor Beloved Dead and open to what is becoming.”
Northbay Reclaiming Ritual Intention 2012
Three weeks before Samhain 2012 I sat reading in the hospital room next to my daddy as he was napping after surgery. The surgery had gone well and he said he felt better after they drained the liquid off his lungs and he just wanted to get a little sleep. Suddenly he sat up, eyes focused somewhere distant, his hands moving as if he were holding the reigns of a horse. He took three long and even breaths, then lay back on the pillows and I knew he was dead. We held vigil there at the hospital the rest of the afternoon and into the evening. My step-mother and I held his hands and stroked his forehead, while family and friends flowed in and out - a spontaneous wake. I sang:
“Down in the valley, valley so low,
hang your head over, hear the wind blow,
hear the wind blow dear, hear the wind blow,
hang your head over hear the wind blow.”
It was a song he and I had sung together since I was child, it was a song he had sung with his parents sitting on the front porch of their mountain shack since he was a child.
I stayed with my step-mom and family awhile after he died. The day before I left, as I was standing in the yard, the wind suddenly kicked up from nowhere making the leaves sing on the trees and swirl in the air. He was present in the wind, and I heard him singing as it blew.
A couple weeks later I got a message from a friend on the Northbay Reclaiming Ritual planning cell offering condolences for the loss of my dad. She said she’d been wanting to reach out to me about the up-coming Samhain ritual, but didn’t want to interrupt my process. She said the Cell would love for me to invoke Air at the Samhain ritual, but understood if it was something I couldn’t commit to at that time. I responded, “Thank you for your sensitivity to my grieving process. It is such a amazing thing dancing with death. I opened your message at the same time I received the current issue of "Witches and Pagans" magazine which is all about Air. Having just been present as my father took his last breaths, and then aware of his energy filling the air in the wind two days later, I am thinking that invoking Air at our Samhain ritual would be appropriate and a blessing for me, thank you for offering the opportunity.”
At the ritual I stepped into the circle, said a few words about hearing the voices of the beloved dead on the Wind, then began singing the song I sang over my father’s body. The ritual intention that year talked about honoring our beloved dead and opening to what was becoming. I was so grateful to be there in that circle of witches, all of us honoring our beloved dead and opening up to what was becoming.
I had found such deep comfort honoring my beloved dead in the community that year, so I opened myself to what was becoming by accepting the invitation to join the ritual planning cell for a three year term.
“Journeying to the crossroads with Hecate as our guide we honor the cycle of life and death.”
Northbay Reclaiming Ritual Intention 2013
In the months after Samhain 2012 my two first cousins, men who had been like brothers to me growing up, died. Their deaths, following so closely on the heels of my daddy’s (who was their uncle), put me in deep grief. As the Wheel of the Year turned I often found myself unable to crawl out of bed, wanting rather to stay with my grief, letting it run its long and natural course. By Imbolc 2013 I was still barely functioning and still very tender. We had three priestesses aspecting the three faces of the Celtic Triple Goddess Brigid: Brigid Goddess of Poetry, Brigid Goddess of the Forge and Smithcraft, and Brigid Goddess of Healing. At one point in the ritual, Brigid Goddess of Healing suddenly stood before me. She took my hands, and looked deep into my eyes. There was in that gaze a promise, a promise that my heart would not stay broken and bruised, a promise that there would be healing.
By Beltane that promise began to bloom. I got to invoke the wild, gender fluid, trickster God Loki. Loki and I had been friends since I was a child. His pranks had always reminded me of my own wild trickster father. For several of us in the ritual, things devolved into a howlingly good fight with messy globs of bright colored finger paints.
By Samhain of 2013 I had spent so much time dancing in the cycle of life and death it was comfortable and familiar. I went deep into the trance waiting for Hecate to guide me to my dead, but instead She shimmered with unexpected laughter and filled each of my cells with joy. I laughed as well, feeling a lightness of being I hadn’t felt since all the death and mourning began. I met Life, not my dead, at those Crossroads. Life took my hands and twirled me around. Life sang in my ear, “You’ve honored your dead well this past year my dear, now, come dance with me!” So we danced, and spun, and sang, and leapt with delight. I truly had felt the cycle of life and death and life spinning in every cell of my being from Samhain to Samhain as I continued into the second year of my term on the Ritual Planning Cell.
“Standing in the darkness with our beloved dead, we grieve, we celebrate, and we remember.”
Northbay Reclaiming Ritual Intention 2014
By Samhain 2014 I was filled with such gratitude for the people I worked with on the Northbay Reclaiming Ritual Planning Cell and all those I circled with in the wider Reclaiming community. Through classes, Witchcamps, and planning and helping facilitate all the public rituals for the Wheel of the Year in the Northbay, I had deepened my own spiritual practice far beyond what I had been able to do in years of being a solitary witch. I got to hone my priestessing skills by failing spectacularly at times (oh two voice trance, why are you so hard for me to do?) and learning from those falls to rise again. I found myself using what I learned in the Reclaiming community in all the other places I ministered, organized, counseled, and worked.
During our Samhain ritual in 2014 I had the delight of aspecting the Goddess Persephone in her role as Queen of the Underworld. Through my mouth She welcomed all those at the ritual to come into her banquet hall where their beloved dead were waiting to celebrate and dance with them. I remember Her seeing through my eyes and being so taken with the beauty of each person She encountered. I remember Her clasping their hands through mine, and marveling at their warmth and vibrant life. Experiencing Samhain with Persephone was the perfect way to feel my own grief, celebration, and remembering of the past couple of years. Embodying my gratitude, I began my last year on the Ritual Planning Cell.
“Hearing our ancestors’ call, we remember our strength, and rise up for our descendants”
Northbay Reclaiming Ritual Intention 2015
Not long after Samhain of 2014 I began hearing my ancestors call in a new way. Having my father and my cousins on the other side of the veil seemed to draw me toward what eventually became my work in this past year. I’ve written about it several times in this blog, it is the work of discovering my father’s mother’s family who were all but forgotten, partially because of the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake and Fire. The research is mostly done, and as the Wheel of the Year Turns and the veil thins this Samhain season, my ancestors are calling me to put pen to paper and begin the book that will bring them life - for as we say in our Reclaiming Tradition, “What’s Remembered, Lives!”
Last Saturday was my last public Samhain ritual as a member of the Northbay Reclaiming Ritual Planning Cell. My three year term, which began the year my father died, ends with this Samhain. I had the privilege of invoking (helping the gathered community invite into our circle) The Ancestors, Beloved Dead, The Mighty Dead of the Craft (millennia of healers, activists, visionaries, spinners of wisdom, and builders of community), and the Forgotten Dead (those whose lives and deaths were not counted or marked). What a powerful gift it was to be with so great a crowd of witches (of all genders and generations) and their dead. I was deeply moved by the strength and power of folk calling their ancestors and beloved dead, and the visceral bond between and among them. I will hold that experience, and all my experiences of the last three years, deep in my heart. Thank you to the members of the Northbay Reclaiming Cell with whom I’ve served, thank you to our wider Reclaiming Community from whom I’ve learned so much.
Blessings on all of you who honor Samhain, who honor ancestors, who grieve and remember your beloved dead. Blessings on all who hear the call of ancestors of blood and bone, spirit and culture. May we all remember our strength and rise up for our descendants.