One of the reasons why I have found resurgence in creativity, and the desire to maintain this blog, apart from the other reasons I have listed in previous entries, is my recent experience at a Samhain gathering. First I must apologies for the late entry on this topic, given that we’re coming up to mid winter here in the southern hemisphere, but I really wanted to think out and plan this entry, to do my experience over that weekend justice.
So the gathering actually took place about 3 weeks ago, about 6 days after actual Samhain date, which if memory serves me correctly, fell this year on the 5th of May.
Since stumbling on this path once again, I have been craving community, and I’ve been seeking out like-minded people. When I first set down a pagan path when I was a teenager, there was always the local pagan/metaphysical store where you were bound to bump into people that were of a similar mindset. It was actually at one of these local stores where I found the first group that I was a part of, 10 years ago.
But things have changed so much! Regular bookstores, let alone specialist ones are struggling, and for the most part the ‘community’ has retreated to cyberspace. Given that I wasn’t actively involved in the pagan community, I didn’t know where to start, though I did know that something did exist out there, somewhere….
Well given that I have 2 degrees that have honed my research and inquiry skills I set out on a quest of discovery! That is how I found out about the Samhain Gathering. It had been posted on the PAN website. PAN stand for the Pagan Awareness Network. I am not going to explain what they do, but if you’re interested in learning more about them, their website is here.
I connected with the organiser via Facebook and made the commitment to go to the gathering. I didn’t really know what to expect. I didn’t know anyone, and I didn’t know if I would be ‘pagan enough’ to be at this gathering.
The week leading up to it was I was full of excited anticipation. I had told a few work colleagues that I was going to a retreat, to which they asked if I was going to be doing a lot of yoga and meditation. I responded that it was more likely that I would be running naked, throwing mud at other heathens, and if I wasn’t back at work on Monday morning then people should assume that I had been sacrificed a la ‘Wicker man’ style. My work colleagues didn’t really know how to react to that….
Given that the gathering commenced on Friday night, I was praying to the gods that I would leave work on time. ‘On time’ meaning before 8pm, as it is a regular occurrence at work that on Fridays I leave at really dumb hour.
I rushed back home, picked up my pre-packed over night bag and ran back down to the train station. Being the anally retentive person that I am, I had research how to get to the ritual space and how long it would take to get there (literally mapping and timing out each of my movements).
Arriving at my destination, a train station that I had never been too in all of my time living in Sydney, I set out on the final part of my journey to get the ritual site, by foot. As I walked down a dark suburban street, I took a call from my worried mother (to whom I had also said that if I wasn’t heard of by Monday then I had been sacrificed to the Sun god. She took that way to literally), conscience that my heart was beating in my chest, excited, nervous, surprised that I had made it this far….
Then I reached my destination, a beautifully set out Scout Park Centre. I found some of the other ‘gatherers’ milling outside, chatting, smoking, and partaking in mead. I exhaled. Everyone was very welcoming, and friendly. Importantly the feelings that I was not ‘pagan enough’ quickly dissipated as I began striking up conversation with other ritual participants around the campfire, and learning a little more about them. Some people were newbies like me, other old hands. That first evening was spent exchanging stories about our own journeys and paths, and what we expected from the weekend.
It was Saturday however, which was jammed packed full of activities. Apart from the main rituals that we were all participating in, there were several workshops scheduled throughout the day. Different individuals presented the workshops, on different aspects of ‘pagan faith.’ One was even on carving our own talisman. I took it upon myself to be the official ‘bell ringer’, ringing the bell that signalled the end/beginning of each session, and when important information was to be shared (mainly because it reminded me of being vice captain in primary school when I had the same exact responsibility).
After lunch (which was delicious) there was a panel discussion on the essence of why we had all gathered – Samhain, and its meaning. Obviously in the northern hemisphere Samhain coincides with Halloween so we unpacked that reason, and the overall seasonal connection with death. The panel asked the audience about different things, and for our answers, as a reward we were given chocolate. Given my background and interest in myth I found myself speaking quite a lot (perhaps too much at times) but the others didn’t seem to mind. I got to speak out loud the 44 confessions that Egyptians had to make before the different gods before presenting themselves in front of Lord Osiris in the hall of truth, in the weighing of the heart ceremony.
We then had the main ritual set up and rehearsal. We were told that the main ritual was actually made up of different smaller rituals. Though all different they each had a similar essence to that of Samhain. We were going to participate in a Wiccan circle casting, A druid circle, a Saxon ritual (including lots of mead), a Hellenic ritual in honour of Persephone and Demeter, ending with a dumb supper, where the were asked to come and dine with us.
I could wax lyrically about each of these rituals, but I think this would be doing them a disservice. The beauty and mystery about them was the experience that I shared with the other 50 or so gatherers present. They were truly powerful and moving. The dead really did mingle among us as we honoured their presence. Nature was truly alive and we were all in tune with the energies that were around and between us.
Dinner was also a gorgeous affair (I found that I was quite hungry after the ritual. I have found that this is standard for me). Then after some beautiful folky ritual music provided by the Hearthfyre ensemble and some dancing, we proceeded to the Voodoo Ritual.
This was fun and powerful. Though I had approached it with trepidation at first, it ended up being a grand experience. What felt like only 45 minutes, we were told had gone on for 3 hours. We all emerged, energised, yet tired, and somewhat drunk, having partaken in ritual rum….
This weekend continues to fuel my inspiration. I am quite surprised at the power it has had. But I honestly felt so free. For once I was able to be myself 100% and not feel fearful or worried that I would not ‘fit in.’ Importantly I found community. I had stumbled upon people that though had different paths and journeys from mine; we had a common purpose in worshipping the ancient gods, under the night sky, and learning from ancient wisdom, in order to enrich our lives.
I left the gathering that Sunday, a little sad that I had to return to my regular life, but at the same time happy that I had made new friends and found the community that I had craved for. As I continue on my solitary practice, I don’t feel so alone, in the knowledge that my fellow gatherers are out there…. somewhere.
Needless to say, I can’t wait for the next gathering…