Samhain 2019

October 31, 2019

I must be the only person in my village who takes a broom to the front porch to tear down the spider webs on Halloween. I like the holiday, including the trick-or-treating, but for me it’s not about terror.

Ghost trees in a flooded field.

Trick-or-treating comes from an old custom of children dressing in rags to signify the poor departed souls who cannot find their way to the Otherworld. Householders would give the children treats to bless and mollify the spirits of the unhappy departed, reducing the chances that they would do troublesome things like emit strange knocking sounds or whisk things around in the wind. This was one aspect of the Celtic holiday, which was about remembering ancestors.

I sometimes wonder how mainline Christians would feel about Easter becoming a festival of terror and evil. After all, Jesus rises from the dead, so that’s a more plausible holiday for a zombie apocalypse. Keeping the spirit of the spirit of Halloween can be a challenge, because I certainly don’t want to be one of those Halloween Scrooges who turn off the lights and pretend they’re not home.

I’m looking forward to tonight. I do like seeing all the children. I get lots and lots of trick-or-treaters, so many that I wonder if some of the teenagers dare each other to come to my house on Halloween. But hey–this witch tore down the spider webs in front of the door.

Ghost Rabbit

October 25, 2019
Photo: US Fish & Wildlife Service

Several years ago, I ran over a rabbit in the car on a lonely stretch of highway. I don’t remember what kind of rabbit; it wasn’t important at the time, probably not even to the rabbit. What mattered was that the rabbit was alive, and then it was dead.

As is typical of deserted roads in the Adirondacks, it was several miles before I could find a place to turn around, but I felt it was important to return, to take responsibility for my action, inadvertent as it was, and honor the life taken. When I returned I discovered the rabbit had hopped or been thrown to the side of the pavement, where it died. I was struck not with pity or regret or self-recrimination, but with confusion and then with wonder. Because the rabbit was not there. The body lay beside the road but the rabbit was gone gone gone. The rabbit had hopped away, with no attachment to the physical form or the place of death. Perhaps I could call its spirit back and ask forgiveness, but why do that, except to placate my own spirit? It happened. The rabbit had moved on. I needed to do the same.

I tend to think that the ease with which the rabbit slipped out the world had to do with the temporal nature of cornerstone species, their short lives making their foothold in this world a tentative one. I imagine that the long-lived elephant would leave with a long good-bye, especially from what I have read about elephant funerals and elephant graveyards. Then too, our North American leporidae are not social creatures, unlike elephants and Old World rabbits. A social hierarchy seems to anchor a species to the earth, creating as it does a more complex system of obligation.

Given the rabbit’s ease in slipping into the world of the dead, it is interesting that graveyards provide such a hospitable living environment for rabbits, hosting open grassy spaces in metropolitan or densely forested areas. While we usually think of bats and spiders at Halloween, the rabbit seems like a highly appropriate animal to meditate upon as the veil grows thin.

In my book, Invoking Animal Magic, I devote a whole chapter to folklore about rabbits and hares.

Goddess of the Afterlife

September 27, 2018

Halloween will be upon us soon and this object fits the mood. This is a replica of a dagger found in an early gravesite in Poland. This was a gift from my friend Sonya and I do not have a date. Death Goddesses in Eastern Europe were not typically the voluptuous “Venus” figures but were more often thin and depicted in rigid posture.

Feline Fascism

February 3, 2017

It’s been a frustrating week in foreign language study. For some reason, Samhain has been on patrol a bit more than usual, enforcing the household English-only policy.

This policy was instituted by the cat. She yowls whenever I review my Munsee vocabulary. A Siamese can yell louder than any person, so this is a ban she can enforce. She has an Irish name and her ancestors immigrated from Thailand, but she won’t tolerate any spoken word other than English. Today I thought she was taking a nap, so I opened my language materials, and then she walked in and I thought “Oh no.” Then I said (in English) “This is ridiculous.”

The cat I had before used to start crying when Spanish was spoken in the house, and since we were living in Tucson at the time it couldn’t always be avoided. Don’t tell me animals can’t understand what we’re saying, because they go berserk when they think we’re talking in code. When I was a teenager we had a poodle who was unusually smart, and we actually had to start spelling certain words instead of saying them, because if he got wind that we were up to something he wanted included in, he would begin campaigning strongly to go along. Eventually he became suspicious whenever we started spelling. Nobody likes being left out.

Munsee is actually not a foreign language but one of the Native Algonquian languages, so Samhain is not only a fascist but a colonialist. Starting today, I am going to push back against this reign of tyranny I find myself living under.

No articles, no photo essays, no poems today

December 9, 2016

No reviews either. I’m getting ready to submit the manuscript for my next book so I’m a bit distracted from blogs and blogging. I’ll let my cat Samhain handle the post this week. This picture was taken right after she threw my pen on the floor. Part of an international cat conspiracy to infiltrate the homes of writers and decrease the output of literature. Cats do not like books.

The Other Side of the Veil

October 24, 2014

Here is my interpretation of an ancient Egyptian poem from around 2000 B.C.E. The more literal translation comes from Religion and Magic in Ancient Egypt by Rosalie David.

The Goddess Maat
The Goddess Maat
Death is before me today
As a sick man recovering
returns to the out-of-doors

Death is before me today
As the myrhh-laden breeze
puffs the sails of ships along the river

Death is before me today
As the fragrance of lotus flowers
wafts over to the shore of drunkenness

Death is before me today
As a well-trodden path
leads a man home from war

Death is before me today
As a clearing sky
shows a man what he has forgotten

Death is before me today
As a man in captivity
pines for home

Ululations for the Departed

October 10, 2014


As the veil between the worlds grows thin and we reflect on those who have passed, I wanted to note the passing of three Pagan leaders since the last Hallow’s Eve. I hope this doesn’t become an annual column, but as our religions are maturing I fear that it will be.

Olivia Robertson. Source: Denns Murphy/Logic Reality
Olivia Robertson. Source: Denns Murphy/Logic Reality
Lady Olivia Robertson cofounded the Fellowship of Isis in 1976 with her brother Lawrence Durdin-Robertson and her sister-in-law Patricia Durdin-Robertson. She has been an active visionary guide of the Fellowship, which has a worldwide presence of about 26,000 people, and until recently kept an impressive travel schedule. Lady Olivia’s death was especially poignant since for over two decades she was the surviving cofounder of the Fellowship. Lady Olivia passed away on November 14, 2013 at the age of 96.

Lady Loreon Vigne. Photo: Eric Luse/SF Chronicle.
Lady Loreon Vigne. Photo: Eric Luse/SF Chronicle.
Those who have visited the Isis Oasis Sanctuary in Geyserville, California will remember founder Lady Loreon Vigne, who passed away on July 15. The Isis Oasis has been a Goddess affirming place for Pagans in Northern California to hold retreats and workshops. It is also the home of the Temple of Isis, where the Egyptian mysteries have been reestablished. Lady Loreon was known for her enthusiastic devotion to the goddess Isis. Though the Isis Oasis will continue on, Lady Loreon’s presence will be missed.

Margot Adler. Photo: Michael Para/NPR.
Margot Adler. Photo: Michael Para/NPR.
Margot Adler is known to millions as a popular journalist and radio personality for National Public Radio, but to Pagans she is recognized primarily for her 1979 book Drawing Down the Moon. This groundbreaking book introduced the world to the breadth and diversity of the modern Pagan movement and was especially important in connecting Pagans at a time when we were mostly hidden from each other. She died on July 28 in New York City.

Blessings and gratitude these important mothers of our religions.