Wednesday, May 2, 2012
The Samhain Gate
Its Samhain here in New Zealand and I celebrated over the weekend at the Woolshed, a place here in Wellington where Pagans of all varieties come together to celebrate the seasons. For Samhain this year the circle space was set up in the second lounge down stairs, with the Samhain gate facing North, other times the gate has been set up in the North West, which if you are using the southern hemisphere Sabbat calendar wheel is actually the Lughnasadh gate, which in some ways can be a very odd place to have the Samhain gate. The Samhain gate is that place where the ancestors and those that have died recently enter the circle. And for the longest time it bugged the hell out of me, that at the woolshed it was place in the North West because it just felt wrong. But this year the gate was North, and for some weird reason this felt much better, which as usual got me to thinking about pagan cosmology and how it is shaped.
Traditionally the Southern hemisphere Seasonal Wheel goes in a counter clock wise direction, (Sun Wise) starting with the Spring in the East, then Beltane – North East, Summer Solstice – North Lughnasadh, North West, Autumn Equinox – West, Samhain – South East and finally Winter Solstice in the south.
Which if you follow the logic through and use the same points from the Seasonal Wheel for your circle casting, it would mean that the Samhain gate would be in the South West, however, given that when casting a circle I teach that pretty much any element can be called from any direction because it is important to practice magic in the place you live, it would also follow that the Samhain Gate doesn’t have to be in the South West, any more than that the element of air has to be in the east. But it still bugged me. I will say however that when it comes to group rituals, it is good to have everybody calling the same element from the one direction. But that is not what this post is about.. *coughdigressioncough*..
So why did having the Samhain Gate in the North feel better this year, than previous years when it has been in the North West? Well there could be several reason.. first given that for most New Zealanders their ancestors come from Europe, which is North from here, it would make sense that if you are inviting your ancestors to come and join you in your circle, to do it from a Northerly direction.
Secondly here in New Zealand as a part of the Maori believe, spirits of the dead travel to the tip of the North Island, where the entrance of the underworld is, guided by a Ruru owl, and once there, they travel down to the underworld where they are meet by Hine-nui-te-pō who then guides them on to Hawaiki, so again that would point to the idea that the spirits of the dead come from the North, and not the South.
Now this is all well and good and make pretty good sense.. but I have an idea that it was something more, than just the ancestors in the North and Hine-nui-te-po, that made this years gate feel right. And I realised what it was when I went back down after to the ritual was over to see the French doors open. It was the door, during the ritual we had opened the Samhain gate by opening the French doors. The fact that these doors faced North fit in with the ritual, but I suspect that It was not the main reason as to why it felt right so to speak. This door opened to the outside, and it is a clear indication when inviting someone in your house to open the door.
Doorways have always been considered magical places in myth and folklore. They are liminal, whether you are entering or exiting, they are a place of magic where the energy flows inwards and outwards. I can remember seeing pennies concreted into the doorway of the family’s holiday batch, put there by my grandfather, to encourage wealth. It was a tradition that he carried with him from England where he was born. Doorways are often gateways to other places, and in this case it was a gateway into the otherworld’s, to where the ancestors and recently departed stood waiting to be invited in.
So it all comes back to that practicing in the place where you live. I have heard that the traditional correspondences of cardinal direction to elements originated in Greece, where their prevailing wind, the wind that brings the weather comes from the East, thus East became air. Here in Wellington the prevailing wind comes not from the howling winter southerlies but the Westerlies, which would follow that air, should be in the east. And when it comes to the seasonal wheel this to should be practiced in the place you live, which can take some figuring out so some contemplating of how the cosmos is created in your area. So it makes sense to invite the ancestors from the north, and through a physical door, although I do wonder as to what happens if the physical door is in a different direction and if that would work?
So here in new Zealand our magical cosmos is on where the ancestors and the dead hail from the North, not from the South west as the southern seasonal wheel would dictate nor from the North West as has been practiced before but from the North, a time of midsummers, the traditional element of fire.
Those crazy Southern Pagans.. *grins*
This is the first thing I teach anybody who comes to me and is interested in Witchcraft and Magic, and it is the first thing that I teach my students when I run my classes. The simple explanation for this is that I won’t work with someone who does not how to do this because we live in this world. Thus when doing magical work we should be centered and grounded in this world, or at least for most of the time.
It is important when learning about magic to be grounded in this world, to understand that you still need to tidy your house, pay your bills, go to work, while also honouring your Gods and making magic. Paganism in its various forms is by its very nature is very romantic, and has been romanticised throughout the ages. Even the modern history is kinda romantic, there are heroes and villains and sometimes heroic villains, and more importantly there is magic, which is something real, something that you can feel, and something that you can use. Fairy Stories, Television, Moves and some anthropological study tells us of a time when the village witch used herbs to heal the sick, used magic and a bit of salt to save the world and told of the humble stable boy, a person with an important destiny written about in prophecy. And let’s face it we all like to be feel special, to feel like our lives have meaning and importance in this, at times very difficult thing we call life, and witchcraft has that in spades. There is finding your path, your deity and what it is that you are meant to be doing with your life. There is discovering your true self, stepping away from ugly mainstream culture, standing up for yourself and learning how to do the things that you want to do as opposed to the things that you believe you should be doing or that you have been lead to believe you need to be doing. Witchcraft and magic in many ways gives you courage and an out of the rat race, to be that special person with that special destiny.
Also books, the several hundred thousand books that have been written on various forms of paganism and how to do and or be a witch or druid or priestess also have a tendency to paint a very romantic picture. There are powerful visions, rituals and deities that these Authors meet, and seemingly a teacher can be found on every street corner just waiting for you to walk by so they can nab you and show you how to find your destiny and path. Alas the reality of it is that it is not like this but it is very easy to get swept off your feet, into the romantic maelstrom and loose touch with reality, to loose touch with this world and all of its wonders. So this is why I teach Centering and Grounding first to help to keep touch with reality with this world, with this earth and remember that you still have bills to pay and houses to clean. And so that you know how to come back to earth with less of a bump. So that you stay grounded enough that when you hit the deep magic’s you can stay sanely, centered, and come through with an excellent experience and pretty much not go batshit insane.
Right scared yet? You should be.. ok maybe not. Perhaps not scared so much as weary, stepping onto this path in a more conscious way can be interesting and sometimes in a Chinese sense of interesting however it also can be wonderful beyond words, but then if it wasn’t I wouldn’t be teaching classes or writing about it now would I. So Centering and Grounding, now that we know why it is important, what is it? and how do you do it? First I am going to talk about Centering , and in the next post Grounding.
Centering is like gathering your thoughts, so that you can concentrate on what is at hand, and what you are doing. At times I believe that it is very much like being in the present, in the now, as so many self-help gurus and Buddhists will tell you. However this ‘being in the now’ is, as is so often the case, not as it is portrayed in books. I think that to get a point across in writing, so that it doesn’t sound lame, and can be understood the writer embellishes what they are writing, not because they are being mean or dishonest but it is more give a clearer picture of what they were feeling and what they have experienced. How this can create an over blown expectation for the reader, or as in my case a miss understanding. So often in these books that talk about living in the now, and the present, they are talking in absolutes, ‘you should be in living in the now all the time’ the books say, ‘always be present in your own life’. I often ended up wondering what they were talking about as I am present in my own life? I live it don’t I? And what’s more Living in the now all the time can be very difficult to achieve, unless you want to be a monk living on a mountain top somewhere. It took me quite some time to wrap my head around being in the present, in the now. I did not have any problems understanding centering and grounding. But I did have problems understanding this living in the now. Until a Student asked me if you could center and ground separately?
Most the time when you are preparing to take part in a ritual, centering and grounding was done together as one exercise. Centering was about concentrating on the ritual at hand and grounding about being grounded and drawing up energy from the earth. Seemed simple right? Little did I realise that centering was very similar to living in the now, so to speak. And grounding was about staying there. Always good to learn from your students I say! But it take me while to understand.
It was not until I happened to be walking to catch a train to work one morning that I finally understood what the books were talking about, and what centering and being in the now had to do with one another. As I was wondering down the hill pondering about being present, and what it meant, I was not paying attention to where I was walking, not that it is difficult to walk down a hill on a paved footpath,*coughs* but alas before I knew what was happening I tripped and landed on my arse on said footpath. And was very present and in the moment, feeling the sting of concrete on my hands and embarrassment in my face at having fallen over, but more than that I was present, my mind was not wondering about on the either thinking of arcane things, but it was instead present and I was sitting on the ground. So I learned that being present is about being aware, not just of what you are thinking about but also aware of where you are physically, what you are doing, what’s going on around you, which when you think about it, is the same of being Centered. Not only are you focusing yourself, so that interrupting thoughts of ‘must clean bathroom’, are sent on their way, so that you can focus on the working, or ritual at hand. You are also being aware of where you are and what you are doing, in the present moment. This also allows you to pay attention when signs and messages are sent.
So clear as mud?
my suggestion is to practice being aware, to practice being centered and try take note of the times when you are not. Now this is of course way easier said than done. I have often equated learning to do magic similar to driving a car, when you first learn there seems to be so much to remember, check mirror, check handbrake, check seatbelt, what gear are you in, which peddle are you using, steering, driving, screaming at the other drivers.. but after a few years, it all becomes second nature to get in your car and drive of without giving it much thought. The difference with magic though is to keep giving it that thought, sure it will become second nature and your technique will change and it will become easer like driving a car, but the trick with good magic is to be aware, be present.
Right then now on to the grounding segment of our lesson, which I will discuss in the next Classes post.
Have at it!