Something I wrote some years ago now…
It’s 8pm and I’m on my way to a Samhain celebration in suburban London. The main wave of candy-seeking children has now passed, but a few gangs of witches and skeletons still walk, pumpkin lanterns blurred by the billowing mist from car exhausts. In the side street it is quieter, and the night is clear and cold. No moon yet, but lots of stars – for London anyway. I find the house and follow a trail of jam-jar candles around to the back garden. Black shapes stand around a bonfire.
“Hello,” I say, moving into the fire-light.
One of the women is a little unnerved, “Fran, there’s a man here I don’t recognise!”
“It’s me – Rod,” I call out, not sure who is who in the dark. A friend comes to vouch for me, bringing some mulled cider from the garden shed.
As we stand around the fire and chat, it becomes clear that several different groups of people have been invited – some are here to hold a ceremony for Samhain, some are here for a party, and some are here almost incidentally – the neighbours have been invited, and some curious teenagers have tagged along with their parents.
There’s a slight sense of tension as the hostess calls for quiet and then announces some rules. “No one must leave the circle until we’re done,” she says, “and no smoking.” There’s a rumble of discontent from the party people at this point, but they comply.
With varying degrees of precision, the circle is opened and guardians are called from the four directions. The hostess then asks us all to stand in silence and remember the dead: those we know and those we don’t. This is the point where the ceremony becomes real: the silence deepens, and we remember. It seems to me that spirits spiral up through our circle around the fire; up from the cold earth into the night sky. Someone reads a poem; we spill mulled cider as an offering.
In the wake of that magical moment we are each invited to throw a stick onto the fire, throwing away the things that hold us back, the negative and unnecessary, so that we can each make a clean start in the new magical year.
And then the circle is closed and the party starts.