In early September I started talking with my sisters and a few friends about the possibility of organizing a group ritual for Samhain. We had never done a group ritual together before – some of us had never even attended one. So we decided on a loose outline of what we would like as part of our Samhain celebration: an ancestor altar, a candle labyrinth, music, a bonfire, divination, pumpkin carving, storytelling, name-sharing, and offerings to the ancestors. It was not an ADF-style ritual, but we used the COoR as a basis to create (a much scaled-down) ritual structure – an offering to the outsiders, an invocation, making memory-offerings, doing a working, offering a closing prayer. We kept telling ourselves: “If it’s not a disaster, then it will have exceeded our expectations.”
We didn’t manage the candle labyrinth, divination, or pumpkin carving, but the ritual was beautiful nonetheless. Ten people attended. We got there a little later than expected after picking up a fellow ADF member and her husband, so we got right to work setting up the site – moving tables, unloading the cars, and trying to start a fire. Shortly thereafter my partner and three others arrived and took over the fire, while we went inside the barn to set up the altar and lay out the food.
About half the people put things on the altar in memory of dead loved ones – food drink, pictures, incense. We ate, and then I and two others went to make an offering to the outsiders, asking any who wished us harm to leave us in peace. We went back inside, handed out candles for each person to hold while we did a pre-ritual briefing, and then headed out to the bonfire to get started. Someone played song they had written for the occasion as our invocation, and then my sister led storytelling and memory-sharing – people talked about grandparents, friends, pets. There were a lot of tears and regrets voiced, but there was also a lot of laughter. I went last, sharing memories of my great-grandma, and telling the story of Thorgeir the Lawspeaker, an Icelandic gothi who made an impossible choice. Then we opened space for people to speak the names of lost loved ones they were thinking of, but weren’t comfortable sharing a memory or story for. One of the attendees spoke briefly about ancestors and their gifts to us – the tools they leave us – and invited everyone to think of something they wanted forgiveness for, and something they were willing to forgive, and offer that to the fire, to let it carry those messages to our dead. I asked forgiveness from a loved one with whom I had lost a relationship because I refused to give something up, and forgave them for having left me alone. When everyone had finished, I knelt by the fire and offered a prayer, some permutation of which I had read years ago:
“Ancestors, beloved dead –
those we remember, and those we don’t –
accompany us in the coming year.
Bless this ground that we tread in search of our freedom.
We honor your presence in our hearts and lives.
Take of these offerings for your delight,
and be filled with our love and thanksgiving.
May our lives remain as full as our hearts this day.”