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Samhain is a Woman, or: The 33 Names of Samhain

Unsurprisingly, medieval Irish literature is filled with references to the Feast of Samhain.

But in the entire corpus, she—that is to say, Samhain herself—turns up in person only once.

(That Samhain is a woman should surprise no one: in Irish, the word is grammatically feminine. The male “Samhain the Druidic Lord of the Dead” is a figment of 19th century folkloric imagination.)

 

The epic known as the Destruction of the Red God's Hostel tells of the death of Conaire Mor, Connory the Great, the Skyclad King of Ireland. (The tale of how he came by such a surprising title I'll tell you some other time.) As is usual in such tales, his downfall is brought about by his progressive—if inadvertent—violation of his personal geasa, the sacred taboos laid down for him at the time of his king-making.

Our story so far: On, as it happens, the Eve of the Feast of Samhain, Conaire Mor and his companions are feasting in the Hostel of the Red God. Then, after sunset, a woman appears at the door and seeks admission.

As long as a weaver's beam, and as black, her two shins. She wore a very fleecy, striped mantle. Her beard reached to her knees, and her mouth was on one side of her head. She put one shoulder against the doorpost and cast a baleful eye on the king and the youths about him.

So the Book of the Dun Cow describes her.

Conaire Mor: Well then, woman: if you are a seer, what do you see for us?

Woman: Indeed, I see that neither hide nor hair of you will escape from this house, save what the birds bear off in their claws.

Conaire Mor: That is an ill fortune indeed; nor do you usually prophesy for us. Woman, what is your name?

Woman: Cailb [she-dog].

Conaire Mor: That is a name with nothing to spare.

Woman: Indeed, I have many names.

Conaire Mor: What are they?

Woman: Easily told.

She then recites a list of 32 “names,” none of which is an actual woman's name. (Interesting as it would be to know the meaning of the 32 Names of Samhain, such a task far outstrips my knowledge of Old Irish vocabulary, alas.) The first of the list, though, is Samhain.

(The Book of the Dun Cow specifies that she recites this list in one breath, while standing on one foot, in the doorway of the house. Clearly, powerful magic is at work here.)

Conaire asks the woman what she wants, and she demands guest-room for the night.

Conaire Mor: It is geis to me to admit a lone woman to the house after nightfall.

Woman: Geis or no, I will not leave until I am given hospitality.

Conaire offers to send her an ox, a salted pig, and all the leftovers of the night's feast if only she will go elsewhere, but the woman refuses.

Woman: Indeed, if the king cannot spare a meal and a bed to one woman in his house, then let the kingship be taken from him and given to a man of honor instead.

Caught in a bind between competing demands, his personal geasa and the laws of hospitality, Conaire relents and admits the woman, but (as The Book of the Dun Cow says) “a great fear came over the host.”

And, indeed, every one of her prophecies comes true.

 

The personification of holidays as visiting guests is a long-standing trope of Indo-European poetics, spanning the entire Indo-European-speaking diaspora, and there can be little doubt that this is exactly what we see here.

What, then, does this tale tell us about Samhain the Feast?

Easily told.

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Posted by on in Culture Blogs
Golden Magic in the Meadows

Goldenrod (Solidago virgaurea) and sweet goldenrod (S. odora) brighten the autumn roadsides, fields, and meadows. The genus name comes from the Latin solida, meaning “whole,” and ago, “to make” suggesting that goldenrod has been used for a range of medicinal purposes. According to folklore, goldenrod points toward hidden treasure or marks hidden springs. It was also believed that carrying a piece of goldenrod would aid in finding treasure. Blooming at the same time as ragweed (Ambrosia artemisiifolia), goldenrod took the rap for causing hay fever until studies showed that its pollen is too heavy to be airborne. Use dried flowers in a sachet for spells to attract wealth and prosperity. Place several sprigs of flowers and leaves on your altar to aid in divination. Cut long stems of flower plumes and place these wherever you need to lift and boost energy. Goldenrod is associated with the element air. Its astrological influence comes from Venus.

 

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Did Halloween Originally Mean 'Holy Evening'?

Did Halloween—as Variety section writers would invariably have it—really originally mean 'Holy (or Hallowed) Evening'?

Short answer: no.

'Halloween' is an eroded form of 'All Hallow's Even'. ('Even' here = 'evening, eve.') 'Hallow' is a dialectal form of the Old English word that also became Modern English 'holy.' Anglo-Saxon hælig (pronounced, roughly, HAL-ee) was a fine old pagan word denoting something in a state of radical wholeness: a holy thing or person.

It's the latter usage that gave rise to 'Halloween.' After the Conversion, the word came to denote a 'saint,' a (Christian) holy person. So All Hallows' Eve originally meant 'All Saints' Eve,' the eve of the ecclesiastical feast of All Saints.

('Saint,' of course, was originally a French word from the Latin sanctus, both of which—like hallow in English—mean both 'holy' and 'saint.')

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Posted by on in Paths Blogs
Zoom Funerals Not Recommended


In the days leading up to Tom's sumbel via zoom, I had some encouraging signs. I posted this on my social media: "Dragged out to the store and look what I saw lol pine cones! Pine cones are a Zisa thing. And then guess what? I went to [name of liquor store] but apparently the nonalcoholic sparkling wine is a specialty winter holiday item and they didn't have it. But guess what they did have? Zirbenz! The drink of the goddess Zisa! I had been looking for it last week because I had a radio appearance on Sept. 28th which is Zisa's holiday, and had asked for it by name there. They hadn't had any then, but this is how capitalism works lol because I had asked for it by name last week, this week they had some. Even though I already had made a toast to Zisa on the air with something else and today is a few days after the holiday I bought it and went home and had some. It's remarkably similar to the de sapin that I had instinctively offered to Tyr, Zisa's husband, years ago. Then I went into the kitchen and there was a rainbow on the wall, symbol of Heimdall, Tom's patron. I looked where it was coming from and it was from the tiny crystal ball on a wizard statue that I had put in the window because I had been setting up Tom's idols on the back porch this morning."

Before the sumbel, I had already confirmed that Tom made it across the Rainbow Bridge to join Heimdall's company. He had new things to learn, new friends, new duties. Heimdall is the Guardian, and the humans he attracts and to whom he is attracted as patron are likewise guardians. Tom spent most of his adult life in a career he saw as being a sheepdog for his country and countrymen. That's a common metaphor in his profession, but it has a special resonance for a Heimdall's man, as one of Heimdall's sacred animals is the ram. About a week after the sumbel, Tom became my personal guardian spirit. The dead can still affect things in the living world under certain circumstances, and being one of Heimdall's is one of them.

The sumbel itself was not a positive emotional experience for me. Although I'm pretty tech savvy under normal conditions-- I actually worked in cell phone techsupport for a while--, I did not have the brain space to learn anything new, so I asked a kindred member to handle the technical aspects for me. The zoom format was just alien enough so I did not interact with it well, and I have a mental blank spot for everything anyone said via the net. There were a few local people with me in person, and I remember the in person portions of the ritual. I also remember singing along to a song written by one of Tom's and my old friends, who had called in via my phone and was on speaker. I'm not a digital native and whatever made it so I either didn't hear, didn't process, or didn't encode in memory what was going on via zoom didn't affect my ability to listen to a landline. (My kindred member is making a file for me of the recording she made, so I hope to be able to hear what I missed eventually.) I made a couple of embarassing mistakes in non technical areas that seem to point to my reverting to just the knowledge I had as a teenager or in college. I could not handle performing as gythia at this sumbel and ended up handing off the ritual to a kindred member right in the middle. A few days later, it caught up with me that she is also a gythia now, and I communicated that to her via fb chat, because the kindred isn't meeting regularly during these times; a very few of us got together just for that one special occasion.

We held the sumbel on the back porch. I had held some rituals on the back porch before, when the kindred consisted of just me and Tom. I also often hold my coffee ritual out there, both my everyday morning coffee and the spontaneous coffee or other toast I raise to Thor when it rains. A porch is a liminal space, neither fully outside nor fully inside, so it seems like an appropriate ritual space. Also, it's a great place to watch the rain, because it's under the house roof and thus protected from lightning, yet I can hear, see, and smell the storm as if I were outside. In any case, Tom's sumbel was not the first back porch ritual, but I did choose to have it outside due to the necessity of taking precautions against Covid. Since that's what Tom died of, it would not honor him to take foolish risks.

I'm doing my best to handle Tom's estate as the executor of his will. I thought we had gotten all the religious items out of his house before he died, but the next time I went to his house to collect the mail and do other necessary tasks, there was a box sitting right in the middle of the room formerly used as a storage room, which my helpers and I had already cleared out. The box contained candles, cups, an iron cauldron, and a marble cauldron stand deeply carved with a pentacle. Tom's Strega supplies. Tom had been Strega before becoming Asatru. The box also contained a pretty shell, presumably picked up on the beach near where he used to live in San Diego before he moved to Las Vegas. Who knows where it came from or how we missed it before, but it was like it was just put there for me to find, as a kind of sign of approval. I had been feeling like a failure for the dumbass mistakes I made and for having to get my kindred member to finish the ritual for me, but everyone told me I did fine and should not expect too much of myself in my grief, but that was words on fb and on the phone and it didn't register for me like finding a literal box full of witch supplies where there had been empty floor. That was Tom making sure I had his full magical legacy. I took the supplies home, and out of the box I took a glass candlestick and a black candle-- for mourning and also to dispel negative energy-- and lit the candle. I watched it burn and it was red underneath. Love shining through the mourning.

Over the next week I did a few other things to get rid of bad energy, and so did my friends. I think I'm doing better now. The key for me is I can't keep up the pace of working on handling the estate all day and trying to handle all my own business in the evening that I was frenetically pushing myself to starting the week before Tom died when we started getting the religious items and weapons out of his house and turning the storage room upside down looking for his DD-214 (which our kindred member found) that I kept up right up until the sumbel. I have to give myself time to just be. To cry, if I feel like it. To just sit around listening to old songs on the radio, if that's what I feel like doing. To go do something fun with friends, if I can manage to do it safely (as I write this, I'm planning to attend a Renfaire Picnic held by a few of the guilds in lieu of the actual Renfaire, which was canceled. The Picnic is outdoors where the Faire usually is. I made myself a new costume that includes a full silk veil that goes down to my waist. It should be at least as effective as the cotton masks I've made, but looks Faire appropriate. I'm planning to take pics and post them on my social media.)

We held Tom's funeral sumbel via Zoom because many of his oldest friends and his kindred members from when he used to live in California could not come to Nevada for his funeral, due to travel restrictions related to the pandemic. I polled the people who wanted to attend to see what sort of online function would work best for everyone, and Zoom won because it could be accessed both via the net and by people who did not have internet and needed to use a phone. An online funeral just is not a good substitute for holding one in person. The extreme emotions present during a mourning ritual just don't mix well with trying to use cutting edge technology.

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A Little Divination and Imagination

Successful divination requires focus, perseverance, and a little faith. Sometimes our paths come to a fork in the road, and much like that forked divining rod, we must follow our strongest intuition. Interestingly, life paths can indeed come full circle. I've come to believe that if we tune into what the divine is trying to whisper in our ears, we will take the paths we are intended to at the right moment in time. Perhaps we aren't ready for a certain direction at a given interval. That doesn't mean that roads aren't meant to be revisited. When I was a young girl, my favorite toy was a tape recorder. I delighted in creating radio plays and acting out favorite movies and TV shows with my closest friends. Conducting interviews was also a beloved pastime.

Flash forward several years later to graduating with a master's in digital communication strategies at Marquette University. Although I have a background in journalism and filmmaking, podcasting was something I naturally gravitated to with my studies and projects. It felt like coming home, and conducting interviews in this medium and editing them was the perfect way to express myself creatively. Since I recently decided to embark on a full-time freelancing career, it seemed like the perfect time to launch a brand new podcast: "Women Who Howl at the Moon."

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Last modified on

Posted by on in Paths Blogs
The MMP Pantheon: The Serpent Mother

This is one in a series about finding the MMP gods and goddesses in Minoan art. Find the list of the full series here.

The Snake Goddess is perhaps the most iconic representative of Minoan culture and religion. Show a person a Snake Goddess figurine, and it's a pretty sure bet they'll think of the Minoans. But did you know that there are only a handful of these figurines, and no other representations of the Snake Goddess in the frescoes or the seals?

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Do You Know How Great You Are? A Quiet Mind Spell

 We live in the age of anxiety. There is so much stress, bad news and soul-crushing chaos; it is hard to know how to get through each day. But here’s the thing; ancient wisdom is the best way to approach to deal with modern troubles. Try the following tried and true rite.  Gather together:

2 blue candles

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