Tuesday, October 19, 2010

All Hallow's Challenge

As the ritual year draws to a close and we begin to prepare for the next, I'd like to make a suggestion or two.

I make no secret of the fact that I reject the popular "Wheel of the Year" narrative where "the Goddess" gives birth to her own husband. Not that there's anything wrong with that. (Nuit and Hadit, I'm looking at you.) It just doesn't have anything to do with bobbing for apples, y'know? Aside from being ahistorical, I just don't see the need to graft on this extraneous mythos when we've already inherited such rich and enjoyable traditions through which to understand the Pagan festivals. I mean, a Dying God is dramatic and all, but I simply prefer the idea I grew up with, about how all the ghosts and demons and fair, white beings are going to come up out of the ground and trick or possibly try to kill us if we don't share our goodies with them. How exciting is that? We may not have Morris dancers here in America, but ritual guising is a living tradition in this country, and we should be grateful for that. If you're a witch or Pagan of the British persuasion, I consider it no less than your religious duty to pass out candy to children in masks.

But even if you're into engaging with an overtly Thelemic (or Frazer-based) interpretation of the seasons, there's no reason to be lazy with our words when writing on the subject. I've read essays from otherwise brilliant Pagans that read like a third-grader's report on how "Thanksgiving is a time for giving thanks." Redundant, unreflective, self-referential. Most discussions of the Sabbats, both online and off, are simply copypasta as far as I'm concerned. Everyone says the same things about "new life" and "returning to the earth." It's like trying to research a subject without enough resources, and all you end up finding is the same statistics on teen pregnancy in 1995, over and over again. When everyone is drawing from a single source of information, it begs some criticism. And it's a simple fact that when you repeat a word or phrase often enough, it begins to lose its meaning. I don't doubt that you yourself, Dear Reader, may have said something about the "veil" going "thin" sometime this month. This terminology is parroted by everyone, and what's more, we usually stop there in our discourse, seemingly oblivious to the stupendous remark we've just made. We've taken a staggering cosmological statement - that there is a world of spirits that can make contact with mortal beings at special moments in time - and reduced it to jargon. Why does this happen?

More often than not, I think the significance of a ritual - by which I mean shared practices that are preserved in tradition - is discovered by engaging in it. Whatever inspired it - a numinous moment, a meaningful gesture - is usually lost to time, and only by re-enacting that experience can we understand its value and purpose. Which is not to say that it's impossible to analyze. Far from it. But I think it's impossible to say anything of substance if we're restricting ourselves to the same eight or nine buzzwords that we associate with the holidays.

So my challenge to you is this. For the next year - staring with this Samhain, of course - whether you are thinking, speaking, writing, musing, rambling, orating or prophesizing about any of the 8 Sabbats, do so without the aid of these words and phrases:

Veil between the worlds
Taking stock

There. You've still got "fertility" if you want. I think that's fair.

Extra credit: No mention of "harvest" or "sacrifice" without some attempt to explain its relevance. Say what you want. Just find a new way to say it, if you can't think of anything new to say.

If all else fails, I suggest having a Dumb Supper. It's a little like a séance, but with food. Yet another American Halloween tradition brought to us by Scots-Irish immigrants, which deserves some tender loving care at this point in history. Invite your family and friends. Turn out the lights. Do everything backwards and fall on your ass. Everyone will have a great time.


  1. YES. Please, let's find a way to make everyone on the internet take this challenge.

  2. Very good! I highly recommend doing all you've said here!

    Also, if you have a moment, I'd be interested in your thoughts on the "Spell Against Homophobia" I just posted on the blog...And, feel free to link to it, use it, etc. I did write it, so I should get the credit (in fairness!), but I'm happy for it to propagate as much as possible. It's "Spirit Day," and I think we should be doing more than just wearing purple for such an occasion...

  3. Ah, supporters! My power grows.

    Made my comments over yonder, Phillipus - great work, I must say!

  4. I like the challenge. I could do it without much trouble, but my tradition isn't traditional, heh. We use the dates, but our meanings are removed from a rural/agricultural position, and they're about personal aspects, and Family connections.

    The most "similar" holiday we have to the standard neopagan is at Halloween when we hold a feast/communion with the Family, bodied or not, and offer them whatever aid we can, as well as request help if possible. The rest are fairly off the beaten path.

    Maybe that's cheating though in your challenge.

  5. I've seen a fair amount of folks who take a more psychological approach of the Sabbats. This is where phrases like "challenges" and "taking stock" come in, so you may still have your work cut out for you. ;) I'd be interested to see your tradition's take on it, though!

  6. Well damn... I have a hard time writing as it is with my problems with word recall. Now I'll have to use my Thesaurus for everything. LOL

    Great post!