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A Samhain Selfie

Author: Janice Van Cleve
Posted: September 30th. 2015
Times Viewed: 1,465

At Samhain the veil is very thin in more ways than one and between more than two worlds. It seems that at no other time is the existence of parallel universes more obvious. One world focuses on scary stuff – zombies and horror movies and haunted houses. Another world focuses on altered states like parties with clever costumes. My favorite this year was the girl who cut the cheeks out of her jeans and painted her buns blue. She was a blue moon, of course. Kids focus on trick or treating looking for candy. Meanwhile we Pagans traditionally remember our ancestors and mourn our dead. We host dumb suppers in their honor and commune with their spirits. We mark the ending of another year and perhaps become a little more aware of our own mortality.

Samhain is in some ways a practice run for the real thing. We will die someday. We may be remembered in a funeral service or memorial or at some future Samhain ritual. What will “they” say about us? What would we say about ourselves? This was the idea behind our Samhain Selfies this year. We ritually died and then we had to give our own eulogies. It went like this:

Right after the five C’s – Clearing the area, Casting the Circle, Consecrating the Circle, Calling the Directions, and Crystallizing the Intention – we invoked Hecate. One of our sisters emerged as Hecate and came into our circle to speak to us. She told us that Death was a special gift offered only to us mortals. Death is the punctuation at the end of our sentence. It is a release, a freedom from ever having to do again what we’ve been doing. It is the end of suffering, end of worry, end of politics and pop up ads. It is also the end of loving relationships, joys and adventures, and fine wines. We are not condemned to an ever-repeating “Groundhog Day” like the movie of that name. Because Death is the ultimate end, it gives zest and urgency to Life.

To bring home this point, Hecate had us all face outwards. She told us to imagine a path that stretched from our feet back into the past. She told us to imagine that we were at the point of death and the paths at which we were looking were the years of our lives. Back along those paths we could see Samhain 2014 and ourselves standing in this ritual. Hecate crept up behind each of us, one at a time, and put her hands on our shoulders. She whispered to us to look hard at what we saw on our paths – the path up to the ritual and the path between the ritual and the point of our death.

What did we see of which we were particularly proud? Ashamed? By which we were embarrassed? What did we see that we accomplished or wished we had accomplished? Whom did we see and who was blessed by our presence in their lives? Death gives perspective to Life. Death drains the lake of our wishful thinking, our made up stories, and our projected images and lays bare the trees and rocks, the structures and the canyons of our lives as others saw us. From the perspective of Death, standing at the end of our years, we can see these things for ourselves.

Hecate then blessed our communion. We ate of the pomegranate, the fruit of the Underworld, and drank from the empty chalice, filling us with emptiness. Hecate anointed us with myrrh and pronounced us dead. Then she departed and Persephone welcomed us into her realm. She transformed us into spirits without egos and sent us back to review our lives by giving our own eulogies.

Our Circle has a skull affectionately called Esmeralda. She has been a handy prop in our Samhain rituals for many years. In all our other Samhains, we used her as a general symbol of Death. In the past, she was always somebody else – “the Other”. Death was her experience, not ours. This time she was us. She was me! I picked up Esmeralda and looked her straight in the eye sockets. I had to address her as if she was my remains and I was somebody else giving the eulogy. In that moment I had to find a few words to say at my passing.

This was way more difficult than I thought it would be. Even after Hecate and Persephone prepared us, I found it really hard to disconnect from my own ego. It’s not that I am overly full of myself. It’s just that I have spent a whole life intimately connected to this person and now I had to see myself as “the Other”. It was like being married for 60 years to the same person and then suddenly divorcing. What others would say about me? Not that I would be overly concerned at that point – being stone cold dead and all that – but what they say partially adds up to the sum total of my existence. Even if they get it wrong, what they say reflects how others saw my strengths and weaknesses, my accomplishments and failures and I would not be there to thank or rebut them.

Now I had to do this for myself. I opened my mouth but probably something silly came out. I don’t really recall what I said. I felt the strongest urge to point to my hopes and dreams for the future and the failings I would correct. But in that moment there was no future for me. I was dead, kaput, finis. I was at the end of my road and what was done was done and the book of my life was closed.

This Samhain Selfie seriously brought home to me the fact of Death. We are all going to die and here we were, having symbolically passed through the veil, holding our own skull in our two hands. I’ve had some near death experiences before but they were accidental and happened so quickly that I did not have time to think about them. This time I deliberately and consciously came face to face with Death. It truly made me feel emptied.

We had raised energy beforehand and deposited it into certain items that we valued. We gave these items as offerings to the dead in the Underworld to hold in safe keeping during this Dark Time of the year. At Candlemas, we will retrieve these offerings renewed. They will be a kind of tangible link to our past and I will feel filled again.

I’ll be glad when that day arrives. As a result of my Samhain Selfie, the bumper sticker “Born Again Pagan” will take on for me a whole new and more personal meaning.

Janice Van Cleve is a priestess with the Women Of The Goddess Circle in Seattle. For more information about the Circle, visit Copyright 2014.


Janice Van Cleve

Location: Seattle, Washington


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