Saturday, October 31, 2020

The Lessons of Trick or Treat

Halloween as we know it is relatively new. Trick or treat customs in the United States were well-established by the 1950's, and little has changed in the last 50 years. When we seek the origins of the customs, the history is murky at best. As far as we can tell, the custom of wearing costumes came about some several hundred years ago in the Celtic lands where Samhain was still celebrated collectively in the UK and parts of continental Europe (known then as Gaul). During this season, the spirits of the dead were said to return to our plane. In honor of their visit, they lit bonfires and offered sacrifices, typically of food and drink, to pay homage to the departed. 

The costumes came first. It is unclear when, but sometime before the middle ages, the villagers would dress in costumes of animal skin to drive away phantom visitors. Banquet tables were set out away from the main celebrations for any unwelcome guests. As time passed, this custom shifted, and people began dressing as ghosts, demons, and otherworldly characters in exchange for food and drink (enter in the treats) in a custom known as "mumming." Mumming is thought to be the precursor to our modern festivities. Poorer families would dress in costumes and visit the homes of those more fortunate for offerings of pastries called "soul cakes" in return for prayers for the wealthy family's departed loved one. The children began going door to door alone to ask for gifts such as food, money, or ale. Eventually, the prayers were forgotten, and the masked children would sing dance, or recite a poem in exchange for treats. By 1605, the custom shifted once more to commemorate the foiling of the Gunpowder Plot. The celebration known as "Guy Fawkes Day" involved communal bonfires or "bone fires" where they burned effigies of Guy Fawkes and of the bones of the Catholic Pope. By the 1800's, the children were seen carrying effigies of Guy Fawkes through the streets in search of "pennies for a Guy."

American colonists, especially the immigrants who were fleeing the Irish Potato Famine, helped popularize Halloween on the United States, since many of them were in need of the gifts of food and drink. Alas, it was in the 1920's when the pranksters first appeared, and the notion of the "trick" was added to the giving of treats. Treats were no longer exchanged for prayers but given in the hopes that the generosity would win the householder a by when the pranksters were choosing their targets. Large-scale community trick-or-treating really took hold during the Great Depression when the tricks took the shape of more physical violence and vandalism, but the trends were brought to a halt when the sugar rationing of WWII went into effect. The reemergence of trick-or-treating in the more benign form we know today came about in the 1950's when the baby boomers fellsway to national televised advertising campaigns targeting children with candy and costume parties, and the customs we celebrate today were solidified (at least for now). 

Okay, but what lessons do these practices hold for us? The easy lesson is this: honor your Ancestors, whose names live on as long as those who live remember them. That covers the Samhain and the prayer custom, but what of trick or treating?

The idea of treats in exchange for prayers and entertainment is not a far stretch from our practice of reciprocity. It is an exchange of a gift-for-a-gift among the fourth kindred--humanity. It is a time for generosity in exchange for a glimpse of the manifestation of a child's creative mind, heroes, and beloved characters. It is an exchange for the sake of simple pleasure (because let's be honest, there are very few places where the treats are good for us!). Yes, the gluttony is a risk for those who are not skilled in moderation, but for those of us guiding our young ones, it is a tremendous opportunity to practice and teach them this important virtue. 

Finally, the lesson of the trick. Sometimes, when we give, reciprocity is not there. It's not a pleasant thought, and I am sure many of us have examples in our own lives when we felt our generosity was met with a "trick" instead of a treat placed gently in our open and empty hands. But, this is an important lesson, because reciprocity is not a guarantee. Hospitality is not one-sided. Someone else's generosity cannot be bought with our own. The underlying lesson of du ut des, "I give that you may give," is not one of contractual obligation. It is far more "charitable and nuanced:" 

It is an economy of piety. The theory of do ut des is that we give the Gods something of worth, and in exchange, we receive from Them something of value, which results in us giving more worth to the Gods, which results in receiving something else of value, and so forth. Instead of being a mere business transaction, it is the establishment of a fundamental cycle of gift exchanging where one participates in a “continual engagement between an individual and a deity that could stretch over a lifetime.” ~Hellenic Faith

For me, the lesson of the trick is one that has been hard to learn for a person from a materialistic and capitalist society. So much of what our social mores teach is that "we get what we pay for." When it comes to the commerce of human relationships, this is not necessarily true. A little gift can go a long way, and a big gift can leave us with empty hands and a broken heart. 

Wow, Missy, that's a depressing take on this.....yes, and the point is that our generosity must be for the sake of our generosity--not used as a means to deserve generosity from others, though there is a component of generosity that may compel others to be generous with us. AND it's not guaranteed. 

In short, we give treats for the sake of giving treats to the children in our neighborhoods, and what we receive in return is knowing we have given them a little piece of joy. THAT is the true lesson here. We give because we want others to be happy. That's it. No pressure. No obligations. No strings attached. We give. And the lesson is to make the giving be enough to bring us joy. 

Saturday, October 17, 2020

Journey to Helheim--Communing with the Ancestors

Please have a candle and incense available to aid in your journey.

May we be pure that we may pass through the sacred.
May we pass through the sacred that we may attain the holy.
May we attain the holy that we may be blessed in all things.
So say we all.

Welcome and Opening Statements
We gather under the light of this Samhain moon,
Cresting into fullness and lighting the way for our Ancestors,
Those Gone Before Us,
As the thinning veil is but a mist between us.
Tonight, we travel to honor our Mighty Dead
And the Lady who rules their dwelling places:
Hela, Dark Goddess of Helheim, of the Underworld.
Be welcome and safe in this space.

Honoring the Earth Mother
We begin these rites as we always do:
By honoring the Earth Mother.
Hail to Thee, Nerthus,
Earth Mother of Humanity,
Known in this place as Colorado.
Be Thou blessed and bless us as well!
You who feed us, generation after generation,
with the harvest of your bones and body.
Nerthus, Earth Mother, accept our offering.
Offer grains or clean water.

Grounding and Centering
With Earth Mother upholding us, we ground ourselves in preparation of this work. Take a moment to find the center of your mind, body, and spirit: The Sacred Center within you. Close your eyes, if you will, and turn your mind’s eye toward the cosmos.

With your mind’s eye peering out from your Sacred Center, see before you the World’s Tree, the Great Tree of Life at the center of the Cosmos, the Tree that is the container for the cosmology’s water. See the Waters flowing out from the branches to drip into the pools at the base of the Tree only to be drawn up through the roots and moved through the trunk as tiny, twinkling lights of magic. See these lights as they move through the branches and leaves, falling into the pool at the base of the tree and beginning the cycle anew.

Our work today takes place in the space where the chaos of the waters meets the order of the tree. Without the chaos, the tree grows brittle and unyielding, standing in crystalline beauty but devoid of life. Conversely, without the order, the waters become tumultuous and harsh, rolling through the land and destroying all in their wake. Place yourself at the meeting of these great powers, where ocean meets the land and from which grows the Tree, holding chaos and order in harmony, fluidity where there would be rigidity, quiet where there would be cacophony.

Lean back against the tree and become one with her power. Feel the magic of the waters flowing through you, up through your roots, filling your trunk, and flowing up and up and up through to the ends of your branches. Feel these waters drip, drip, drip from your leaves, and splash subtly into the waters at your feet to disappear into the earth and begin their journey through the Tree once more. Rest in this space, in perfect love and perfect trust.

Your center is now aligned and grounded within The Center of the Cosmos, feeding the Tree with chaos, putting the Waters in Order. You are ready to do the work of this rite. Open your eyes if you will, retaining your connection to the Sacred Center, both within you and within the Cosmos, connected to all who share in this work as one people, the Children of the Earth.

Three Kindreds Invitations
Firmly grounded and centered in ourselves and in this place, 
We invite our guests to join us.

We call first to the spirits of the land,
Our allies and guides in this realm.
Spirits of stone and soil,
And of gem and metal, we call to you.
Spirits of leaf and stem,
And of branch and root and blade, we call to you.
Spirits of skin and blood,
And of fur and feather and scale, we call to you.
Spirits of our guides and allies,
Unseen elements who share this realm with us, we call to you
to join us in this holy work.
Nature Spirits, accept our offering.
Offer grains or seeds.

We call also to our allies among the heavens,
To the Gods, Goddesses, and Deities of this land,
Those remembered and long forgotten,
Those whose blood courses in the rivers and streams,
Those whose voices echo through the trees,
We sing your praises and ask you to join us today.
To the Deities of those gathered here,
Those who shine their blessings upon us,
Those who council our thoughts and dreams,
We sing your praises and ask you to join us today.
To the Shining Ones, all,
to all those Gods, Goddesses, and Deities
Who illuminate days and nights,
Who light the fires of our hearths and hearts,
We sing your praises and ask you to join us in this holy work.
Shining ones, accept our offering.
Offer oil or spirits.

And we call to our Ancestors.
To our Beloved Dead,
Those of body who gave of their blood,
Those of heart who gave of their love,
Those of Wisdom who have uncovered great truths,
Those of Hearth who taught us to honor the Old Ways:
We stand now upon the foundation of your lives works.
We stand in strength for the successes you earned
And the failures from which you learned,
Now and always, a part of your legacy.
We honor your memory and ask you to join us in this holy work.
Ancestors, accept our offering.
Offer coins.

In your mind’s eye, see them as they come. Your guides among the natural world, your allies among the heavens, and your loved ones who have departed this world, just beyond the veil. Feel them as they join you around this holy Fire, fed by the waters of the cosmos, just as we are, part of one universe in wisdom and love. Greet them and let them be welcome.

Journey to Helheim
With our guides beside us, both natural and divine, with our Ancestors awaiting us, longing for our company, We prepare to turn our minds down, down into the Underworld to the dwelling place of our loved ones and respected ones who have gone before us. All the tools you will need are available to you in the pack at your side.

First, Children of Earth, we must ward ourselves and make ready, for the sounds of life resound loudly in the Halls of the Dead. We cloak ourselves in the same manner in which Groa cloaked her son, Svipdagr, to prepare him for the journey.

First, we create a barrier that will cast off anything harmful.
    Feel the weight of the spell as a cloak upon your shoulders.
Second, we prevent ourselves from wandering, deprived of will, in the ways.
    Feel the weight of the spell as a scarf upon your head.
Third, we protect ourselves against the power of rivers which might overwhelm us and cause us to sink into the bowels of Hel.
    Feel the weight of the spell as water rushing past your feet and lapping gently at your calves.
Fourth, we turn the hearts of enemies who lie in wait for us away from their hostility.
    Feel the weight of the spell as a warmth blooming in your chest.
Fifth, we loosen any fetter that may be laid upon our limbs.
    Feel the weight of the spell as bangled jewels upon your wrists and ankles.
Sixth, we calm the raging sea, wilder than men know.
    Feel the weight of the spell as a staff in your hands.
Seventh, we preserve ourselves from death from intense cold on the high fells.
    Feel the weight of the spell as a fire before you, warming your skin.
Eighth, we protect ourselves from the malignant powers of those who lurk within, if we are suddenly overcome with darkness.
    Feel the weight of the spell as the coolness of the moon upon your face.
Ninth, we grant ourselves eloquence and wisdom when we converse with the wise and terrible giant who stands before the realm with eagle’s wings as well as with all those who dwell below.
    Feel the weight of the spell as a tingling on your tongue.
We declare ourselves protected, grounded, and ready. So be it! 

Thusly warded, we must also call on a guide whose powers will allow mortals such as ourselves not only entrance to the realm of the Dead, though we may be easily allowed in, but also a way back, for Hel does not easily release those who enter so freely into its mists. As many have done before us, we call to Sleipnir to aid and ward us in this work.

Sleipnir, Mighty Steed of Odin,
Fastest and strongest of horses
Who glides on eight stalwart legs,
Runes carved into your very teeth,
We call you now to come forth!
You have guided Odin through realms of spirit and matter,
Over land, sea and sky.
We have brought gifts for you,
which we give freely in honor and in reverence,
And in return, we ask that you guide us also as you have Hermodr
On our journey over the Gjollar bridge and into the heart of Helheim,
There to greet those who have gone before us
To commune with our Ancestors
And to honor the Goddess, Hela, in all her majesty.

See now before you, the awesome eight-legged stallion: Dark and strong, Eyes like cloudy night, Breath like the smoke of a smoldering fire. See him as he bends before you to allow you onto his back, Knowing he has accepted the request to carry us into—and back from—the Realm of the Dead.

Sleipnir, with his great speed, shall carry us through the cold ring of fire at the entrance to the burial mound, over a nine days’ journey through mists and eternal blackness to the Crystal Bridge thatched with glittering gold called Gjollar, which crosses the Gjoll River, full of weapons, flowing from the spring of Hvergelmir. The maiden, Modgudr, asks us our names and our purpose. We each give our names and state our purpose: to pay homage to the Lady who rules here and to greet our beloved dead during Winter Nights, the time of the Ancestors. She smiles to us, noting the presence of the Giant Horse, and bids us down and north, toward Helheim.

So, onward we travel, through caverns with jagged rocks and dripping waters, along Hels-way. Darkness surrounds us, and we are washed in the winds from the wings of the giant Hraesvelg who sits at the edge of the world in the form of a giant eagle. Downward, further and further, beneath the third root of Yggdrasil. In the distance, growling rumbles, most likely from Garm, the four-eyed hound with chest drenched in blood who guards the entrance to Hel. Do not fear him, for those who have given bread to the poor can easily appease him with one of the Hel cakes in the saddlebag, if he dares venture from the Gnipa-cave and into the presence of Sleipnir.

Darkness begins to give way as we approach the iron gates, thrown back in anticipation of our arrival. One final deep breath as we pass through the Gates of Hel.

And lo, there she stands, Hela, Goddess of the Underworld and Ruler of all nine realms of the dead. The power is hers at the wave of her hand to heal and to curse, Half of her body, a beautiful maiden, half of her, death and decaying flesh. She rests on her high seat, gown of black and red satin shimmering in the light of the hearth. Her cloaked face lies in shadow, with the flickering light of flames ever-changing her face.Hela, the embodiment of life and death, sits regally, perfectly balanced in her beauty and her horror. We speak to her, seeking her permission to dwell within her world:

Hela, daughter of Giants, Ruler over the Nine Realms of the Ancestors. The Children of the Earth have come to your hall to pay respect to you and to those over whom you hold dominion.  We come bearing gifts to lie at your feet, for you, into whose hands we commend our spirits at our life-journey’s end.  Dark Goddess, Hela, receive now these gifts.

We lay flowers and spirits, grains and poetry at her feet. She nods in acceptance of the bounty before her. At her pleasance, the Ancestors begin to join us in the hall.  In your mind’s eye, you begin seeking those you know are here: Mothers and Fathers, Brothers and Sisters, Grandparents, Aunts, Uncles, Cousins, and a myriad of Heart-Kin. Find those loved ones who have gone before you, greet them with all your heart, open and ready to commune awhile. See them now, whomever you hold in your heart who dwells now in these halls.

Ancestors Visitation Song:
From far beyond this mortal plane, mothers and fathers of old,
We pray that you return again, mothers and fathers of old.
To share with us the mysteries and secrets long untold,
Of the ancient ways we seek to reclaim, mothers and fathers of old.

Take a moment to make notes of all you have seen and been told here, all the wisdom Hela and the Ancestors have given to you. Mark them for remembrance as we begin the long journey home.

We bid farewell to our beloved Ancestors, sharing lingering embraces full of love. We bow and bid a humble farewell to the Queen of Helheim, Hela. We mount once more our noble guide, take one last look around the hall, and bid him take us home.

Sleipnir, you whose presence allows us to return, lead us back through the gates, onward and upward, back through the darkness through which we came. We arrive back at the Gjollar-bridge, where Modgudr nods to us and allows us to cross the bridge southward once more. Over nine days’ journey, Sleipnir, speed us back to our shrines!

Children of Earth become aware once more of the world around you and reorient yourself.
Stand, stretch, come around to full awareness.

Thanking the Beings
Before we end this work, we must thank those who have aided us.
Beginning with Hela: Dark Goddess! 
For your leadership and for the care of our dear beloved Ancestors 
after they leave our sides in this world, we are grateful. 
Hela! We thank you! Hail and Farewell!
Sleipnir! For your guidance and protection, we thank you. Hail and Farewell!
Ancestors, Nature Kin, and Shining Ones, for all your aid, 
We offer you our full honor and thanks. 
Hail and Farewell!

Thanking the Earth Mother
Nerthus, be thou blessed!
We thank you for your blessings, beauty, and bounty.
Earth Mother, we thank you.

Closing the Rite
May all be as it was, only better for having been touched by the work we have done here tonight. Go now in peace and with the blessings of the Ancestors in your memory.