Red Oak Grove’s Samhain/Calan Gaeaf

This last Saturday I attended Red Oak Grove‘s Samhain / Calan Gaeaf ritual. This was my first ritual in attendance as an official friend of the grove (first level of membership). I also brought my husband to the event, and though he hadn’t planned to attend the ritual part of it at first, right before we processed off to the ritual site he asked to come along (with our little dog Rolo in tow).

This ritual was my first group ritual after dark, lit by a torch, the ritual fire, some jack o’ lanterns around the edge, and the occasional flashlight for the ritual leaders to see what they were doing or reading. A list of those who have died since last Calan Gaeaf was read, along with a phrase or two of their contributions. We were then invited to remember aloud a loved one who has passed on, and I remembered my mother’s mother. Her memory has always weighed heavily on my mind: in childhood for the stories my mom always told, and as an adult as I’ve seen the pain my mom experienced in her grief for her mother, which has only recently really healed enough for my mom to move on and live her life more fully.

The omens were perfectly tied to the time of year and the event of Halloween, which was pretty awesome.

I really appreciated the symbolism behind literally stumbling around in the dark, and how the light (electronic or fire-based) then illuminated the way. I also have rarely appreciated the warmth of a fire pit so much as this weekend, when nights dropped to freezing temperatures and when I was bundled in what never seemed like enough layers of clothing! I think it’s rare for humans in modern society to experience such a sharp desire and need for fire. During the day, our tent was warmed by the light of the sun that was trapped and insulated within, providing quite a snuggly retreat.

On the way to the event, I listened to the DruidCast podcast episode 76, in which Kristopher Hughes discussed being a medical examiner of the dead and his own views on death and dying. The process of grief for a loved one is something I have only recently understood, experiencing the death of a pet and my husband’s grandparents as an adult. That process helped me empathize with my mother enough to understand how she could cause such pain to her loved ones while suffering in grief. I would not have been able to rekindle our relationship without this deeper understanding. Death is a part of the human experience, but the grieving process does not receive a lot of real understanding and empathy by our society (except for some sympathy, turning to pity and then frustration when someone doesn’t just “get over it”).

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