Tuesday, October 30, 2012

A Samhain ritual text

I was blessed to have my girlfriend and some of our mutual friends over for my Samhain ritual on Sunday. A lot of people talk about the dearth of ritual material in the CR community, or they worry about "doing it wrong," or they're just not sure what it might look like to do a ritual that derives from the various Celtic traditions.

For these reasons, and others, I'm posting the text of the ritual we did this weekend in the hope that, if you're feeling uninspired, it might give you a few ideas to work with. There's a lot more out there now than there used to be, but it can still be hard to find things that resonate, or that seem appropriate.

This ritual derives from Irish and Scottish materials. I'll add some notes at the end of the text. Setting an ancestor altar is the central aspect of this ritual, as is the making of offerings to them as our guests at the feast.


Samhain ritual, October 28, 2012

Scél lem dúib
Dordaid dam
Snigid gaim
Ro faith sam

I have tidings for you
The stag bells
Winter pours
Summer has gone

Gáeth ard úar
Ísel grían
Gair a rrith
Ruirthech rían

Wind is high and cold
The sun is low
Its course is short
The sea runs strongly

Rorúad rath
Ro cleth cruth
Ro gab gnáth
Guigrann guth

Bracken is very red
Its shape has been hidden
The call of the barnacle-goose
Has become unusual

Ro gab úacht
Etti én
Aigre ré
É mo scél

Cold has seized
The wings of birds
Season of ice
These are my tidings

[Juniper purification]

Peace up to heaven
Heaven down to earth
Earth beneath heaven
Strength in each
A cup very full
Full of honey
Mead in abundance
Peace up to heaven

Power of raven be thine
Power of eagle be thine
Power of the fian

Power of storm be thine
Power of moon be thine
Power of sun

Power of sea be thine
Power of land be thine
Power of heaven.

[Three Realms acknowledgement]

We stand within the embrace of muir mas, nem nglas, talam cé – the beautiful sea, the blue sky, the ever-present earth. We stand here now, beneath the nine hazels at the center of the world, at the lip of the well of wisdom.

I call upon all the powers that exist in land, sea, and sky
I call upon you at the edge of the year
I call upon every creature to be at peace with us
Let our beloved dead be remembered
Let them find a place at our table
Let them find joy in our remembering
May we speak of them with love
May we remember them with kindness
May we be blessed by their presence

[Lighting the fire]

I light the fire as Brigid lit
With the spark from her forge
With light from her well
With the fire from her soul

[Set the altar with photos, candles, and mementos]

[Place the group offering of food on the altar before the ancestors]

We give whisky to you for your welcome
For your thirst we give you milk
Food of the feast for you, first of all shares
Be welcome among us


[Personal offerings and prayers to the ancestors (music/poetry/etc)]

[Neep carving]

[Ancestor meditation]


[Closing and Departure]

We are always within the embrace of muir mas, nem nglas, talam cé – the beautiful sea, the blue sky, the ever-present earth. Wherever we walk, we stand upon the land. Wherever we are, the sea surrounds us. Wherever we breathe, we are beneath the sky.

Hear us, ancestors and beloved dead
You who have shared our feast
We have made our offerings
We have offered our prayers
We have remembered you
Remember us kindly
Watch over us through the darkness of the year
Hold us in your hearts with love

[Offerings into the fire]

Take the substance of the feast with you
Take food and drink for your health
Take with you our thoughts and the warmth of our memories
Our blessings go with you as you walk


The opening poem is from the early Irish tradition and can be found in Gerard Murphy's Early Irish Lyrics. It is dated to the 9th or 10th century CE and is attributed to Fionn mac Baiscne.

Purification with juniper has been discussed here before, and the practice originates in Scotland. The stanza of "peace up to heaven" is from the response of the Morrígan to Badb after the Second Battle of Mag Tuired. The remainder of this purification and blessing is from the Carmina Gadelica, a collection of Scottish Gaelic prayers, songs, and charms.

The concept of the three realms of land, sea, and sky is found in a great number of early Irish sources, and similar cosmological patterns can be found in other Celtic cultures. The phrase muir mas, nem nglas, talam cé is found in the 8th century poems of Blathmac. This cosmological triad is discussed in some depth in Liam MacMathúna's article Irish Perceptions of the Cosmos, published in Celtica 23, 1999.

Turnip lanterns are the origin of the American custom of carving pumpkin lanterns at Halloween.

The line "I light the fire as Brigid lit" is from fire kindling prayers in the Carmina Gadelica.

The rest of the text is original, but inspired by the patterns and poetry of the Gaelic traditions. This weaving together of traditional sources and modern inspiration is at the heart of how I do Celtic Reconstructionist polytheist rituals. Knowing that there aren't any complete and intact pre-Christian Gaelic ritual texts, we need to make do with what's available, and to trust ourselves to gain enough understanding to work with what does exist and expand upon it.

I wish you all a blessed Samhain.

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