The Highest of the High Holy Days
The Veil between the worlds is said to be thinnest at the Great Sabbat of Samhain. It's just as thin, however, at Beltane, the opposite spoke on the Wheel of the Year. The focus, however, couldn't be more different. May-Day's energy is about light, life, and birth. Nature and nature spirits abound and it's easier to see and communicate with them. Magic for growth excels.
At Samhain, the energy is about darkness, introspection, and yes, death. We are beginning the journey of the inward spiral. We are at the threshold of winter, which is a mirror of death. Nature goes all but dormant. The trees shed their leaves and reveal the bare bones underneath just as we humans hang skeletons on our doors. Bones represent our core. Our depths. They are what lies within us, beneath all the window dressing of flesh and hair and personality and foliage.
What are we really? In one of the oldest written-down stories, the Goddess Inanna descends into the Underworld, which is ruled by her dark sister Ereshkigal. In order to get there, she must pass through seven gates, and each gate's guardian requires her to leave something behind before she can pass through. At the first gate, her crown, (or turban) is removed from her head. At the second, the lapis lazuli beads are taken from her neck. At the third, the "twin nunuz stones" are taken from her breasts. At the fourth gate she must surrender her breastplate, "come, man, come." At the fifth, the golden ring from her hand. At the sixth, the lapis lazuli measuring rod and measuring line is removed from her hand. At gate seven, the pala garment of ladyship, her dress, is removed, and she arrives at last in the Underworld, stripped bare.
The symbolism of this is multi layered. Each of Inanna's items is also referred to in the ancient texts as a power. She has gathered the seven powers, and now she must leave them as she descends.
In death, we leave all our earthly powers behind. We take nothing with us but ourselves. As we descend into the symbolic death of the darkest months of the year, we leave behind all the trappings we identify as "me" so that we may come face to face with what remains. Who and what we truly are.
When we remove the masks we wear in life, we have no choice but to sit with that which we truly are. As we pass through the threshold of Samhain into the dark part of the year, we enter a period where we are intended to pause in all our manic creating, and to live with and reflect upon what we are.
When we strip away all that we carry, all those parts of our identity we think are us; the mom, the grammy, the wife, the writer, the shopkeep, the friend, the lover, the mentor, the student, the witch... we strip away all of it, and stand with only our innermost selves stripped bare. We stand before a dark mirror (for what is Inanna's dark sister but her own dark reflection?) Here we can look and try to see our truest, deepest self. We are trees who have dropped all our leaves. Here we can examine the bones of who we really are, underneath all the trappings of our lifetime.
The Purpose of the Pause
When we pass through the Veil for real, all our baggage is left behind and we are light, pure and free, with clarity we've never imagined in life. But we do not have to wait for physical death to begin this process of self-reflection. If we live in harmony with the seasons, then we pass through the gates to the Underworld in token (symbolically) every year at Samhain (in the Northern Hemisphere.)
If we take the time to observe the holy days to align with nature and her seasonal, cyclical changes throughout the year, we can check in annually, taking stock of what we have planted, grown, and gathered in our lives. We can sort it and examine it, deciding what was good for us and what weighed us down and how the innermost ME has changed with the past seasons of spring and summer. Who are we, underneath it all? What serves us and what does not? It's only when we strip it all away that we can get an accurate look at ourselves. And only with this annual check-in, can we adjust and optimize for the years yet to come.
Annual Samhain Questions
Has the year brought us growth and expansion, or stillness and stagnation?
Have we experience problems or challenges this year?
From an objective distance, what do we think those problems were trying to push us toward?
How did they cause us to grow? What did we learn?
How are we different at Samhain than we were at Imbolc, Ostara, Beltane?
What have we gathered to us this year? What qualities? What beliefs? What habits of thought?
What things have we picked up that we now wish to leave behind?
What things have we picked up that we wish to bring with us into the new year?
What are the masks we have worn this year? Who does the world think we are? (The roles we play.)
Answer these questions for yourself as we wind down to the end of October. Write down the answers. Meditate a lot. Keep a list of the roles you play, such as mother, sister, daughter, friend, entrepreneur, writer, guru, fortune teller, counselor, wife, lover, worker, etc. These are the things we'll strip off in the ritual below.
The Descent of Inanna Samhain Ritual PREP
This ritual is best done outdoors or in a large room indoors.
You need enough room to walk in a widdershins (counterclockwise circle that spirals smaller and smaller until you reach the center. *If you have impaired mobility, you can walk the spiral inside your mind. Sit in one place, close your eyes and visualize yourself walking the inward spiral.
You should gather seven items you can remove and leave behind as you spiral inward. You can try to match Inanna's items (crown, necklace, nunuz stones which are egg-shaped, breastplate, golden ring, measuring line and rod, pala garment of ladyship.) Or make up your own. Use jewelry, scarves, belts, tiaras, even shoes. But whatever you use, be sure it's light and easy. Big, heavy, cumbersome things will get in our way.
Place a chair, and a cauldron with an unlit candle inside in the very center of your spiral. You can decorate the chair. It represents the throne of your dark sister, queen of the Underworld. Your secret, innermost self. The leafless bones of your tree. The you, you are without all the trappings.
Decide where the seven "gates" will be. The first is at the beginning of your walk, and the seventh is at the end, near the center. If doing this ritual from a seated position, all the gates are in the same place where you are.
Have your list of the your masks, your roles, at hand. You should decide ahead of time which of the things you are wearing represent which of the personalities you have played throughout the year.
The room should be lit only by candlelight. If there is music is should be deep and solemn -- dirge.
*I like to create the spiral path with candles. It's a highly visual, highly stimulating method. BUT you must take care with trailing skirts, scarves, sleeves, etc. Especially if the candles are on the floor. You can also create the spiral path with stones, or even a trail of salt, you can draw it on the floor or mow a spiral into the grass. You could even line the path with small pumpkins and gourds for an imaginative touch.
Meditate in preparation.
Cast a circle and open the quarters if you so desire.
Step into the outermost circle of the spiral, and walk (or imagine walking) to the first gate. There, remove the first item. Hold it up in offering and say:
Here I leave the _____ (mother, wife, etc.) She is my creation, but she is not me. I am She who resides inside my flesh, within my bones. I am She who sees through my eyes and speaks through my lips. I am Source Energy, eternal and divine. I am Goddess.
As you set the item aside (the crown, the necklace, etc.) imagine that you really are setting aside the role. Imagine you are no longer a mother or a writer or a teacher at all. Imagine you never really were.Understand that you chose this role to play in this lifetime, but it is only a role. You are the actor, not the role. This is an important part of the journey of the inward spiral.
Don't worry! You can pick up what you want again on the return trip.
Repeat these lines at the second gate, and the third, each time, leaving behind one of your items.
When you have passed the 7th gate, you will arrive at the center, the throne. The final item removed can be the dress or robe you are wearing. Do this part according to your level of comfort with nudity. If anything remains on your body after the seventh gate it should be one item, light and thin, like a shift or nightgown. Better yet, nothing at all.
Now that you surrendered all that you believed yourself to be, you are the core of yourself, the unencumbered, fully revealed being of light. Pure Source energy, Divine energy, beaming through you. Take your seat upon the throne. For you have become the Queen of your inner world.
Sit for a while, just BEING. As thoughts come, release them. Spend some time just experiencing yourself as a clean slate, as a Divine beam, as a soul without a name. Feel the power of that.
Pay attention to what you experience here.
The Outward Spiral
When you feel ready, rise from the throne, but know a part of you remains. Your innermost being. Your Dark Sister. She is dark because she is secret, not because she is evil. She is you. She's not even a she, but is genderless. Even that role cannot define her.
Honor her before you leave her in whatever way feels right to you, remembering that she is you and you are she.
Blow a kiss. Know the absolute power of this throne, of this inner-being, is always within you and available to you. The roles you play cannot come between you.
Turn and begin to walk back along the spiral, deosil (clockwise) this time. At the seventh gate, pick up the item you left there. Say:
Here I reclaim the (mother, wife, writer, etc).She is my creation, but she is not me. I am She who resides inside my flesh, within my bones. I am the Dark Sister who sees through my eyes and speaks through my lips. I am Source Energy, eternal and divine. I am Goddess.
If there are parts of this role you do not wish to take with you, state it, and leave them behind.
I leave behind the need to control. I leave behind jealousy. I leave behind insecurity. I leave behind overwhelm.
Any parts of that particular role that have not served you, need not be reclaimed.
Do this at the seventh gate, then the sixth, the fifth, and so on, each time putting the item back on as you move along, all the way to the first gate.
Step out of the spiral.
If you have cast a circle and opened the quarters, then dismiss the quarters and take up the circle.
Ground and center your energy.
It is done.
Have a grain-based snack to help ground your energy. Go straight to your journal and record everything about your experience. Any thoughts, ideas, images, visions or feelings that came to you during it.
Notice how different you feel and make notes about that.