I know I’m not the only Reconstructionist Pagan who owes her vocation of service to the Gods to an experiential tapestry whose oldest threads of personal magickal practice are Wiccan. As my friend Tamilia observes in her excellent WordPress blog, Wandering Woman Wondering, Wicca is “the gateway Paganism.” I consider myself particularly fortunate, however, that my involvement in Wicca and my earliest magickal training came at the hands of Chicago’s oldest, most lauded, and longest-running Gardnerian Wiccan coven, the Temple of the Sacred Stones, founded by the late Donna Cole Schultz and her husband, Robert Schultz.
Donna set the bar high for a High Priestess, whatever the Pagan denomination: she was an arduous teacher who extolled discipline and exuded Taurean tenacity and patience; she was equal Kabbalistic pillars Severity and Mercy. She ran the Temple of the Sacred Stones like a tight ship–none of this “Pagan Standard Time” tomfoolery. We celebrated the Sabbats and Esbats on their appointed, actual dates and ritual always began at 7 p.m., regardless of what day of the week it was. If you showed up at the Temple at 7:13 instead, guess what: you were barred from entering! No mercy for stragglers!
Samhain, the Great Sabbat/Fire Festival of Celtic Pagan origin widely celebrated by many witches today as “the witches’ New Year” and popularized as the beloved, secular holiday of Halloween, always bookends my memories of Donna, and makes my heart ache for her company and mentoring. I first met her and the other members of Temple of the Sacred Stones on October 31, 1999, and the last time I saw Donna alive (she fought a long, courageous battle with colon cancer) was October 31, 2003. For many years after her death on March 31, 2004 (I was living in Hawaii at the time and was stunned and horrified to learn of her passing, especially since she had been responding so well to her treatments), I felt like a spiritual orphan–a rōnin, to be more precise.
When we celebrated Samhain at Temple of the Sacred Stones, the ritual focus was on the Horned Lord (I won’t reveal the Name we called Him by) as Initiator into the Realm of Death. Far from being morbid, this focus brought emotional uplifting. To quote a now-familiar (thanks to the Internet) Gardnerian prayer dating from 1949 and frequently recited at Samhain:
“Dread Lord of the Shadows, God of Life and the Giver of life. Yet also is the knowledge of Thee the knowledge of death. Open wide, I pray Thee, Thy gates through which all must pass. Let our dear ones who have gone before, return this night to make merry with us. And when our time comes, as it must, O Thou the Comforter, the Consoler, the Giver of Peace and Rest, we will enter Thy realms gladly and unafraid, for we know that when rested and refreshed among our dear ones, we shall be born again by Thy grace and the grace of the Great Mother. Let it be in the same place and the same time as our beloved ones, and may we meet, and know, and love them again.”
Donna never encouraged us to pursue necromancy because she felt that the dead should be left in peace; if any of our beloved dead chose, of their own free will and accord, to visit us during our Samhain celebrations, they were certainly welcome to, but they certainly weren’t cajoled, coerced, or commanded into making an appearance–nor was any spirit. This philosophy had me disheartened at first, as I had always been keen to participate in a séance during Samhain and naturally thought my coven-mates would be the best people with whom to share such an experience, but I would have to wait several years. In the meantime, my ancestor altar in my home serves as the place where I continue to honor Donna’s memory and legacy of freethinking, politically oriented British Traditional Wicca. What is remembered, lives. Donna is alive, and magick is most definitely afoot.
Of course I thought of Donna this past Samhain/Halloween weekend, and I hoped that I didn’t meet with her displeasure by finally meeting my long-held goal of attending a séance, and on Halloween night, no less! My bodacious beau Dan and I braved the ridiculously winter-like weather (it was brutally cold and severely windy last Friday, plus we received a bit of dusting of snow here in Chicago, up to a quarter-inch accumulation in my NW side neighborhood; hail also fell on my car and Dan and I scooped some up and wound up offering it to Hel at my shrine for Her) in order to make it to the séance hostess’ home in the far North Side neighborhood of Rogers Park at 9-ish. She is a noted Rootworker/Conjure Woman named Liz, and she invited two male friends and business associates of hers, Caeli and Jeff (who are also Vodouisants), to conduct the séance proper as the sacrosanct apex of activity at what could have passed for an ordinary Halloween party otherwise.
Including Dan and me, there were roughly 25 people present (a handful of “newbies” to Paganism left before the séance began, to my relief)–a real mix of people with varying degrees of experience in Pagan traditions or knowledge of occultism. Furthermore, most of us didn’t know each other.
It didn’t take long for me to feel a little out of sorts, and I said as much to Dan and a couple of different people. I’d made the acquaintance of a fellow Pagan and African Diaspora Tradition believer named Michael, who said that the energies in the apartment were almost overwhelming to him; he anticipated the arrival of powerful spirits. I tried to process the energies coursing through me in such a way that I didn’t get overwhelmed and that still permitted me to maintain my gregarious, extroverted party-mode personality. Though I had liberally anointed myself with Saint Michael essential oil earlier in the evening, I regretted not having chalked up my feet with cascarilla powder as my babalawo has always advised me to do prior to exposing myself to places where spirits could be free roaming (e.g., cemeteries, places with a long and curious history to them, etc.); he told me years ago at an Ifá reading that I attract spirits, that they like to anchor themselves to me and this could obviously pose problems if I don’t ward myself effectively.
Could Caeli, the medium, have known/sensed this about me? He requested five people to join him at the séance table. I was the first person he summoned to sit; he wanted me opposite from him and slightly to his left. It was a very good vantage point, I thought, for my no-nonsense Virgo sensibilities would surely detect if theatrics, and not genuine mediumship, would manifest at the table. I would soon find out. Shortly after midnight, with everyone else either seated in rows behind me or forming a ring around the dining room walls, the séance began.
I felt myself getting lightheaded and queasy. I took slow, steady breaths from my diaphragm and exhaled just as slowly through my nose. The energies were electric, buzzing. I told myself that whatever was going to happen was going to happen–even if that meant that Something were to try to come through me. I decided I would let It if It did. And then Caeli and Jeff announced that if anyone felt dizzy, to please inform either of them. Since both Caeli and Jeff are, as I mentioned earlier, Vodouisants, the Lwa might try to make an appearance, but They would be forbidden from doing so. An appearance by a Lwa was exactly what happened first–I felt a crackling in the air and looked steadily at Caeli; I saw his facial features invariably transform into Something Other. With wide eyes, It looked about, startled, and then slumped out of the chair and Caeli’s body plopped onto the floor. Jeff and Liz tended to him immediately; Jeff had the prescribed ritual remedy in Vodou to restore Caeli and evict the Lwa and that is exactly what happened.
Mama Dantor, I surmised. That was my gut reaction.
This is real, I told myself, as if I really needed any further convincing of Caeli’s innate mediumship skills at that point.
And messages came through, several of them, for multiple people in the audience. Caeli-in-trance had face-down playing cards scattered on the table, with a single white taper candle lit before them. A black Sharpie marker lay amidst the cards. When a spirit entered Caeli with a message, he shuffled the cards and without looking at them, selected one and wrote something on the side with the card’s suit and number on it. He had Jeff deliver the card to the recipient. The spirit also spoke in question to whomever the card recipient was intended to be. Some people were recipients of more than one message.
I was one of those people.
Perhaps 20 minutes into the proceedings, as I had my eyes closed, I heard the sound of something being pushed across the table at me. I opened my eyes and Caeli’s arm was extended, pushing a card towards me. It was the 5 of Spades, and it had the word NO written in big, capital letters across it with Sharpie ink. I received the card mutely, puzzled at the message and the sender, but a different spirit was addressing someone else at that point so I kept quiet.
I decided to close my eyes and focus on my breathing and my desire to keep any feelings of dizziness at bay. I don’t know how much time elapsed from that moment until:
“Anna,” I heard a male, plaintive voice.
My eyelids flew open instantly. And I found that my gaze was irrevocably locked onto eyes that definitely didn’t belong to Caeli. How can I describe what it’s like to gaze into the eyes of a discarnate person? Pools of blackness, and wisdom, and suffering–black mirrors flashing before me both the beauty/power and horror of the grave.
“Anna,” he said again, and I slowly nodded, feeling that I’d entered a trance state myself.
We stared into each other’s being for a long, long time before the spirit spoke. He asked me why I kept it locked in, why I put such restraint on myself. I digested this puzzling question slowly before I decided to voice my response, which amounted to a question of clarification: what am I repressing, exactly, an emotional state or something else? The spirit kept its eerie gaze on me and replied by stating that I’d been searching for my home for a long time, that I’ve tried so many different spiritual paths, that I really needed to have a long period of time set apart for going within and finally finding the path that I’ve been seeking for so long. I was close to it, but it hasn’t revealed itself to me yet. But it will if I do this protracted exercise of “diving within.” In the darkness.
I nodded slowly, feeling like a somnambulist. I was aware of barely blinking in the presence of the spirit. But my Ordinary Consciousness/Virgo ego clawed its way to the forefront of my cerebral cortex: Find out who you’re speaking with, it wanted to know. Is this the ghost you’ve been sensing in your home from time to time since February?
“Have you visited my home recently?” I asked the spirit.
Eyes still locked on mine, he shook Caeli’s head slowly. No.
“May I ask with whom I’m speaking?”
Caeli-in-trance selected a card without looking at it, flipped it over, and wrote something. The card was once again pushed across the table at me. I had a hard time reading the scrawled block capital letters in the pale light of the small taper candle, but I did manage to make out the name: HENRY. I scanned him to see if he was in fact the ghost of a Czech immigrant from the turn of the last century that I have had as a sporadic visitor in my home. I sensed that Henry wasn’t. Czech Ghost, as I’ve come to call him, is at least in his late 30s. Henry struck me as the spirit of someone younger, a younger man–maybe even in his late teens.
Hence I found it fitting that the card given to me with “HENRY” scrawled across it happened to be the Jack of Hearts. It indicates a young man with romantic intentions.
Henry sighed and left Caeli’s body, and I sustained a serious bout of shivering. I shivered much for the remainder of the séance, feeling energy tingle throughout my central nervous system, especially in my nipples. It was usually after a spirit left Caeli’s body that my body would react. I continued to keep my eyes closed and at one point I “saw” another spirit–an elderly female of African-American descent in a vibrant orange and purple dress. She had a shock of frizzy, white hair and seemed to be interested in one of the women in the room, I sensed. Someone’s grandmother? I wondered.
At 2 a.m. on Saturday, November 1, Caeli announced that the spirits had left. That was it; he had no one else arriving and the séance ended. Some people continued to linger at the table and break out their cigars to honor the Lwa. I was decidedly feeling out of sorts again, but this time, to quote the poet Coleridge, “sadder and wiser,” for the card of the 5 of Spades was explained to me by Liz as referring to a warning about sickness, even to the point of death. She advised me to get my lingering bleeding duodenal ulcer and ulcerative colitis issues I’d confided to her about checked out. Neither she nor I have any idea what the word “NO” scrawled on that 5 of Spades card means for me. Could it be a negation of sickness? That’s how I’m choosing to look at it now.
Dan and I hung out in the living room for a little while longer but the need to sleep overcame us both. After all, we had a long crosstown drive back to my place to endure. And the winds were still whipping up snow crystals. Crazy.
So that was my memorable Halloween night–a séance first for me and Dan both. The next night–Saturday, November 1–Dan and I decided to craft a Samhain ritual honoring Hekate and Odin; we conducted it in my home temple space.
After the ritual’s climactic event and before blessing the Cakes and Ale, we did two sets of divination to determine if Odin and Hekate, respectively, were pleased with the proceedings. We drew three runes to represent Odin’s perspective and three Tarot cards to represent Hekate’s: respectively, we drew Dagaz, Berkana, and Raidho followed by the 3 of Wands, the 6 of Pentacles, and the 6 of Swords. Truly, They were pleased! As were we. The night was especially poignant for me as a relationship milestone; though Dan and I celebrated our one-year-anniversary in September, this was our first Samhain together, and I was giddy as a schoolgirl. (We vowed to one year dress up as Baron Samedi and Maman Brigitte!)
We enjoyed a quiet night afterwards and the bliss of sleeping in late the following morning, and then waking up to discover that it was Daylight Standard Time and we gained an extra hour: yaay! Time was spent housecleaning and getting ready for our Chicago Fellowship of Isis Lyceum of Alexandria’s Samhain gathering at 4 p.m. I was technically hosting it, even though the ritual itself, The Communion with the World of Spirits, would be held at the nearby cemetery on Chicago’s Northwest side known as Read-Dunning Memorial Park. Per chthonic tradition, I set up our altar on the ground; the white clay figurine is the statue/rattle I made that represents the Morrighàn; She is the second piece I made when I discovered I have a talent for sculpting:
There were six of us in attendance that night, including a new friend Dan and I made who has connections with the Aum-Ha O.T.O. Lodge here in Chicago. The bulbous, skull-white waxing gibbous moon shone over our shoulders in the east, and it was a truly witchy and wonderful (albeit cold) night for further Samhain celebrations.
Upon concluding the ritual, we sallied forth to my humble home and had a lovely potluck feast while Hela, the mischievous, one-eyed Aries kitten Dan and I rescued back in May, cavorted about, to the delight of all.
Samhain, like Yuletide, for me extends over a period of days. Each day–and night–of its duration is a wonderful opportunity to reflect on the past and on the Mighty Dead of the Gardnerian Wiccan tradition I hail from, as well as an opportunity to forge wonderful new traditions with my cherished partner Dan and Chicago’s Fellowship of Isis community and wider Pagan/polytheist community. Hearkening back to the wonderful witchy ways of my magickal training, what else is there to say to cap off this Wyrd post except…
Eko, eko, Azarak
Eko, eko, Zomelak
Bazabi lacha bachabe
Lamac cahi achababe
Lamac lamac Bachalyas
Lagoz atha cabyolas
Samahac atha famolas