Grave Dirt, Ancestor Allies, and Protection in the Night

by Gwen

This evening I did a little Samhain ritual I’ve been doing for years, and it started with a CAYA ritual.  The ritual had involved honoring the ancestors in the leadup to Samhain, or the Festival of Death and Wisdom, and at the end we all went home with one or two wax paper bags of graveyard dirt mixed with shredded newspaper obituaries.  They came with a little placard:

                PRAYER: Ancestors, we honor and remember you.  Bless us and protect us in this new witches’ year.  Blessed Be.

                WORKING: Charge the envelope on your altar until Samhain night.  Then, draw a sigil or symbol in front of your door with the graveyard dirt as you say the prayer.

Instead of a sigil I draw a protective threshold line across each of the ways into my home—front, side, back, and garage door.  The magic is palpable, and strengthens each year I renew the practice.  I’m almost completely out of my original dirt (which lives on or in my altar year-round).  A couple of years ago I replenished my supply, spending a day at a local cemetery giving flowers to and talking with the long-dead, and collecting bits of dirt from the graves of those who consented to be part of this magic for my home.  (If this ritual speaks to you and you decide to gather your own, remember that the offerings and seeking of consent are important! and consider avoiding the more recently dead, whose connections to their particular lives and descendants can be very strong.)

Life gets complicated and hard.  People hurt one another.  People die or move or pull apart.  Sickness, violence, natural disaster, layers of oppressions—all of these losses and pains, great and small, can feel heavier in the season of death and growing dark.  This simple, strong ritual reminds me to stay connected to the living-dying-rebirthing soil (from dust to dust) and to the ancestors who have lived through it all before us, who can hold us when it hurts and look out for us and aid us as we make it better.  The ritual helps me maintain a sturdy sacred shield around the haven of my family hearth, a place we can come home to heal—and can bring guests who need to share in that healing.

I danced over the weekend with my dead grandfather.  When he was eleven years old his roughhousing friends accidentally pushed him out into the path of an oncoming school bus, and it ran over his legs.  I’ve always known this story, but this year I connected especially with the scared eleven-year-old boy who spent three months in the hospital uncertain if he would ever walk again... and learning, slowly and stubbornly, to break through every limitation that his doctors soberly told his parents to expect.  At a different ritual, I looked at the black-and-white faces of my grandmothers and great-grandmothers who, like me, lived with migraines.  They carried on in a time when treatment for the condition was limited and acknowledgement of its seriousness was much less (it’s just a “women’s problem” after all).

Who are your ancestors—blood or affinity—who inspire you and help you get through hard times?  Who can you ask for more help when you need it?  And how might your allies help you protect your own hearth (even if it’s just a rented room or the space around your bed) so you have a safe and healing place to come home to?

Samhain-ish Events 2017

The Samhain season is so rich with witchy, magic-y, fun, spooky (and sacred) events that I have created a list of all the ones I know about for this year.  Some are scary, some are not - if it includes costumes or pumpkins or honouring the Beloved Dead, I've probably included it!


CAYA Pagan Congregation’s Death & Wisdom Festival 2016

Come As You Are to...

Death & Wisdom Festival 2016
with CAYA Pagan Congregation

In honor of this, our 10th birthday weekend, we are inviting folks to join us for any or all of these FOUR Events:
Rite of the Underworld Crone, 10/28 - women only
Rite of Death & Wisdom, 10/29- open to all
Dark Moon Circle for Hecate, Queen of Crossroads, 10/30 - open to all
Dia de Los Muertos, 11/2- open to all

Rite of the Underworld Crone
Friday, October 28, 8:00-10:00PM
The Home of Truth Cottage (round back), 1300 Grand Street, Alameda
$10-$20 donation requested
Women-only, clothing-optional ritual

High Priestess Yeshe Rabbit and the Mothers of the New Time will be honoring Baba Yaga, and the ways in which wisdom emerges from the poisonous trials of life.

Rite of Death & Wisdom
Saturday, October 29,
Doors open at 6:30, ritual begins at 7:30

The Home of Truth, 1300 Grand Street, Alameda
$10-$20 donation requested
Open to all, children must be closely supervised by a parent at all times.

Our community gathers for our annual devotional to the Ancestors and the cthonic deities associated with the mysteries of death.
This year, we are especially honouring Inanna, Ereshkigal, Melinoe, Hekate, and Bassareus Dionysos. Please feel free to bring an Ancestor photo for the altar, and a clearly-labelled dish to share during the cakes and ale portion of the ritual.

Temple of Hecate, Queen of Crossroads
Sunday, October 29, 8:00-10:00PM
The Sacred Well, 536 Grand Avenue, Oakland
Donations gratefully accepted

Dark Moon gathering honoring the Queen of the Dead, and the wisdom Ancestors who have come before us. We do this each month, but this month we will have a special activity to connect with ancestral wisdom.

Dia de Los Muertos
Wednesday, November 2, Meet at 6:30PM
22nd and Bryant Streets, San Francisco

Our new Templo in honor of Santissima Muerte will be launching its activities at this celebration. We will be building an ofrenda and participating in the procession to Garfield Park. Ven con nosotros!

Forest Archery and Talking About Death: Moments in the Devotion and Community of a CAYA Priestess

by Gwen

I’m in two cults, or religious affinity circles, within CAYA, and I had awesome and fulfilling experiences with both recently.  I wanted to share the joy and meaning of these two different moments in the life of this CAYA priestess.

The Sisters of the Huntress, dedicated to Artemis and Diana, do almost everything in the woods.  It feels amazing to have a pack of awesome women who are down for putting the earth back in earth-based spirituality and following our Lady into Her wild places.  In September we made offerings of nuts, Greek olives, and water to Her and to the trees of the forest, and then headed into the woods for a day of archery and camaraderie—and our annual business meeting, held during a snack break on the trail.   I learned archery as a young Girl Scout, and it feels very right to be doing it again now as a religious act of a devotee of Artemis, among other devotees.  I’m not very good (yet!) but that’s not the point.  The bow and arrow and the company of sisters and forest bring me closer to my Goddess: not the lightning bolt of complete communion, but rather the sustained joy of hiking with a beloved old friend on a trail my feet know by heart.

This is me and my bow, ten minutes after our business meeting was concluded under a nearby tree.  I’m just sayin’.

This is me and my bow, ten minutes after our business meeting was concluded under a nearby tree.  I’m just sayin’.

And in the realm of Hekate, Torch-Bearer who lights the way for the dead, last month I had the privilege of leading Her Strophalos worship circle at the Sacred Well.  (The circle is allied with the CAYA Crossroads of Hekate cult.)  We processed Her statue to its honored place at the circle’s center, called in the crossroads of the realms of earth, sea, and sky, and invited Her allies of snake, horse, and hound.  All who wished, made offerings of red wine, olive bread, fig cookies.  And then I led a modification of an exercise I learned in my chaplaincy training in which all participants think concretely about their priority concerns regarding their own inevitable deaths.  (You can find an online version of the original exercise, Go Wish, here.)  I invite each of you to think about it too as you read this.  During contemplation and discussion, everyone narrowed down the things they expect to most care about when they are dying: freedom from pain or anxiety?  Ease of breathing?  Being clean?  Trusting one’s nurse or doctor?  Having family or friends present?  Having one’s financial affairs arranged?  Making peace within damaged relationships?  Having an advocate who clearly understands one’s wishes and values?  Having prayer, religious music, or ritual at one’s bedside?  Prolonging life with feeding tubes, IVs, or other measures (under what circumstances, for how long)?  We reviewed together the importance of communicating these desires to our loved ones so that when the time comes (hopefully a long way off for most of us, but guaranteed to every living thing) we have the kind of death we would want to have.  I’m a hospice chaplain, and I’ve seen the family-breaking fights and heart-rending physical pain that can happen when people don’t make their wishes known ahead of time.  After a discussion, we closed with divination and gratitudes to the Goddess and Her present allies.

Each CAYA cult is different, as each deity and each devotee are different.  I’m grateful to be part of a community that enthusiastically embraces such a diversity of expression of worship and love for the divine.  How do you live your devotion and your relationships with God/ess/es, ancestors, and allies?  As we swiftly approach Samhain, the honoring of the dead and for many of us, the turning of the year, it’s an opportunity for contemplation, evaluation, and celebration.  Blessed Be!

Samhain-ish Events 2016

The Samhain season is so rich with witchy, magic-y, fun, spooky (and sacred) events that I have created a list of all the ones I know about for this year.  Some are scary, some are not - if it includes costumes or pumpkins or honouring the Beloved Dead, I've probably included it!