We had a very deep and wonderful celebration for Samhain yesterday.
We met up at Arthur’s Stone in the late afternoon, in the hopes of seeing both the Two Lights (Sun and Moon) in the sky together. It was brilliant sunshine but with a light bitter wind from the Arctic; everyone was quite well wrapped so not a problem. The views were clear, Hay Bluff and the Cat’s Back standing up against the sky like the backs of sleeping dragons; the Skirrid stood up tall with his usual sloping shoulder but it wasn’t clear enough to glimpse the Sugar Loaf.
Archaeologists call Arthur’s Stone a burial chamber of the ‘multi-chamber’ variety but I’ve never found this to be a satisfactory description. Few bodies are ever found in these places and the construction suggests quite other uses. Arthur’s Stone is Neolithic, dating from some 5,500 years ago. The roof has partly collapsed and some of the stones were removed during the 19th century; the earthen mound which once covered it is gone now although earthworks are visible around it.
It is set on the top of a hill at an ancient crossroads: on way goes along the ridge, roughly east-west, from many miles back likely passing over Garway, Orcop and Moccas hills to Merbach where it has to descend down some 400 meters of near sheer cliff. This road is one of the ley lines Alfred Watkins found and photographed, you can sense its energy as you stand and walk along it. Crossing this ridgeway track at Arthur’s stone is a footpath going, quite probably, from the Skirrid and the Sugar Loaf in the south on northwards maybe into Shropshire. Kington, Presteigne and Knighton are on the line of it and maybe Welshpool as well. Our ancestors travelled far and wide on foot, they were neither insular nor ignorant of the world they lived in.
We arrived, asked permission to enter the space which was granted and went in. The spirits of place many of us find ourselves working with there are Ceridwen and Gwyn ap Nudd; both are powers of transformation and Gwyn has the job of psychopomp as well: Lady and Lord of liminal spaces, thresholds where we pass from where we were to where we are.
Samhain is about this, transmutation, for it’s not about changing one’s form but about a change of the essence. It’s the turning of the year, the going down into the darkness of the womb to return out of it again with new purpose for the coming year. Arthur’s Stone is ideal for rituals of this sort. The cave-like structure, once buried deep in the soil, the body of the Earth, has a low curved passage-entrance; it is like the womb and the passage is like the entrance to the womb, the vagina. When it was an earthen howe we would have had to crawl down the passage, hardly bigger than ourselves, with perhaps no light at the end of the tunnel; nowadays although we still crawl it is light above and we are not trapped and constrained within the birth-passage.
We began the ceremony with drumming while I make fire and Annie lit the incense inside the cave at the further end from where the passage entered. I stayed in the cave, keeping the fire and holding the up for everyone who came in. The cup contained sloe brandy that I made a couple of years ago; sloe, the blackthorn tree, is Ceridwen’s tree; its fruit her fruit, dark and red and full of sweetness the longer it matures.
Each person crawled down the passage and then over the stone that now blocks the old entrance into the cave with the fire, the cup and me. Everyone chose to lie for a moment on the great slab, curled, listening, waiting for the powers to speak and I’m sure they did for everyone. Each had left something behind as they went into the passage but also brought something as gift for the Lady and the Lord of the Threshold. I found myself there to speak for Ceridwen; she asked each one, “What have you brought to exchange for a drink from my cup?” It was a very powerful question and shook me too each time I spoke it for the goddess. Whatever the person had brought went into the flames of the fire whether words or physical object. Ceridwen and Gwyn then told them to take what they needed as they drank of the cup, and to take it out into the world to give to the world. To leave they had to crawl over and by the fire so each was smudged by the smoke.
I too had to drink, and to promise to give away what I gained from the drink. It’s so powerful … and so simple; no great theatrical performance but something close and intimate with the goddess and the god; something of great value to each person. To do it as a group adds more value; we each sense and feel with our friends as they do their own ritual, we are part of it. We are each witness to the promises of the others although we don’t need to know what each promise is. We all felt the change; that we had indeed crossed a threshold that was very important to us … and to the work we are here to do, even if we were not sure how that work would pan out.
We rounded the celebration off with all of us drumming. In the midst of this Michelle and Diane saw a sheep on her back in the field beside us. Four of us went off straight away to assist the sheep. Poor girl, she was heavily pregnant with twins, there was no way she could have got up on her own and all three of them, mother and babes, would have died if we’d not seen her. Eva pulled her up and she ran off a short way then turned to look back. It was very good to know we had saved three lives.
I find it so beautiful to work this way with friends, out there in the land where we live, at an ancient place where our ancestors of more than 5,000 years ago also did their work and rituals. It’s a connection across time, a linking, knowing oneself a part of the Web, the Wyrd …