When I’m drawn to write about events that have affected me deeply for one reason or another I always wonder if it’s the appropriate thing to do or not. I guess writing to express one’s feelings on a matter is fine and, as in this case, can be very therapeutic, but whether or not to publish it can be a dilemma. It just seems a shame to put so much effort into the creation of something that will never be shared with anyone else, so here are my musings, inspired by the events of a Samhain retreat I attended…
The group gathered around the fire pit in readiness for the ritual to honour Hephaestus. The area had already been prepared, save for the removal of two rogue sprouts of fern in the main circle area. If left, they would have been doomed to a prolonged death by trampling (even if only accidental) plus dehydration and shriveling in the intense heat of the fire that was soon to be lit only a metre or less away from where they currently were. Any hope of saving them was totally unrealistic. The larger one also posed a potential danger to the participants in the ritual, with the risk of someone tripping in the darkness on the tangled, trampled fern and falling into the fire.
The ferns’ demise was reasonably quick and comparatively painless (in contrast with the scenario outlined above) as I pulled each one out of the ground, not without some slight pangs of guilt though. Silently I said, “Sorry little guys, you have to go”, before removing each one (the smallest, a “Common Bracken” Pteridium aquilinum and the largest a “False Bracken” probably Calochlaena dubia) then throwing them into the surrounding undergrowth to lie with their kin well outside the fire pit. A disapproving, judgemental sounding voice behind me said something like, “That was a bit rough.” It threw me for a second and I felt hurt because I thought I was being helpful and considerate, yet I could tell from the tone that here was someone seriously accusing me of a wrong doing and an act of cruelty. Or, maybe I was mistaken? …overly sensitive perhaps? In any case, others agreed the ferns had to go and, as far as I knew, no-one else gave the matter a second thought …time to get over it and move on. The whole brief event was of no great importance and was forgotten …or so I thought.
The gift of fire!
We proceeded with the ritual, and what a rowdy and enjoyable occasion it was as we called on Hephaestus, who brought us the gift of fire! We then noisily petitioned Zeus on Hephaestus’ behalf to allow Hephaestus back home to Mt Olympus, with the happy outcome resulting in much rejoicing and cheering, followed by merriment and celebration with feasting and drinking on into the night.
Midnight came and went and still we gathered around the fire in a spirit of true friendship and camaraderie. It was a very good night! By around 4am and maybe 5am for some, the last of the revelers staggered back to their rooms for what little sleep they could get before the activities planned for later that same day.
A new dawn
Later in the morning we awoke to find that one of our group (who was one of the last to leave the fire pit in the wee hours) had not been to bed at all but instead had decided to go home without saying goodbye or giving any reason for their sudden departure. This led to wild speculation as to what the reason could possibly be, but also a great deal of worry and genuine concern by the rest of us for this person and their well-being, especially in light of other circumstances surrounding their hasty and ill-timed exit.
After a delicious breakfast followed by some free time to explore the gardens and bushland or just relax in the sun, the group assembled in the main hall to learn about the deadly herb Belladonna (Atropa belladonna) and its long history of use throughout the ages as a medicine, cosmetic and a poison. As this was a Samhain retreat it was an appropriate herb to study, with its correspondences with Saturn, Mars, Death, Earth, the Goddess Hecate and its magickal uses as a funeral herbe, and many other suitable attributes for use at Samhain.
In the afternoon we meditated while holding pieces of hematite to see what our impressions of that stone were, then made clay talismans incorporating either our hematite stones or hematite beads, and a symbol or pattern known as Hecate’s wheel (see image to the left). The first really strong impression I got from the hematite was that it would “reveal the cold, hard truth” and reveal strength of character. When these words flashed into my mind I also saw the ‘sacrificed’ ferns from the night before and I knew immediately that the death of these two plants was the reason our friend had left us so early in the morning. Well, that was the ‘impression’ or ‘message’ I got but then my rational mind stepped in and decided that surely something so trivial could not be the cause of the problem. Surely there had to be something else far deeper which we did not yet understand. I also received impressions from the hematite that it helps one to find direction, to know what to do and aids in decision making. My hands were tingling directly under the stone I held and it felt protective and healing.
I felt quite upset by the initial flash of insight that had come during this meditation so I went to my room for a while and asked the Dragons to send healing and protection to our friend, with the emphasis on protection as we were all very worried about this person, especially after some of the rather strange and cryptic text messages that had been received during the day. Even so, there was no explanation of why …we could still only guess and wonder.
Meanwhile, when the crystal workshop was over everyone else set to work decorating the little coffin shaped offering boxes that we were going to use in the ritual later that night and which would contain representations of what we wanted to leave behind to allow us to start afresh in the “Witches New Year” on Samhain eve. It was a shame that the person who had put so much of their time, effort and love for their circle brothers and sisters into making all these little boxes had chosen to leave early that morning. I soon joined the group to decorate my coffin and some of us wondered if we should prepare one for our absentee friend but then decided that as we did not know all the details of their inner turmoil that perhaps it would not be appropriate and could also be seen as interfering with their free choice and will, even though we meant only the best for them.
As a prelude to the ritual to Hecate that we were to do on this second night we meditated to connect with her. (See Hecate’s Dragon for my meditation experience.)
The ritual to Hecate had a totally different feel to the Hephaestus ritual the previous night. It was much more subdued and many people were in a sombre mood, in part because of the absence of one person, and later on in the day the absence of a second (we were all unsure as to whether there was really a connection or not, even though the second person had given their independent reasons for wanting to go home early). We were all still very worried about the first person and when it came time to burn the little coffins in the fire that person’s absence was noticed more keenly as we all placed our offerings, in the boxes made by our absent friend, into the fire. After the ritual was over we changed out of our ritual gear and returned to the fire for another evening of camaraderie around the camp fire. One of the group then revealed that he had received another text earlier on from our friend, but he didn’t want to tell us until the ritual was over. The message said that they left because of the ferns being pulled up. We were all taken aback by this revelation, and to me it felt like a kick in the guts. We just didn’t understand how someone we had known for so long could leave the way they did, without even discussing it with anyone. We all felt concern for our friend, as well as anger and dismay. What was even more worrying was the amount of alcohol they had consumed during the evening before and during early morning that they left – obviously they were long past being able to think straight and act responsibly. So much for “Harm none”! They left with the potential to harm many, by driving home drunk! I think that aspect, and the hypocrisy that was evident (based on the drunk driving and also the reason they supposedly left and other aspects of their life), was why so many of us felt so angry, hurt and betrayed as well as worried about our friend.
The next morning I wandered out to the fire pit to clean up the mess from the night before. After the cleanup I poked at the ashes with a stick and realised the remains of the fire were still very hot and could flare up with very little encouragement. I was still feeling angry …angry that it all felt like it was my fault, angry that I’d been so worried and even did a ritual in my room to ask for protection for this person and angry that they’d spoiled the weekend somewhat for everybody. I felt the need for some closure (revenge) so I went to where I knew I’d thrown the largest dead fern, picked it up and scrunched it up and put it in the fire and watched it shrivel and burn. I searched for the little one but couldn’t find it in the undergrowth as it had broken into pieces when I originally pulled it up on the Friday night so it was too well hidden. After the dead fern was burnt to a crisp I threw water over the fireplace to make it safe before we left the camp, resulting in a huge plume of steam rising up through the trees …very satisfying to watch, although my anger and resentment still weren’t totally quenched.