by Janus-Mithras and Mer-Amun
Traditionally, Witches celebrate twenty-one festivals in the year. These include the thirteen Full Moon Esbats, sacred to the Great Mother Goddess of the Moon and to her seeming Play of Love, Life, and Light. In addition to these are the eight Sabbaths of the yearly cycle, sacred to the Horned God. These also correspond to the eight-spoked wheel of the Eight Ways to the Center. In other words, each of these eight symbolizes not only a path to, but a stage in spiritual growth. Although they are all equally important, Hallowe’en we call the Grand Sabbath, and it is given more prominence because it most clearly reflects the final message of the Wicca; also because it marks the beginning of the Witch’s year. Outwardly it is a time when nature dies or sleeps, when another world begins to open up. Inwardly it is a time for reflection, for self-examination, for the mystical journey to the Source of all things.
The Grand Sabbath is celebrated at the time of year when nature seems to fall asleep and die. People tend to settle down to more peaceful activities such as reading or studying. A feeling of melancholy and the shock of change fills the air. In the forests, trees whose leaves turned color at the last Sabbath, the Autumn Equinox, now lose them altogether and stand bare and grey, revealing their skeletons, the hidden shape of all things. The sap has drained deep into the roots and growth has reached a minimum. Animals of all kinds are beginning their alternate life patterns as well; some settling in amongst the leaves and debris for a long and deep sleep, others alter their diet and metabolism and grow new thick coats of fur. Birds of the summer are gone, save a few, and the first snow falls in a delicate warning of the coming season. Food now scarce, the God of Death swings his Mighty Sickle in the cold of this first snow, and millions of plants, insects and animals die. Like the sap in the trees, all seem to have turned inward, withdrawing, abandoning the outer world of appearances. The whole of nature fades and one cannot help but feel the dream-like, transitory quality of things. The world has become a place where Awareness alone rules constant, a world of great change, transformation, death, and the deepest of sleep: the Kingdom of the Great Horned One.
As nature falls asleep, it seems that the veil between this world and that of dreams, of spirits and shadows grows thin, and a kind of twilight zone opens between them. A blanket of quiet reflection and wonder draws over the world, and we can feel the presence of loved ones who have Gone Before. At this time some of us can feel and see the great rejoicing exodus of souls stampeding across the sky from East to West led by the Horned One, God of the Great Hunt: the Great Hunt of Birth and Death and Rebirth, of night and day and the constant transformation of all things.
For the Wicca (Wise), “All Souls Day” is not a day of sadness and mourning but a day of celebration and rejoicing for countless millions of beings who, in dying, turn their attention inward in unconscious homage to the Source of all things, the womb of the Great Mother. “Unconscious” because it is also a time of fear and sadness for those who don’t know this, and so it is the custom among the Wicca to make loving offerings to spirits of all kinds (Trick or Treat!), offerings of Love and Peace and Vitality in an effort to calm them, comfort and guide them.
On this night the Cauldron is lit for the first time in the New Year and all the decorations for the rites are sacred symbols for the Horned God: Pine boughs and cones, Oak leaves and ivy. There is an extra candle on the Altar this night, a large red candle, the constant light of Awareness, the Sleepless Eye (eye – Aayin – Tarot XV, the Horned God), never blinking, like the eye of a fish (fish – Nun – Scorpio, Oct.21-Nov.21 – Tarot XIII, Death). This is the Fire of The Eye of Wisdom, the eye that burns and destroys all illusion and all Shadows.
“Let the Pumpkins candle glare,
Burn the evil from the air,
In the darkness, EVERYWHERE!”
“And after all the phantoms are banished,
Thou shalt see that Holy and Formless Fire,
That Fire which darts and flashes
To the Ends of the Universe…”
This is the Fire of Wisdom that fills the Cauldron, the womb of the all-encompassing Space-Mother.
At this Sabbath, the Horned One reigns Supreme. In this Sabbath only does She kneel at His feet to receive His blessing. This is the night of the Supreme Initiation when Death and Sorrow having reached their peak, Our Lady, overcome by compassion, descended through the Seven Gates of Hell removing all Her Seven Veils, even her Crown, and having given Her All, finally surrenders and kneels at the feet of Death Himself to the strokes of the Scourge of Suffering.
“Art thou willing to suffer in order to learn?”
(Book of Shadows)
At this time the Sun is in Scorpio, meaning Death and Transformation. The sign is ruled by Mars (Mars – Peh – Tarot XVI, the Blasted Tower) and like the Blasted Tower, the Scourge (coming from the Latin word “ex-corrigia” meaning “to break fetters or attachments”) teaches us that by Law of Fate or Karma, all things must change and die, and that sorrow comes from the fetters of clinging to things which are fleeting and illusory:
“All sorrows are but shadows,
they pass and are done,
But there is ‘That’ which remains.”
As the veil between Life and Death grows thin and transparent to the eye of the Wise (Wicca), it becomes easier to see “That which remains.” We can then understand more fully the true meaning of the Goddess’s Amber (orange) and Jet (black) necklace of forty beads, which is the “Circle of Rebirth,” the continuous cycle of Life (amber) and Death (jet). So it is that on this night, the Circle Dance is led with the Stang, its two branches issuing from the single Staff of Consciousness.
To the Witch, Death and Rebirth are synonymous1 and therefore Hallowe’en is a time of Great Rejoicing, for the beginning of a new life, a new existence, starting with the journey inward, back to the Source of all things. This turning inward, the Self-examination, the breaking of attachments, habits, and compulsions, the burning away of the shadows of ignorance and the return to Truth and Wisdom is the real message and ultimate meaning of Wicca and what this Sabbath is all about. This, then, is truly named, The Grand Sabbath.
“That which was never born can never die,
So the Wise weep not, but rejoice.”
(Book of Shadows)
1Excellent reading on the real meaning of death can be found in both “Death” and “Nothingness” by Alan Watts, from the “Essense of Alan Watts Series,” Celestial Arts, 231 Adrian Road, Millbrae, California 94030.