perfume you haven’t smelled in years, or feel a breath on the back of your neck, or a pressure on your shoulder, like that of a caring hand. Is it our imaginations? Could be- but it doesn’t matter. It helps me feel like those who I’ve been missing are close to me once again. The trick-or-treaters return, hungry from their travels. Soon, a lone voice begins chanting:
Our hands will work for peace and justice
Our hands will work to heal the land
Gather ’round the harvest table
Let us feast and bless the land (Harvest Chant, lyrics by Theresa Dutton)…
It draws everyone from the corners of the house to a festive romp around the dinner table with all joining in the singing. A woman, usually the lady of the house- namely, me- takes up the juice and asks for blessings of the Goddess. She pours out a libation into a cup, takes a sip and passes it around the table for everyone else to have a sip. The cup is passed with the wish, “may you never thirst.”
Someone else, usually the man of the house- namely, my husband- takes up the bread and asks for blessings of the God. He puts a piece on a dish, takes a piece to bite, and passes it around for everyone else. After a bite, each person passes it to the next with the wish, “may you never thirst.”
We pile that plate with a heaping portion of all the foods on the table. The children include a few pieces of candy- not just the hard suckers, the good stuff- and carry the cup, plate and other baskets of food to the altar. We make the offering in the names of Goddess and God, in honor of those who have gone before, with thanks for the blessings of the earth, and set it on the altar. In the morning, it will be set out for the wild life to take it. Then we sit at the table and serve ourselves.
As we feast, and even later when we are stuffed and nursing our after-dinner coffee, we speak of the dead. We remember those who have gone before us- sometimes with laugher, sometimes with tears, but more often with a combination of both. We speak their names and tell their stories, passing on their memories to new generations so they can live on.We sing songs, dance, comfort each other, or tell old seasonal folk tales and myths to the children.
When they are finally asleep- not as late as you would think, after all that excitement- and guests who remain shut the overhead lights and settle down by the glow of candles and jack-o-lanterns to meditate, perform divination, or work magic. Secrets are revealed, deep feelings are pondered and courses of action are speculated. Often, revelations are had.
In the wee hours before dawn, once the living guests depart (though I often continue to feel the presence of a soul or two), and everyone in the household has gone to bed, I sit in the darkness. I gaze at the dying candles on the altar, and reflect on my life. Reflection is another important association to this time of year. At harvest, our pastoral ancestors saw what the seeds they had sown had brought, and gathered the fruits of their labors. Likewise, at this harvest festival, I think on the “seeds” I have planted in my life. I think about all the things that have come to fruition, and all the blessings that abound. I let go of that which is no longer bearing fruit, and consider what I need to bring in for the future.
Not all Wiccans celebrate exactly as my family does; like Christmas or Passover, every denomination has their own set of rites and rituals, and every family it’s own unique traditions. You may disagree with my beliefs, or the mythologies and traditions I draw on, but try to see past the pomp and circumstance, past the myth and symbolism (for my family does not believe these things literally), to the meaning at the heart of my celebration: to honor and remember those who have touched my life in some way, be thankful to the Creator for life and celebrate life’s blessings, and to think back on my words and deeds, where they have brought me and consider where I am going. Without the fears the ancestors had to worry about, we have tried to re-create the important, life-affirming message of this time of year to connect with them and learn from them, lest we forget their wisdom with our lives so removed from what nature had intended (Goddess forbid!).