There are some times where I just feel so blessed to live where I live. Even though we have such a small Pagan community, if it even constitutes a community because it seems that NO ONE knows each other, we have so many opportunities before us. We aren’t really imposed upon by long-standing groups that make the community at large feel that they have to be a part of a specific group to be accepted into the Pagan community. And we have so many rural traditions and events, that connection with the land and community through simpler means is readily at hand. Last weekend was the Atwood Fall Festival, one of my all-time favorite craft shows/festivals. And every year, they host the Moccasin Trail Pow Wow. Now I am someone that really has no clue about Native American/First Nations tribes/cultures/practices, so I can’t tell you if its one tribe or many represented there, or which ones. But I love attending for so many reasons. Every time I go, I’m participating in a living culture with oral tradition, which is how most of Celtic Europe was. I love the drumming and dancing, I love feeling the rise and ebb of the group energies. And I love the hand-crafted wares, which sadly are dwindling in favor of mass-market, mass-produced crap. But I was super excited to find some small, hand-crafted hoop drums. I had to have one, and the maker gave me an awesome deal on the one I purchased. I’m still getting to know my drum, but its deep and new and is so beautifully unique. Even though I’m not Native, we can’t move forward assuming any culture existed in a void, and careful actions to bring in new ideas and merging them with our existing cultural/belief system is what keeps spirituality growing and dynamic.
I’ve seen a few discussions on land spirits, do we honor the spirits of the land where our ancestors came from, or do we honor the spirits of land the the original inhabitants of land? I guess this all depends on how you view Land Spirits. For me, Land Spirits are a special kind of spirit, the ones that can exist simultaneously in the Mythic Realm (aka: Otherworlds) and the Physical Realm. While they are a type of Sidhe (aka: fairy folk), the Veil Between Worlds has little to no bearing on them because of their strong associations with the physical Land. While I believe some of these Land Spirits directly/ physically manifest (trees, rivers, rock formations), there are others that act as guardians and wardens (think gruagach, trolls, the Lorax, etc…), and even more are linked to the cyclical changes or temporary states of the land (winter spirits, garden spirits, rain spirits). So with the idea that these spirits live in multiple Realms simultaneously, and if we believe that creating sanctified space in our spiritual/magical work is recreating the World Center symbolically and creating a true liminal space between Realms, I don’t see why the Land Spirits from our Ancestral lands can’t travel to new places. But I also see how the link of time and tradition would hold the original Land Spirits in their same space. So I guess the argument can be made for both types of Spirits to possibly be present. All the more reason to actually explore and connect with the Land around you.
You may be asking, what does any of this have to do with Samhain? The Festival of Samhain centers around Spirits; Ancestral, Land, Noble, cyclical, whatever. Understanding who the Spirits are, how they interact with the Physical Realm, and Their roles in the holiday are crucial for understanding my branch of Celtic theology and properly observing the holiday from that standpoint (ugh, orthopraxy). Now who are the Sidhe? The Sidhe are the spiritual/magical beings that originate from Otherworlds beyond the Veil. They are your Land Spirits, fairies, brownies, trolls, basically any non-human, non-god, and non-animal being. For some, the Veil is no deterrent to traveling between Realms; for others, liminal spaces and/or times are needed, and oftentimes a particular liminal space/time. When you read folktales of creatures that live at crossroads, fly along the edge of twilight, appear out of the mist, or dance along mushroom circles, you are hearing tales of the Sidhe. One of the defining things about Samhain is the thinness of the Veil, and the ease with which Spirits and Sidhe can cross it from the Otherworlds, not that the Veil is gone or the precepts for crossing are gone. Imagine wading across a river; it is significantly easier to cross the river when it is only up to your shins than when it is up to your waist or over your head. The Veil is like this; thin at certain times and in certain places, thicker at others, and sometimes impassible. And another thing a lot of New Agers won’t admit/accept, not all Sidhe (or fairies) are good/friendly/helpful. Sometimes, to us, they are downright evil. This is why costuming and masking at Samhain is practiced, if they don’t know you’re human, chances are the “bad” ones will leave you alone.
So who are these “Noble Ones”? The Noble ones would be the Lords and Ladies of the Sidhe (not gods). I would say most of our archetypal/station-based Spirits are the Noble Ones. The Gatekeeper, the Green Man, even the Earth Mother. These Spirits serve in a particular fashion or role; the Gatekeeper as the watcher of liminal places, the Green Man as the sacred gardener, and the Earth Mother as the foundation of life. Why do I not consider these beings gods (I need to find a better word than “gods” as well)? Because I view them to be many different Spirits that are joined in a common purpose, or possibly hereditary positions. Think of monks or soldiers. I do believe they are individuals, but are so defined and meshed with their station, that the title may as well be their name (think of the Mother Superior in a convent). These Noble Ones, like one hopes the more “noble” humans (presidents, ambassadors, cultural representatives), have a better understanding, and more patience/tolerance, of the different beings in existence than the lower Sidhe. So whole the majority of the Sidhe exist and live by their own laws and customs, regardless of ours, the Noble Ones at the very least understand our customs, and are more willing to work with us in a partnership fashion.
And lastly, the Outsiders. Samhain is as much for them as any other group. Outsiders can be from anywhere, any being. For us, Outsiders are the rejects of society; historically murderers, thieves, beggars, anyone that was not a contributing member of society. Not all Outsiders are necessarily bad though, the Fianna were considered Outsiders. While some of the more delinquent types used Samhain as an excuse to cause mischief, for the poor and hungry, it was a time where they could go to any door and receive food. There were rules for hospitality and proper interaction with Outsiders in medieval Ireland. On the other side, were the Outsiders of the Sidhe. Perhaps not outsiders amongst their own kind, these Spirits would be the less desirable ones to have around human communities. They are they ones we would place offerings for to leave us alone, and the reason we would go around masked.
So far, I’ve discussed the Ancestors, the Sidhe, and Outsiders in regards to Samhain. Next would be the Gods (which I wish there was a better term for), and the pastoral/agricultural aspects of the holiday. Keep counting down, there’s only 21 days left!