Letter 16 - Part One

Hedge Witch: A Guide to Solitary Witchcraft - Rae Beth 2014

Letter 16
Part One

New Green


21st October 1987

Dear Tessa and Glyn,

I have written a note to myself about this letter. It goes, ’Don’t forget to mention “trick-or-treating”.’ So I’ll say what I want to say about that now. Trick-or-treating, as I am sure you both know, is a new ’custom’ which has come from America. It requires that children go from door to door, demanding ’treats’ if they are not to play a ’trick’ upon the occupants. As a matter of fact, it’s well in keeping with Samhain, or Hallowe’en, the night on which it takes place. Samhain is a ’mischief night’ on which sprites are expected to play tricks on humankind on behalf of the Lord of Misrule, that aspect of the Horned One who will not let us take ourselves too seriously. The Lord of Misrule also loosens things up with surprises, jokes and bizarre happenings because the boundaries dissolve at Samhain, and the worlds begin to merge. Trick-or-treating children are his emissaries perhaps.

So what can you do if you don’t want your worship and spell-casting interrupted? Either begin a bit later than usual, or postpone your celebration till the next night. Personally, I can never bear to miss the special atmosphere of 31st October, so I risk the door-knocking of mischievous sprites and somehow it seems to work out.

This festival is about the year’s death and therefore is the New Year, for death implies rebirth. But at this time, the death is more obvious than the intangible rebirth. Fields lie fallow, the sap has sunk down into roots and all of nature rests. There is an atmosphere of weirdness in the autumnal mists and the smoky colours of evening. This is, in fact, the Festival of the Returning Dead, as well as an acknowledgement of the end of one solar cycle. That is why it has its reputation for ghostly happenings, its bats’-wings-and-black-cloaks associations.

Janet and Stewart Farrar, in Eight Sabbats for Witches, make the following comment: ’Samhain is a time of psychic eeriness, for at the turn of the year — the old dying, the new still unborn — the Veil [is] very thin.’

The old year dissolves, it breaks down, at Samhain, and the result is a breakdown of all boundaries, including those between the living and the dead. It is therefore more possible than usual to perceive the psychic presence of those who have died before us but who are still connected, still watching over us. That is one reason for ghostly events at Hallowe’en. The living, the dead and the unborn can meet in spirit on this night, psychically communing and exchanging information. Likewise, the nature spirits walk among us, both the kindly and the more mischievous ones.

Not surprisingly, Samhain is the best night of all the year for clairvoyance and divination. Some of the visions and psychic messages are said to be sent by the Beloved Dead, that is, by the dead friends or family members with whom we are still linked by bonds of affection. Others may be a direct gift from the Goddess. All are to be taken seriously. Experience has shown Cole and I that they often provide the key to the major theme of the whole coming year, but in symbolic terms.

On this subject of the return of the Beloved Dead, there is no tradition in witchcraft which in any way justifies an attempt to ’call the dead back’. Witches believe that the dead join us freely on this night, if they are able and if they wish to. Calling them back may interfere with the stages of purification, rest and preparation for a new life, which all go through between incarnations. Any attempt to force something will probably fail anyway if it is mistimed. But if it should succeed it could disrupt a natural process and actually be harmful to the returning spirit. So at Samhain, witches ritualize a welcome to the Beloved Dead, and then simply wait. If a loving spirit should desire to come back, they will be recognized. If not, we can remember them with love and then accept their absence.

By the way, and in case you are wondering, I have never heard of a witch being troubled by the return of an unloving spirit at Samhain. I think this may be because the psychic atmosphere of a properly constructed magic circle would be unpleasant to them. If malicious, they would not like communion, harmony and respect for life, and in any case, could not get past the Guardian Spirits. There can be no serious breakthrough of negativity while they, not to mention the Goddess and the God, are watching over you.

Our ancestors may have been superstitious about these things at times. But they had another reason for feeling tension at Samhain. If the harvest had been bad, the turn of the year heralded a long period of hardship. Food would be scarce until the following summer. Even if the harvest had been good, decisions had still to be taken about distribution, storage and also the rate at which particular foods should be consumed. Trade matters must have been considered too. Which foods could safely be bartered for other things? Which must be kept? By Samhain, the doorway to winter, all this must have been decided. Had the right decisions been taken? Was everything in order? Our ancestors would have looked for answers and reassurance through divination.

Nowadays, we may still look for messages at Samhain with the same personal urgency, though not always with the same economic or physical imperatives. Today, as in the past, the Goddess as Wisewoman and the God as Lord of Shadows are guides through death’s realm and the uncertainty of this most mysterious of all the seasons. The God is Lord of Night, the Old Wiseman, teacher and guide on both sides of the Veil. The Goddess brings a Samhain gift of wisdom, and it may be sweet or bitter to receive, according to our circumstances and desires. As a part of all this, we can consider death as an aspect of our lives. Perhaps some old plan or aspiration needs to die now.

The year’s fruitfulness is at an end.

Life has ebbed down into the earth.

There is no thrust of life and, in all nature,

darkness gathers.

Now, with plants and animals and all of life,

the wise turn inwards to the sleeping seeds,

for death is a beginning.

I share this time with the dead

and the unborn.

These or similar words can be spoken at the commencement of your Samhain rite (after you have cast the circle and invoked the Goddess and the God).

Light a candle in the centre of your circle, with the words, May this light shine in the Inner Realms, as it does in the world. It is the Samhain fire. Those who come to sit beside its flame are welcome.

Sit in silence, remembering friends or any family members who are beloved to you and who have died. See if you can feel their presence now, or that of any other spirits who are linked to you. (Remember that you may not know all the people who have ever been close to you. Some may never have been incarnate during your present lifetime.) Do not try to force anything. Simply wait quietly and remember. If you do feel any presence or hear a voice, talk inwardly with them as though they were physically present. Express your love, for they will hear you. Then silently give thanks for any messages or advice.

Say aloud:

The Wheel of Life must always turn

and death is preparation for rebirth,

as darkness deeply holds the seeds of light.

We shall meet and know, and remember, and love again.

(The last line is a paraphrase of words spoken in the traditional witchcraft legend called ’The Descent of the Goddess’.)

Then rise (not too quickly) and when you are ready dance around the candle deosil to this chant, or to something like it.

Darkness of deepest night,

filled with the seeds of light. [repeat]

(Do not wear any swirling cloak or robe on this night, for safety reasons. You are dancing round a naked flame.)

Earth the power of your dance and chant into the hazelnuts which you will have placed at the base of the candle. Do this, as at previous Sabbats, by visualizing the gold cone of energy dropping down into the cauldron and there being absorbed by the hazelnuts as gold light. Your wand can be used to direct this cone, pointing it down and passing it a few times over the hazelnuts. Before you crack the first one, say, Within the silence and the darkness, may wisdom’s fruit bring inner knowing. May it strengthen me, as I descend through the darkness of a winter season. I accept the change that wisdom brings, for such fruit may not be eaten lightly. It is the Lady’s gift. Eat the hazelnuts.

If you have some, burn vision incense, which contains herbs that encourage a light trance state. If not, replenish whatever incense you are burning, or light more joss-sticks. Walk deosil to the west quarter, where you will have placed your cauldron, full of water. Sit beside it comfortably and gaze into the water until you see visions or until, with your eyes closed, you fall into a light trance.

If nothing happens, remember that the act of eating ’wisdom’s fruit’ and gazing deep into the cauldron is an invocation that you should receive some guidance through the winter season, somehow. If it does not come now you may receive it later, as a dream or realization. But if you are relaxed, then almost certainly some pictures will begin to form.

When the trance is ended and you feel ready, rise and go to the altar, on which you will have previously placed an apple. Hold the apple in your cupped hands, saying, I hold the fruit of the Underworld, which is given to all who know death in any shape, that they may find the seeds of new life. Every end is a beginning.

Cut the apple in half with your athame, exposing all the seeds, and count them. It is said, traditionally, that the more seeds the better, since each one means new development, and therefore a step forward in your life. Eat the apple slowly, seeds and all. As you do so, remember this is ’the fruit of death, which brings life’. Meditate upon any aspect of your life which must die, any old ways which you would be better to shed. Consider how the seeds of the next cycle are already present. You are taking them within yourself, that they may grow — the seeds of plans and creativity, to which you will, in time, give birth (and in doing so, will yourself be reborn).


Take up your chalice. Go deosil to the east quarter (which is the quarter of rebirth, for there the Sun rises.) Pour some wine and drink deeply of ’the wine of the cup of life’, for yourself and on behalf of all creatures.

Now, for the world, consider what needs to be lost or to die for the benefit of all. Write it in red on white paper, just the name. It might be ’greed’, ’pollution’, ’militarism’, ’famine’ or anything else which you have identified as the cause of a problem, however large or small. Burn it in the Samhain fire — the central candle — with the words, ’So may this pass away and leave the world.’

Sit by the cauldron and visualize the birth of new ways, of a just world where food is available for all, perhaps; or a world of environmental harmony; or a world of genuine peace. Whatever you have banished, see it now replaced by new life, a new system, where ’Harm none’ is the prevailing code.

And that, apart from a communion, concludes the Samhain rite.

Bright blessings in the darkness,