A seasonal ritual drama

"Samhain" by Geraldine McCarthy

Tired of the emphasis on the heterosexual relationship between The Goddess and the Gods in most ritual drama cycles which celebrate the seasonal Wheel of the Year, our Women’s Group has created a mythic cycle which focusses exclusively on different faces of the Goddess and the interplay between Her different aspects.

Over a year we discussed which Goddesses and their myths we associate with each festival. From these we selected stories which lent themselves to ritual drama and created a “script” for that festival’s ritual, with one or more women being honoured to carry (literally, to be possessed by) the Goddess. We were also inspired by the wealth of ancient sites in West Cornwall in which to enact our sacred dramas.

Here in the last of our eight-part series we publish our SAMHAIN ritual, which is about a meeting with Persephone in the Underworld. We offer these scripts as a contribution to the myriad creative ways to celebrate the Goddess at the seasonal festivals.

Arriving at Carn Euny fogou, R went off in the dark to bring water from the well for the cauldron. As she was fearful of the dark on her own, this was a brave thing to do. In fact she lost her way and had a good taste of Samhain fear before she was re-united with the others. Meanwhile, L and B had prepared the fogou by hanging a large black cloth across the entrance to the beehive hut with green twine – this was to become the veil across the entrance to the underworld. L (the future Persephone) spent some time in the beehive hut, thinking through the logistics of what was to happen and putting props in the right place – careful planning was essential, since it would be completely dark when the initiates entered.

Out in the open in the ancient village, we gathered in a spot sheltered from the wind. There we purified with the four elements, called the Quarters and cast the (moveable) circle. We then charged the sickle with the power of death and endings, and L went off to put the final touches to Persephone’s costume: black veil, dark lipstick, a moon on her forehead, and a black cloak. When she returned, the others called Persephone into her, by invoking and chanting her name. Persephone arrived in a rush and cackled loudly as she brandished her sickle menacingly (cutting life) and then made her way off to the underworld. There she laid out washing things, blankets and sit-upons, and made her own commitment to the dark by eating six pomegranate seeds, thus becoming Queen of the Dead.

With a banshee wail she emerged from the underworld, beckoning and whispering the full name of the first initiate to be summoned. Persephone waited out of sight behind the veil as R descended the fogou, then issued three challenges:

“Stop! Why do you come here?….. Give me all your jewellery. You must enter the underworld unadorned and unattached. Now remove at least one item of your clothing. You must enter the underworld stripped naked of all you were.” Leading the initiate through the low entrance, Persephone stopped her at the far side by laying a hand on her heart and asking “What do you fear the most? Come through and face your fear.”

She then pushed the initiate into a sitting position on the flat slab of rock, washed her face with a flannel dipped in cold water and then dried her tenderly with a towel. She then gave her the fivefold kiss of blessing, wrapped her in the welcome relief of a blanket, and led her across the fogou to sit at one side near the altar.

All this occurred in complete darkness. Persephone then lit one black candle (tucked away in the recesses of the altar so as to give minimal light) and came to squat in front of the initiate and to gaze deeply into her eyes, possibly transmitting something of her mystery. With that she stirred the cauldron, extinguished the light and, issuing a stern warning to “Be completely silent”, went to summon the second initiate. B was then taken through the same process. It was a vulnerable but powerful experience to enter the totally black chamber. Finally Persephone stirred the cauldron of death and rebirth again and asked the two: “What do you bring to feed my cauldron?” Before the ritual we had each (including L) prepared things we wanted to get rid of in the form of objects which could be dissolved in the cauldron, which contained caustic soda as addition to well water. These were now placed in the cauldron.

Persephone then fed six pomegranate seeds to each of the initiates, saying:“Your commitment to the dark: One seed for each month in the underworld, the death of your innocence and the promise of your rebirth.”

She then left them alone in the fogou. Outside she put down aspect and returned as L, who put her own written-upon dead autumn leaf offering in the cauldron. B then took on the role of priestess and cut the entrance between the worlds with her athame, inviting the dead to join us. There followed a period of meditation, naming and communing with our personal beloved dead. After that we lit three candles and scried in the cauldron and/or took Tarot cards.

We finished with a great feast with the Dead in the underworld, sharing dark-coloured foods and blackberry mead. We were joined in the feast by a ginger tomcat, the look-alike and actual cousin of B’s cat! Finally, we left an offering for the dead outside the fogou and departed.