Sunday night it rained, and so I and my fellow witches gathered on Tuesday evening, All Saints Day, to burn a couple of the hag’s tapers I had made, and to commune with the spirits of the Dead. As the sun sank into the West I built a fire of Cypress wood, and set the torches into the ground to be lit at the start of our work.
I must admit, I have little to do with the Dead. I honor my ancestors during ritual, and think of them more often at this time of year, but I’ve never spoken directly to a shade. I’ve never journeyed to Hel to question ghosts, nor gathered the bones of some fallen creature to house a spirit. I didn’t know if I would receive any communications at all during our work, but tried to bring no expectations of either success or failure.
Before the others arrived, I drew three runes, having asked “what should we expect, and how should we proceed?” My answers were Perthro, Elhaz, and Raidho. So then, a possibility of something becoming or being made manifest, a reminder of the necessity of protection, and a sign that we should expect a journey or process to unfold.
Night had fallen by the time we began. I traced a line of energy around us to act as a protective barrier, and Wandering Woman spoke words of welcome to the Dead as the two Mullein tapers were lit. The torches caught easily and burned steady and bright.
We threw our herbs of offering and of propitiation onto the fire, and settled down on blankets to meditate. I whispered softly for the spirits to come. I remembered being told that while a Deity could hear words spoken only as thoughts, the dead could not necessarily do so; and thus for them to hear, one needed to speak out loud.
I drew energy up from the earth into myself, closed my eyes and extended my awareness, nerves tingling for the slightest hint of Otherworldly presences. After several minutes, I noticed that the air around me seemed to have gained in pressure. I could feel it weighing against my head and shoulders.
Leaves rustled in the darkness, cars passed by on the street. Dogs barked in the distance, the sound carried on a soft night breeze. Occasionally these ambient sounds would take on, for an instant, the cadence of muttering voices, but I could understand nothing of them. The scent of apples wafted on the breeze, from the Samhain oil in the wax of the tapers. I looked at them now with closed eyes and heightened awareness, and saw that they burned brighter than the fire, and with a whiter light.
I caught a whiff of wood smoke that smelled, not like burning twigs, but rather a dry and musty scent like the basement of my Grandfather’s house. At one point I became keenly aware of the feel of the cold ground beneath me, its depth and weight, and thought about how shades rest within it, and mill about in its depths, as easily as they might ride on an errant wind. The breeze rustled dried leaves, and I thought about riding that breeze, caught up in the crisp scent of the autumn night.
For a moment I felt embraced by a motherly presence which warmed my heart, but this was as close to contact with an Ancestor as I came. It was welcome, though, to feel it.
Eventually our fire died to embers, the hag’s tapers burned down and sputtered out. It seemed that I had sensed the vague presence of wandering shades, but nothing more. A feeling of being watched from beyond the circle by curious wanderers, an impression of something drawing close that was old and not quite human. Perhaps a brief embrace by a grandmother or someone else who watches over me.
That’s all right though, I didn’t mind. I have little experience in speaking with the dead. I’m simply glad that the tapers I made were able to act as a beacon to the spirits, and that they burned as bright and steady in the Otherworld as in this one.