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The Stag and the Boat: Samhain, 2010

It would go well for you to understand the ways in which time stands still. It would go well for you to comprehend that our realm is not the only place or moment. It would go well to remember the past… it is our future. You are only lonely if you feel yourself to be.

All time is now.

Black clouds broke up into grey, and mist gathered on the ring of mountains. As the sun set beyond the Western Gate, we gathered. We gathered because we are Pagans and the turning of the sun toward darkness means something to us. We gathered because we had been feeling the calling of our beloved dead to come, to listen, to commune, and to feast.

As Pagans, these things are not metaphor. The feeling of a space beyond our space and a time next to our time is real. On my more skeptical days, I can keep an open mind about the hows and whys of theology and praxis, but when I feel the stirring in the air around me, my experience is, “Yes. The time is now. The place is here. These are the necessary people, trees, rocks, animals, and fire.”

This year, a stag sacrificed himself to a fast moving truck and a bullet’s subsequent mercy. The Lord of Life was ritually butchered, cleaned, and transformed. The ritual shifted to honor this passing. The Morrigan was called to help us with our task. As we stood at the Western Gate within the stone henge on the mountaintop, we placed offerings into the ritual boat, to send with an effigy of Lord of Life. We lit candles to our dead. Then, standing together, as though upon our own traveling ship, we drew the realms closer and closer together, singing “We go down…” As the realms moved closer, we called to our ancestors: to the great whales, the insects, and the trees, to grandparents, to workers, and dreamers of dreams. We sang and sang, as candles flickered in the cloaking of surrounding darkness. We pulled and the ancestors pulled, and together, the realms met, like two great ships navigating themselves home. The gate was opened. Memories flooded in. We ate of the sacrificed stag.

We are Pagans. It is important to be present with our memories, for we learn in the course of our training to help weave the patterns of Wyrd as the threads join the past and the future through the present. Once the cloth is whole, who can discern where one time ends and another is beginning? Birth and death become as one. It takes awhile to know in our experience: this too, is not a metaphor. If we cannot help weave our pattern, it will be woven for us. Time will move, whether we will it or no.

The following morning, after a night’s feasting and then ill sleep caused by the sudden drop of temperature and communing with the dead, we gathered once again within the henge. We placed some final offerings into the boat, lifted it upon strong shoulders like a casket borne to sea, and singing once again, walked in procession to the place of burying. “Water engulf me, fire scorch my skin, air suck my breath, earth receive me in…” We walked, carrying the effigy of the Lord of Life aloft, conscious of the journey into the otherworld, a journey that we know within our blood. A journey that occurs each time we breathe and live another day. “Into the arms of Mystery, my spirit soars, Open the Gates!” We are all sailing into death. And so we sing.

The boat was lowered – so carefully! – into the grave that had been prepared. We took up shovels, thanked the ancestors once more for the gifts and teachings offered. We thanked the Lord of Life for his sacrifice, and remembered our part in it. We covered covered the boat with sweet earth. A father gave his daughter a shovel passed down and wielded by her grandfather, and his father, and his father before him, as they dug graves generation after generation. And so the teaching is cemented in our cells: this is the way of things. We rise and fall. Finally, the earth was mounded once again. We gave thanks. Speaking to our ancestors once more, we closed the great gate of the West, knowing that they would do what they will, some staying, some retreating to the land beyond the land. The Morrigan is with us, as we learn to do that which must be done.

This I pray: That we take up the tasks in front of us. That we remember: our ancestors include all of the creatures of land and sea, star and sky, one great network of life’s learning and life’s passing. That we warm each other in the cold: sharing food and laughter, kisses and tears. That we listen, and return to listening. That we remember: all time is now and the tides of all time run deep within our breath and blood, not just our souls. That we write the stories of the coming day.

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