This year for Samhain our ritual was simple. I cooked a meal, and we laid out a plate for the ancestors. To celebrate Halloween, I passed out candy to Trick-or-treaters, then watched Crimson Peak after the Wee Dictator had gone to bed. (Crimson Peak is a good old fashioned gothic horror/romance. I highly recommend it, but I probably won’t be able to post a full review.)
Which I felt was a good Samhain and a good Halloween. I was able to include the Wee Dictator and explain the holiday to him, and while a simple action it felt meaningful without being draining to plan for and carry out. When cleaning up, I felt an overwhelming grief for my grandparents, all of whom have passed on. But it was also a comfort to think of them.
Samhain is the time of year when you really feel the seasons change. Yule feels like yay, we get more light but it is still winter for few more months. There tends to be a small thaw around Imbolc, but it is usually slight. The other holidays don’t really mark a dramatic weather change. Samhain is the time you can see the leaves change, and feel the air start to get nippy, and notice the days really are getting shorter.
Doing elaborate rituals is much easier when part of a group. The work can be divided amongst people, which can give support and accountability. A group can also draw from the experience of all members, and often supplies, from years past. That is, if the group is healthy and everyone is willing to pitch in, and leaders are able to accept help and delegate. When groups function well, they guide and strengthen your practice. When they don’t, they end up being a drain at the least.
But when by yourself, the calculation is different. Simple rituals at home feel closer to traditional paganism, where religion was a part of daily life. The family might leave the home to take part in a community ritual that could be quite elaborate, but at home you honor your ancestors, and it doesn’t have to be complicated or extravagant. I made peace with the idea that when I am not part of a group ritual I don’t have the motivation to do anything elaborate or complex. But even the act of lighting candle and praying on the Sabbat can be profound if you take the time to listen.
With rituals the irony is you have to do it the long way before you learn what works for the short way. If you don’t do the long way first, the short way doesn’t make sense. Our minds love rituals, it helps send clear messages and brings order. They need to be repeated to be effective. Learn a particular ritual structure as a go to, stick with it for a determined number of rituals, then decide to continue using the bones of it to make your own. Pagan books have been getting better at including good ritual, and by that I mean rituals that are meaningful and doable.
The most important part of Pagan Practice is the second word—practice. The only way you learn what works is by doing. Some people need complex rituals, and enjoy devoting time to writing them. Some gods and situations demand them. But after some practice, you learn what the specific powers you choose to work with respond to—what they require every time and what they enjoy—and what puts you in the state of mind to find the action worth it, without being overwhelmed.