"Goddamn it, and I'm locked into stupid Samhain in stupid Orlando!"
That was my response when I learned, via the Roots' legendary drummer ?uestlove's Twitter feed, that his band would be performing throughout the Rally for Sanity. (You know all about that, right?) I wanted to attend, but it's on October 30th. You know what's really close to that? Yes, Halloween, and the autumn Talladega race, but also Samhain.
I feel a bit self-conscious when I discuss my faith or its celebrations with people who aren't Wiccan, Pagan, or interested in Pagan religions. I used to want to talk about it with everybody, but reactions ranging from hostile to nonplussed over the 13 1/2 years I've been Pagan kinda cured that. I hate that feeling of, "Oh, Gods, I sound like a character in a damned fantasy novel!" But I'll give a bit of background. Essentially, Samhain is the ancient Celtic New Year. It's a time to honor your ancestors, to commune with them, to put old things behind you, to attempt new beginnings, to see into the future if you can, and to feast with like-minded friends if you have them. As you can imagine, it's a big deal. It's always been my favorite of the Sabbats.
For the past six years, I've flown home to Orlando to be with my friends. I co-founded a coven with a few of them several years ago. People have moved on, and the membership has grown and changed. Some former members have found other groups in their new homes. Sometimes my friend Yemaya O'Reilly, another co-founder, and I observe the other seven Sabbats with another cobbled-together group in NYC. But most former members come back. They often bring spouses or kids. It becomes a chosen-family reunion, and to miss it still feels absolutely unthinkable.
We have our own quirky traditions that you won't find in most books or websites, but that we feel good about. We eat mushrooms, whether on pizza or fancier dishes, because they're a form of life that comes from death. We make dark chocolate cupcakes, and write the names of loved ones who departed during the past year on some of them for offerings. The kids know to eat the ones with the spiderwebs or bats and leave the ones with names on them alone! We also throw roses for each departed one into a bonfire and call out names. We begin with a bardic circle, in which people share a poem, song, or other talent. I've sung a Tim McGraw song ("Let It Go"), Yemaya's young daughter sang a song from High School Musical, and Yemaya and I will be showing off the belly dancing moves we've been learning in NYC this time. After rituals, we put the kids to bed and dance and drink into the night. We dance to songs about death or by dead artists. On top of this, I end up hanging out with old non-Pagan friends during that annual trip, too.
So it's a good thing. But I leave L'Ailee behind every year because she's atheist and doesn't feel any connection to these rituals. She's seen them, and has to suppress an urge to laugh. When we dated long-distance, we used to be able to go 2 months or longer without seeing each other. Now a weekend apart seems hard. "What if one of us was in the Army or some shit?" I asked rhetorically this week, and L'Ailee chuckled ruefully.
Usually she stays behind, but this year, she's road-tripping to the Rally for Sanity with several of our friends. She's leaving tonight, too. It seemed so odd that we both packed last night, but for different destinations. I really wanted to go; I'm instead going to a mini Rally for Sanity Meetup in Orlando with some of my friends there. L'Ailee says she'll be there for us both. "It's sad that there is a need to have this rally. Since there is one, we need to be on sanity's team," she said. I felt a little guilty when she said that. She felt a little guilty that once again, I'll be almost the only married person at the Samhain celebration without her spouse. But we're both going where we belong, and we'll be back together soon, full of stories and more appreciative of each other because of our time apart.
A choice between a good or a bad thing seems obvious. A choice between two bad things is decided by which seems less painful to an individual. For example, tonight at the airport, I'll be forced to choose between having my body put on full display on a scanner or being subjected to a body search. I've joked to my friends that it depends on how hot the TSA agents are, but I'll go through the scanner because being looked at by a stranger seems just a little less violating than being touched. I choose to confront this bad choice because my friends in Orlando are worth it.
The hardest choices are between different kinds of good things. Do I want the dessert that tastes incredible or the one that won't sabotage my weight loss? Do I want to see old friends who I treasure, or do I want to rally for my country with my new friends? Do I want to get into the hotel tonight and be relatively fresh for tomorrow, or do I want to make time for the Big Gay Ice Cream Truck's seasonal farewell party tonight? Choose your own adventure, like those books 30-something Americans like myself grew up on. There are many possible endings, but the decisions you make at the end of this chapter eliminate some choices, lead to others, and might lead you away from the ending you really want.
Sometimes you can have a little bit of most things you want. I'll miss the Talladega race and a Pittsburgh Penguins game, but I can TiVo those and learn their outcomes before I get home. Technology's good like that. My Pagan friends with children take them around the neighborhood to trick-or-treat in the early evening, before rituals start in earnest. The kids know the difference between secular Halloween and sacred Samhain. However, the adults tend to miss out on the Halloween fun most of us enjoyed before we became Pagan. I got to attend my first Halloween party in forever last weekend. It was early because the host had to make a choice between good things--the pay he'll be making as a cab driver on Halloween or the fun he'll have with his friends.
I get conflicted. I get greedy and wish I could load up my metaphorical plate with all the things presented on life's buffet table. But really, I should be grateful that my life's buffet table has so many options. Many people around the world, even in America, don't have the choices I do. Some want to be away from their spouse, don't have a spouse though they want one, or don't have friends. Some can't afford to travel, even in coach, even doing side work to save up for the ticket. Some don't have the most basic forms of food or freedom. Some don't feel positive about ever being able to see a loved one again. So in this beautiful and reflective time, I thank my Gods that at least for now, They have seen fit to present me with good choices. I thank my ancestors for bringing me to this time and place and making my life possible. Of course I need to show up to thank Them, among people who understand.
Blessed Samhain, happy Halloween, have a great weekend, and above all, safe travels!
Links, if you feel up to more reading:
Some people this week, from hockey players (Alex Ovechkin) to fashion magazines (Marie Claire), treated getting fat as the worst thing a person could do. But the scariest fat-phobia by far comes from doctors who think a little cancer, suicidality, or birth defects are but small prices to pay for a pill that might reduce obesity.
Also fairly scary was the depths NYC public health workers went to in order to make their anti-soda, anti-obesity ad campaign happen.
Sweet wine and cocktails are considered unsophisticated. I'm unsophisticated and unashamed of my sweet, cheap, and cheerful tastes in alcohol. This apology from a bartender is welcome anyway. Just don't let Mayor Bloomberg or his pet doctors know...
A California DMV employee harassed a transgendered woman who came in for a name change.
Finally, the National Zoo's animals cutely celebrate Halloween.