Western Gate Samhain Festival

Driving into the Okanagan

Last weekend I hopped in the Shaman’s truck with Mel and Kerri and after meeting up with more friends we all drove up North together to the Okanagan stopping in Hope to have lunch with Huntress and Thicket along the way to the Western Gate Samhain Festival. Once we reached the dry sagebrush steppe we pulled over hoping to harvest some pungent wild sagebrush but only found the much less fragrant yellow rabbitbrush which the two shamans harvested and wrapped into smudge wands right away to dry. The sky was big, the clouds dramatic, and the wind chill with the bite of winter.

Harvesting Yellow Rabbitbush by the road

We arrived in Kelowna in the late afternoon at a lovely old Unitarian Church near the lake with a large labyrinth painted onto its beautiful hardwood floor. We helped set up the space for the Celtic concert that night and then everyone sat down for Amelia Hogan’s Gaelic songs workshop. We had a bit of trouble with the pronunciation, but eventually we began to sound harmonious singing together in Irish Gaelic.

The concert started off with the gorgeous voice of Kerri Joy accompanied by her violin and guitar. She sang bawdy, dirty songs that had people dancing and also haunting songs causing goosebumps and shivers. Then it was Amelia’s turn to sing traditional Irish songs of sorrow and joy with the help of Brendan Myer’s voice and guitar and Kerri’s violin. It was a night of simply beautiful music. After the concert all the musicians sat in a big circle with drums, guitars, banjos, violins, keyboards, rattles, and all manner of instruments, jamming together to create lively tunes. It could have been cacophonous with so many playing, but instead it was amazing with everyone getting up to dance to the inspired music.

Lovely ladies dancing to the musicians jamming

Bright and early the next morning was the opening ritual of beautiful liturgy inviting the Beloved and Mighty Dead to come and be with us for the weekend and join in our celebrations. Afterwards I hosted my workshop on ancestor worship teaching everyone how to practice it within their own comfort level ranging from family shrines to raising the spirits of the dead for necromancy. Everyone shared their stories and practices with one another, fleshing out my own material.

Main Festival Altar

The main festival altar

My little table of witchy wares

My vending table of altar pieces, illustrations, and flying ointments

Altar for my ancestor ritual and bone throwing divination

Right after my workshop we jumped into an ancestor ritual. I had everyone spiral down to the gates of the underworld asking Owl to open the door and guide the dead to us that we may ask for their blessing and give them offerings. Everyone passed around the bowls of honey, holy water, strawberry vodka, and tobacco which we then gifted to the ancestors, burning a small amount of each on the charcoal. One thing our own Pagan ancestors most commonly asked of their dead was news of the future – who would die, have children, get married, what the weather would be like, and other such questions – and so I asked the ancestors to answer our questions through the throwing of bones.

Offerings of honey, water, alcohol and tobacco for the ancestors

Burning incense and a black candle for the dead

I taught everyone a simple form of bone throwing to answer yes or no questions based on divination with Saxon wands. There was one large bone aligned North to South representing the World Tree with the right side of the bone being masculine and positive and the left side being feminine and negative. Three long bones meant yes and three shorter ones meant no. Before each person threw them, I had them hold the six bones in their hand, think of their question, breathe onto the bones, pull one out without looking, and then cast the bones over the large World Tree bone. Then I interpreted each person’s casting as simply as I could. Both my workshop and ritual seemed to be a big hit and I am very thankful for everyone’s feedback.

Altar to the Morrigan

After lunch Morpheus, with the help of Moon and Amelia, gave a talk about working with the goddess Morrigan, followed by Brendan Myers talk on the Pagan roots of virtue. That evening the priesthood of Coru Cathubodua performed a ritual evoking the Morrigan with a Gaulish chant they’d taught us earlier. Morpheus drew her down in a possessory rite; her breath heavy, screaming, her pale eyes like fire, her voice husky and loud unlike her normal voice, soft and sweet. Some were scared, but everyone held strong. The Morrigan called us all to be heroes, to act heroically in our lives for ourselves and others. She called our bloodlines to us, going back into the far reaches of time – all the heroes that came before us. Together, in a room of seventy that was truly thousands upon thousands, we blessed a sword to be offered to the land in order to bring back sovereignty to our land and its people. The Morrigan left, we grounded and rested.

At night we feasted with our dead, singing to them, eating with them, and toasting to them with home brewed mead. After the feast, in the dark of night, we all lit our lanterns and made the walk to the lake in a long procession to bring a bone bundle blessed by us all to the lake to release our dead to the underworld journey. Some of us sang and chanted, dancing wildly. We received quite the looks from the muggles walking by on the street – some staring, some trying not to, and children dancing along to our songs and drums.

Lantern procession along Okanagan Lake

When we arrived at the lake there was a fire dancer waiting for us, dancing with fingers aflame, spinning fire, and breathing fire to our drumming. When everyone arrived the Shaman spoke his piece and through the hide-wrapped bundle of bones into the lake where it promptly disappeared instead of floating as bones are wont to do.

Fire Dancer at the lake for the lantern procession

Coru Cathubodua honouring the ancestors at the lake

Coru Cathubodua Priesthood honouring the ancestors by the lake

Back we walked to the Unitarian Church, playing music and dancing until we had no energy left and all disappeared to our various hotels and homestays to sleep. The next morning we returned and Brendan, grinning mischeviously, took me to Morpheus and told her he’d found someone to offer the blessed sword to the lake. They’d been looking for someone born in British Columbia with strong ties to it to throw the sword as many had come from far away or were born elsewhere. Surprised, I agreed, and again we all made the procession to the lake, this time in the grey light of morning to the bird sanctuary at the end of a rocky point. I threw it with all my might into the deep waters. It was done. We all walked back to the hall for more talks and workshops – this time on environmental awareness and the origin and crafting of crane bags.

The closing ritual was hosted by the Druid’s Hearth — a beautiful ending to an amazing weekend. Words cannot express the importance of community and the love and joy that everyone experienced. I am so grateful to our host Andrea for organizing the festival and pulling together such an amazing crew of presenters, ritualists, musicians, and volunteers. It was hard to go home without that lovely community coming with me. I hope this event continues on in future incarnations as it was truly something.

Lake Okanagan

Festival Info:

Presenters:

Author Sarah

Illustrator and weaver of words. Witch. Forest siren with talons, succubic tendencies, a love of otherworldly beauty, poisonous plants, wild places and dead things.

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Join the discussion 10 Comments

  • triskelerose says:

    It truly was a magical weekend. I feel so blessed to be apart of it.

  • Aileen says:

    It sounds like a wonderful time! I’d love to attend a gathering such as this… When you do the yes/no bone divination, do you read the bones depending on how many fall on each side of the main bone-wand? Such as, 4 out 6 fell on the right side, so you would interpret that as a “yes”? And the one that the person holds that they picked from the bundle before tossing, what is its significance? Perhaps you could do a post on this style of divination or do you already have one done? Brightest Blessings!

  • Cunning Man of the East says:

    I haven’t had the change to follow with my imagination a true Pagan/Heathen ritual in the past so thank you Sarah for this beautiful story. It was a gift for the heart that empowered my Samhain intention. I was thinking these days in what ways to observe the festival and your post was an answer to my prayers. I no longer need to do something, just curry the spirit of your writings to this blessed night.

  • It sounds absolutely moving. Thank you for sharing.

  • Sharing posts like these is a wonderful treat, especially for those of us who could not make it. I love the new direction you have taken in regards to pictures as well. They are looking damn fine and professionally represent the beauty of the subject matter. Fantastic! Important!

  • Morpheus says:

    Sarah, it was a treat to meet you and get to share a bit of your Ancestral witchery. Loved the bone-reading – that’s a technique I’ve been itching to learn so it was great to dip my toes in it. And thank you so much for giving the sword to the lake; that was perfect.
    blessings –
    Morpheus

  • You’ve done a wonderful job of describing it; I still stumble my words trying to tell those closest to me of the profound experiences and amazing people I’ve had the immense pleasure of meeting, yourself included. 🙂

  • Sounds like a great festival! I wish I had been there.

  • Erin says:

    You have such a beautiful life. I can only look towards the hope that one day my world can be so magical and alive and beautiful as yours.

  • John Birkel says:

    i have GOT to move to British Columbia!