his year I chose to host a fun, playful ritual to avoid the somber Samhain syndrome we witches are so often afflicted with this time of year. Somberness has a place in ancestor reverence, but I’ve found that at large events near Halloween people tend to come with too much mischief bubbling over to successfully transmute into seriousness. The solution? Host a gathering of dark fairies with plenty of trouble and fun for them to get into …and so the All Hallow’s Goblin Market was born! What is a Goblin Market? A market of all manner of wonders for the dark fairy court and its unsavoury members. The market hall ceiling was decorated with banners of spiders, bats, owls, moons, pumpkins, and papel picado skulls criss-crossing the room. Black cloths covered the tables of vendors and fortune-tellers. Carved pumpkins and lanterns covered every surface and fairy lights wrapped around the darkened hall. There were feast tables covered in treats both savoury and sweet and an altar for the dead and the unseelie fairy court covered in skulls, pumpkins, candles, and flowers. Witches and Pagans came from all over town dressed as goblins, fairies, demons, maenads, monsters and all manner of wights.
Samhain, Samhuin, All Hallow’s, All Souls, Hallowe’en, season of bones, season of death… it is not just a time when the veil between worlds thins, but also the time of year when the spirits of the dead are believed to walk the earth with the living. The bones of our dead are metaphorically unearthed as we honour their memory, visit their graves, and leave them offerings. Many pre-Christian and contemporary ancestor-worshipping cultures hold this belief and at this time of the year have rituals to honour their dead as well as to protect from the more dangerous spirits now roaming the world. It is believed that the spirits of the dead rule until the first hint of spring near Imbolc in February. When plants begin to bud and grow, the dead are banished back to the underworld once more and festivals were once held in farewell.
This cycle of belief is also present in European fairy lore where the fey are divided into light and dark courts — the light ruling spring and summer and the dark ruling fall and winter. With the death of the Earth’s greenmantle comes the rise of the unseelie fairy court. Some merely mischievous, some deadly. Pre-Christian Europeans believed that fairies were both nature spirits and spirits of the dead. Offerings of food, milk, and honey were left outdoors to appease them and keep them out of houses. Fires and candles were lit to ward them off and sometimes metal pots were banged as well. Only one’s beloved blood ancestors were allowed inside to share in food and laughter with the family.
With this in mind, the intent of our ritual was to give offerings to the dead and the dark fey in order to appease them so we may make it through the dark season unharmed. We gathered in front of the altar and I cast a caim of protection around us all using an incantation after which we chanted “horse and hattock, horse and go, horse and pellatis, ho ho!” in order to join the hidden folk in their realm by taking a jumping step inward. We welcomed the dead and the nature spirits who rule this time of year and we all took turns leaving offerings on their altar while singing Sharon Knight’s “Come All Who Hunger” until it was but a whisper. Soon the altar was heaped with pomegrantes, persimmons, apples, oranges, turnips, black grapes, chocolate, tobacco, almonds, chestnuts, stones, cookies, candies, flower petals, a beautiful wild sage smudge wand, and a pixie’s last bottle of fairy whiskey. This part of the ritual was filled with reverence, but that feeling was the stillness in each person’s soul as they kissed, blew on, or whispered words with their offerings.
And then the festivities began. Our bellydancing troupe known as “Bloomin’ Mad” opened with three performances, the first to “Zombie Pirates in Love” where they danced with swords and tried to eat our brains, the second sexier number to Nina Simone’s “I Put A Spell On You“, and the last was a fierce bellydancing battle to “The Devil Went Down to Georgia“. They were followed by our local Pagan band Chalice and Blade, comprised of EcoPriestess Wendy and Mojo of The Wigglian Way, who played their classics well-suited to Samhain as well as three new songs to delight the audience. The entertainment was closed by our resident carnie who sang a ghoulish song about vampire love. Afterward everyone mingled, chatted, bartered with the vendors, told fortunes, and picked away at the feast tables like a hungry murder of crows. To keep them around for the closing ritual instead of turning into pumpkins I devised an evil plot — host a raffle and give away a best costume prize right beforehand. The winners eventually went home happily armed with books of witchery, fairies, and Baba Yaga along with other goodies like chocolate and tarot cards.
What was this closing ritual I speak of? It started off innocently enough with a game of red rover between the light and dark fairies. The light almost won at first, but the dark soon took over by spiralling around and trapping each person who ran over like a deadly snake. Then each side chose a champion, and armed with foam swords they fought a grand duel which ended in them both bloody, but one with a fatal wound. Seb the Shaman won and their prize was to become the scapegoat and human sacrifice for the community. Of course, they weren’t informed of this until after they won the duel lest they try to forfeit or run away (it’s only practical). Seb was seated in front of the altar and everyone came up to them and whispered what they wanted to banish from their lives, whether it be a bad habit, a problem, an illness, or an in-law.
Afterwards we each grabbed a lantern, the jack-o-lanterns, and all the offerings from the altar and walked in a procession in the dark, in the woods, at the late witching hour. We must’ve been a sight in our costumes with lanterns and pumpkins, singing childhood Hallowe’en songs. We stopped when we came to a quietly murmuring stream in the forest. While Seb whispered all their scapegoat secrets to the stream, the rest of us formed a circle on the ivy-covered ground with the pumpkins and placed all the offerings within it. The last offering to be placed inside was Seb, who was then stabbed by our Queen and fell to a gruesome death surrounded by the glowing faces of jack-o-lanterns. “Dark spirits, accept our offerings and be appeased. Let us go unscathed during your reign and bring us luck, prosperity, and health.” And so we walked away without looking back, carrying our lanterns back to the goblin market to say our farewells and disperse into the foggy night.
Even though the event was light-hearted and playful, the undertones of the rituals were much darker and very much based in real fairy lore. I must say, if the sacrificial victim hadn’t been a professional shaman, I would’ve given them a good smudging and cleansing after so the rite didn’t by some chance continue to affect them. The practice of whispering the banishings to the stream was a bit of sympathetic magic to transfer them from the scapegoat to the stream, leaving the sacrifice cleansed of the duty.
Whatever form your own celebrations and protections take, may you have a mischievous and safe Samhain and season of death!
Blessings of the dark and the wild,