The Samhain Gate
Its Samhain here in New Zealand and I celebrated over the weekend at the Woolshed, a place here in Wellington where Pagans of all varieties come together to celebrate the seasons. For Samhain this year the circle space was set up in the second lounge down stairs, with the Samhain gate facing North, other times the gate has been set up in the North West, which if you are using the southern hemisphere Sabbat calendar wheel is actually the Lughnasadh gate, which in some ways can be a very odd place to have the Samhain gate. The Samhain gate is that place where the ancestors and those that have died recently enter the circle. And for the longest time it bugged the hell out of me, that at the woolshed it was place in the North West because it just felt wrong. But this year the gate was North, and for some weird reason this felt much better, which as usual got me to thinking about pagan cosmology and how it is shaped.
Traditionally the Southern hemisphere Seasonal Wheel goes in a counter clock wise direction, (Sun Wise) starting with the Spring in the East, then Beltane – North East, Summer Solstice – North Lughnasadh, North West, Autumn Equinox – West, Samhain – South East and finally Winter Solstice in the south.
Which if you follow the logic through and use the same points from the Seasonal Wheel for your circle casting, it would mean that the Samhain gate would be in the South West, however, given that when casting a circle I teach that pretty much any element can be called from any direction because it is important to practice magic in the place you live, it would also follow that the Samhain Gate doesn’t have to be in the South West, any more than that the element of air has to be in the east. But it still bugged me. I will say however that when it comes to group rituals, it is good to have everybody calling the same element from the one direction. But that is not what this post is about.. *coughdigressioncough*..
So why did having the Samhain Gate in the North feel better this year, than previous years when it has been in the North West? Well there could be several reason.. first given that for most New Zealanders their ancestors come from Europe, which is North from here, it would make sense that if you are inviting your ancestors to come and join you in your circle, to do it from a Northerly direction.
Secondly here in New Zealand as a part of the Maori believe, spirits of the dead travel to the tip of the North Island, where the entrance of the underworld is, guided by a Ruru owl, and once there, they travel down to the underworld where they are meet by Hine-nui-te-pō who then guides them on to Hawaiki, so again that would point to the idea that the spirits of the dead come from the North, and not the South.
Now this is all well and good and make pretty good sense.. but I have an idea that it was something more, than just the ancestors in the North and Hine-nui-te-po, that made this years gate feel right. And I realised what it was when I went back down after to the ritual was over to see the French doors open. It was the door, during the ritual we had opened the Samhain gate by opening the French doors. The fact that these doors faced North fit in with the ritual, but I suspect that It was not the main reason as to why it felt right so to speak. This door opened to the outside, and it is a clear indication when inviting someone in your house to open the door. Doorways have always been considered magical places in myth and folklore. They are liminal, whether you are entering or exiting, they are a place of magic where the energy flows inwards and outwards. I can remember seeing pennies concreted into the doorway of the family’s holiday batch, put there by my grandfather, to encourage wealth. It was a tradition that he carried with him from England where he was born. Doorways are often gateways to other places, and in this case it was a gateway into the otherworld’s, to where the ancestors and recently departed stood waiting to be invited in.
So it all comes back to that practicing in the place where you live. I have heard that the traditional correspondences of cardinal direction to elements originated in Greece, where their prevailing wind, the wind that brings the weather comes from the East, thus East became air. Here in Wellington the prevailing wind comes not from the howling winter southerlies but the Westerlies, which would follow that air, should be in the east. And when it comes to the seasonal wheel this to should be practiced in the place you live, which can take some figuring out so some contemplating of how the cosmos is created in your area. So it makes sense to invite the ancestors from the north, and through a physical door, although I do wonder as to what happens if the physical door is in a different direction and if that would work?
So here in new Zealand our magical cosmos is on where the ancestors and the dead hail from the North, not from the South west as the southern seasonal wheel would dictate nor from the North West as has been practiced before but from the North, a time of midsummers, the traditional element of fire. Those crazy Southern Pagans.. *grins*