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A naturalistic ritual for the ancestors – Samhain

November 6, 2012
Samhain altar 2012, by B. T. Newberg

The one that flourishes nourishes the whole.

- by B. T. Newberg

The following Samhain ritual is an attempt at developing an order of ritual rooted wholly in naturalistic perspectives.  The language of the script emphasizes non-metaphysical, natural terms and processes.  It’s broad enough to work for any kind of Spiritual Naturalism.  At the same time, it avoids language that is unnecessarily exclusionary, so that non-naturalistic guests of other persuasions may feel comfortable.

A key symbol is the Center, a term ambiguous enough to invite interpretations rich and multiple, while also naturalistic enough to fit current scientific conceptions of nature.  For example, it may symbolize hubs of the local community or ecosystem, fractal radiations, stellar systems, or even the omnicentric origin point of the Big Bang (which, marvelously enough, is everywhere).

Another key symbol, or rather set of symbols, is the triad of Nature, Community, and Mind.  This triad, discussed in detail in a recent series, represents three major ways in which naturalists may experience participation in something greater than themselves.  This idea runs throughout the script as a unifying theme.

The script is written for both groups and solitary ritualists.  The current version assumes groups, but can be converted for solitary use easily.  I use it in a solitary fashion, and actually prefer the plural “we”, in recognition that in nature we are never truly alone.  P1 stands for “Participant 1″, which may or may not be a single person.  The various tasks of P1 may be divided up to maximize active participation.

This order of ritual remains experimental.  Constructive criticism would be greatly appreciated.

A naturalistic ritual for the ancestors


  • Bell (bell, gong, drum, horn, or other musical instrument; a clap or stomp may do in a pinch; see Section 1)
  • Gifts and Recipients (one each for Opening Gift and Closing Gift; for example, a small plant may be a Recipient of a Gift of water, or a humanitarian or environmental charity may be the Recipient of a Gift of goods, efforts, or funds; see Sections 2 and 12)
  • Center (represented by a fire, well, standing stone, tree, statue, spiral pattern, or other item symbolizing a situationally-appropriate center of life activity; see Section 3)
  • copy of Oscar Wilde’s Panthea (see Section 5)
  • Water (clear drinking water)
  • Cauldron (bowl or pitcher for serving Water) and Chalice (cup or cups for receiving and drinking Water)
  • pictures of ancestors and other decorations placed at Center (optional)
  • small foodstuffs (optional)

1.  Opening and Statement of Intentions

Participants stand or sit in a circle facing the Center.  P1 stands among them as just another member of the circle.

P1 rings Bell to signal the start of the ritual.

P1:  At this time and to this place, we come for a purpose:

To celebrate the season at this cross-quarter of November, which we call Samhain,

To remember our ancestors,

And to know our participation in that which is greater than us.

2.  Opening Gift

Opening Gifts are more appropriately small, inward-looking, and contemplation-oriented, such as a Gift of water to a small plant.  The Recipient of an Opening Gift should not be a participant.

P1 approaches Recipient with Gift held aloft in both hands.

P1:  Let us begin this rite with an act of giving.  For nothing and no one in this interdependent world is so small that it does not need a gift.

P1 offers Gift to Recipient.

P1:  The one that flourishes nourishes the whole.

All:  The one that flourishes nourishes the whole.

3.  Creation of Special Time and Space

In this section, the group initiates a slight alteration of consciousness through focused concentration and circumambulation of the Center.  All move in unison, with P1 signalling the raising and lowering of arms with the Bell.  Any participants with physical differences preventing them performing these movements may substitute other movements that facilitate maximum inclusion.

P1 gestures toward the Center.

P1:  Here and now is the Center,

The fulcrum of the mind,

The hearth of the community,

The birthplace of the cosmos;

In it, we behold the world,

And we know what we have always known:

That we are of the world.

All turn to stand at a right angle to the Center, i.e. with one shoulder toward it and the other away.

P1 rings Bell and all raise their inner arm toward it as if to feel its warmth, join its radiance, or to represent a spoke in a turning wheel.  All gaze at the Center along this inner arm.  All then circumambulate the Center saying the following words.  Groups may interlock fingers over the Center if appropriate, and may perform an appropriate chant or song during each circumambulation if desired.

P1:  This is the Center, around which all revolves.

It does not revolve around us,

We revolve around it.

P1: As we pass round, we affirm our place within the mind.

All:  As we pass round, we affirm our place within the mind.

All return to original positions, arms still raised and gazing toward the Center.

P1 rings bell and all lower arms.  After a moment’s pause, P1 rings bell again, all raise arms and circumambulate a second time.

P1:  This is the Center, around which all revolves.

It does not revolve around us,

We revolve around it.

P1: As we pass round, we affirm our place within the community.

All:  As we pass round, we affirm our place within the community.

Repeat for a third circumambulation.

P1:  This is the Center, around which all revolves.

It does not revolve around us,

We revolve around it.

P1: As we pass round, we affirm our place within the cosmos.

All:  As we pass round, we affirm our place within the cosmos.

All return to original positions.  P1 rings bell and all lower arms.

P1:  Behold the Center.

Here and now, we are of the world.

And what is of the world can change the world.

4.  Meditation on the Five +1

The following text guides through the meditation as appropriate for groups, while solitaries may memorize the sequence or pre-record it for playback.  Text may be improvised to suit sensations of the occasion, such as wind, warmth, starlight, etc.  Participants may stand or sit for the meditation as appropriate.  Allow a pause between each sense faculty, long enough for participants to explore their sensations.

P1:  Now let us see through the eyes of our eldest ancestors, the first forms of life to behold this world.

Close your eyes, and at the same time open to the world around you.  Gently and without judgment, open.  Like ancient matter in the moment of its first glimmer of consciousness, open to all the sensations by which the world presents itself here and now.

Open to the sensations of touch: your feet on the ground, the temperature on your skin, the drape of clothes against your body, the rise and fall of the chest with each breath, and any tension in the body melting away.

Open to the sensations of taste: any lingering flavors, or absence thereof.

Open to the sensations of smell: the fragrance in the air, the quality of the air.

Open to the sensations of sound: the ambient sounds, and the silences between.

Now slowly open your eyes, and behold the sensations of sight: the colors and patterns that slowly form themselves into recognizable objects.

Open finally to that inward sense: the thoughts, feelings, and emotions passing through you.

Through these six foundations of experience, the world presents itself, and the universe perceives its own reflection.

5.  Stories, Myths, or Activities of the Occasion

This section provides for the unique character of the ritual.  Ritualists should prepare seasonally-appropriate myths, stories, poems, songs, or other activities.  For example, the November cross-quarter would be a good time to recount the myth of Isis and Osiris, in accordance with the Hilaria celebrated on November 3rd.  This ritual script opts for a sharing of stories of ancestors, followed by a thematically-appropriate poem.

5a.  Sharing of Stories of Ancestors – Participants are invited to share, if they choose, the story of an ancestor.  An ancestor may be a blood ancestor, such as a deceased grandparent; a cultural ancestor, such as a hero/heroine from real life or legend; or an evolutionary ancestor, such as the first eukaryotic cell.

5b.  Recitation of Oscar Wilde’s Panthea – This poem treating of the dead living on through nature is read with gusto by one or more participants.  A volunteer with dramatic talent may perform, or the poem may be read collectively by each reading a verse in turn.  For a shorter recitation, begin at line 91 (verse 16).

6.  Drum, Chant, Dance, or Trance (optional)

Depending on the skills and preferences of the participants, a period of drumming, chanting, dancing, or other trance-inducing activities may be held.  This allows a deeper and more inward contemplation of ritual themes, and builds toward the experience of communion in the Shared Meal.

For large groups, this time may overlap with the Shared Meal.  While the Meal is being distributed, others drum, chant, dance, or trance.

Those who prefer to skip this step may proceed to the Shared Meal.

7.  Shared Meal

This is the culmination of the ritual, an experience of communion.  Utmost in this meal is the Water, which should be clear drinking water as sustains all life on this planet.  Other seasonally-appropriate items may be consumed, such as harvest foods, provided they can be distributed and handled without disturbing the pace of the ritual.  A more elaborate banquet may follow after the ritual.

P1:  All life on Earth is a community, and the lifeblood of the community is water.  Let us share with one another.

The first portion belongs to the Earth itself.

P1 pours the first portion of water onto the ground or, if indoors, into a receptacle which is either immediately carried out to the nearest ground, or placed at the Center to be taken out after the ritual.

P1:  The rest is for Earth’s creatures.

The distribution of the shared meal begins.  Ideally, the Water is passed round, with each participant receiving, then giving to the next.  Other methods may be innovated to accommodate group size and need.  In the case of a solitary ritual, the participant speaks the words of both giver and receiver.

Giver:  I am not the center of the universe.

Giver offers Water to Receiver.

Receiver:  The universe is the center of me.

Receiver takes Water from Giver and drinks.

If other foodstuffs are to be shared, they begin to be passed round, following the same pattern, as soon as the first participants complete the exchange of Water.

Those waiting or finished may join in an appropriate chant, song, or hymn chosen for the occasion.

8.  Realization of Communion

P1 rings bell to call for silence, then completes the communion with words adapted from John Toland:

P1:  The sun is my father, the earth my mother, the world is my country, and all creatures are my family.

We are one.

All: We are one.

9.  Thanksgiving

Adapted from text by Jon Cleland Host, with inspiration from Neil DeGrasse Tyson.

P1:  We express our gratitude for the gifts we’ve received from our Ancestors.  This includes all the physical ones, such as our jaw, inherited from our early jawed-fish Ancestors, and our brain with an ability to plan (from our monkey-like Ancestors), as well as cultural things, such as the importance of reason (from our Enlightenment cultural Ancestors), and many, many more.

We can’t repay our Ancestors (they are nearly all dead), but we can pay it forward to our descendants, those to whom our Ancestors also gave gifts.  May this wellspring of gratitude empower us to work for the next generation and our whole planet – not out of guilt or shame, but out of pride, thankfulness, and joy.

May it make it effortless to love those around us, who, be they human or not, are our cousins.

May it connect us to everything, because we are all connected, to each other, biologically, to the Earth, chemically, and to the rest of the Universe atomically.

P1: Ancestors, thanks be to you.

All:  Ancestors, thanks be to you.

10.  Dissolution of Special Time and Space

All circumambulate the Center once more, with arm outstretched toward it as before, but this time moving counterclockwise and with the other arm outstretched in the opposite direction like a conduit leading out into the world.

P1:  This is the Center, around which all revolves.

It does not revolve around us,

We revolve around it.

P1:  As we pass round, we affirm our responsibility in the world.

All:  As we pass round, we affirm our responsibility in the world.

When all return to their original positions, arms still raised, P1 signals with the bell, and all turn their gaze from the Center along the inner arm to the outer world along the outer arm.

11.  Closing Gift

Closing Gifts are more appropriately larger, outward-looking, and action-oriented, such as gifts of goods, efforts, or funds to a humanitarian or environmental charity.  If a participant is especially deserving of honors or recognition at this time, they may be a Recipient of the Closing Gift.

P1:  Let us close this rite as it began: with an act of giving.   For nothing and no one in this interdependent world is so small that the whole does not need their gifts.

P1 offers Gift to Recipient.  If Recipient is not present or not localizable (such as “the environment”), the Gift is placed at the Center, and delivered after the ritual.

P1:  The one that flourishes nourishes the whole.

All:  The one that flourishes nourishes the whole.

12.  Closing

P1:  As individuals we come, as a community we go,

One with the world, one with each other, one with ourselves.

The rite is ended.

Go in peace.

P1 rings Bell to signal the end of the ritual.

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  1. November 6, 2012 8:16 pm

    looks pretty good B.T. – did you do it for Samhain? I love Jon Host’s ceremonial stuff included there … he knows the Story really well (his children are really blessed I reckon).

  2. November 8, 2012 10:42 am

    Reblogged this on The Darkness in the Light.

  3. November 8, 2012 6:12 pm

    This was great B.T. I love the idea of a naturalistic core order or ritual. I really like the inclusion of Oscar Wilde’s poem: it’s got some great naturalistic themes!


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