In October, witches and other pagans receive visits from their ancestors and other dear dead. Traditionally, these visits begin on the new moon after Mabon. At Mabon itself, witches of many traditions journey in spirit to the Summerland and invite their dead to visit them in Middle-Earth. In some cultures, miniature spirit houses were erected or kept for the dead to stay in through this month while visiting. Thus, October is a time to focus on the encounter between life and death.
Gort, the Ivy month, runs from September 30th through October 27th. Just as the holly or evergreen oak succeeds the deciduous oak in the Ogham tree calendar, so the evergreen ivy succeeds the deciduous vine. As with every ‘tree’ month, Gort is the flowering season of its assigned ‘tree,’ the ivy. It was also, as Graves notes, “the season of the Bacchanal revels of Thrace and Thessaly in which the intoxicated Bassarids rushed wildly about on the mountains,” tearing to pieces whatever they met. A bit further on he states that ivy ale, a highly intoxicating drink, is still brewed at Trinity College, Oxford, and speculates that the Bassarids may have chewed ivy leaves for their toxic effect. 1
The tag for Gort in the Rune of Amergin is “I am a ruthless boar.” The Celts believed that pigs and their kin came from Annwvyn into Middle-Earth. As an Underworld animal, the boar is both a bringer of death and a harbinger of the Wild Hunt, which will begin at Samhain. Roasted boar meat, so the Celts believed, conferred immortality on the eater, and the traditional roast suckling pig (with an Underworld apple in its mouth) served at Samhain and later at Yule was a magical sacrament for sustaining one’s life force through the cold winter months to the promise of a new spring. In the same way, as the spirits of the dead in the Summerland are in process of renewal, friendly contact with them revitalizes the living.
October was the boar hunting season, and when our remote ancestors hunted these creatures at this time of year, they magically assumed the nature of their prey; in order to kill a ruthless boar, one must become a ruthless boar oneself. Fionn mac Cumhaill, disguised as a boar, killed Diarmuid, the lover of the Irish Sun Goddess Grainne. Adonis, Tammuz and Osiris were each killed by adversary gods disguised as boars. 2
Though few of us go boar hunting these days, it is useful to meditate on Death the Hunter, who lies in wait for each of us and will strike at some unknown hour, like the boar emerging suddenly from a forest thicket. This is not an exercise in morbidity, for the pagan is assured of rebirth through the Mother; it is, rather, a way of surmounting the fear of death which lurks in each of us despite all assurances. This fear must be confronted and felt in its full strength, as in those dreams where you confront a spectre or other monster of nightmare and instead of running away, you seize and hold it in your grip and are instantly filled with what can only be described as empowered terror. It roars in your embrace, and you roar right back at it. That is Dionysiac fury, and when you have felt it coursing through your veins you will be free of the fear of death and ready for the veil to be rent between the worlds at Samhain, and for the riding forth of the Wild Hunt.
1 Graves, p. 183.
2 Ibid, p. 210.