The nights are growing long and cold, frost greeting me as I step outside in the morning, a cool-crispness lingering in the air – life seems to be muffled by impending winter here in the Colorado Rockies. As I wonder out into the crystal-dusted pine forests, and down the winding back roads of this rural American paradise I call home, my spirit is kindled by the upcoming recoiling of nature’s grandeur. For all the dwindling color and noise, there is a building of energy, somewhere deep, in the eternal core. I feel it tingling, soft but intent.
The Wheel is Turning
Samhain (31 Oct – 2 Nov) — Irish Gaelic for “summer’s end.” The standard Irish pronunciation is “sow-in” with the “ow” like in “cow.” Other pronunciations that follow with the many Gaelic dialects include “sow-een” “shahvin” “sowin” (with “ow” like in “glow”). The Scots Gaelic spelling is “Samhuin” or “Samhuinn.” There is no linguistic foundation for saying this word “samhane” the way it might look if it were English. When in doubt, just say “Hallows” or even “Hallowe’en.”
The Celts considered the sunset the start and end of their days, interestingly, Samhain is the equivalent of that for the year in the Northern hemisphere. It is the coming into darkness, the moment we have no choice but to surrender to cold limitations as the light and heat of summer fade and we prepare to reflect and rest – waiting for Spring’s new dawn.
It represents harvest, in fullness of meaning, including that of scarcity, limitations and even death. This time of year brings a natural examination of our preparedness, security and lack. This is why the veil thins, our ancestors come closer then ever and we are called into deeper consideration of ourselves and others.
Our defenses our low, our senses shocked and options limited in the dark and cold night of the year. Paranoia might even set in if we absentmindedly try to resist this change. Yet, there are so many delights to be had as we all become more limited and vulnerable too.
Despite the freedoms, possibilities and independence of summer’s midday heat, come nightfall we all return home to those we love for comfort and warmth. Sometimes those others aren’t “here,” but that makes us no less aware of their influence in our lives; for better or worse.
Death’s Place in the Year, and Life
In the ever-increasing bounty of the modern world, more and more people find themselves surrounded by the comforts of homes, technology and utilities. The reckoning of harvest isn’t as potentially devastating for most of us now, but does that mean it’s lost its meaning? Celebrations like Halloween and Dia de Los Muertos seem to imply otherwise.
“While non-Pagans see death as an ending, some Pagans view it as a beginning of the next phase of our existence. Perhaps it is because we view the cycle of birth and life and death and rebirth as something magical and spiritual, a never-ending, ever turning wheel. Rather than being disconnected from death and dying, we tend to acknowledge it as part of a sacred evolution.”
Paganism has many forms, contains many religions and creeds, and can manifest in an unlimited number of individual faiths. It is more a recognition of one’s own place among the natural order of existence than a prescription of how to recognize or perform that place. It requires one to accept responsibility for their soul, not as separate from the divine, but as an inspired refraction of divine manifestation, therefore intrinsically valuable and powerful.
If practiced authentically, this leads organically to a more contentious, considerate and compassionate life. Pagans often find themselves recognizing the divine souls within many layers of existence beyond humanity, including that of the crystalline frequencies of earth’s diverse mineral bodies and the archetypal symbolism and teachings of creatures from all sorts of realms and dimensions.
Interestingly, these revelations can lead to a romanticism of death, not as an absolution or escape from life, but as a cyclical progression of endless divine expression. It is the point of life in which spirit performs energetic alchemy and remanifests once again in divine glory. Essentially, it becomes clear that death begets life the same way life begets death.
I believe this is why humans feel the inexplicable draw to these holidays, to ancestors and to the other-side. This is why this night that marks the turn of the Wheel and the Pagan New Year is considered Hallows Eve (holy night) and the days that follow devoted to the saints and ancestors. At nightfall we return home for the dinner feast, we celebrate the day’s work, acknowledge the progress made and make note of anything we might try to do better in the morning. At Samhain we recognize the home within us and those who have helped make us, we celebrate the year’s harvest and make note of our reflections. In both instances, we prepare for more stillness and we say our prayers.
Letting the Meaning Resonate
For the Druidic tribes, intervals of cyclical reality both ended and started with natural withdrawal, reflection and rest. They gave themselves a headstart by considering their progress, intentions and preparations long before the beginning of the next day or year. With naturally increased humility, heightened awareness of their necessities as well as honor for those they rely on and learn from, they set their sights on the future from within the endless prowling possibilities of void’s dark dawn.
Let these ancient practices deepen your own connectedness to nature and the rhythms of the earth and cosmos, simply by meditating on these traditions. Truth always has it’s own ways of touching our hearts and affecting our lives. Allow the enchanting depths of this time of year to envelop your heart and mind, reminding you of your own eternal connection to all of existence, your ancestors and the divine.
I’m not the most nostalgic person. Or so I’ve always thought.
I don’t have keepsakes or buy myself souvenirs when I travel (though for others is a different story). I’ve enjoyed getting older and truly believe the best is yet to come. Yet, I also still have friends from childhood and revel in memories often.
Today I saw an old friend. I drove my niece and nephew to hang out with her and her kids. It’s actually been several years since we’ve really even hung out, yet, we picked up like we never skipped a beat.
We talked about the past – memories and nostalgia. We swapped stories of thens and nows, catching each other up on various things. Surprisingly unsurprised that our paths shared similarities even as time and space had separated us.
Despite everything, all the changes and differences we’ve undertaken, what we shared in the past was no more real than our connection now. The nostalgia was underwhelming because the present was fully enveloping.
So perhaps that’s it? I’ve never really felt nostalgic because I’ve never truly felt better about the past than I do the present. Granted, I’ve markedly and purposefully improved my life so there is some bias as well, but I find the possibility interesting enough to keep exploring.
Perhaps that’s also why tradition has never felt quite right to me either.
I’ve always wondered why just because something has been done, it should continue to be done. I was a terror at holidays, always refusing to participate in decorating or festivities because no one could tell me why we were doing them. The Christmas tree was the worst: “why are we killing a tree? Why do we bring it inside? Why are we decorating? Why does the whole family come over?”
Interestingly, once I could apply present purpose to the seasonal commotion I became a much jollier person. Paganism taught me about Yule and Saturnalia, and suddenly bringing greenery and raising the spirits of your loved ones through shared meals made sense. The ancient customs weren’t about religion as much as combating what we now call seasonal affective disorder. We celebrate to inspire joy, and that makes sense to me so I’m perfectly content now.
I missed my friend Heather. I could’ve talked myself out of reaching out to her, I have before, but I didn’t. I could’ve just been nostalgic, but I made my feelings something actionable instead. I’ve brought the past and the present together, creating more opportunities of the same in the future, and I’m grateful I did.
I don’t want to think about how things were or could have been, I want to create my bliss in every moment. Even if that means doing more about what I’m tempted to miss or iconify.
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