Samhain: what will we find in the dark this Winter?
November 1, 2012
It’s 6.30 am here in dark, rainy, leaf-strewn post-Hallowe’en Glasgow, Scotland – and I have been catching up on one of my favourite blogs: Linda Leinen’s “The Task at Hand: a writer’s ongoing search for just the right word”. Her latest post is The Sandburg Season, a meditation on the American poet Sandburg’s prescient commentary on the state of America in the 1920s, “Four Preludes on Playthings of the Wind”. She, like the poet, contemplates the state of the nation in the aftermath of the ravages of the latest devastating hurricane to hit the USA – at this time in USA’s history a grim prelude to the upcoming election on 6th November, a mere six days away.
Reading this deep, rich post and the wonderful range of replies has put me in a meditative mood. It’s now 1st November – Samhain – Samhain has been celebrated in Britain for centuries and has its origin in Pagan Celtic traditions. It was the time of year when the veils between this world and the Otherworld were believed to be at their thinnest: when the spirits of the dead could most readily mingle with the living once again. It is a contemplative time; a time for honouring the renewing power of darkness, and for facing the humbling fact that everything passes, including us….
Later, when the festival was adopted by Christians, they celebrated it as All Hallows’ Eve, followed by All Saints Day, though it still retained elements of remembering and honouring the dead.
The core sentiments of the Sandburg poem recalled for me Shelley’s “Ozymandias”. (So out of tune was I with my early secondary education that, having been sent home from school to learn Wordsworth‘s “Daffodils” by heart, instead I learned “Ozymandias” …..I should have realised then that I was in for a complicated life!) Both poets comment on the vanity of human endeavour in the face of the irresistible forces of Nature and of Time. So I was very struck by Shelley’s great poem appearing via one of Linda Leinem’s commentators, Steve Schwartzman. I sense a community of reflection out there, as we descend into the dark: ready for our symbolic death into Winter, knowing the rebirth into Spring will also come.
We need the dark, as this festival of Samhain reminds us. Within the year’s natural cycle, the diurnal alternation of light and dark brings restful silence at night and the restorative power of sleep, without which all creatures including us would burn out and die before their time. We are in danger of forgetting this – at our peril – as an increasingly technology-driven culture sweeps the world, creating the illusion that we can live sustainably and healthily in defiance of the ancient rhythms set by the great cycles of nature. The Great Round of conception, birth, maturation, decline, death and rebirth applies to everything, from gnats to galaxies. Human endeavour is not exempt.
Perhaps our whole culture/civilisation is in its Winter phase – the signs of descent are everywhere, should we care to look…….and in the meantime, I am with Linda Leinen: “Most of the time, I just try to do what I can.” Renewal, whether we live to see it or not, is always round the corner….
What are YOUR thoughts and feelings regarding the Descent into winter? It would be interesting to have them!
500 words copyright Anne Whitaker 2012
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