It is Scorpio’s season: Mercury will be retrograde in Scorpio for much of November, and here in dark, rainy, leaf-strewn post-Hallowe’en Glasgow, Scotland, I’m in meditative mood.
It’s now 1st November – Samhain – Samhain has been celebrated 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….
‘…For Pagans, death and birth are intertwined. Our goddesses and gods all represent aspects of the cycle of birth, growth, death, and regeneration. Every good gardener knows that fertility is born out of decay. Every fallen leaf becomes part of the soil that feeds the roots of growing trees.
Pagans have no dogma that must be accepted. Our spirituality centers on experience, not faith. Yet if we were to hold one common belief, it might be that our individuality lives on after death. We remain part of our communities, alive and present in a different realm.
At Samhain, we take time to remember and commune with those who have gone before, to express gratitude for what they’ve given us. In our frantic pace, we tend to forget our past. Few of us know much about our families beyond a generation or two back. Remembering the dead can help us keep a sense of connection to our roots.
A public ritual to acknowledge the dead is a statement that grief is valued.
In the heart of the ritual is a long, quiet meditation in which we read the names of those who have died in the past year. The death of someone we love is too hard to face alone. When someone dies, we need the comfort of community support. Even though we believe the dead are not severed from us, we understand the pain and loss of their going.
Samhain is also a celebration of renewal. When we dance our spiral, we weave a vision of all that we want to create in the new year:
May the old ones and the young be loved,
And all the forms of love be blessed,
And all the colors of our skin be praised,
And all the cycles of life be saved.
May all who hunger now be fed,
May we heal the earth that grows our bread…’
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.
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 try to stay with my current mantra “Start where you are, and do what you 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!
700 words ©Anne Whitaker/Starhawk 2019