NOTE: If you missed the ritual for the end of Lughnasadh and beginning of Samhain, you can find it in last Wednesday’s reflection. This link will take you there.
The feast that begins Samhain (pronounced SOW-en) is All Hallows Eve (or Halloween) on the night before All Saints Day. It is one of the four greater holy days of the year — the cross-quarter day that falls between the autumn equinox and the winter solstice. The veil between this world and all others is very thin at this time and many cultures honor and celebrate the ancestors who have gone before us in life and in death. It is appropriate on this night to set out wine and a plate of lovely fall foods (nuts, apples, sage, pumpkin bread or cookies) to welcome the spirits of your loved ones who are no longer caught in the web of time.
Samhain marks the beginning of winter and the beginning of the year in the old Irish calendar. The last herbs are gathered, along with the nuts, and stored for the fallow months ahead. As the harvest of the earth’s bounty ends, we become fully aware of the bare fields and the bare trees. This is an annual invitation to embrace the awareness that death is an essential aspect of existence, and – in accepting this part of the cycle in our own life – we open ourselves to the possibility of new life (rebirth). There is a freedom that comes with releasing our fear of endings, and a clarity which brings deeper wisdom. Tuning our spirits to the seasonal energy, we enter fully into the fallow time, welcoming the months of intentional rest and renewal. It is worth attending to our dreams and to honoring the darkness rather than seeking to drive it away. During these months, you might be interested in reading Paul Bogard’s intriguing book, The End of Night, which addresses some of the ways in which our age of artificial light have wrought havoc on our health, our psyche, and the world around us.
During this time, as you refresh and reorient your altar or meditation space, you may want to devote the month of November to the Mexican tradition of the Day of the Dead. Marigolds –with their brilliant color and their spicy odor – are especially beautiful to include. Photos of beloved foremothers and forefathers, candles in fall colors or scents, an arrangement of harvest grains, nuts, and herbs, all set on a fabric drape woven of wool, can be a place of peace and quiet reflection as we move toward the longest night of the year. As you greet December, you may want to choose simpler colors (natural browns, creams, greys) and a starker space with less scent. A particularly beautiful branch or dark evergreens may quiet your spirit (especially amid the incessant static of the world preparing for the frantic consumerism of the anything-but-holy-days.)
Take time to reflect on what may be dying in your own inner life. What has fulfilled its cycle of existence and is now ready to be turned under to become nourishment for new growth. In the same way that we can discern the bones of the trees in this season, the strong underpinnings of the exuberant growth we notice in other seasons, we can also observe the essential underlying bones that support our own unique being. This season is an invitation to seek clarity around values and visions.
At least once a week, sit quietly (perhaps in the dark where there are fewer distractions) and take some time to commit yourself to asking questions that invite you to face the deep, fertile places within, including the place of your own mortality. Not all darkness is our enemy…although you wouldn’t know it from the number of lights we switch on at sunset.
If the following prayer inspires you, use it to conclude each meditation time.
I call upon the nine gifts of winter
to gather me into this day
and prepare me for the night:
bareness of branch,
fallowness of field,
clarity of air,
shortness of day,
silence of snow,
challenge of cold,
deepening of reflection,
wisdom of dreams,
refreshment of sleep.
Nine gifts to welcome me
into the peace of blessed renewal.
May your Samhain be profound and centered this year.
Text © 2014, Andrea La Sonde Anastos
Photos © 2014, Immram Chara, LLC
Today, November 1, the seasons switched on the website and in the Etsy shop (from Lughnasadh to Samhain). New pictures went up on the home page and blog page, three new sets of cards as well as one set of holiday cards and a set of six bonsai cards (and prints from those photos) are available, and a new piece of art – as well as new art in the Archives – are featured. If you haven’t had a chance to do so yet, click the link(s) and check them out.