I love this time of year more than any other. Almost on cue with the coming of Samhain, my little part of the world seems to transition abruptly into late autumn. Winter stands ready at the threshold just waiting for nature’s invitation to cross. There’s more than just a delicious chill in the air, now the wind has bite and the promise of the coming winter’s stinging coldness driving it. Now there is the breath of ice and frost dancing on the windows, on the bushes, on the brittle grass in early mornings; now the slightest smell of nature’s decay as the soil hardens and leaves prepare to plummet to the ground in preparation for winter.
Last night, driving home from school, I caught sight of the moon through the trees: rich, ripe, gleaming, and golden, dripping with color, redolent with power, resting proudly in the rich and dangerous darkness of night and I thought, “Hail to Mani, God of the moon and its secrets. Hail to You glorious blood moon, hunter’s moon, whose magnificence steals the breath away. Hail to You oh my God — but oh, one must be prepared to encounter such beauty as this.”
There truly is tremendous beauty to this season. It’s a sad beauty though, powerful, moving, but tinged with just a touch of the taste of loss. It’s a beauty that highlights the transitory nature of things and somehow that very sense of pending loss enhances loveliness of this time. Truly, let us praise the Gods of dapple things….(1).
Samhain heralds in the season of grace. As the earth grows colder, entering into its dying time, turning within, we too are given the opportunity to look within. We’re given the chance to attend to ourselves and to the dusty, unexamined parts of our lives. Samhain heralds in a terrifying season where we are asked to radically embrace loss, to willingly and moreover actively journey within, into the labyrinthine passages of our hearts and minds and souls; we’re asked to journey into memory and to sweep out those hidden internal corners all those things that no longer serve us, our Gods, our spirituality, or our lives at large. Here, we’re given a chance to take stock and to reevaluate. We’re challenged to remember our successes but more importantly, our losses, our failures, those moments of grief and shame. These things too are building blocks and guides, sometimes much more powerful ones than those crafted from more pleasant experiences. More importantly, we’re asked to rejoice, to give thanks for the blessings that have fallen, often unexpectedly, into our hands throughout the previous months.
More importantly, Samhain is about the memory of things long past and long gone. Loss has value. Loss teaches us what we have. It teaches us how to recognize and treasure the smallest of blessings in our lives. It brings perspective. It hones and makes our measure. Samhain is a time when, above all else, we are asked to honor loss.
The dead walk with us now. They always do, watching over and guiding us, suffering as we suffer, celebrating as we rejoice. While our ancestors are always with us there’s something special about this time. Perhaps it’s only that we are primed to be more open to their presence around Samhain, perhaps it is that with the world withering in beauty all around us, it is easier to put ourselves in a place where we can consciously touch them. Let us remember them now: their names, their stories, their struggles, their sacrifices. Let us carry their graves on our backs, in our hearts, in our minds, in our memories. We are here because of them. We are their legacy: generation after generation of human brutality, suffering, indifference, and loss and we are here. Generation after generation of human celebration, courage, integrity, and hope and we are here. Let us praise them. Let us remember their names. Let us eat of their stories. Let us imbibe their sorrows and their joys. We are their living trust.
In this we are connected to the flow of experience greater and older and bigger than we shall ever be. In this we stand as one with our dead, one with their strength, wisdom, and the flow of experience. In this we take our place in a line of blood, bone, sinew, and power stretching back to the beginning of time. In this they live again and their sufferings have the power to transform our world, our lives, our culture, our time. Give them that voice. At Samhain we are reminded that to neglect our honoring of the dead is to stifle their voices, smother their stories, invalidate the tangled tapestries of their lives. It is to commit a crime against memory, piety, and honor. We are called upon to celebrate them always but on this single night of all the year let us lay ourselves down on the body of the earth and pour our tears out in offering: the greatest wealth to be found in the land of the dead after remembrance. Wyrd forgets nothing. Let us bless that remembrance with our own.
Samhain is a season of terror, of loss, of painful gratitude but also of potential renewal and reawakening. We carry the hopes of all our long line of dead into our own futures, futures that we have the power and potential to craft and weave each moment of every day. That is the final grace of this season: a call to action, to mindful reverence, to living awake, aware, and connected to all that was and all that we have the potential to be.
So give thanks, above all else, on Samhain night give thanks. It is a small thing but sometimes the smallest of gifts is enough.
1. A passing reference to Gerard Manley Hopkins poem “Pied Beauty.”