What’s your expectation of Samhain? Could you be closing yourself off, blinkered against small, easy-to-miss manifestations in these days leading up to The Big Event because you are so focused on what’s going to—or, more realistically—might happen the night of October 31? Could you be missing something along the way?
It’s all too easy to become tunnel-visioned this time of year. Eyes on the Prize. After all, secular Halloween is all around us—pharmacies, grocery stores, Pinterest, and memes galore on Facebook. Parties, Witches’ Balls, themed tee shirts—it’s Halloween-palooza out there. Those lucky enough to live in parts of the country where there’s a strong seasonal shift feel the coming of Samhain in their bones, or would if not for the heavier sweaters and/or coats (why, no, I’m not jealous . . .much).
As Morgan Daimler writes in her article Fairies and Samhain:
A […] theme that we find is the idea of a so-called ‘thinning of the veil’ as a way to describe the increased activity by spirits and easier perception of the Otherworld. This increased Otherworldly presence is felt by those connecting to the dead, who find human ghosts and the like more active and easily communicated with, and many Samhain traditions centre on this.
I know back in the day I tended to think of Samhain almost in terms of a Jack-in-the-Box kind of event. The weeks-long wind-up, when you could feel the tension of the springs tightening with each rotation of the hand-crank—representational, when you think about it, of the Wheel of the Year spiraling more tightly toward one of its tipping points. Then would come the night of Samhain, when POP! Here would be the Spirits leaping forth into our perceptions.
What struck me as I read Morgan’s article was her implicit recognition of a timeline that is not so much focused on the endpoint that is Samhain. When she talks of “increased activity by spirits and easier perception of the Otherworld” she’s not talking in terms of hours or day-of; she’s talking in terms of days and weeks (or the entire year, truthfully). I found myself wondering how many of us become so distracted by Samhain itself that we miss the increased activity of spirits well before the “official” date.
I’ll give you an example. As regular readers know, my younger sister died a year ago—in fact, a year ago today. At the beginning of the month I was thinking in terms of reaching out to Laura on Samhain. I planned to honor her on her death-date, but was also pretty focused on what I would do on Samahin.
Yesterday I woke up with the intense desire to go out to some land I know of that needs stewarding. I had been thinking about clearing the space, a serenely quiet pocket of land ringed by palm trees, royal poinciana, lush low-growth succulents, but yesterday I couldn’t ignore that impulse; I had to go.
On the way to the property, Johnny Mercer’s Laura came on the radio. It’s an old song (1945) and while it wasn’t all that unexpected to hear it playing on the local jazz station, it was still startling. (Vincent Higginbotham’s The Radio is Suddenly Speaking to Me talks about this phenomenon.)Here are Mercer’s lyrics:
You know the feeling of something half remembered
Of something that never happened, yet you recall it well
You know the feeling of recognizing someone
That you’ve never met as far as you could tell, well
Laura is the face in the misty light
Footsteps that you hear down the hall
The laugh that floats on a summer night
That you can never quite recall
And you see Laura on the train that is passing through
Those eyes, how familiar they seem
She gave your very first kiss to you
That was Laura but she’s only a dream
I spent several fairly miserable—though deeply satisfactory and rewarding—hot and sweaty hours hauling branches, stumps, and railroad ties to tidy up the land under the mimosa tree that stands in the center of the clearing. As I did so I kept thinking of Laura, who in her life had just about always put everyone else’s needs before her own. As I set the stumps in a circle around the trunk of the tree, I thought about how people I may never know might enjoy sitting together in this outdoor “room” set for them by unseen hands.
My point in all this is that sometimes your “Samhain Moment” may not happen exactly on Samhain. If we slow ourselves down in the headlong rush to get there, if we soften our expectations and are mindful about being fully present where—when—we are right now, we may be surprised to perceive one of our Beloved Dead whispering across our senses.
Did my encounter with Laura yesterday fit in with my nascent plans? Not really; it wasn’t the day she died and Samhain is still several days away yet. And, although I’ve felt I’ve been more easily able to communicate with her, I certainly hadn’t invoked her (which I wouldn’t do anyway—she’s invited, not invoked).
It just was what it was when it was. Not on a specific date or at a specific time, but when it needed to be. And that’s what I would wish for you this Samhain, that you will be radically open to whatever manifests as it manifests and when it manifests. Don’t let expectation run amok like Sarah Sanderson.
If you are able to commune with your Honored Dead at the stroke of midnight on October 31, wonderful! But if you’re not, please don’t pack up your Samhain bags and wait ‘til next year. Time moves differently in the Otherworld, Spirit is always around us, and encounters with those who have passed over can happen any time.
An endnote here: I am by no means saying folx shouldn’t celebrate the snot out of Samhain! I’ve attended some profoundly amazing rituals that impacted me for days afterward. Group celebrations can be life-changing, and solitary workings can be bursting with transformative energies.
As always, you do you, Witch.