Our ancestors didn’t need a calendar to tell them Samhain was getting close – they could read the signs. People have been reading signs in the wider world for at least as long as we’ve been human. This requires no great psychic skills – anyone can do it, if you pay close attention over a long period of time. Many things that happen regularly happen in a particular order, and while correlation is not causation it’s good enough for predictive purposes.
We’ve lost much of the wisdom and lore of our pre-Christian ancestors, and in any case we live in a very different world. But even in here in urban and suburban North America, there are signs that let us know it’s getting close to Samhain.
For any readers who are new to Paganism (especially those who found this blog through Sunday’s post on gun violence), Samhain is pronounced “SOW-en” – it’s an Old Irish word meaning “summer’s end.” It’s not pronounced “SAM-hane” and there never was a “Samhane Lord of the Dead” – that’s a early modern literary error that was sensationalized by evangelical scaremongers. Jason Mankey wrote a very good piece on the history of Samhain last year. In contemporary Paganism, it’s the final harvest festival, celebrated on October 31. It’s a time to remember our ancestors and a time to contemplate death and what comes afterward.
Some of the signs that Samhain is getting close are silly and border on offensive, but they’re still signs that Samhain is coming. Fortunately, there are deep, serious, spiritual signs we can look for as well.
First, here are three silly signs it’s getting close to Samhain.
1. Christmas decorations in Wal-Mart. Like the ridiculous articles you see on Facebook and say “please tell me this is The Onion,” I wish I was joking here. I’m not. I pulled into a local Wal-Mart last Saturday (where else are you going to go for large plastic tubs?) and saw 15 shipping containers sitting in the parking lot. My fears were confirmed when I got inside and saw artificial Christmas trees for sale – on October 3.
I’m old enough to remember when Christmas sales started on the Friday after Thanksgiving. Then it was after Halloween. Now we’re barely past the Autumn Equinox and it’s starting already.
Christian friends, please reclaim your holy day from the moneychangers.
2. An onslaught of bad horror movies. Yes, this has more to do with Halloween than Samhain, but it’s still a sign we’re getting close. I love gothic horror and have ever since I first heard Bela Lugosi say “I am… Dracula.” But for every good movie, there seem to be twenty that look like they were written by someone who thinks plot is only found in cemeteries.
This year’s big Hollywood offering is The Last Witch Hunter, a movie whose tag line says “The last witch hunter is all that stands between humanity and the combined forces of the most horrifying witches in history.” Why no, that’s not offensive to contemporary witches who struggle against religious discrimination, or to the memory of those who were tortured and killed because people thought they were witches.
I’ll probably see it anyway <sigh>.
3. The mainstream media remembers Pagans. Paganism is practiced year-round like every other religion, but the mainstream media seems to think we only come out in October. We still see “meet the Pagans” pieces that present us as curiosities. Those might have been appropriate 20 years ago, but today they’re just condescending. I want to see a newspaper covering a public Samhain circle the way they cover Easter Sunday at a Catholic church or a live nativity scene at a Baptist church.
If you get a call from a reporter, remember their goal isn’t to tell your story honestly and fairly, it’s to tell an interest-grabbing story, and many aren’t above exploiting an unsuspecting Pagan for a sensational piece. Contrary to the old saying, bad publicity is often worse than no publicity. If you’re not convinced this reporter will present you in a good light, just say no.
1). The Dark Half is growing. The days have been shorter than the nights since the Autumn Equinox two weeks ago. Now the change is evident: the sun is low enough to be in your eyes on your drive home, it’s rising further and further south every day, and the temperatures are dropping. My evening prayers, which were said in bright sunlight just a few weeks ago, are now said in shadows. Before long they’ll be done in artificial light. Summer’s End is getting close, even here in Texas.
In an agricultural society this would be a signal that work is slowing down. Instead, we’re gearing up for the “holiday season.” But our reading of the signs reminds us there will eventually come a time when our work is no more. What is hidden away causes fear and anxiety – let’s bring Death out into the open and explore the great transition we will all someday make.
2. The Veil Between the Worlds grows thin. Samhain is the season when the world of the living and the world of the Gods and ancestors draw near, and sometimes overlap. The Veil between them becomes thin and porous, and even those of us who aren’t particularly skilled at such things can hear, see, and experience the Otherworld.
Are your dreams more vivid and more meaningful, even if they’re as elusive as always come morning? Is your intuition sharper, your inexplicable feelings you should do this or must not do that stronger? Are your meditations clearer and your sense of the presence of the land spirits more certain? Samhain is getting close.
Perhaps you have trouble seeing these signs. That’s not surprising – you probably have trouble recognizing subtle changes in weather, vegetation, and animal behavior too. We aren’t taught these things any more, and those of us are particularly adept at them are told we’re imagining things or that it doesn’t make any difference.
Pay attention to your dreams and intuitions. Take notes and review them from time to time. Things that happen regularly usually happen in a particular order and in particular patterns. You won’t become skilled in a week or a month or maybe even a year, but with diligent practice, eventually you’ll be able to read these signs as well as you can read the more obvious and silly ones.
3. Our ancestors draw near. Perhaps after death we live on in the Otherworld. Perhaps we’re reincarnated into another body. Perhaps the essence of who we are merges into the Universe, just as our bodies return to the Earth from whence they came. I have my favorite theories, but in the end, we don’t know.
But this we do know: that which is remembered lives.
At Samhain we remember our ancestors. We remember our grandmothers and grandfathers, our ancestors we knew in life or that we know from the stories told about them. We remember our ancestors of spirit, the teachers and friends who influenced our lives even though we do not share their blood. We remember, as best we can, those ancestors we never knew but whose deeds form a foundation on which we build our lives.
We remember and they draw near, and we experience their presence once again.
Samhain is coming. The calendar says so and so do the signs. May your observances and celebrations be powerful and blessed.