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Thursday, 30 October 2014

A Note For Samhain

Over recent years, and with erratic degrees of diligence and enthusiasm, I have marked the main festivals in the 'pagan' calendar: the solstices and equinoxes, along with the four great intermediary days. Should you live with at least one foot out in the natural world, you soon realise that these festivals all denote a significant turning point in the annual cycle, along with the accompanying human psychological attitude. And of these various festival days, it is Samhain that has the deepest impact on me.

Despite having lived for almost a decade in this northerly place, I am still caught off-balance by the speed with which the days shorten at this time of year (and conversely, by the fast-growing hours of daylight in March and early April). Ignore the shift at your peril. Should I not permit my body and mental habits to catch up, I will be in a state of exhaustion by the end of November, feeling painfully alienated and 'out of touch'. About a fortnight ago I started to feel the discomfort typical of this change in the year. Making the adjustment is not, for me, straightforward: it involves shedding a skin, renouncing the persona of busy outer activities in favour of a more inner attitude. Actually, this is a change in ego identity, from one who 'does' to one who 'sits' and 'is'.

So we enter the time of year when darkness has the upper hand. We live surrounded by blackness, and must make whatever provision is necessary. It is the time for magic, mysticism, penetrating the depths. For the feminine to come forth. For gazing long at a moon-and-star embroidered sky. For setting out on the kitchen table the Tarot cards of the High Priestess, the Moon, and Death. It is the time for watching what we considered to be strong and stable fall apart, or dissolve. For material to slip back into the void, into the darkness and nothingness, whence it came. A time for brews, unguents, and magic potions.

Though horribly commercialised, Hallowe'en remains as a faint reminder of this unique time of year. Witches, ghosts, ghouls, weird things. It is indeed the time when the veil between the worlds is thin, almost inviting us to tear it asunder. This is something that I find quite tangible as I walk through the woods, or even gaze across the trees and gardens out of my back window. The enforced busy-ness of the weeks to come, as the western world of humans winds itself up for the fake merriment of Christmas, bears witness to the alienation of modern mainstream culture from our authentic, natural rhythms.

We enter the darkness. And there we shall remain, until, come the arrival of February and the festival of Imbolc, we may stand atop a hill and welcome back the sun, the light, the brightness that increases by the day. Happy, magical Samhain, everyone.

Image: fragment from Witches Sabbath by Michael Heer, 1626