I’ll be going out this afternoon to build a fire.
Maybe you’ll light jack-o-lanterns this evening to welcome trick-or-treaters. But I bet you don’t know much about why we’ve held on to this remnant of an ancient tradition. Makes sense since we’re not a culture that pays much attention to what’s over and done with.
But over the past few years there’s been a shift. Many of us have started to reclaim a long-ignored respect for the indigenous peoples who first lived on the lands we call home.
As I’ve learned about the Native tribes who tended our Berkshire land and rivers for millennia, I’ve become curious to explore and welcome my own indigenous roots.
It’s likely that my Celtic pre-Christian ancestors marked this half way time between the autumn equinox and winter solstice with fire (as did with the three other cross quarter days at the midpoint of each season). Before this time was Christianized into All Hallows Day or All Saints Day by early missionaries to Britain to honor church saints and those who have died, Halloween was Samhain (saa·wn) which meant “the end of the harvest season.”
We know that the Celts set Samhain fires at this time to ward off harmful influences roaming the Earth. They felt — as we still do — the trepidation of what’s to come with another winter ahead.
But ancient cultures around the world were attuned to the cycles of the seasons in a way we find hard to imagine. They couldn’t ignore how their lives depended on the land and its fertility. Famine could kill their children.
As everything around them was dying, half way between the autumn equinox and winter solstice, communities who lived in temperate climates observed a time to recognize the end of the growing cycle and protect themselves from the very real risk that came along with the coming of winter.
It seems humans felt a need to recognize the cyclical nature of this time of year with ceremony and fire, trusting the promise that new life will be born again in the Spring after all that is dying now
As much as we try not to feel what scares us the rest of the year, this time can’t help but draw us into , if we let it.
Death is real. It can’t be avoided. There are beginnings and ending. Leaves fall to the ground. Relationships evolve. Everything that is alive on Earth will eventually die.
And yet, paradoxically, just as our indigenous ancestors knew, breathing into this truth can birth a greater sense of safety and freedom. Before it was commercialized into vapid meaninglessness, Halloween helped humans play with what scared them in order to embrace a greater truth.
But we Westerners avoid death. Daily we try to manage away every risk, hoping that eliminating life’s uncertainties will keep us safe and secure. And it most surely has. We are living longer and with fewer injuries than any previous generation.
Still, I wonder if we are a just a little obsessed with avoiding risk. We try to do all that’s in our power to protect against what we just can’t know. We speculate. Hypothesize. We tie our lives up in a bow that looks good from the outside, but too often leaves us over-scheduled and un-satisfied, overly-obliged and under-nourished.
In trying to push away the anxieties, we too often exchange any possibility of life-giving spontaneity for a packed day that squeezes out the joy and aliveness that having a more nuanced relationship with the unknown can bring. Guilty as charged! Because no matter how full we keep our waking hours, ghoulish apparitions wake us in the wee hours when we’re most vulnerable.
All our careful precaution can’t quell a deeper fear that lives inside us. The unknown is still our boogie man. And that fear is just as real as our ancestors’.
In our culture we’ve been taught to trust our speculative fears as the truth we can count on, to be afraid of the unknown, and instead mistrust our instincts. But what have we lost? When we place such a high value on our intellect’s need for proof and surety, I believe we colonize our bodies’ wisdom, as every indigenous culture came to know with horrifying results.
We’ve learned to trust our fears instead of what else is what is likely more true.
I’d like to suggest that this Halloween time is in need of re-hallowing. With all that’s dying around us in this season, I believe we need to feel our feet more firmly planted in our Earth’s rich soil, trusting the beneficent cycles that hold us.
We need a deeper connection and reverence to our bodies and the land that so thoroughly nourishes us, just as those who came before us. To walk on the earth, to smell the fallen leaves. To feel the truth of what we fear AND also how securely we are held. We need to learn to trust again.
I believe that a holiday of sickly sweet candy can never satisfy our desire for the real nectar we’ve lost becoming so modern. It’s too easy in everyday life to forget who we are at our core. So we run away from the darkness. From what we can’t predict. From mystery. From a sense of ourselves and our connection to our community, bigger than the fear that we’re taught we could ignore.
This is what I know…
I need opportunities to remember and honor the mysteries of my body and inner knowing as an expression of Nature’s cyclical energy. I believe we long to reclaim the mystery that we are, but have been taught by centuries of patriarchy and colonization to mistrust.
This Celtic Samhain time gives me a rare opportunity to go there. Maybe with you, too?
If you’re local and can carve out time for yourself this afternoon, join me around my fire. There’s still time to register here.
And if you live far from me on your own sacred land, join me Tuesday evening on Zoom.
Our deepest feminine nature – no matter your gender – has always known how to trust the unknown. How to listen to our bodies’ wisdom. How to tend a safety sourced from within. How to trust a shared wisdom in community. We just need help re-membering the majesty and mystery that we are!
How will you let Samhain and a deeper sense of this Halloween time give you a chance to go there. I hope you’ll share with me in the comments below.