Darkness obscures the desolation I feel and restless winds won't let me sleep. I feel Samhain coming in with a crashing sense of inevitability that drives all before it like so many falling leaves in the cold autumnal rain. The trees are blackened by the rain as they stand gaunt and skeletal before the sunrise bruising the Eastern sky. There is a scent of sweet decay in the air, a strange yet all too familiar October smell that combines the earthiness of dead leaves with the hoppy aroma of good beer; fresh-baked bread with cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice and mace. Dried herbs hang from colored threads at our windows, pumpkins keep watch outside our doors. Our garden is stripped bare of the past Summer's produce. Harvest time has come and gone and frost is not far off. Samhain is here and the veil between the the worlds that has grown thinner and ever thinner each night since Midsummer is now at it's thinnest, and we are not alone. You can feel it in the air, in the last dregs of the previous, now fading night. The Otherworld is closer, so much closer to our world and we to it. The ancestors, spirits of the mighty and the forlorn dead, our heroes and our nemeses are more accessible, more approachable during this time of death, dying and dreams. The trees are going falling asleep to dream away the winter. A melancholy and introspective mood descends upon those who have an affinity for this cold, dark time of endings and completion, dissolution and eventual rebirth.
We are at a crossroads between fear and ecstasy, between the summer that has passed and the winter that is bearing down upon us like an inevitable, inexorable, implacable doom that weighs upon every heart that faces it like a leaden shadow. But this is Saturn making its presence known, and there is no need for fear. Everything ends. There can be no beginning without an ending first. No feast can be served before the harvesting of the ingredients be they fruits of the soil or the flesh of beasts or fowl. No bonfire can be lit without first gathering wood. This is the time to check everything we've set aside to make sure it'll get us through the cold hard times ahead when nothing grows, and scarcity can mean dependency or death to the unprepared.
It is a serious time, with much to be done, many chores to be attended to and carried out. But it is a time of treats and bonfires, mulled cider, and all manner of sweets; and tricks as well for the Fair Folk are playfully present and mischievous for this is their high summer, their Beltane even as today is our Samhain, tonight will be Hallowe'en, and we all must face the darkness together, in our own ways, on our own terms. Joy and sorrow mix and mingle as day blends into night. We raise up our cups, mugs and glasses and toast those no longer amongst us, those who've gone on ahead,and they who've crossed over the threshold, past the veil we can feel now in a way we tend to forget during the rest of the year. Libations are poured, food is set out, candies and offerings are placed and candles lit for the dead that they be not forgotten, their names echoing in our hearts, their memories carried in our heads, their works continued through our hands. We remember them this day, this night and we pay our respects as though we were handing a coin to the Ferryman for passage across a dark and lonesome river.
Silence suits some who choose to spend the day fasting and in meditation, some sit at a dumb supper and share their meal with those they miss and mourn. Others look ahead to see what they can see of tomorrow's challenges and the coming year's ups and downs. They spread cards out on the table by the flickering light of an antique oil lamp, they consult heirloom mirrors for some glimpse of what is yet to come or stare into cracked bowls made by hands long gone and await some sign of what is to be. Pendulums swing, wineglasses slide, and questions are whispered into the fire for answers to come from whence they will. There are cold, hard times ahead, everyone knows this, but there are warm, wonderful moments as well and everyone needs to be told this, reminded of this truth. It is a time of dreams, of vision and coming to terms with reality. No one is more aware of the fleeting nature of life and youth as the spirits who stand watching and the elders who listen to their counsel even as they watch over the children playing at their feet.
It is a busy day, this end of the harvest season. Floors are swept and mopped, doorways washed, and everything is cleaned in preparation for the visitors we know will be coming whether we ever see them or not. Sage and other cleansing and purifying incenses are burned, their pungent smoke mingling with the rich aromas of venison or turkey or other good things baking and roasting in the kitchen. Pictures and photos are set out on mantles and shelves, proudly displayed and given places of honor, some with a shot glass of scotch, others with a handful of colorful candies or a bowl of fresh noodles; whatever treats made them happiest in life. Scrap books are set out, keepsakes and mementos are passed around. Memories and recollections flow like molasses set close to a hot wood-burning stove. Some are pleasant, others demand respect, and still others need to be put in their place. The dead merit only that which they've earned in life and this is a profoundly humbling realization that only really sinks in as we recall those who've had an impact upon our lives, and those whom we would honor and say a prayer for in the twilight as night falls into place all around us.
Divination gives way to nostalgia, foretelling gives way to storytelling. The sun goes down and all the work of the day is set aside while children don their costumes, their make-up, their masks and run laughing and joking and collecting their due tribute from each home. They take up the role of those whom our ancestors sought to appease, the wild and unruly spirits that we may forget, but who have never forgotten nor forsaken us. We do not need to be deliverd from those who bump around in the night, we need to offer them a drink, hand them some bread and offer them a place by our fire that the natural order of things can be restored and they might take their rightful place amongst us, not wander the periphery all twisted up with wrath and bitterness. Our ties run deep and we disregard them at our peril and impoverishment, both spiritually and materially for the one follows the other as one side of a coin follows the other and we cannot claim the one without taking both.
Friends gather, families share their hearth and home, others quietly observe on their own but never alone. Even the most isolated hermit is not alone on this night of nights, for the dead are about and they may well drop in on anyone at any time.
A splash of cold water, a dab of oil, perhaps some sweetgrass or other pungent herb is burned and smudged, candles are lit and placed with care, some make a procession, others hold a party, still others take up colorful masks, dance wildly and laugh and have a joyous feast for the ancestors love a good party and there'll be plenty of solemnity over the course of the coming winter. Honor and respect are the watchwords of this night of thanksgiving and remembrance. Blessings are shared both formally and informally, for who would not accept a blessing at this time of the year?
Blessings to you and yours from our family and ancestors on this most memorable time of the year. Blessed Samhain to us all.