Samhain

Monday, November 7, 2011

Samhain (pronounced sow-wen) isn't widely celebrated anymore (except by non neopagans or earthworshipers or those who carry on the Dia de los Muertos traditions of their culture), since cross-quarter days (the days that fall directly inbetween equinoxes and solstices) usually pass by without notice.  This year, Samhain falls on Nov 7th at 1:27pm (eastern time), although the observance is traditionally Halloween-into-All Saint's Day.  Most of the hoopla (for lack of a better term) is the same.  The dressing up, the trick-or-treating, the foods commonly associated with Halloween, the jackolantern...  Bonfires...  Milk and honey by the door and a candle in the window for the ancestors... Ancient traditions, some kept and some put away, for the modern age.  In our home, we tend to celebrate both days, Halloween for some of the more secular things and Samhain for the more hallowed parts (although, I usually still light the candle and put out the treats on Halloween as well...this year doing so on our Halloween vacation!).



Viewed as a time when the veil between the Otherworld (call it Heaven, the Summerland, the After Life, etc) and this world is at it's thinnest thus allowing the spirits of the Ancestors easy passage (which with all the fog during my morning run today, I could totally see!), the time of year is associated with the living remembering their Beloved Dead.  In the middle of November, our parish celebrates the parish All Soul's Mass, where the names of all those who have died from the previous November through that celebration are read off.  A bell is tolled... A candle is lit...  A rose is given to the living family members to remind them of the rose that has passed from their lives.  I remember that Mass in 2008.  I was pregnant with Alexander and we were lighting candles for Nicholas and Sophia.  It was surreal... Being pregnant with one child while mourning two others.  And then, 2009.  It was the first time Bobby and Maya were brought out in public, days after coming home from the hospital.  We lit the candle for Alexander and again, that surreal feeling... Remembering my dead child while holding my two living ones against my chest.  The bell ringing...  I can still smell the incense that lingered on Bobby and Maya long after we'd come home that night if I think about it hard enough.  2010... The first year we knew of the Mass and didn't get an invitation(it's by invite only and is for parishioners who have had a loss in the year)...  2011...  Here again.  Already.  How time flies by...

But Samhain.  Lighting candles.  Leaving out food.  No longer harvesting from the garden (the remaining crops are viewed as offerings for a prosperous garden for the coming year as well as a thank you for the goodness of the fading year and, no doubt, as nourishment for all those who need it for the coming cold weather).  We were on vacation on Halloween, but I still lit a candle.  We didnt have matches, so it was interestingly done, but Peter made do!  I put out a dish of sweet milk and honey on my makeshift "altar" with Nicholas, Sophia, and Alexander's box.  (One word for why it didnt go outside as we do traditionally: BEARS... Yeah... It was indoor... After all, I joked to Peter, we were only doing the observation.  The "real" holy day we'd be home for and would do it "right").  But I still wept.  That's something that doesn't change.  Samhain, be it on the astronomical date or on the observed Halloween, still brings me to tears.

Wake on this feast of the dead and remember the ones who have gone before us.
Light and candle and leave it in the windowsill for the veil is lifted at dusk.

I can't open my eyes on Oct 31/Nov 1 or the astronimical celebrations (this year Nov 6/7) without a heaviness.  It's there.  There's a lightness too, as it gives rise to that feeling of "togetherness" with the Ancestors.  The remembering.  The candle lighting or the Mass in memory.  But there's an ache too.  It's hard because Halloween (and the astronimical Samhain) are the only holidays that I had them all with me...  We conceived Nick and Sophie on Oct 27 and, although no test could tell me so, I knew as I handed out candy on the 31st that I was pregnant.  A few days after Samhain, I had a positive pregnancy test.  The next year, as we carved pumpkins for Nick and Sophie, I was pregnant with Alexander.  We lit candles for our children who had died.  We remembered them.  We felt them with us.  The three babies... I didnt know then that they would always be my three eternal babies.  And then...  Halloween 2009... In the NICU... With Bobby and Maya in preemie onesies (for 3 pounders) that were too big...  Samhain that year... Rushing home to light the candles for the windows... To place the milk and honey by the kitchen door... To welcome the ancestors- to welcome Nicholas and Sophia and Alexander- home.  The stones, their names etched on them with another rock... Stones thrown into the river afterwards... 

On this third harvest we celebrate rebirth through death for we know that death is not the end.
On this Samhain night of magic and chaos, our joys and our sorrows become one...
As through this decay new life soon will begin...

Death is not the end... Of this I am sure.  Just as the decay of the life before gives way to the new life of vegetation in the spring, just as it feeds the earth so that the earth can be bountiful...  This life that we live, I have no doubt, is just the foundation for one that is to come.  My children arent gone, they are simply not here...  Just as one day,  I will not be here.  I belive this.  I know it in the depths of my soul... And yet, the mourning is still there.  The missing is still there.  They may not be dead to me, but they are lost to this world where I remain.  And that is the deepest of hurts...  To me, to their father, but to Bobby and Maya less I think.  Because, for them, they still share the bonds of the World Before and the World After, and I feel like they spent so much of their time- regardless of veils being thin or not- communing with their siblings.  The smiles, the laughs, their voices as they say "Neeko", "Sofffffe", "Xander"...  Perhaps they miss them less... Because they dont miss them at all; they play with them and love them and they are here.  Tangible.  Because no one has told them otherwise.  Joy and sorrow as one... For me, at least.


Leave the crops that remain...
Light the bone fires...
Mark the stones with the names you hold dear...
Leave food offerings on the altar...
Leave milk and honey by the door...

Our Samhain 2011 indoor altar, Nov 7, 2011

And so today... November 7th...  We'll take a note of the garden and offer the remaining tomatoes and broccoli and peppers in thanksgiving.  We'll light a bonfire and tell the stories of the ancestors, remembering and loving... Knowing they live on and are welcomed as long as we never forget.   We'll mark the stones with their names and set them around the Blessed Mother shrine in our front yard.  Before going to bed, I'll put local apples and squash on our altar, surrounded with pictures of those we love.  And, of course, the candle in the window... To guide them home... To let them know they are welcome...  With milk and honey by the door (in case they'd rather not come inside while we sleep) :)


Thinking of you and your departed loved ones this blessed and holy day, as we remember those we love who have gone before us.

4 comments:

Ms. J said...

How beautiful . . . your devotion and rememberance of people now longer here, and no matter how briefly they touched our lives on this earth, never ceases to touch me deeply.

Jenni said...

We wrote letters to deceased loved ones this Samhain, and then we burned the letters. My husband wrote to his granddad who died this year, but I wrote to my babies. There was definitely something cathartic about it.

amazingk8 said...

Just beautiful...thank you for sharing this.

Terri Jones said...

Beautiful post! Thinking of you. Love you guys!