Samhain: Endings and Beginnings

Happy New Year!  In the Celtic tradition, this time of year marked a great transition: the end of daylight and summer, and the beginning of the dark time of year.  The last of the harvest had been gathered, livestock were brought in from pasture, and bonfires were lit.

In astrological terms, this is the time of year when the Sun sits at 15 degrees in the sign (or constellation) of Scorpio.  Tradition says that this arrangement indicates when the veil between this world and “the other side” is the thinnest, and we can communicate with loved ones who have walked on.  This year, the Sun is at 15 degrees Scorpio on November 6th.

Many of us fear death.  After all, no one really truly knows what happens after it.  Our faiths might tell us something, science might tell us something, but in reality, we can’t actually be sure.  It is the Ultimate Great Unknown.

Last week, in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, I had the chance to go on a trail run at Valley Forge Park.  It was on Mt. Misery, one of my favorite parts of the park.  The storm had transformed the trail.  A thick layer of leaves covered the normally visible path.  Stately trees now slept instead of standing tall.  I wondered more than a few times if I had somehow gotten off my familiar path and landed in another part of the park.

At one point near the end of my run, a large oak had fallen across the trail.  As I climbed over, I noticed how the tree had created some pretty nifty hidey holes for some lucky chipmunk or squirrel.  I also noticed how that particular part of the trail got more sunlight now that this tree was down.

I stopped my run for a moment to thank the tree.  Some might be sad that the tree was gone, but I saw the gifts that the tree left behind:  new homes for small animals, more sunlight for the younger trees, and a wonderful lesson in the circle of life for me.  This tree had lived a full life, had moved on to another state of existence, and will eventually become mulch and be reborn as a new tree.

Happy Samhain indeed. . . .



A Poem for Autumn

Barn’s burnt down; now I can see the moon.  Mizuta Masahide


I love this poem by the 17th-century Japanese poet Mizuta.  Mizuta studied under another great poet, Basho, and was samurai.  There is something so appealing to me about the bushido code of the samurai that held duty, discipline, and honorable death above all.

This time of year, with the shortening days and lengthening nights, I think about all the holidays that honor the death of summer and herald the coming winter.  The Celtic celebration of Samhain is one of those traditions.  In this holiday, like Hallows or Day of the Dead, we are meant to celebrate the harvest one final time as well as acknowledge our ancestors who have gone on before us.

It is all too easy to be sad in the winter or at the closing of one chapter, before the next one begins.  But what about the moon?  We tend to forget about the moon when we are looking at the wreckage of the barn.

Our ancestors were a little closer to the earth and sky and didn’t have smartphones or television or jobs in a cubicle to distract them from the natural rhythms of life.  They understood that the circle or wheel of life does indeed KEEP TURNING.  It doesn’t stay stuck on “burnt barn” forever.  (Sometimes it just feels that way……  🙂

Have you had a barn burn down lately?  Did you see the moon yet?