Friday, October 29, 2010


I have been thinking a lot over the last few weeks about Samhain ("Saw-wen"), which is also known in different traditions as Hallowe'en or Hallowmas.

In my tradition of Feminist Witchcraft, Samhain is the Third Harvest, the Witches' New Year, and the Feast of the Beloved Dead.  This is the time when we honor those who have gone before, our literal ancestors and our spiritual ancestors, those whose names we know and those whose names are lost to us.  We mourn endings and losses of the past year.  And we welcome babies who were born this year and honor new beginnings from this last year. 

It can be a very tender time of year for many of us.  A time to gather together, grieve, and rejoice. 

For our potluck, my particular little group often sets our theme as "Remembrance Food: Food that honors your ancestors or cultures that have nurtured you."

The time between Samhain and Winter Solstice is the time between death and rebirth.  At Winter Solstice, the Sun is reborn -- on the shortest day, the Sun comes back to us; "life comes new from Death" [Schrag, "Kore, Evohe"]. 

In our culture, we're used to thinking of birth as the beginning of life, and death as the end.  But really, death and life are a circle, and we can't actually say what comes first: death paves the way for new life.  Without the death of the old year, the new year can't be born; without the death of the old leaves, new leaves can't be born; without time in the Darkness, seeds, ideas, and babies can't germinate; without the sacrifice of our food -- the grain and the animals, Lugh and the Horned One -- we wouldn't eat; all light casts a shadow. 

Every seed becomes a promise
Kore takes them in Her hands
Into the Earth, and into the Darkness
And into the quiet lands...
- John Schrag, "Kore, Evohe"

With every change comes some kind of end: without the "death" of an old way of being, the new way wouldn't be "born."  Loss is inherent in change. 

Witches have a saying:  All things must change, or die; and death is change. 

This Samhain, I am remembering my grandparents, their parents, and others who have died over the years and who will always be with me -- friends, loved ones, family members, former partners, teachers, mentors, spouses of friends, beloved pets... 

I'm also honoring people who have died this year, or whose deaths I've just learned of this year, several of whom I've mentioned on this blog under the tag "Samhain."  Christine Oliger, Father Emery Tang, George Willoughby, Morton Kravitz, Mabel Lang, Art Gish, Carolyn Diem, Sarah Leuze, Lynn Waddington, Gene Stotlzfus, Betty Nebel, and others.  And people I didn't know personally, but still honor, like Miep Gies, Dr. William Harrison, Daniel Schorr, and others. 

This Samhain, who are you honoring?  
  • Who are your ancestors, literal, spiritual, metaphorical?  Known and unknown? 
  • Who are your beloved dead you honor?  
  • Who are your not-so-beloved dead you are glad to release?
  • Who are you mourning?  
  • What new beginnings do you honor from this last year? 
  • What new babies did you welcome this last year? 

Who is remembered, lives.  

Blessed be. 


Hystery said...

Every year, typically on All Souls' Day, we take the children to visit the graves of their ancestors. We place apples on the graves and share stories about their lives. We also tell the children how much we loved those who have passed on and how much they would have loved the children and how proud they would have been to see what good people they are becoming. We want the children to be surrounded by their family and the sense that not only those they can see, but also those who have moved beyond seeing are with them in the spirit of love.

Alyss said...

My dad's dog died this week and I am fortunate enough that this is my first experience with someone close to me dying. 2 of my grandparents died before I was born and a third when I was too young to remember (the 4th is still alive and kicking at 93!). It has been heart wrenching to grieve for Lucky and brought up questions about all the relationships between people, animals and the divine. A question that came to me in prayer was "does god care about dogs?" and I have been wrestling with that question for days now. I believe that she does, but it's still not simple. And is it fair to talk about mourning a dog when so many people are mourning children, parents, lovers? How can I compare my grief to theirs. Ah, but these are all head questions - my heart knows the real answers.

I am happy that Halloween is coming so quickly on the heels of this family tragedy. It is giving me a place to put my grief and a way to work with it.

RantWoman said...

Pesto the cockatiel died about a week ago at my sister's house. My sister and my nephew are definitely grieving. I have not talked to my brother -in-law.

Now I think the household has only fish. All of this is great strides in pet sanity compared to previous pet realities at my sister's house so I have to hold the whole topic in prayer.

I miss hearing about Pesto too even though I was not that crazy about him hopping all over me and occasionally pooping too.

TimN said...

Thanks in particular to remember Art and Gene. You've reminded me to think of them as well. Their spirits live on in the communities they loved.

RantWoman said...

Tonight I am missing Attack Recpetionist.

Attack Receptionist is one of the people who regularly helped put up a Christmas tree in my building. Christmas in Seattle and in our building is of course a multicultural challenge. "Holiday parties" abound and one large hospital part features secular deities such as sports figures this year and Disney characters another year.

I know all this. I cannot imaging Attack Receptionist caring. She was called to put up a tree! Enjoying the Christmas tree in spite of the multicultural issues is one of my guilty pleasures.

Maybe on Monday when the right people with keys are about, I will think about decorating and see if we can finesse something seasonal and inclusive.

Morgan said...

This piece was published by Western Friend in their special issue on Quaker bloggers in the West. Check it out for other interesting Quaker bloggers, too!

Morgan said...

Thank you, each of you, for your comments and for what you've shared.