Samhain: Ancient and Modern

Here’s a taster of a blog that I put up yesterday for SageWoman’s channel at PaganSquare. To read the full post, click HERE.

samhain 1Calan Gaeaf (Welsh) or Samhain (Irish) begins at sunset of 31st October and runs to to sunset 1st November according to most Western Pagan traditions. If working by the moon, it is the first full moon when the sun is in Scorpio. If working by the natural landscape, it is when the first frosts bite. Samhain was termed the Celtic New Year, as it marked the ending of one cycle and the beginning of another. The Celts reckoned their days from sunset to sunset, and so the start of the year would begin in the dark time at the beginning of winter. Samhain marked the first day of Winter.

Calan Gaeaf, however, is a time that is not a time, and therefore some Pagans honour this tide and season from 31st October right through to the Winter Solstice. It is a time after many things have died, and there is a stillness to the air, an Otherworldly feel in the silence. It’s a dark time here in the UK, with long nights on our northerly latitude, and usually a very wet time as well. It’s not hard to see how these months could be seen outside of time, outside of the cycles of life, death and rebirth.

Calan Gaeaf, Samhain, Hallowe’en, All Soul’s Night – for many pagans this is the ending of one year and the beginning of another. It is often seen as the third and final harvest – with the last of the apples harvested, the cattle were prepared for winter and the grain stored properly. It is also a time when it is said that the veil between the worlds is thin, and the realms of the living and the dead are laid bare to each other. We are approaching the darkest time of the year, and the killing frosts and snows await just around the corner. It is a time of letting go, of releasing into the dark half of the year, and getting rid of the dross in our lives so that we do not have to carry them with us through the long winter nights. We consciously make the effort to live better, meaningful lives and let go of all that holds us back – our fears and worries, our anger and hatred. We nurture the beneficial and the good that we have in our lives, ensuring that they are well kept for our plans to come at the winter solstice. So the cycle continues.  READ MORE…

Hallowe’en fun and frolics…

 

Phew – what a busy weekend we’ve had! We put on a “dark” belly dance charity fundraiser, Haflawe‘en, this Saturday, and raised over £450 for our charities! We did three performances this time, and got to see lots of other dancers from all over the region.  Great music in the disco afterwards as well – there’s nothing better than just letting it all go to The Prodigy’s Firestarter! Lots of trick-or-treaters at the door on Monday as well, and a moving, deep ritual around the fire outside centering on transformation.  Blessings of the season to you all!

Reblog – Druid Priest: Behind the robes

Here’s a taster from my latest blog at SageWoman – to read the full article click HERE.

At this time of year, the pull of the ancestors is very strong, from the blood ancestors, the ancestors of the land and also ancestors of tradition. The beckoning call of our future ancestors also pulls me in another direction, and I feel the threads that weave it all together being pulled tightly, even as the leaves turn and fall from the trees, the smell of woodsmoke on the wind.  Sometimes the songs of the ancestors are so strong, that when walking through the land it can feel like walking through treacle. When sitting in meditation, the songs flow through my body, leaving my sense of self behind as I am swept up in the current of my bloodline, the songs of those who lived on this land before, and the wisdom whispered through the teachers.  It can be difficult, dealing with the parish council and social workers, or even holding a conversation with someone who works at the village shop.  Still, with the heady songs flowing through my veins and through the land I manage to get the day to day jobs done: the post mailed, the articles written, the class notes finished, the toilet scrubbed.

It’s now mid-afternoon, and as I stand by the empty grave I see people starting to arrive. They wait by the edge of the graves, and then the hearse arrives, the long black car pulling along the dirt drive through the trees of the natural burial ground. I feel the waves of emotion through the people as they see that vehicle of death arriving, and I feel a wave of memory flooding through me as well, of past deaths and loved ones arriving in the same fashion.  I take a deep breath of the autumn air and send love and compassion to my heart, and then extend that outwards to those who are waiting for the coffin to emerge, as I hold them, creating a sacred space for them to grieve, to feel this moment, to come to terms with their own mortality and the mortality of those that they love…

Cont’d at Witches and Pagans HERE.

Emma Restall Orr on the ancestors

“The dead fall from awareness only when they are forgotten, so the practising animist acknowledges the ancestors with gratitude and open-heartedness, each and every day – whenever a task is to be done, whenever an old tool is lifted, a skill used, an old pathway walked. When a challenge or an obstacle arises blocking the way, when pain kicks in and weakness overwhelms, it is to the ancestors that the animist turns, and it is in the ancestors that courage is found, generation to generation, hand in hand, words of wisdom heard and experience shared. When crises are overcome, when love is found and joy fills a moment with delight, the ancestors are an integral part of the celebration.”
Emma Restall Orr, from her essay “Time and the Grave”, from the book This Ancient Heart.

A Pub Walk, Ancient History

The ancestors are all around us. Traces of the ancestors of the past, of those that lived upon this land, whose stories are heard upon the wind, whose lives are still reflected all around us can be still found if we simply open our senses to them.  At this time of year, as at any other time of the year, I walk with the ancestors, yet when Samhain approaches the urgency of their presence seems to fill my mind. I feel such a strong connection to the ancestors, of past, present and future.  A simple walk to the pub reveals the very real existence of the ancestors on the land where I live.

The Suffolk landscape is often synonymous with Saxon culture and history, from the graves at Sutton Hoo to the palace/village/town found in Rendlesham forest. But echoes of those who were here before the Saxons, the Celtic tribes still remain.  Though the term Celtic is currently undergoing much investigation, there is still much evidence of Iron Age life (and even before that) in this landscape from those who lived here, fished these rivers, walked this sandy soil.  When we think of the Celts today, we most often think of Ireland, Scotland and Wales.  But here in the East of England the ancestors are all around us, from the history of Boudicca’s uprising to the gentler, untold stories of daily life in the marshes and heathlands that abound in this land.

A simple three mile walk to the pub can reveal a very deep connection to those who have gone before, and who are still present all around us.

With every footstep, we walk with the ancestors.

With every footstep, we walk with the ancestors.

“Hill” where Iron Age burial mounds overlook the heathland

Buried beneath this farmer's field is a henge.

Buried beneath this farmer’s field is a henge.

View of the heath from burial mound.

View of the heath from burial mound.

Site of Iron Age village, half a mile away from the burial mounds and sitting atop a hill, now a farmer's field.

Site of Iron Age village, half a mile away from the burial mounds and stitting atop a hill, now a farmer’s field.

Reblog: Riding the Tides of Samhain (No sh*t, no flowers)

Here’s a link to my latest blog post on my channel at SageWoman on the Witches and Pagans site. Blessings of the Samhain tide!

“I can make whatever choices I want in my life, and I will live with the consequences of those choices. But if I want to live a life close to my deepest desires, I have to risk knowing who I really am and have always been. Knowing this, then I can choose.”

Oriah Mountain Dreamer, The Invitation

We live in a culture and a world of avoidance.  Television, social media, alcohol and drugs are just a few escape routes we have to avoid truly knowing who we really are.  At this time of year, when Samhain is fast approaching we cannot avoid the very real fact that we will die, that death is unavoidable, though we may try.  Looking at death straight in the eye can reveal some very hard truths about ourselves, about how we live in the world, and what our responsibility and duty is to the ancestors, not only ancestors of the past but perhaps more importantly, ancestors of the future.

Continued… to read the full blog post, click HERE.

Reblog: The Love of the Darkness

This a reblog from my channel, DruidHeart at Witches and Pagans, on SageWoman’s channel:

 

The still centre.

Outside, in the dark, the air is finally still. Like rich swathes of fabric, the darkness hangs around me, enfolding me, wrapping me in its exquisite embrace. I sit, breathing in the night air, the smell of cedar and dew wet grass filling me with pure awen. The last of the crickets are singing in the remnant of summer’s growth, owls hooting softly in the distance and underneath the beech tree near Caia’s grave I let the songs of the night wash over me in waves of indigo and black.

The quiet is shattered by the call of a stag just on the other side of the hedge. Calling to the does, he is in full rut, looking for the ladies in the shelter of the night. He is maybe four feet away, and his bark and rumbles excite me with the power that he is emanating in following his soul’s truth. I can hear the slight shuffle of leaves and grass beneath his hooves as he paces up the track and then back down towards the nature reserve and farmer’s fields.

Overhead, a few stars are shining between the cloud cover, and the moon has not yet risen. My muscles have become fluid, my sense of self sliding into the darkness until there is no separation. There is no I am to compare with: I cannot even say “I am one with this land”, for there is no I. No me. Just life and death, a cycle and spiral mirrored in the galaxy that we perch upon the edge of, in the vastness of space and time.

But eventually I come back; there is an “I” once again. An “I” to speak from this still centre, to make sense of the experience. Sometimes I loathe that “I”, wanting to remain forever in the embrace of the darkness, boundless and floating, no edges and completely open, sharing with everything on this planet in the beautiful, soundless dance in the round of existence. The “I” always returns however, a little smaller, a little less sure of itself, and for this I am glad.

Deep within the depths of the stillness, the songs of the universe can be heard. Beyond the sense of self is all existence.

The love of the darkness, where there is nothing but potential.

 

To see the original post, click HERE.

 

 

Samhain, Death and Dying

Raven’s Hollowby Wyldraven © Wyldraven 2011- 2014 http://wyldraven.deviantart.com/art/Raven-s-Hollow-208469580

In a blog post written last year, I wrote about my contemplations on the Samhain tide of the year, touching upon the nature of death and the Otherworld.

As the darkness closes in with earlier nights and later mornings, thoughts and feelings seek out the lessons to be learnt in the growing dark, where boundaries fall away and where we know nothing at all. Walking through the garden at sunset, shuffling though the fallen beech leaves, greeting my cat at her gravesite (who passed away last Yule), watching as my garden plants return the energy to their roots, I am surrounded by death as much as I am surrounded by life.

Thoughts inescapably turn to death during the Samhain tide, where in Druidry it is recognised and not shuffled away, never to be spoken of in conversation, turning it “morbid” or filled with superstition that the mention death will bring. Death comes to us all, whether we talk about it or not. Might as well talk about it.

My first thoughts turn towards the concept of the Otherworld. Many within Druidry believe in such a place, or places, where our soul goes to rest, to party, to do whatever it is we believe it does, perhaps before we reincarnate. While I do believe in reincarnation, my belief is much more simplistic that this.

More and more I come to realise that, at least for me, there is only this world. There is no Otherworld. There is no veil between the worlds, for there is only this world. And what a wonderful, awe-inspiring world, filled with gods and ancestors and life and death.

The belief in reincarnation, that our soul lives on to occupy another body at a certain time either in the future or in the past, is based upon the belief that there is a place where our soul goes when we die. For me, there is no such thing as “away”. We cannot throw our garbage “away”. We cannot be “away” with the faeries. Our souls cannot go to a resting place before coming back to this world. There is only this world. Let me elaborate.

Using nature as my teacher, I look deeply at how death occurs, the process and the stories that unfold. Death is all around us, from the earth we walk on that is made up of millions of dead things, to the death that we ourselves create with our very existence. Life is also all around us, things coming into being and growing, being nurtured and nurturing in turn. When something dies, it returns back to the soil, to transform into another way of life. Essentially, for me this is what reincarnation is all about. Changing our form. When I die, my body will be devoured by bacteria and worms, become plant food and be drawn up through the roots of trees to be exhaled into the deepening twilight. This is change, this is reincarnation, becoming incarnate in another form, becoming incarnate in a legion of other forms.

My body is made up of a similar legion of other forms, dating back to when we were all just star stuff. Everything on this planet has an original ancestor of star material, and whatever came before stars. My body is made up of living things and dead things. In my bones are stars, in my blood is iron from the hills where I grew up. All these things are living through me, and will continue to live even when I die to be expressed in a different form. They don’t go anywhere but right here.

The human crisis of self-awareness has led to a clinging of the ego which convinces us that without the idea of a separate identity, a sense of self, an “I am” we are simply lost in complete annihilation upon death – that we cease to be. Screaming for attention, it feeds upon the fear and insecurity that the knowledge of our own deaths bring in the darkness. A few religions, philosophies and spiritualities overcome this fear, learning how to transcend the ego, to let it go in order to become one again with the universe. As a Druid and Pagan, this feels right to me, for this leads to a life that is completely integrated with the natural world around us. It drops the illusion of barriers between us and the environment, and allows for full immersion into the present moment where we can be awake and aware to every shimmering drop of existence.

Yet in modern paganism the focus is usually on the “I”, the personal transformation into a better being and a better Pagan, to search for the truth of our souls and to live that truth honourably in accordance with our tradition. Self-actualisation is a big thing, not only in Paganism but also around the world. Based on concepts of the self, a return to the self and coming into our own power, we work on our selves constantly. This in itself is not a bad thing, but for me it needs to go one step further. We have to look inside our selves to understand the nature of the self, and then we can be rid of it. Emma Restall Orr discussed this in a very poignant essay, “After Paganism”, in Moon Books’ Essays in Contemporary Paganism (2013).

Many would query the validity of this, as for them the be all and end all is their sense of self, what they can do and what they have achieved in the world. Without this sense of self, would they be able to make their dreams come true, to work for political and environmental causes, to further their own desires and needs?

While I do not, as yet, have an answer to this question, it is still one that is worthwhile in the asking. I truly believe that we can, at least for moments, perhaps days or weeks, months or even years to drop that sense of self in order to integrate fully with the world. When we have, we can come back to the world with a sense of self that is not separate, that observes but does not judge, that is wakeful and aware without needing to fight for its own existence.

Returning to the subject of death and dying, if we have sufficiently come to terms with the notion that the self is not separate, and that there is no need for an individuated self to exist then when we die, we simply return to the earth. That spark that is human consciousness, that allows us to think about life and death and the self, that too returns to the earth. I seriously question whether humans are the only beings on the planet with the capability of questioning on these subjects, for it my belief that we simply have not been able to language this with other species, out of ignorance or human arrogance, or perhaps both.

Everything returns to the earth. Everything. My consciousness will seep into the soil even as my blood and bones, hair and nails. In this, complete and utter integration will occur, a reincarnation into a myriad of forms. My songs will blow with the wind. My eyes will be in the heads of flowers. My heart will be deep in the darkness of the soil. I will not leave, I will forever be here, in this world, in a multitude of forms. The ego “I” that I speak of will be long gone, released willingly into the night, but the sefless “I” will still be here.

There is comfort in this, in the knowledge that when we die, we don’t go anywhere. The ancestors are always with us, everywhere. Everything that has ever lived and ever died is still here, in another form, whether pebble or mountain, horse or mouse. You can’t create something out of nothing. You can evolve, but that’s a different story – our story is one that is shared universally.

Some would say my thinking is based upon a materialistic view of the world, however, when everything is inspirited, when everything has a consciousness that is not separate, there can be no question that it is wholly animistic. It’s not just the case of “the worm crawls in, the worm crawls out, the worm plays pinochle on your snout” – there IS more to it. Death is not stopping. Death, or dying, is an event that takes place – it is not a “forever”. Death is not the opposite to life – the opposite of death is birth, a singular event. Life has no opposite.

If there is no opposite, then there is no need for other worlds. Everything is right here, right now. The gods of nature are all around us, in the sunshine and in the rain, in the air that we breathe, in the storm and in the drought. So too are the ancestors, our ancient ancestors and our grandmothers who all are letting go of their stories into the soil, to be told again in other forms.

I realise that my words may not be in tune with the majority of Pagans, however, they are spoken with the utmost respect. And in the darkness I breathe, deeply, until there is no longer anyone breathing.

Reblog: The Blessing of Samhain… If You Dare…

This is a reblog from my channel, DruidHeart, at the Witches and Pagans website. To read the full article, click HERE.

Here in the UK, the weather has turned and the colder air sweeps down from the North. Nights are longer, as the sun jumps along the horizon with each rising and setting, heading further and further towards the south. Trees are changing colours, and plants are beginning to die back, the green fading into golden and tawny hues, foliage less dense and earth beginning to peek through the underbrush.

The tide of Samhain has begun, when, after the autumn equinox we prepare for the darkness to come. The balance has been tipped, and we have tipped with it, our internal clocks trying to adjust to new temperatures and light levels. Often, we try to establish our centre, attempting to find some foothold or handhold in the coming darkness, our egos crying out the great rallying cry of “I AM!” The darkness, however, knows the folly of this, and smiles as it creeps ever closer.

In the darkness there are no guidelines. There are no boundaries. There is no up or down, no left or right. There is only impenetrable night, a sweet release from the constraints of the known…

To read the full article, click HERE.