Harvest time here in England is the season where we give thanks for the bounty of the earth. It’s a time to celebrate and it also means that not far behind the bringing in of the crops, my favourite sabbat is coming. I look forward to Samhain (Halloween) all year, it’s a chance to take part in the sabbat’s ‘traditions’ (the modern Western Christian reinterpretation of them) of dressing up, decorating the house and handing out sweets to trick or treaters. That’s the fun part of a secular Samhain.
However as a Pagan, Samhain has a much deeper spiritual significance. The coming Sabbat signifies a noticeable change in the natural world that surrounds us and marks an important time in the cycle of the year. Once the harvest is collected, and the leaves begin to turn from green to an Autumnal orange, yellow and brown before falling from the trees – it’s a time to reflect on the past year and to connect with our beloved who have left this life.
As a non theistic Pagan I believe that after this life we simply return to the earth from whence we came, that we become once more the basic elements (Hydrogen, helium, nitrogen etc) that are the building blocks of life – our bodies decay and we return to the universe. So it may seem strange to think of a festival that commemorates our dead ancestors – that parades as a time when the veil between the world of the living and the dead is at its thinnest – as being relevant or pertinent to a Godless sans afterlife heathen like me.
Actually I’d argue that on the contrary, knowing that there is nothing beyond this life, beyond death means understanding and accepting that the absence of my loved ones is permanent and eternal so they will remain alive only through my remembering and honouring them. Samhain is the Sabbat of reflecting on the year that has passed and is the time we dedicate ourselves to remembering that we are who we have become, partly because of who we have come from. For good or for bad our past shapes our present, on Samhain I let go of the past and remind myself that I am not a slave to my past but am honoured that it has shaped my present and will shape my future.
This year’s sabbat is particularly relevant as the 17th October will mark the first anniversary of Pippin’s death. Still locked in grief and shrouded in guilt, the irony of the fact the he died so close to the Sabbat the honours the dead is not lost on me. Although it is merely a coincidence, it’s one that still grips my heart with a ragged ferocity. Grandad is also always sadly missed, I weep at the thought that he never got to see the woman I have become, he only knew me as the worthless girl I was. On Samhain though I will remember all the wonderful memories and moments we shared with him.
So this Samhain as I carry out a rite to mark this moment in the cycle of the year that keeps turning I will recite:
Although my ancestors have passed, may they live long in my heart, although they are too far for me to reach any more.
Samhain however is more than just the ritual carried out on the Sabbats night, it is the turning and falling of the leaves, the fields barren and waiting for a new season to once more be filled with the crops and cereals that sustain us, it is the chill North Westerly wind and the drawing in of the nights. Autumn is a season of dramatic change in nature, it’s poetry in performance and magic in motion.