earthweal weekly challenge: APPROACHING SAMHAIN

by Sarah Connor

Of all the cross-quarter festivals, Samhain is the only one that seems to have retained a hold on the popular imagination. The ancient festival was co-opted by the Church into All Hallows’ Eve, and then transformed and transmuted into the festival of pumpkins and witches and monsters we know today. It’s more enthusiastically celebrated than Easter, I think, and is second only to Christmas as a popular festival.

My Irish husband’s childhood Halloween was all about nuts and fruit — no candy! — and barmbrack, a fruit cake containing charms that foretold the future (if you found a wedding ring, you’d be the first to get married, if you found a coin you’d be rich). My northern English Halloween smelled of burnt turnip (no pumpkins!), and had a whiff of folk magic about it. If you could peel an apple in one go and then toss the peel over your shoulder it would show you the initial of the one you’d marry. We bobbed for apples in bowls of water, too. Apples are very much linked with the goddess, of course, with her five-pointed star right at the heart of the fruit.

If we look beyond the pumpkins and candy, what do we see? An old, old festival — the end of Autumn, the start of Winter; the festival that celebrates the dark of the year; the festival that celebrated the goddess in her crone aspect. The festival of the dead. A time when the living leave their doors open for their dead —  or join them in the graveyard with food, music and flowers.

Have we ever felt the presence of the dead more than we do this year? There is so much to mourn. Five million COVID deaths around the world. It’s an unfathomable number. It’s as if Sydney, or Cape Town, or Montreal have been wiped off the map.

We’ve not just lost people, we’ve lost time, opportunities, celebrations, holidays. We have a lot to mourn.

The energy of Samhain is the energy of the dark. It’s the acceptance that death is necessary for renewal, that loss is necessary for gain. It’s the energy of change, of shedding old ideas, old ways of doing things. It’s the doorway to winter, to a time when the land lies fallow. Deep down in the dark, change is happening. Seeds are swelling preparing to put out tentative roots and shoots. Trees are dormant, waiting to burst into leaf. As creators, we all have fallow times. Samhain reminds us that these fallow times are a necessary part of creativity, that they need to be accepted. When we’re blocked, or empty, or wordless, maybe our inner creator is telling us it’s time to rest, to absorb, to let the deep work happen.

I came across a beautiful notion when looking at Samhain/Halloween/Day of the Dead traditions. The word “guest” and the word “ghost” both come from the German word geist — a spirit invited to join the feasting on the Day of the Dead. That says to me that we can open our arms and our hearts to the uncomfortable and the uncanny. We can accept the dark gifts they bring — introspection, reflection, mourning, the discomfort of rebirth.

So for this Samhain, perhaps you could think about what you have lost—- willingly or unwillingly? Perhaps you could think about the empty time before we are renewed, your own fallow times? Perhaps you want to celebrate a loved one who has left us? Or perhaps you want to celebrate the dark power of the crone, the austere strength of winter. The veil between worlds is thin, the past and future are close enough to touch. It’s Samhain, and darkness lies before us. Let’s accept it. More than that: let’s celebrate.

15 thoughts on “earthweal weekly challenge: APPROACHING SAMHAIN

  1. A very interesting intro to our challenge. As always, we in the Southern Hemisphere are at odds seasonally. Here in Canberra we are mid way through a green and flourishing spring. Pumpkins are not on the menu for another six months. The sun builds in light and intensity. But it’s true that it’s been a tough couple of years. So I do feel quite dark. My mood just doesn’t match the season. But actually in a way it does because I much prefer winter to summer. LOL. Okay. I’ll go ramble my way into a poem instead of rambling on here.

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      • Well I don’t offer any prompts so I should just be jolly grateful that people like you think of things to help me write!! Sorry if I came across as whinging. Loss is universal so the halloween thing doesn’t really matter. It’s only a prompt for the prompt.

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      • Oh, no, I didn’t mean you to think I thought you were whinging. I’m just really aware that the seasonality thing doesn’t work in the SH. I spent a bit of time down there, and really couldn’t be bothered with things like Christmas. Who needs Christmas when it’s gloriously sunny? Easter suddenly made no sense, either. I’m just really glad if people find the promts helpful and enjoyable. I like writing them.

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      • I find that comment so interesting. “Who needs Christmas when it’s gloriously sunny?”. I love it. Like it’s just a way to pass the winter. I have only had one northern hemisphere Christmas and it was in China. Cold with Christmas Trees in public spaces and Santa hats but no actual national recognition. Very odd kind of mood for me. I would honestly love a proper white Christmas, preferably with a family who had established traditions in that environment. I might put that on my bucket list.

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  2. Sarah, this challenge is WONDERFUL. I loved the read. I feel my inner crone stirring. We have a huge storm heading our way off the ocean and we may lose power (it’s a given – big trees will come down) – but I will write to this for sure and post it when I can.

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  3. I hadn’t heard of All Hallows refered to as Samhain. “The energy of Samhain is the energy of the dark” strikes me as the opposite of Winter Solstice, celebrating the return of the sun. And what energy does one have without the other? I ‘d like to participate here for sure with a poem (a haibun of sorts) loosely connected to the season. Thanks!

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    • Hi Yvonne All Hallows is the Eve of Samhain, otherwise known as Halloween. The dark half of the year begins with Samhain, the birth of light which increases to Beltane (which commences the light half) commences with the winter solstice.

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  4. Thank you for the prompt Sarah. This time of year always seems to tug at the heart for me, offering the opportunity to “hold the tension of opposites” as Marion Woodman writes. For me the challenge is to make space for the loss and at the same time recognize that there is space for celebration as well.

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