As we sweep up leaves from Hurricane Sandy, and follow the news from New Jersey, New York, Haiti and the islands of the Caribbean, we come to the holiday of the scary and the sweet. Samhain, Halloween, All Saints Day, Dia de los Muertos are days of reflecting on mortality and celebrating life.
Starhawk, a very earthy priestess of engaged paganism, wrote these words in another stormy time– 2003, the first Halloween after the start of the Iraq War.
Much of our magic and our community work is about creating spaces of refuge from a harsh and often hostile world, safe places where people can heal and regenerate, renew our energies and learn new skills. In that work, we try to release guilt, rage, and frustration, and generally turn them into positive emotions.
Safety and refuge and healing are important aspects of spiritual community. But they are not the whole of spirituality. Feeling good is not the measure by which we should judge our spiritual work. Ritual is more than self-soothing activity.
Spirituality is also about challenge and disturbance, about pushing our edges and giving us the support we need to take great risks. The Goddess is not just a light, happy maiden or a nurturing mother. She is death as well as birth, dark as well as light, rage as well as compassion — and if we shy away from her fiercer embrace we undercut both her own power and our own growth.
There are times when it is inappropriate to feel wholly good. Now is one of them. As the saying goes, “If you aren’t angry, you aren’t paying attention.”
She reminds me of my minister, James Ford, who bids us go in peace, with a hint of unrest.
Blessings from Reclaiming Collective…
A year of beauty. A year of plenty.
A year of planting. A year of harvest.
A year of forests. A year of healing.
A year of vision. A year of passion.
A year of rebirth.
This year may we renew the earth.
This year may we renew the earth.
Let it begin with each step we take.
And let it begin with each change we make.
And let it begin with each chain we break.
And let it begin every time we awake.
This Samhain, on the knife’s edge of possible futures, remember that where there’s fear there’s power, and take the sweet with the scary.
In honor of Samhain, an excerpt from story I wrote for Newport Review… The central character was my roommate for a time, until she moved on.
A Person Unknown
I sit by my window as darkness falls this Samhain season and I shuffle the cards, scanning the horizon for storm clouds. My only company is the person unknown. She is frighteningly beautiful, more than an ordinary possession. She wears a face of power and dignity, the face of the goddess Durga, the face of truth. Her jaw is sharp and classic. She is S-curves from head to toe–one of god’s perfect designs. A bare tree, a dragonfly, a river delta–what is left when all is lost. A person not in time, but in eternity.
She was imported and sold in the bone trade. I know nothing about her, except that she was female, small, and poor, and the poor have to sell their labor, their hair, their bodies. I often wonder who she was, but her inscrutable grin reveals nothing.
For the rest of the story of the Person Unknown, go to Newport Review, here.
From Scottsman.com comes proof of synchronicity. Incredibly, in the same week that Pat Robertson’s Christian Broadcasting Network posted–and then un-posted, a lurid warning about the occult influences lurking in Halloween candy bars, Catholic theologians issue a warning against having fun on October 31st. Remember that November 1st is All Saints Day, a Holy Day of Obligation. And this year it falls on a Sunday. Woe unto those who miss Mass because they stayed out too late at a costume party…
THE Catholic Church has swung its crook at celebrants of Halloween, warning parents to forbid children to dress up as ghosts and ghouls, and dismissing the celebrations as a pagan night of “terror, fear and death”.
No. Actually it’s a night when neighbors who hardly knew each other discover that doors will open to masked strangers and candy is given and received in an act of trust. I learned that my city block contained way more kids and parents and nice people than I ever would have met if I had not taken my child trick or treating.
And as far as the scary stuff. We have to let it out some time. Life is scary. It’s finite. For just one night a year we dress up like skeletons or Darth Vader or whoever we want or fear to be. We can’t be nice all the time…
Father Joan Maria Canal, a Spanish priest and liturgical expert, was quoted in the paper as saying that parents should “direct the meaning of the feast towards wholesomeness and beauty, rather than terror, fear and death”.
Fine, Father Canal. Maybe I’ll dress up like the nuns. The nuns were about seven feet tall, built like refrigerators, and– come to think of it– dressed a lot like Darth Vader. They wore really strange shoes. We wondered if they had hair. There was mystery then.
Anyway, every culture that lasts more than a generation allows a little space for wildflowers to grow.
Tonight is a religious holiday for me. I look back on the old year, I look at the leaves turning scarlet and yellow. Today was a day of borders– an unseasonable warm front on the last day of October. Fierce Southern winds on the cusp of winter. I walked on Blackstone Boulevard and thought of all those who have passed. I feel their presence tonight.
The moon is waxing, the veil is thin. There’s a goddess who blesses the runners and walkers on the Boulevard. She is manifested by a statue of a young woman walking into the wind. The statue was commissioned by a bereft mother, a monument to her lost daughter. I looked at it today and felt how we all dance on the edge of a cliff.
But we dance.
So don’t eat too much candy– at least not all at once. Pagans don’t proselytize. Paganism isn’t well-defined at all. Maybe it’s just the human spirit that needs to laugh at our fears, eat some candy, and walk outside once on a while.
Happy Samhain. Blessed Be.
There’s a wonderful meditation on the
circle of life circle of plastic by Mark Morford. He had an epiphany in a discount store while shopping for Halloween party decorations.
Who makes the plastic eyeballs full of bubble stuff that never actually work? What happens when we throw them away? Whence all these screaming skulls for $1.99?
Now I’m not going to do a Bill Donohue and get all aggrieved about the War on Samhain. ‘Put the ‘Sam’ back in Samhain’ doesn’t make sense in any language. And as much as I love my Celtic heritage, my passport doesn’t say ‘Irish’, even though I have relatives there. I’m made in America, where citizens– wherever born and of whatever religion, are citizens. Despite much grief and injustice in our founding. Despite the many ways and times we failed to live up to the ideals of justice and equality. Our aspirations exceed our reality, but we never codified a second class or a state religion.
If any Pagans are reading this, you will understand where I’m coming from. The following are Pagan ‘dog whistle’ phrases. We practice an Earth-based spirituality. Watch out for these subversive ideas–
When you put out the trash, it doesn’t just disappear.
Every manufactured thing you encounter was made by someone.
They needed materials to make it.
Don’t buy junk you don’t need at the super-cheap store. It was probably made in a factory where low-wage workers are hungry and tired and worried about what tomorrow will bring.
At this time of year the veils between the worlds are thin. Do you feel the fingerprints of someone a half a world away? She made this cheap ornament.
And speaking of disappearing trash– diamonds get stolen, plastic is forever.
I envision some sort of massive, teeming, low-rise slab of a Chinese factory that was, not a month or two prior to my visit to this particular store, stamping out a zillion plastic skulls, shiny tinsel and all sorts of junk, then shipping it to the nearly 1,000 Targets in the United States. It is simultaneously a dazzling testament to the power of capitalism and human ingenuity, as well a thoroughly depressing statement of holy crap we are so screwed.
It’s also just another reminder that we are, as voracious consumers, still famously detached from the true source of our beloved stuff in nearly all we devour, from iPods to meatballs, T-shirts to coffee cups. The Green movement aside, we still give little thought to where those truckloads of goods come from and just what resources were used/abused in the making of it all, not to mention how our actions, purchases, decisions fit into a larger schema, how these tiny plastic spiders essentially connect me with the world. Amazing.
Well yeah, and don’t think that the people who labor on the assembly lines just disappear when the season is over. What goes around, comes around. America is a nation of workers who searched for an opportunity in the global market. All of us who are not Native American are descendants of immigrants, or descendants of those who were kidnapped from Africa to supply cheap labor. And, incredibly, Halloween is made in America. A minor Celtic custom that meets a need for a little misrule in a Puritan culture.
The best thing that Halloween can do is to slip though the noose of commercialization that strangles everything that is original in American culture and be its anarchic self.
Halloween was brought here by Irish workers who just needed to vent after a year of scrubbing floors and walking the beat. And the Irish do know how to party till dawn and still make it to Mass on time.
The Celtic wheel of the year is based on astronomy, (not to be confused with astrology). For skeptics, (you Unitarians know who you are) it can be a set of guideposts along the way, so that our time does not get past us. The Narragansetts, who can make a fair claim to being the Real Americans, observed the change of seasons. There’s something to be said for deities who can be depended on to bring the light and the dark on schedule.
The Christian calendar is not indifferent to the cycles of nature. The ‘prosperity gospel’ may preach that you can get something from nothing, but our ancestors lived closer to the land. They had to sweat for everything they ate. So after the harvest, they were careful. A feast on the cross-quarter day of November 1st, and then Advent– a time of moderation. A glorious celebration at Christmas/Solstice. Then the food is running short. It’s Lent. Bless the sacrifice we must make past the Equinox until Easter/Eostre marks the time that you can get some green sprouts from the Earth again.
November 1st is a Holy Day of Obligation in the Catholic calendar. All Saints Day. A fine time to remember all those who have passed sainted by none but the One who knows all. And wouldn’t it be funny if–
Some of the saints were people who spent twelve hours a day, seven days a week making plastic eyeballs for Halloween? Some of those who were certain that they had title to a condo in the gated community of the Elect– find themselves in the slammer. With an ankle bracelet and a parole officer whose first language is not English. But Officer Heraclito is not a bad guy if you can just get past his voice mail. Meanwhile, you spend eight hours a day stamping out plastic eyeballs for the amusement of the heavenly host, who will recycle them back to you– and if Heraclito doesn’t call you back the fiends will send you to the level where the recycling is sorted.
Is that a scary Halloween story or what? So thanks to Mark Morford for opening the crypt of mindless consumption. And here’s a public option for Halloween fun. Drive out to a local farm and buy some local cornstalks. This is Rhode Island. Stop whining. You could walk there. Or just pile up your yard waste. Or hang a sheet over your porch rail. Bill Donohue will not give you an Imprimatur, so it’s okay to be messy.
Buy a pumpkin and decorate it. If you’re too tired to carve– there’s cake icing. Put together a really weird home-made costume. It’s your chance to be creative.
Enjoy. If October 31st is clement, it’s a certainty that following days will be colder. The veil between the worlds is thin. Look across and wave.