Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Samhain Blessings

It's Samhain...and I'm not at work.

I didn't try for a religious holiday from my employer. Though I'm pretty well "out" as a Pagan to the faculty and students who care to know, I've hardly made a point of my Paganism to my administration. Can't have it both ways, after all--maintain that my religion is a personal matter, and then go out of my way to make it universally known. And, though having a whole website on the matter might be expected to take any concerns about my "hiding" anything off the table, the fact that I'm also a Quaker--and "out" about that, as well, to anyone who cares to know--means that my religious identity does not fit easily into a soundbite.

As any American in this era of televised political news can tell you, we are not a people who take well to nuance. Anyone whose beliefs, practices, or understandings go beyond soundbites is immediately suspect.

So I didn't ask to take the day off on religious grounds. Nope--However, I'm home quite legitimately, having scheduled visits with my doctor and dentist today rather than some other day. Rather than take some random day away from work, why not take one of the holiest days in the Pagan wheel of the year?

What makes Samhain holy? Memory... and love. And loss, and the acceptance of loss. Samhain is the holiday when we deliberately honor the fact of mortality: our own, and that of those we love. It's the day when we look at the skull in the mirror... and smile.

And how does this fit with the Quaker teaching against "the keeping of days"? Surprisingly well, actually, because Samhain, however important it is to me to have had the chance to take today off, is not a day, but a season, a tide. There's no magic charm in the 31st of October... the magic is in the earth itself, and in the cycles of life and death that happen here.

Pagans like to say that, at Samhain, the "veil between the worlds" is thin. And in a sense, it's always thin. The dead are never far from us, and neither are the spirits of nature, of the trees and the earth, and the cycle of life that becomes death and becomes life again. People die at any time of year, after all.

And yet--and yet: There's a reason that so many hospices and bereavement programs take some variation on the fallen leaf or the tree in autumn as a symbol. This is the time of year, in the Northern Hemisphere, when the world gets quiet, and death or sleep overtakes so many species. Everywhere we turn is death--some of it, the product of our own human hands. My students have begun to plan for the annual hunting trips with their parents; the crops have been harvested, cut down to feed our human selves. Life and death are more clearly cheek by jowl now.

So I am readying myself for a visit from our Beloved Dead. I've laid in the feast foods: Guinness for Peter's many-years-dead college room mate, squash for my much-missed former father-in-law, Earl... lobster in real butter for my Grampy, apple pie for Nanny, and sticky buns and tea for Nora, Peter's grandmother. I even brought in roast beef for my Pappy, my father's father, happy carnivore that he always was. I eat meat at no other time of year, but for Pappy--for all my ancestors--I will set aside my own ways for this one night, and remember when I was a little girl, and happy with their own.

Too much of the food is from the freezer or from Boston Market; if I had taken the day without the medical appointments, I'd have made my Nana's cabbage, and chopped and roasted and basted more of the meal myself. But that is not the point, surely: I do not think that my ancestors will be appearing physically at my dining room table an hour from now, to lift their meals with knife and fork to their ghostly lips. I know full well that a full plate will go down to the compost in the morning (though Peter and I will have eaten our own share with great relish by then). I'm hopeful, though, that if spirits linger and can sense our hearts, my ancestors will know that I have tried, within the confines of my silly, mortal life, to set a feast for them within my heart.

It's Samhain, Halloween. And I feel something stirring, in the land and in my body. I feel the tide of Samhain. And I remember.

To you and yours, and to all our Beloved Dead--blessed be.


Chris said...

Between every waking moment of life and death
the still-born silence of void reigns infinite
behind the mind of all created things
voices of the divine bleed wet and chaotic dreams
cradled within the folds of oblivion
meaning awaits in this desert of truth
blue and deep as deep can be.

Cat Chapin-Bishop said...

Thanks for the poem, Chris. Good to hear from you again.

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