Skip to main content

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

Popular posts from this blog

What Do You Mean, Quaker Pagan?

"What do you mean, Quaker Pagan? You can't possibly be both!" Every now and then, we do get a comment on the blog that, if politely worded, does drive at basically that point. Usually the critic is a Quaker and a Christian, though I have certainly heard similar points raised by Pagans. Let me state a few things up front. Peter and I both do consider ourselves Pagan. Neither of us considers ourselves to be Christian--I never was one, and Peter hasn't been for decades. And we do consider ourselves to be Quakers... as does our monthly meeting, which extended us membership after the normal clearness process. We consider ourselves Quaker Pagans. (Why not Pagan Quakers? Pure aesthetics; we think the word order sounds better with Q before P.) Here's the argument for why Peter and I can't possibly be both: 1. Paganism is a non-Christian religion. 2. Quakers are a Christian denomination. 3. ERGO... Yes. We've considered that argument, oddly eno

Red in Tooth and Claw

When Nora, Peter's grandmother, lived with us , our household was the nucleus of an active local Pagan community. Over time, dementia eroded more and more of Nora's ability to retain anything she learned about in the present, so she wound up discovering again and again that she was living in a family of Pagans. Over and over, we would have made some reference to our Paganism, and Nora, having forgotten about it for the time being, would ask us to explain again what it was we believed. We would explain, yet again, about all of life being sacred to us, and nature being the source of our inspiration. Each time we did this, we would reach the point in our discussion where she would protest, quoting the line from Tennyson about " Nature, red in tooth and claw ." Nevertheless, we would insist that that was where we looked for the holy, and eventually, she would exclaim (just as she had the time before that): "Well, then, you're all heathens!" When we

Peter on Grief and Communities

Well, that was unexpected. For the last year, ever since my mom's health took a sharp downturn, I've been my dad's ride to Florence Congregational Church on Sundays. That community has been important for my dad and the weekly outing with me was something he always looked forward to and enjoyed, so I didn't mind taking him there. It meant giving up attending my own Quaker meeting for the duration, but I had already been questioning whether silent waiting worship was working for me. I was ready for a sabbatical. A month ago, my dad was Section-Twelved into a geriatric psych hospital when his dementia started to make him emotionally volatile. I had been visiting him every day at his assisted living facility which was right on my way home from work, but the hospital was almost an hour away. I didn't see him at all for three weeks, and when I did visit him there, it actually took me a couple of seconds to recognize him. He was slumped forward in a wheel chair, lo