Today I thought I'd like to do a post about the magic of autumn, and the upcoming holidays of Halloween/Samhain, All Saints' and All Souls' Days, and the Day of the Dead. So, for inspiration I went and visited an old blog I used to write, and discovered that the post I was looking for was published exactly 10 years ago today.
Re-reading that post was bittersweet; a lot changes in 10 years. And some things don't. Reminiscing, comparing the present to the past, these are dangerous activities. And yet there's treasure to be found there that makes the danger worth it. The trick is to go into it with a willingness to grieve what has died and to sort and celebrate what has been harvested, even if some of what you were planting back then turned out not to grow, or to be weeds instead of fruit.
Which is all completely fitting to the theme of the late October/early November holidays. The paradox of autumn is that just as it's a time of the profusion of harvest, that same profusion indicates a time of dying. The fruit is picked and the plant that produced it withers.
In fact, this is at the root of the pagan holiday of Samhain, a word with ancient Celtic origins. In Gaelic folklore, Samhain was the celebration of the final harvest, and may have become associated with death and horror partly because it was the time when the livestock was slaughtered en masse to be preserved as winter sustenance. As all things pagan are enjoying a resurgence of popularity these days, many modern pagans, Wiccans, and others celebrate Samhain, often with rituals meant to honor or even communicate with the dead. Halloween, the Day of the Dead, and All Saints/All Souls are all, of course, variations on this theme, reflecting the particular flavor of the cultural or religious groups that observe these holidays.
Traditionally, this time of year is considered to be a "thin" or liminal time, when the veil between the physical realm and the spirit world is more transparent and easier to penetrate. Although I haven't had any signficant experience during this season of contact with the dead, I do feel that liminality. I always have intense dreams in October, and uncanny synchronicities seem to happen more frequently. I find myself getting dreamy and introspective (more than usual), and creatively inspired, longing to retreat from the banality of the daily grind and into the rich dimensions of my inner life.
I may start the day with an intention to tackle the to-do list, but only get one or two things on it done, through great effort, in between stretches of writing, reading, making collage, and engaging in personal rituals. (Point in case - here I am writing this post and I didn't make it to the MVD today.) The thread through all of these activities is a focus on understanding what I'm harvesting from the year's (and my lifetime's) work, what I "planted" in the past year that has not produced fruit, and how I want to adjust my "crops" for next year.
It's a pause, a personal Sabbath, and it's essential to my wellbeing.
Meanwhile, the Responsible Adult in me protests, worries about seeming flaky, disappointing people, and suffering the consequences of dropping the ball, but ultimately surrenders in recognition that the strength of my connection to the spiritual reality is actually foundational to my productivity in the workaday world.
This time of gathering in the harvest, preserving it to hold onto for the winter months to come, is also a time of letting go, unfastening, releasing. Fruit falls - a perpetuation of life in the spreading of seeds. Trees drop their leaves and appear to die, but the sap still flows unseen. When I trust these divine rhythms of nature, and consent to move with them, I find myself simultaneously grieving and celebrating; I find healing and wholeness. The to-do list can wait.