As we approach Samhain, everyone is busy making preparations for ceremonies, rituals, Halloween parties and so on. And quite rightly too.
Samhain is the old name for Halloween – a pagan festival for honouring the deceased loved ones and Ancestors. It takes place on the night of 31st October to 1st November every year (based on the current western Calendar). The word Samhain (pronounced `Sow-in’) is Irish Gaelic name for the month of November, and Samhuin (pronounced `Sav-en’) is Scottish Gaelic for All Hallows. 1st of November marked the beginning of Celtic Winter, and the beginning of the New Year for the Celts!
Harvest of the Flesh: Samhain marks the 3rd harvest of the year – that of the flesh. This refers to the olden day agricultural practises of slaughtering and preserving the meat of any weak cattle-stock that will not survive the upcoming winter, but ensuring that the good stock were carefully selected and provided for through the hard winter months (for they were needed to re-grow stock when Spring came!). Any remaining crops were also harvested at this time, before the frosts came and ruined them. So it was a time of preparation for winter, as well as time of abundance of meat and harvested grains – and festivities were held.
In Pagan religions such as Wicca, death is seen as a transition from one phase of life to another (The Death Card in Tarot has similar meaning), or from one incarnation to the next. This rite invokes the God and Goddess of the underworld. The Dark Lord, known as Hades in Greek mythologies, or Pluto in Roman mythologies, is the ruler of the Underworld. He is not to be confused with the Christian `Devil’ or `Satan’. At this time (Samhain), the Dark Lord is said to opens the gateway between our world and the underworld and invites all to feast (commune) with the dead.
Ritual ideas of Death: In Wicca and other western pagan religious rituals, following cleansing & consecrations with salt-water and incense, a sacred magical circle is created for protection (this is normal for all rituals). Then the 4 elements – air, fire, water and earth – are called to guard the 4 quarters (or directions) of the Circle. Energy is raised – either with chants, spiral dance or sometimes deep meditation. Then symbolically, the Dark Lord is invoked, as well as the crone or wise-mother aspect of the Goddess. Hecate, Cerridwen, Cailleach are just some of the Goddesses who can be called. At this point, the boundary between the underworld and the living are magically opened, and all members participating may then commune silently with their ancestors. Once this part of the ceremony has finished, cakes & wine are blessed, and shared around (the symbolic `feasting with death’). People may call out names of their ancestors and say loving words of remembrance.
There follows much merriment, as pagans hold all things in balance, and realise that at times of remembering the dead, it is also important to focus on life and the living.
What about the living?
The question that has me contemplating is this- what about us the living? I don’t mean that in the previously explained sense of `celebrating the life’, but in a sort of generational way.
Here we are well and truly focusing on remembering our deceased, and all the (good) things they have achieved and left behind…but in the same vein, surely we should be thinking about future generations – and what we are leaving behind for them? One day our time will come, and we will end our lives on Earth and ascend (or descend) to other spiritual planes. And hopefully one day in the future, some of our descendants (children, grandchildren – and surviving relatives, friends, peers and colleagues – will be sitting at their Samhain altars and planning to contact our spirits, to honour us. And at that point, what will they remember? what will they call us for?
What legacies are we creating now…that we will leave to the next and future generations?
People are always busy.. always in a hurry, facing struggles and stresses, trying to get somewhere in life.. (well, most people!) And in all that hurry, people probably forget about the legacies we leave behind… not just to our immediate loved ones, families, friends.. – not just a patch of land, property, saved up money or other wealth, stack of albums and such…but other legacies.. Yes, we have a loving obligation to take care of the loved ones..by leaving good things for them.. (and not just a messy house full of worthless junk, or huge financial debts).
But we also have a duty to leave some sort of legacy for humanity itself. It does border on altruism.. not 100% but enough to make a genuine difference to humanity. Otherwise what will be the point of having been part of the human race?
These days people talk about taking care of the environment, ecology and animals.. on top of the personal legacies to be left for loved ones. But it goes a bit more than that.
Did we make a difference – in our living years – to others? Not just doing things as part of our everyday living.. while we are crossing the road, we help someone else cross the road too.. throw a few coins into a charity box.. run a community event.. etc.
But really making an impact – one that will register in the human collective.
I do admire the people who travel the world, staying in other countries and working to change other people’s lives.. I admire people who set up or take up causes and fight to make a huge difference, for weeks and months and years.. and I admire people who create new things – as smal as some of it may seem- but things that have a potential to grow and change hundreds of lives.
Oh yes, I hear you say- no time, gotta look after immediate problems! I get you.. Am there , right with you on that one. But I also think about the `beyond my immediate’ realms.
It may seem like a huge challenge, to think about the great big Humanity.. and it may seem a daunting task to even contemplate giving something to humanity. But I imagine, that if we did.. we’d get a better perspective.. on our tiny lives…and how it can make huge differences to the whole Human race..
While we focus on the spirits of our Ancestors, as Samhain approaches, we should be thinking what legacies we may be leaving behind..
Good luck in creating your own legacies. Your forefathers mattered. And now, it’s your time.. and you matter 🙂