Yesterday I awoke to a chilly and misty morning in Montpelier and as I walked outside into the new day, the mist and fog was literally swirling on the pathway to my apartment. Perfect, I thought. It's that time of year again. Samhain (pronounced saw-wen) is a Gaelic fire festival, celebrated as the end of the harvest season and the beginning of the colder, darker months and is honored from sunset on Oct. 31 through sunset on Nov. 1. Literally translated as 'summer's end', this special day on the sacred wheel of the year holds many meanings, but primarily is a time to honor the harvest and the old year that has passed and is the harbinger of new beginnings. At this time livestock were brought back from the summer pastures and animals were slaughtered to provide food for the winter. Due to this last bit it was sometimes known as the blood harvest. It is also a sacred time to honor and remember our ancestors and all those who have gone before us. Therefore it is often called the 'thin time' or the time when the veils between this world and the spirit world start to thin. Other cross-cultural holidays and festivals associated with this time are Hallowmas/Halloween (Euro-American), All Souls Day (Christian) and Sukkoth (Jewish harvest). In addition, Samhain is a powerful time for letting go and honoring endings in the service of clearing space for new beginnings.
According to Starhawk in her Book Circle Round (which I would HIGHLY recommend to anyone with children), the time between Samahin (Oct. 31) and Solstice (Dec. 21) is an in-between time, a time to pause, dream, incubate ideas, and await the rebirth of the sun on the Winter Solstice, when our own inner spark begins to re-awaken again with the suns return. It's also a time where we have an opportunity to tie up loose ends and reconcile any unfinished business. I love this concept of pausing to take stock- of all that we have been through and accomplished in the cycle that has passed and to take responsibility for any loose threads before we dive into the next phase of our journey. It's rare in our culture that we are given this opportunity or the encouragement to do so. Samhain is a great time to remember, reflect and renew ourselves for the coming year. We can ask ourselves where we feel unresolved or incomplete with someone or something in our lives and then do something about it (take action). This is not always easy and sometimes takes courage, but is often very worth the effort.
We are also blessed with the opportunity to consciously practice letting go during this time of year as the earth releases and gently (or vigorously!) lets go all around us. As I look out the window of my home office in Montpelier, I notice that chilly autumn winds are blowing and that most of the leaves have fallen from the trees. The forests seem eerily thin, and the the wind has whipped away any bits of debris from the pathway leading to my door. There is a gentle but pervasive clearing action that nature employs in the fall, and we can choose to align with it or to resist it. There are things we might feel really ready to release and even excited to let go of (like a job that feels 'dead' or 'heavy') and there are probably things in our lives that we resist letting go of (like a relationship with someone we love, but that no longer serves us). It is good to honor endings as sacred and archetypal, and to hold ourselves gently in the process. In my experience letting go requires a great deal of patience, trust and perseverance. Letting go can be a process that happens over time and is not always a one-time event.
Sometimes we know exactly what we need to release (but just resist doing so) and at other times we don't have as much clarity around a situation, person, place or event. Do we keep trying and stay? Or do we let go and release? I find in my own life, that these questions are rarely crystal clear, but when I am stuck and holding on to something that I know I should release (and yes, I usually know), I remember the words of a wise yoga teacher who once encouraged us to remember that on the other side of letting go is freedom, space, possibility and perhaps exciting new opportunities that we would not be given if we were to just keep holding on. The great and sacred wheel of the year is constantly reminding us and affirming that change is constant and that letting go is just a natural part of the cycles of life- no less than the cycles of the seasons, the tides, the sun and the moon. Resistance to letting go often leads to frustration, tension, depression and despair. It's a paradox, because although the practice of letting go can be hard, ultimately if can lead to greater joy, empowerment, upliftment and manifesting the life we truly want to live!
It's in these moments (and especially at Samhain) that we can call upon our ancestors for support and encouragement on our paths. Bring them into the conversation about what needs to go and what will stay. We can commune with them and ask for wise council, guidance and HELP in having the courage to do what we know is true and right for us. They are just waiting to be employed. As my friend and psychic medium Salicrow says, "The Spirits of our loved ones are just as interested in making contact with us as we are with them." During Samhain-time, you might consider building a sacred shrine or altar to the ancestors and to sit before this alter to ask questions of your ancestors or to seek guidance on a pressing question or issue in your life. And, you can literally feed them with sweet, yummy treats you make for them and place on the altar!
However you choose to celebrate, I am wishing you all a Blessed Samhain and Happy Gaelic New Year! May you tie the sacred threads that weave through your worlds, find the courage to release the things that need releasing, and welcome new magical possibilities and auspicious new beginnings into your world and into your heart.
Asana Suggestions: Poses to honor the cycles of life and to practice letting go such as: Sun and Moon Salutes, hip openers, longer holdings of poses to go into the deep, ancestral parts of ourselves, forward folds, twists (twisting to look back and to then look forward), and of course- Corpse Pose (Savasana) to help us learn to die 'little deaths' while we are still physically alive!!
Deepen Your Practice with these Contemplations & Rituals:
* Take some time to journal about any loose ends or unfinished business in your own life and write down two or three action steps that you could take to work toward greater closure with each situation.
* Build an altar to your ancestors, which can be very simple and small with a few photos and a candle, or something larger and more elaborate. Take a trip to a local graveyard and have a picnic.
* Host an 'ancestor feast' where you invite friends or family over to enjoy traditional foods from your lineages and share stories and remember those loved ones who have passed.
* On Samhain or Halloween, ritually 'snuff out' the old year, by either lighting candles and putting them out or snuffing out a home fire or bonfire, then relight the fire in the morning to celebrate the spark of a new beginning.
* And I love this idea from Starhawk's book Circle Round: On Samhain eve. (the 31st) fling the back door to your home wide open and let all the energies of the old year be released out of the open door. Then run to the front door, fling it open and ritually allow the new year and new cycle to rush in!
Beannacht – A New Year Blessing
by John O’Donohue
On the day when
The weight deadens
On your shoulders
And you stumble,
May the clay dance
To balance you.
And when your eyes
The grey window
And the ghost of loss
Gets into you,
May a flock of colours,
Indigo, red, green
And azure blue,
Come to awaken in you
A meadow of delight.
When the canvas frays
In the currach of thought
And a stain of ocean
Blackens beneath you,
May there come across the waters
A path of yellow moonlight
To bring you safely home.
May the nourishment of the earth be yours,
May the clarity of light be yours,
May the fluency of the ocean be yours,
May the protection of the ancestors be yours.
And so may a slow
Wind work these words
Of love around you,
An invisible cloak
To mind your life.
Let It Go
by Danna Faulds
Let go of the ways you thought life would unfold:
the holding of plans or dreams or expectations – Let it all go.
Save your strength to swim with the tide.
The choice to fight what is here before you now will
only result in struggle, fear, and desperate attempts
to flee from the very energy you long for. Let go.
Let it all go and flow with the grace that washes
through your days whether you received it gently
or with all your quills raised to defend against invaders.
Take this on faith; the mind may never find the
explanations that it seeks, but you will move forward
nonetheless. Let go, and the wave’s crest will carry
you to unknown shores, beyond your wildest dreams
or destinations. Let it all go and find the place of
rest and peace, and certain transformation.