Samhain is a time of solemnity. Or is it?
One night last week I was standing on my roof looking at the bright waning moon through the dark bare limbs of the hackberry trees, and feeling the wind blow all around me, desperately trying to get myself into the appropriate mood for Samhain. Whatever ‘appropriate’ means. And then I gave up.
I wasn’t feeling solemn at all.
I grew up with the party of Hallowe’en, of Hallowmas, of All Hallow’s Eve. And then I followed my heart into paganism and the festival transformed into a night of the Death Song, of deep release and earthy grounding, and death and the final harvest, of black clothing. It was the way I was being taught. Not all pagans are like this, but the tradition I was practicing in taught me, and I got orthodox about it. The cheery debauchedness of the secular world seemed silly and vain to my converted eyes. ‘This is a death holiday!,’ I would righteously preen. Samhain is the final harvest, the blood moon, the slaughter…. All things slipping away, all things letting go, quiet and dark and deep back into the Universe’s silent womb. Didn’t they get it?
That is the mood I was trying to conjure the other night. But I couldn’t do it. The wind was sighing through the tree branches and I heard them creaking as they moved, and heard the soft awkward waddling rustle of an opossum down in the thicket. But nothing in me was sad at all, or rueful. Just peaceful and happy, with the happy peace of the beloved dead.
At Samhain, at Hallowe’en, Time, as well as other dimensional limitations, destabilizes, becomes wibbly-wobbly.We become more aware of the existence of the dead, and perhaps they more aware of our existence. So we observe, feeling our mortality: with Dumb Suppers and banshee ballads.
But even remembering the dead doesn’t have to be serious. The dead want us to rejoice with them, to live the embodied life that they are past living, and they come to visit on this night. Latin American cultures have something different, a high joy, a joy that spans all times and lifetimes. Death is still the leveller, but in good humour, like the sweetly compassionate scene in Corpse Bride in which the hero finds himself in a loud color-and-tequila-soaked tavern in the Land of the Dead, or like the scene in Gypsy 83 in which the Stevie-Nicks-worshipping heroine and her best friend are dancing in a graveyard to the vocal disapproval of a visitor, to which they reply, ‘Don’t you think we should dance while we can?’
Here we are, now here, faeries and goblins and ravens and cats and skeletons playing instruments, broomriding in the high holy winds of Samhain, wearing costumes, rejoicing in a life that is so precious that each individual embodied incarnation lasts only a few decades, if we have that luck. Just a few short decades in the whole life of the Universe. Yes, in the final harvest, you let everything go that you can’t take with you; but what is left is not your sorrow. What is left is your joy.
Laugh it, smile it, to the high winds, to the great pulsing stars that look frosted and far away but crackle and burn with life. Be alive on this day, for alive is what you are. Dance while you can. Shine your incandescent life into the long night like flames in a Jack O’Lantern. Be silly and vain and drunk in your ridiculous costume, hot dog or hippie or Bierfraulein, if you want, without an orthodox hangover! Dance with the spirits that move through this night, and with the trooping fairies, for all the embodiment that they remember, for the mortal embodiment that they have never had, for the embodiment that you will want to remember. Make your offering to the dead on this night one of thrilling, precious, untrammelable, exquisite joy.
To my ancestors, to my departed ‘gran’s: I love you. I am so happy that you lived your life so that you could bring me into mine.
With all the elements, this circle I cast.
This is Air. Call Air.
Air, carry my words and songs.
This is Fire. Call Fire.
Fire, give me courage.
This is Water. Call Water.
Water, help me feel.
This is Earth. Call Earth.
Earth, receive my bones.
This is the Universe. Call the Universe.
Mother, hear me in love.
Blessed be and Happy Hallowe’en! All love to you on Samhain!
Necropolis photo by Jeff Frazier. www.jefffrazier.com