Welcome to the intersection of time and eternity! Blessed Samhain (sow-en). Thankfully, in Gaelic this word is the name for the month of November since for me Halloween slipped by in an after-senior-flu-shot malaise. October 31 is a day out of time, the extra day in the ancient Celtic calendar, which is the source of the “year and a day” fairy tale formula. On this eve, when the veil between the worlds is thin, spirits walk and witches fly.
What was once the Celtic new year, November 1, is now the Christian All Saints Day, followed by November 2, All Souls Day, which is also the Day of the Dead. Witches can be our guides at this season, not as caricatures of old age, but as holders of precious wisdom with their ability to walk between the worlds. For as crones, we sense our bodies hugging closer to our souls preparing for our own unknown journey to come.
Each November as I arrange photographs of my beloved dead upon their special shelf, I honor not only their lives but also remember the time I shared with them in younger versions of myself. There I am at 15 curled up next to my mother on the brown plaid, early American sofa in our den watching old movies on network television, or at 20 being driven to the airport by my father in his oh-so-cool, yellow, El Camino Chevrolet listening to his eight-track tape player, or at 34 walking in my bridal gown through the cemetery in the middle of Harvard Square with my husband-to-be at my side because William and I both loved cemeteries, and that day of our wedding with our families assembled about us was so precious and fleeting. Indeed, it was and is. Each year the ancestors hold their place in my home and their number grow. This Samhain, we mourn friends and family members who were with us last year but walk the high road now.
Not only do vivid recollections bring our dead to life, but we can also meet them in a silence that is neither somber nor sad but reverberating with energy more alive than life. We can ask with the Sufi poet Rumi, “When have we ever been made less by dying?”
Let us imagine for a moment the expansion of our souls outward. Sit comfortably, feel your feet on the floor and the base of your spine rooted in your chair. Sense the power of the life force moving up your body into your belly, up into your solar plexus, expanding into your heart, humming in your throat, spinning visions from the third eye in your brow, and lifting out of your body at the crown of your head. In your mind’s eye, visualize a row of seven stars ascending above you. Slowly climb from one to the next. At the top, open yourself to the collective energy of life and the possibility of sweet contact with the unformed potential of spirit. Here, in this place between the worlds, we seek to connect the living and the dead.
In the words of T. S. Eliot, “The point of intersection of the timeless/ With time, is an occupation for the saint…/ For most of us, there is only the unattended/ Moment, the moment in and out of time. / The distraction fit, lost in a shaft of sunlight/… or music heard so deeply/ It is not heard at all, but you are the music, / while the music lasts” (from “The Dry Salvages” Four Quartets).
In such moments, we take incremental steps toward dying before we die. Each one allows us to ease our grip on the ego’s concerns. How lovely to notice the flash of our soul like a falling leaf streaking color through a gray world. Reach out and snatch up that yellow fragment of autumn’s swan song, your soul, to apprehend its beauty in a pause of wonder between the intake and release of breath.
The Greek goddess Hekate is a good guide in the autumn of the year. In triple form, she stands with us at the intersection of life and death, of past, present and future. In the hands of her front facing body, she holds two torches: one torch facing the body on the left lights the shadowy underworld of past forms, and the other torch facing the body on the right reveals future phantoms unfolding into life. We honor her and seek to embody her wisdom.
But having touched the mystery of being, we must bring ourselves to earth again. Spiraling down the stars, into our bodies, back to awareness of the chair and our feet on the floor. We can leave cakes for Hekate at the crossroads, but then we must walk away without looking back, to take up the hoe, banner, pen, or fiddle—implements of labor and creativity, for we are the living and must carry on. Life calls.
With hope and love,