How do you pronounce Samhain?
Samhain is a Gaelic word pronounced “SAH-win”. It is an Autumnal pagan festival of Celtic origins. My own roots are Scottish and Irish (with some Danish and Spanish mixed in there) – so when the cool days creep in and I notice myself drawing closer to the fire and lighting candles in dark corners of my home… I know it is time to welcome in the harvest and usher in the dark half of the year.
The Celts believed that at the time of Samhain, more so than any other time of the year, the ghosts of the dead were able to mingle with the living – it is a time when the space between this world and the world of our ancestors is particularly porous – some say the veil between worlds is thin. It is a rich time to honour those who have come before us, who are no longer walking with us and is an opportunity to get more accustomed with being in the dark.
I realize this can sound a bit dreary, but one of my favourite things about the darker half of the year is the opportunity to slow down, to snuggle under warm blankets with hot drinks and loved traditions. It is a contrast to the fullness and activity of summer, which is why I sometimes struggle a but with less light, a little less warmth and less happening around me. If I can only remember to surrender myself to this slowness and let the fullness of summer drop from my limbs to settle at my feet, I can begin to allow the nourishment and gifts from the summer season penetrate into my roots more slowly over the winter months – this is where I feel like true alchemy (transmutation) takes place. (Transmutation: to change or alter in form – as opposed to Transformation that implies just a change in form or appearance) This is the lesson the Maple tree is teaching me.
This slowed time is also an invitation to reflect and connect inwardly. I begin to remember those people who are no longer in my life but who still hold space in my heart. I find myself putting out plates of food in the garden, just in case my great, great grandfather comes by for a visit. As I mix recipes of the harvest season in bowls that my mother used, I feel her hands as my hands – squishing together butter, dates, oats between fingers. I feel touched by my ancestors and guides. I can feel them standing behind me as a long line of survivors – I am so overwhelmed with gratitude and I also feel a thread of sadness.
I am learning to hold both of these threads together in a beautiful dance with paradox that continues to show up in this business of living.
In honour of this time, I light a candle in the darkness, I offer some smoke to the spirits, I pour some whisky for the Goddess and I rest in the slowness.