Celtic Christians mark this time of year at the midway point between the autumn equinox and the winter solstice. Ancient Celts called this season Samhain (pronounced sow-en). It coincides with the Christian celebrations of All Saints Day on November 1 and All Souls Day on November 2. These are days we re-member all who have died, and yes it is a celebratory event! Though we live in a culture which tends to emphasize youth and neglect the ancestors, perhaps there will be a re-emergence of appreciation for the departed sparked by companies like Ancestry.com.
This is the Celtic Christian New Year and with it comes the slowing down of the last half of autumn and winter. In the language of Christian mystics this is the downward journey where we begin to take stock of who we have been, what we have done, and where all this is eventually going to lead us. It is a necessary time. Once again Samhain strikes an almost counter – cultural note calling us to move slowly in the midst of a nation obsessed with getting things done in order to gain more things and then feel better about our lives.
Samhain will have none of this actually. She was born in making decisions of what cattle would be slaughtered for food and which ones would live for breeding come spring. She is practical and sees through all kinds of excesses; she is also still, quiet, reflective. There is no harried life here.
Samhain is a challenger. She moves within the darkest half of the year and says, “This is where it all begins…for a reason!” The year like the day is measured from dark to light. Along with the Jewish people and many other inhabitants in ancient times the day began at sun down. As it says in Genesis, “there was evening and there was morning…” The movement is key for us.
Again, on another counter-cultural note Samhain says to begin – the day, the year, life itself is to honor the dark; to allow ourselves to be embraced by utter darkness; to welcome the night. Why? It is within the night itself that we cannot see; what we cannot see, we cannot control; what we cannot control drives sophisticated (wealthy?) first world people crazy! The darkness exposes the lie when we settle into, almost without thought, that we do have control over many things in life. Ha!
God created everything from the womb in God’s own heart. It is out of the dark that the stars, planets – all of the cosmos were created. Inspiration is not controlled. She arises and stretches her dreams unknown until they find their way into the light of our minds. That’s why the Psalmist cries for illumination to reveal what was being given to the world through us. My great-granddaughter recently left the warm dark womb of her mother and entered the world of the living just like all of us have done…and the day will come when the darkness will call me back to where I came from – to the womb within the very heart of God. We are a mixture always of heaven and earth. Samhain creates a very thin veil between the two. It is a time to re-member and talk with those on the other side of the veil. I hope you will do so…until then recall this blessing for yourselves…
We are born of heaven, we are born of earth.
We are friends of heaven, we are friends of the earth.
We will return to heaven, we will return to the earth.
Thankful to God for the gift all of you!
Happy Celtic New Year,
Fr. Scott Jenkins is the Creative Director for Celtic Way. Read more about Fr. Scott here.