A dear friend recently gave me a book called The Celtic Spirit – Daily Meditations for the Turning Year
by Caitlin Matthews, who happens to be one of my go-to authors for all things Celtic. As we near the end of October I have delighted in Matthews’ snippets of wisdom coupled with long walks to savour the last of the balmy temperatures and brilliant autumn colours. Yet these have been punctuated by bitter-sweet reflections on how deceptive the warmth and vibrancy actually is with November’s chill and the darkest part of the year now only a few breaths away. Reminders are everywhere of life’s transition points between past, and future, heartache and joy, quiet and chaos.
I have also been chastising myself for being so remiss in getting out this long overdue newsletter. While a lovely restful stretch of downtime in late summer blazed into a powerful outpouring of creativity and some amazing new paintings, all that activity left me spent. As I look back I see what an elemental journey it was from watery emotionality, to inspired airy thoughts, to fiery activity and finally some earthy tangible results. Along the way, my good intentions of writing “what I did on my summer vacation” about the other
journey I took in August along the Niagara River somehow remained only a thought process that never quite made it to actual words on a page. Instead, I kept surrendering to more urgent callings that carried me along like running rapids.
But all this is as it should be. Life’s energies never cease to swirl and eddy, where one moment we are in a calm reflective pool, the next flailing towards a thundering waterfall. I find though that it is acknowledging Mother Nature's metaphors that helps keep me present and centred in the “now” … as much as that is possible for a mere human. As Matthews’ writes, “it is only humans who fetter themselves with the chains of past and future; animals [and Nature] experience a continual present. That they do not inhabit their memories or expectations is a blessed condition for them that we cannot share”.
Or can we … ?
We humans are the only creature that tortures itself with self-flagellating remembrance of things past and twisted knots of self-imposed expectations; it seems we are always living either in the past or the future but rarely in the here and now. Perhaps I am just nostalgic for simpler times but it seems the ancient Celts lived with much less resistance to Nature’s flow and more in harmony with her inevitable cycles. They thoroughly embraced the light and goodness of life but coupled it with a healthy and extraordinary ability to welcome the darkness too. Their goal was to strike a perfect balance between these polar opposites as the rode their currents with grace and acceptance, whatever the circumstances.
Another way they maintained such balance was by celebrating seasonal festivals at regular six week intervals throughout the year. Like the intersection points in their intricate “over/under” knot-work patterns, these festivals marked the transition points of the solar year with reminders to pause and take stock before life’s forward momentum resumed once more.
We are now approaching “Samhain” (pronounced sow-en
), the most important though least understood of these festivals. Samhain was celebrated between October 31 and November 6 as the Festival of the Dead, a time to pay homage to the ancestors while the “veils between the worlds” were thin. At this time contact with unquiet spirits and restless souls could be done with ease.
This special time also divided the Wheel of the Year into two seasons: the Dark Half and the Light Half. Samhain was the day on which the Celtic New Year and winter began simultaneously so it was a logical time to acknowledge endings and beginnings of all sorts. As a liminal threshold point, Samhain signified change and a brief but celebratory time-out to honour and lay to rest the past before preparing and for the winter ahead.
Unlike Halloween, Samhain’s modern counterpart, it had nothing to do with evil practices or horrific, ghoulish costumes. Rather, it was a time infused with positive energy and filled with hope for the future; many of its activities were very reaffirming of the continuation of life in the face of winter’s impending hardships. Interestingly, some modern day witches and pagans now dress for Samhain in costumes reflecting what they hope to be or achieve in the coming year … which really sheds new light on the whole concept, doesn’t it?
Both Matthews’ musings and Nature’s turning wheel have a wonderfully synchronistic ability to echo exactly what we may be feeling or experiencing on any given day. And as I continue to chastise myself for failing to write a timely newsletter about my summer vacation, I now realize I actually have
written about my summer vacation, just not in the way I expected. And I recognize that by surrendering to the flow of life, I have allowed that complex thought process of what is now a past memory to remain a living entity that feeds me still, and will continue to feed me going forward. That moment will always remain a part of my river of life … whether I actually wrote about it or not.
The river is always there and ready to offer its timelessness and its teachings, as well as its remembrance of things past and expectations of things to come. As we mark the transition to the Dark Half of the year, let us take pause along our own individual rivers to savour this time of transition and the collective magic available to us, knowing all too well, that these fleeting moments are what lead us to the next fleeting moments. In this way we humans, like the animals and Nature, can experience a continual present.