Oct 30, 2015

Samhain is one of the two major times of transition in the Irish calendar, the end of summer and the beginning of winter, and the end of the old year and the beginning of the old. (I think that's interesting, actually, that the year begins with early winter rather than ending in it: it really does highlight winter as a season of dormancy rather than strictly of death). It's a harvest time, but a late harvest: the last feast of plenty before the long, cold winter. In Irish lore and cycles, it's the time when the cattle herds were culled: those not expected to survive the winter formed the highlight the feast. 

 As a feast of the late harvest, the season of death and waiting, it's also a feast of the ancestors. At the end of the year, Donn gathers up the year's dead and brings them to the Isle of the Dead, somewhere in the west. The boundary between worlds is thin at the turning of the seasons, as one thing turns into another, so now is when we reach across that boundary to give thanks and praise, and to share one more meal with those who have gone before. 

 Samhain was the first Pagan holiday I ever celebrated, and I can still remember it vividly, the altar I set up in my childhood bedroom, the candles burning in the darkness, the cold October air stirring the flames into portents. It remains my favorite holiday, a season of death as transformation, a time to take joy in the abundance of the past year and reflect on its lessons. 

 I have a busy Samhain season this year: On Saturday I'll be at work at the library all day long, dressed as Janet Carter from the ballad of Tam Lin (another Samhain story). I have my ritual planned for Sunday, in which I'll also swear my First Oath as part of the Dedicant's Path. (Hopefully I'll have it written by then.) But Sunday is also the first of November, which is the beginning of National Novel Writing Month, which means I'll be spending at least several hours writing the first few thousand words of this year's novel. And then it's back to work on Monday - for a book discussion in the local brewpub. A better feast location I could not imagine.

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