31 October 2008
With November 1st we reach one of the pagan quarter days of the year. These have all survived the advent of Christianity in various guises - in this case the festival of halloween. Behind the tawdry pumpkin balloons and plastic tridents, what can we grasp of the deeper meaning of this commemoration of one aspect of our relationship with the earth?
In spite of the cold and the falling of leaves, this is a time of abundance on our community farm. Plants and animals are storing up energy for the winter - the period of rest that our restless economic system no longer allows us. In Celtic tradition, this time of year saw the slaughter of animals that could not be fed through the winter. This meat and the abundant vegetables were preserved for the times when the earth could not provide.
In the pagan system this is the festival of new year. The cycle of the year was seen as symbolic of the life cycle, from birth through flourishing to death and decay. And as the earth came back to life in the spring, so there was promise of reuniting with the earth mother in death. The fading of nature's life in the autumn leads to the dark thoughts of mortality that we now make fun of by dressing up as ghosts.
The failure of our culture to accept the rhythm of life is at the heart of our unsustainable exploitation of resources. Without any sense of connection with the earth we fear death as our final annihilation and struggle to make our material presence felt. Samhain is the best time to re-examine our attitude to death - and to life. Tweet