The Fire festival of Samhain marks a significant transition in our earth cycle as we gather our final harvest before we descend in to the darkness of winter. This gateway is an invitation from Mother Earth to be with one of the greatest lessons and opportunities of life - to be present with what is and honour the endings in our life, befriending death and inviting its mystery to come closer and sit awhile with you inside the cave of your Winter dreaming.
Samhain marks the end and beginning of the Celtic New Year and so we celebrate the cycle of death and rebirth, witnessing in nature the effortless shedding of the summer fruits and leaves as she prepares to go inwards, drawing her energy downwards in to the earth to return to the stillness, the roots, and incubate her dream seeds until the light returns.
First we must celebrate and give thanks for the final fruits we are harvesting at this time, both literally and metaphorically.They hold the lessons to be learnt from this past outward cycle of growth. What fruits can we preserve over winter in our relationships, our health, our work, our creative and home life, to keep us nourished and stoke our inner flame? Remembering that these fruits also hold the seeds of what will grow in our next growth cycle as what we gestate over winter will be reborn in spring.
As a fire festival we are invited to draw on this purifying element and release all that no longer serves us in our sacred garden; offering up the old or surplus and giving it all back to the earth to feed the soil and support the growth of new life. What are we offering to the fire for transformation at this time? What has become binding, withered or overgrown in our lives?
With this seasonal turning we are gifted an opportunity to befriend the darkness, to inquire in to its mystery, to respect the balance of life and death, and cultivate a reciprocal relationship between the seen and unseen that tends to the tapestry of threads that weave this reality together. Here we can honour our Mother Earth, our roots, the quiet stillness that permeates the darkness and a way of remembering that reflects our wholeness.
As the darkness encroaches in the northern hemisphere, the veil between realms temporarily thins and opens a portal for us to communicate more easily with our ancestors and access the spring of wild wisdom that they feed us with. The earth's elders can be heard speaking through the stones and trees, wells and flames when we slow down to listen.
Samhain Is the time to honour and remember all that we have lost, grieving the dead and feeding the memory of our ancestors. This relationship between the living and the dead, the seen and unseen, is what enables the Great River to keep on flowing. With our prayers, songs, stories, tears, offerings and creations we can tend to the sacred fire around which our ancestors are fed and warmed. We can enliven and deepen our relationship with our ancestors during this sacred time, stitching a tangible thread that weaves back and forth, honouring the great spiral. With this thread we can access a whole realm of unseen support, holding, inspiration and grace in our lives. Through our giving, we receive, and balance is preserved.
FOR THE ONES WHO CAME BEFORE
AND THE ONES WHO ARE TO COME:
MAY THE EARTH RISE UP IN OUR WORDS
AND PAINTINGS AND SONGS.
MAY WE TELL THE WAY BACK HOME
- Sylvia V. Linsteadt 'Tatterdemalion'
The Yew tree is the guardian of this Samhain period, the gatekeeper of the ancestral realms and symbol of death, rebirth and transformation. Her medicine brings us to a deeper understanding of endings, helping us overcome our fear death and dissolution.
Ancient yews can still be found in churchyards and hidden in woods across our Emerald Isle and are the perfect Temples of Remembering to visit during these mystical days. They show us the depths of our roots, the wisdom of stillness, how to see beyond form and what it truly means to belong.
Gather photographs, heirlooms, and other mementos of deceased family, friends, and companion creatures. Arrange them on a table, dresser, or other surface, along with candles, flowers and offerings - such as food, mead, or herbs (my grandfathers enjoy whiskey). Kindle the candles in their memory as you call out their names and express well wishes. Share your thanks for their weaving in your life. You might like to sing songs or drum to charge up the altar, or spend time in quiet reflection listening for any guidance that comes through.
Our graveyards are often desolate places, so during Samhain at least, let us visit the dead and adorn their resting places with beauty, love and offerings of gratitude. You could visit your own deceased family members or those at your local graveyard. Sit awhile and share stories and songs. Clear away any overgrown weeds or rotten flowers. Make it a beautiful place again with flowers, earth mandalas, offerings of food or spring water. Show your care and appreciation in creative ways as you get comfortable being surrounded by bones and allowing feelings around your own death to come to the surface
Make a pilgrimage to an ancient Yew tree, gifting offerings of food or herbs, a natural adornment or share with it your songs, prayers and poems. Spend time sitting in silence with your back against the trunk, imagining its vast roots beneath you, the stories of our ancestors woven in between them. Listen. Journal what comes. Find your nearest ancient yew here: https://www.ancient-yew.org
Gather with your community to share stories, food and music in the Spirit of Remembrance. Invite everyone to bring a favourite dish of a loved one who has died this past year, a photo of them, and any stories or memories they wish to share. Set the vibe with candles, incense and wear special garments to add to the sensory feast that will feed the dead and honour their memory. Create the space and holding for any grief that might arise by listening deeply to each other and remembering it really is ok to cry! Have some tissues handy and just let the great river of grief carry you in to the arms of your beloved dead.
In using our hands to create, to weave, to mould, to whittle, we are activating pathways of remembrance that connect us with our indigenous soul and our ancestors of blood and bone. Cut some young willow and weave a basket or wheel to add to your ancestral altar; find some unusual pieces of wood to sand or whittle, make in to wands or a seasonal mobile; embroider blessings on fabrics, stitch together and make a Samhain cloth for your altar; mould a vessel out of clay to symbolise the darkness and potential within.
So Paul Stamets posits, and I believe him! They are also the Wisdom Keepers of the Roots Medicine and storytellers of the earth. With the childlike spirit of wonder and curiosity, enjoy an autumnal walk in your nearest woods or natural habitat and see what different varieties or mushroom you can find. Take a field guide, basket, knife and magnifying glass and be prepared for hours of fun entering the world of fungi! Take some home and make spore prints for your altar, slice up fly agaric, thread on a string and dry for a festive decoration, or (if you are 100% confident in your identification skills), prepare a mushroom feast with your harvest.
On your own or with your tribe build a sacred fire, dress ceremonially and have a playlist (or musicians) ready that takes you on a wild journey of remembering through your body. Connecting first to your bones, the earth of you, and inviting the memory of your ancestors to guide your movements, dance around the fire with wild abandon! Release, purify and rejoice at being alive in a body. As you draw to a close come in to stillness around the fire and feel the pyramid of your ancestors gathering around you, holding you, cherishing you. Offer your gratitude to the fire and your ancestors making offerings however feels most natural for you.