Samain 2019

The Wheel has turned full round again. Back now at Summer’s End, Samain. In very ancient times the Celts only had two seasons: Samain and Beltane. The fallow season and the growing season. Beltane on May 1st marked the start of the agricultural year and Samain its end. Later they added Imbolc and Lughnasa when celebration of equinoxes and solstices became more common. Imbolc, February 1st lies between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox while Lughnasa, August 1, is between the Summer Solstice and the Fall Equinox.

The Celts did not begin their year at Beltane, but at Samain, the start of the fallow season. Today. Happy New Year to all of you. Especially to those of you whose heart, like mine, beats to the rhythm of Mother Earth’s changes. And, I would add, to Father Sun’s constancy during her changes.

Rosh Hashanah begins the human new year for Jews as the growing season comes to an end. Michaelmas, September 29th, the feast day of the Archangel Michael, is Rudolf Steiner’s springtime of the soul. It’s not as strange as it may at first sound to begin the New Year in the fall after gathering in the crops.

This was the season in pre-modern times when the flurry of growing, gathering, fishing, hunting that marked the warmer months slowed down or ended. Families would have more time together in their homes. Visiting each other was easier. Time would stretch out as the night’s lengthened, making outdoor work difficult, if not impossible.

This is the season of the bard, the storyteller, the folk musician and it begins with the thinning of the veil between this world and the other world. Harvest and slaughter have the paradoxical affect of sustaining life by taking life, necessary, but often sad. Our need for the lives of plants and other animals reveals the fragile interdependence of our compact with life.

The veil thins. Those of the faery realm and the realm of the dead are close as the growing season ends. The Mexican and Latin American day of the dead and the Christian all souls day point to the same intuition, that somehow life and its afterwards are closest to each other now.

I’m recalling Gertrude and Curtis Ellis. Grandpa Charlie Keaton and Grandma Mabel. Uncle Riley, Aunt Barbara, Aunt Marjorie, Aunt Roberta. Lisa. Ikey. Aunt Ruth. Uncle Rheford and his wife. Uncle Charles. Grandma Jennie. Grandpa Elmo. And so many, many others extending back in time to England, Wales, Ireland. Before that as wanderers up out of Africa, those without whose lives I would not have had my own. Nor you yours.

There are, too, friends and their loved ones. The members of my high school class who have died. Regina, wife of Bill.

The Romantics say it best for me. Here’s the first few lines of Thantopsis by William Cullen Bryant:

     To him who in the love of Nature holds   
Communion with her visible forms, she speaks   
A various language; for his gayer hours   
She has a voice of gladness, and a smile   
And eloquence of beauty, and she glides   
Into his darker musings, with a mild   
And healing sympathy, that steals away   
Their sharpness, ere he is aware. When thoughts   
Of the last bitter hour come like a blight   
Over thy spirit, and sad images   
Of the stern agony, and shroud, and pall,   
And breathless darkness, and the narrow house,   
Make thee to shudder, and grow sick at heart;—   
Go forth, under the open sky, and list   
To Nature’s teachings, while from all around—
Earth and her waters, and the depths of air—
Comes a still voice—
                                       Yet a few days, and thee   
The all-beholding sun shall see no more   
In all his course; nor yet in the cold ground,   
Where thy pale form was laid, with many tears,   
Nor in the embrace of ocean, shall exist   
Thy image. Earth, that nourished thee, shall claim   
Thy growth, to be resolved to earth again…

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