Samain Thanksgiving Moon
We have reached the end of another Celtic year. Summer’s End, Samain, marks both the end of the growing season, really, the harvest season and the beginning of a new year. Rosh Hashanah and the Gregorian New Year celebration on January 1st, like the Celtic New Year, put the marker down for a new trip around Sol either at the start of the fallow season or in its midst. In these three instances the New Year seems to suggest a season of reflection, of inner work, as the harvest ends or is well over, while fall and winter stretch ahead.
The Asian New Year’s celebration, usually in February or a bit later, like the Persian Nowruz celebrated on the Spring equinox, occur at the end of the fallow season or near it, setting the new year at the beginning of the growing season. In my case I like them all. I’ll put on a silly hat, pick up a noise maker or dance around the bonfire whenever.
Samain finds the veil between the worlds thinner, with the dead returning and the folk of Faery leaving the Other World to interact with humans. Like the day of the dead and All Soul’s Day, it’s a moment to honor the deceased, often with elaborate meals and tableaus of favorite foods, music, decor.
In the Mussar class at Beth Evergreen I identified myself as a pagan while we ate in the Sukkah. I know what I mean when I say that, but I’m not sure it’s clear to others. It does not mean, for example, that I’m a polytheist. I’m no Wiccan or Neo-Pagan, not a witch or a warlock. I’ll not be saying Blessed Be with a coven tonight.
So, what does my celebration of the Great Wheel mean? I began thinking about the Great Wheel when I chose to embrace my Celtic ancestry: Welsh and Irish. This was when I began writing novels a millennia ago in the 1990’s. As Kate and I began to garden seriously, joining our lives to the seasonal rhythms of the earth and its weather, the Great Wheel began to live. Time became, as it has remained for me, a spiral, a turning and returning to Beltane and the start of the growing season, to Samain, Summer’s End, and the end of the harvest.
To be a pagan as I understand it is to live into the Great Wheel, into the spiral turning of the seasons, to know the cycles of plant growth and harvest for what they are, the true transubstantiation, the everyday miracle of sustenance. To be a pagan as I understand it is to position myself in the ongoing story of the universe, not as a God’s experiment, but as a form of the universe able to reflect on itself. To be a pagan as I understand it is closer to animism than any formal creed or tradition. That is, the interlocking and interdependent nature of life and its interleaving with the inorganic world means all of it participates in the ongoingness of things.
There is life and the spirit of the sun residing in every green thing on this planet. There is life and the spirit of the sun in every insect, mammal, protozoa, fish and flying creature. We are all more alike, much more, than we are different. Think of it. We share this planet, third from the sun, in the goldilocks zone. As living creatures on this one planet among billions of other solar systems, our home is a source of unity, a source of fellow feeling.
The inorganic participates directly in the same cycles as rocks break down into soil, as salt water evaporates and becomes fresh water. Fresh water falls as rain and slakes the thirst of growing plants and roving animals. A chemical like oxygen travels through the stomata of leaves, into the lungs of humans and whales. We are one, part of each other and dependent on each other. This is the sort of paganism I celebrate on this New Year’s.
It is creedless, institutionless, traditionless. It is, in its felt form, mystical. Why mystical? Because knowing this oneness, knowing the life and spirit of us all, is a direct knowing, a visceral experience. No seminary required. No monastic tradition required. No puja required. What is required was written over the gateway to the Delphic Oracle’s room, Know thyself. Yes, know thyself. It is the knowing of our Self as a participant in this great, this cosmic adventure that marries us to the ongoingness of this universe.
In this new pagan year take time if you can to breathe deeply, to see clearly, to listen closely, to taste and touch with delight, with joy. That’s all that’s needed. All.