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Tag Archives: Samhain
And, so, here we are: the final day of our liturgical year. The end of the end of Summer and the beginning of the beginning of Winter. And I thought that, for my final post of this year, I’d share with you a wonderful essay that Richard Louv recently wrote about religion, spirituality, nature, silence, and amazement.
His emphasis on amazement, especially at this time of year when we focus on death, reminds me, of course, of Mary Oliver‘s wonderful poem, When Death Comes. I particularly love this poem for the lines:
When it’s over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was a bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.
Mr. Louv recounts a conversation about fatherhood that he once had with a rabbi who said that:
to be spiritual is to be constantly amazed. To quote the words of Professor Abraham Joshua Heschel, a great teacher of our age, he said, “our goal should be to live life in radical amazement.” Heschel would encourage his students to get up in the morning and look at the world in a way that takes nothing for granted: Everything is phenomenal; everything is incredible; never treat life casually. To be spiritual is to be amazed.
G/Son is turning out to be something of a rather serious fisherman. And so maybe Mr. Louv’s story of his own amazement has a special resonance for me. He writes about waking up one morning to see a spectacular sunrise, trying to wake his sons to see it, and realizing that they needed to sleep. But, he writes:
Since I was a boy, fishing has been my special window to the spirit. It is not the only window, and not for everyone. But for some of us, it is good.
As the day moved from dawn to dusk, I waded into the calm water, lifted the rod[,] and let loose of the line. I watched my boys along the shore. The younger one, who had temporarily given up on fishing, joyfully hauled his catch of the day, an old bucket, across the mud flat. The older boy had taken his rod into a thicket where there was a secluded pool. Perhaps, in that place, he was immersed in that quietest, strongest of voices.
Sometimes the rhythm of the rod is like a chant or the swinging of incense. Sometimes I can almost feel the water bulge and know that a fish is rising beneath it. Now a trout lifted itself, caught the sunset on its orange flank, and[,] above the water[,] stopped in time, as did my children and the world.
And then life went on. In a few hours, the boys and I would begin to miss their mother, and we would head home more amazed by the sunrise and sunset, by light and dark, by small muddy shoes on the stairs or the sound of my wife’s hairbrush, by the smallest of moments.
Whether our window is fishing — or gardening, or dancing, or coding, or knitting, or yoga, or poetry, or music, or rock climbing, or swimming, or painting, or breast feeding, or making love, or weaving, or organizing, or the law — I think that having a “special window into spirit,” is one of the most “radical” things than anyone, and especially we Pagans, can do. It helps us to (to borrow a phrase from Ivo Dominguez) fight off the enchantment of Patriarchy, which tries to make us believe that we are separate from each other, from the world, from nature, from “spirit.” I love the phrase that Louv quotes from his rabbi friend, quoting Rabbi Herschel: radical amazement.
I’m going to practice more of that this coming year. I won’t be gone long. You come, too.
Photo copyright protected. Please do not reproduce or transmit.
As we move closer and closer to Samhain, it can be useful to examine our relationship to daily practice. We all know that daily practice is important to our religious development. And when we fall out of practice — because work, family, illness, or whatever gets in the way — we know that it’s important to return to our altars and begin again. As Rumi wrote:
Come, come, whoever you are.
Wanderer, worshiper, lover of leaving.
Ours is not a caravan of despair.
Come, even if you have broken your vows a thousand times.
Come, yet again, come, come.
For me, a basic practice involves grounding, centering, casting a circle, and spending time in contact with the powers, spirits, and beings of this place. Yet the details of how I do each of those things can change over time and, when I find the practice getting stale (or perhaps it’s more apt to say, when I find myself getting stale), then it’s time to re-evaluate and switch things around.
I do an alter cleansing at each of the Sabbats and a major cleaning of my ritual room for Samhein. Just now, when many of us are evaluating the past liturgical year and setting goals for the coming one, is a good time to evaluate how our daily practice is working for us. Do we need to add to it? Have some parts of it become too simple or boring? Does the space where we do our practice support us or work against us? Sometimes, something as simple as beginning by listening to new music or by lighting a new candle can make a difference. Sometimes, it’s time to consult Tarot or go into trance and see what larger changes are needed.
I’m making a major change to my ritual room: I’ve always sat on a yoga blanket on the floor, but my old knees seem less enthusiastic every time that they have to get me up from that position, so I’ve bought a desk and chair for a new altar. I think it’s going to encourage me to change a number of things about my practice — both the What and How. I’m looking forward to the adventure.
What’s your relationship to daily practice? How often do you make changes? How might you use your Samhein reflections to improve your practice? I’d love to hear from you in comments.
Picture found here.
We seem to be careening towards Samhain at an incredible pace; there are fewer than two weeks left to this liturgical year. The veils are already tissue thin. Family members (living and dead) populated my dreams last night and my brother (who was about as unreligious as you can get) told me, “I was always better at theology than you.” I woke up thinking, “But I am better at praxis.”
For many Pagans, Samhain is a time to make plans for the coming year, to set new goals and objectives, to organize new ways of working in the world. Maybe it’s a way of casting an anchor forwards to a time when the veils won’t be so thin, of helping to assure ourselves that we won’t wander too far in the Autumn mists. And maybe it’s a way of working really deep magic — the kind that changes your life and the world — at a time when our landbase itself is magically transformed by green leaves turning crimson and fluttering to the ground.
I’ve posted before about my practice of selecting a Word of the Year, a technique that I learned about from Christine Kane. You can find her worksheet (which I fill out every year) here. There’s certainly nothing wrong with simply writing a basic list of goals and objectives and there’s plenty of information about how to do that. What I like about the Word of the Year practice is that it provides an organizing principle. I develop my list of goals and objectives around my word and find that I’m able to achieve more when everything is related. I’m still thinking and meditating about my word for the coming year.
Poet and novelist Theodora Goss recently posted a helpful technique that she uses to accomplish her objectives.
I’m the sort of person who wants to do everything: Teach. Write novels and stories and essays and poems. Spend time with my daughter, of course. But also learn Hungarian, and go to the ballet, and read books. Travel when I can. Decorate my apartment. There’s time for all of that, but I have to figure out when and how to do each thing so I’m doing it well, and not exhausting myself. That takes pacing.
So for example, I’m decorating my apartment. My impulse is to do everything at once: to buy the bookshelves, put them together, stain and finish them. Buy the pillows, the fabric to cover the pillows. Sew the pillow covers. But I don’t have time to do everything at once, because I’m also teaching and writing. So instead I do a little each day, and I find that as long as I’m doing something each day, eventually it gets done. The shelves go up, the pillows are covered and put on the daybed.
It takes having patience, and being able to divide work into discreet tasks so you can do it a bit at a time. So for example, today I’m going to stain the shelves, then let them dry overnight, turn them over, and stain the other sides tomorrow. They should be completely stained by this weekend, when I can put the whole bookshelf together and finish it with oil. Soon, and by soon I mean at the end of the week, I’ll have a bookshelf, and the books that have been sitting on the floor will have a home. I do hate books sitting on the floor, so not having a place to put them has been an exercise in patience. But I know that as long as I work on the shelves every day, a little at a time, I will eventually have a floor without books on it.
As I get older, I find that, more and more, I have to approach chores this way. My energy may not hold out to let me finish an entire project in one day, but, with a bit of planning, I can make a schedule and accomplish what I want over a few days. (Have I mentioned recently that calendars are every bit as much magical tool as athames, wands, goblets, and candles? They are.) And, like Ms. Goss, I can feel that I’m making steady progress. Pacing, Ms. Goss writes, requires three things:
1. Prioritizing. Know what you actually want to do, and get rid of the things you don’t want to, to the extent you can.
2. Dividing tasks over time. Figure out how to divide what you need or want to do, and do part of it each day until it’s done. But almost anything you do, even the things you love to do, you will tire of, if you keep doing them long enough.
3. Dividing your time into tasks. What do you want to do when? What are the things you most need or want to get done today, and how are you going to arrange them? Can you fit in the things you need to do, the things you want to do, and the things that will give you a break from everything else? Remember to take a walk, read a book . . .
What word might organize your goals for the coming year? What techniques do you use to keep moving forward?
(The Celtic Halloween)
In the season leaves should love,
since it gives them leave to move
through the wind, towards the ground
they were watching while they hung,
legend says there is a seam
stitching darkness like a name.
Now when dying grasses veil
earth from the sky in one last pale
wave, as autumn dies to bring
winter back, and then the spring,
we who die ourselves can peel
back another kind of veil
that hangs among us like thick smoke.
Tonight at last I feel it shake.
I feel the nights stretching away
thousands long behind the days
till they reach the darkness where
all of me is ancestor.
I move my hand and feel a touch
move with me, and when I brush
my own mind across another,
I am with my mother’s mother.
Sure as footsteps in my waiting
self, I find her, and she brings
arms that carry answers for me,
intimate, a waiting bounty.
“Carry me.” She leaves this trail
through a shudder of the veil,
and leaves, like amber where she stays,
a gift for her perpetual gaze.
Picture found here.