One night each year
to wear black velvet, crushed
by unseen hands.
One day each year
to dole out sweetness to
strange children wearing masks.
Burn black tapers now to summon
memories of shades;
paint your eyelids dark as the abyss
to make the horror sexy.
It will lose its power if you make it part of you.
Bring the gates that close off realms
down to the ground; lift the curtain
that parts half from half
high enough for crossing
space to space.
Mix and mingle with your loved dead.
Ask them for their wisdom, like a child asks
adults they trust implicitly
for food, drink, shelter.
They loved you when you saw their faces.
With all that they have seen,
they will love you now, just as truly.
Trust their voices, calling through the vapors
vanishing beneath an autumn moon.
The cycle of the year
has given you one blessed night
to burn through all the barriers
and see the other side of truth.
Make it count.
Since I have already written in this blog about my past use of tarot cards, it should come as no real surprise to the reader to know that for several years I fancied myself a Neopagan. I think the religion’s most enduring attraction, for me, has always been its yearly cycle of holidays. For those of you who don’t know how Neopagans mark their calendars, here is a brief overview, lifted from a past sermon by Unitarian Universalist Society of Geneva‘s Senior Minister, the Reverend Lindsay Bates:
Basically, the story of the God’s incarnation begins at the year’s first Quarter, the Winter’s Solstice, when, after the year’s longest night, the darkness begins to give way to the returning light. The Light is reborn as the Sun — the Son of the Great Mother Goddess. The Yule celebration honors the annual Birth of the Holy Child as a time of joyful innocence, possibility and hope.
Halfway between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox is the first Cross-Quarter Day of the Pagan calendar. This is Candlemas or Brigit’s Day or Imbolc, which mean’s “ewe’s milk” for the time of the year when the ewes begin to produce milk for the new spring lambs, when the infant God is a rapidly-growing child. The Goddess is beginning to awaken from her winter slumber and the sleep from which she gave birth, and in the growing warmth and Light of the Son, her fertility returns.
At the next Quarter-Day, the Vernal Equinox, the God is a young man, dancing the dance of returning life with the Goddess who is now fully awakened as the Maiden. Spring has returned; Persephone has been freed from her confinement in the land of death, and Demeter, rejoicing, brings the green and growing plants of springtime back to life.
At Beltane — May Day — the Cross-Quarter Day half-way between Spring and Summer — the God and Goddess celebrate their marriage, and all the earth celebrates with them. Their marriage is consummated at the Summer Solstice — and the God is consumed by his passion. The year is turning now back toward darkness, and the Summer-Crowned God dies.
At Lammas or Lughnasad — August 1 — the Goddess mourns the God’s death, which is actually his life’s fulfillment, and the God is buried, returned into the earth — to the Goddess as Death Crone and Eternal Mother. The God is now in the grain, which having lived to ripen, is now nearly ready for harvest.
At the Fall Equinox, the Harvest has come. The grain is cut down with thanksgiving for the life of the world that gives itself for the sustaining of life, and the god sleeps within the womb of the Goddess as she carries him to rule the Shining Realm Beyond the Waters. This Realm is part of the Netherworld, the place where the souls of the dead grow young again and prepare to be reborn.
At Samhain, the God arrives at the Land of Youth and becomes its ruler. He opens the gates between the worlds so that the spirits may visit their loved ones. His own spirit continually growing younger, within the earth, within the Goddess, he prepares for his birth to the again Virgin Mother — at the Winter Solstice… The Lord of Death becomes once more the Lord of Life (and if any of this sounds vaguely familiar from your Sunday School stories, that is not an accident)…..
This holiday cycle holds a poetry for me that I find lacking in those of Judaism and Christianity, the dominant religions of US culture. Going to family Christmas parties is very difficult for me now, because every time someone says “Christmas” I have to fight back the urge to say “You mean Solstice, right?”
This poem is a tribute to a secular or psychological reclamation of the holiday most US natives think of as Halloween, the time for children to gorge on candy, teens to toilet paper each other’s houses, and adults to ogle each other in costumes, yes, even the ones that aren’t intentionally framed as sensual – the holiday most Neopagans refer to as Samhain, or if you feel like having a Scottish brogue, Samhuine, the polar opposite of the love-holiday Beltane. Even as an atheist, I believe that it is a good idea to have certain days marked to remember certain aspects of my worldview. Kind of hard for me to call them holidays when that word derives from “holy” and I don’t know if anything can be “holy” without a deity. I guess “observance” might be a better word for what I have in mind.
Samhain/Halloween, for me, has become a time to acknowledge the value of fear. I believe there are many things in this world that it is appropriate to fear. Chief among these is dying. Note that I did not say death. There’s no more reason to fear death than to fear a dreamless nap. But the process of dying… being conscious of the fact that soon you will never be conscious again… that scares the dickens out of me. And I believe that is healthy. It’s also healthy to fear pain, in its sundry permutations, although it is possible for this fear to reach pathological heights and cause paralysis; it’s a fear that has to be worked through (and I suppose one day the fear of dying will be worked through too, simply by the process of time). Fear also has value in that it serves as the counterpoint to love. Just as without two eyes, the human brain loses depth perception and some actions become clumsy if not impossible, without both halves of the binary pair of fear and love, the human mind loses the ability to nuance its view of the world.
Ultimately, the significance of October 31 in your life is a delicate interplay of culture, subculture, and your personal perspective. I hope this poem has provided you with a way to re-image that significance. Stay tuned for a spooky film review tomorrow!