Thursday, October 23, 2008

The Feast of Samhain (1.)

"Skin Shedder" 1986

Where do the dead go?

The dead that are not corpses, cosmetically renewed
and boxed, their faces familiar and serene.
Or brought to an essence, pale ashes
in elegant cannisters.

I ask for the other dead,
those ghosts that wander
unshriven among our sleep,
haunting the borderlands of our lives.

The dead dreams,
The failed loves.
The quests, undertaken with full courage
and paid for in blood
that never found a dragon,
a Grail, a noble ordeal
and the Hero's sacred journey home.

Instead, the wrong fork was somehow taken,
or the road
wandered aimlessly, finally narrowing
to a tangled gully
and the Hero was lost,
in the gray and prosaic rain,
hungry, weary, to finally stop somewhere, anywhere
glad of bread, a fire, a little companionship.

Where is their graveyard?
Were they mourned?
Did we hold a wake,
bear flowers, eulogize

their bright efforts
their brave hopes

and commemorate their loss with honor?
A poem?
An imperishable stone
to mark their passing?

Did we give them back to the Earth
to nourish saplings yet to flower,
the unborn ones?

Or were they left to wander
in some unseen Bardo, unreleased, ungrieved.
Did we turn our backs on them unknowing,
their voices calling, whispering impotently

behind us
shadowing our steps?

Lauren Raine 1997

As Samhain approaches (Halloween to many), I feel a sharp kind of loneliness that has it's own brand of sweet melancholy. This is a new community for me, and I don't really know much of anyone to celebrate even profane Halloween, so I'll make my own Samhain remembrances alone. Although I do see some Dia de los Muertes posters, so the outlook for a celebration may not be that grim. I remember the Spiral Dances in San Francisco that I've participated in and created the masks for..............

Traditionally this was the time to celebrate the "Witche's New Year", the last Sabbat or sacred day (which is why it's called "Halloween", or "Hallowed evening". It is the closing of the old year, the last harvest festival, a time to honor the ancestors and all the events and gifts of the dying year as they prepared for the entry into the darkness and the long dormancy of winter. The veils between the worlds were very thin, and places were set at the banquet table for the spirits of those beloved dead who had passed on. You might see in any number of ancient Celtic communities people enjoying the last fresh apples, honey mead and beer, toasting and remembering the invisible ones, seated at the table, their plates heaped high as well. "Welcome, Welcome". Inherent in this celebration was a profound respect for the wheel of the year, always cycling, through human generations and through natural cycles of death and re-birth.

This, of course, is the real sacred origin and meaning of Halloween, which, although fun for kids to be scared and for adults to stage masquerade balls, has slid far away from it's sacred potency. Spirits, coming close to this world to join the feast, sometimes like to play tricks, hence, "trick or treat"'s not good, of course, to fail to leave a place at the table for Uncle Angus on such a high holy day! And of course, the skeletons and ghosts and funny it is to me sometimes that people love these things so much on Halloween, while they have no understanding of their origins or meanings.

Like the "Witch and her broom". The Broom is associated with many folk traditions of "sweeping away the old bad energies" - purification rituals for the home and Hearth (Heart).

Here is my gratitude to the year that is soon to pass away, and to all of those who have passed away from my life as well, people who have gifted me and created with me and evolved me - among them:

Peter Hughes, the photographer whose photos of my masks I am eternally grateful to.

Judy Foster, whose face became the mask of "Hecate", and who so magically gave me a home and community years ago, when my wandering spirit found its way to Berkeley.

Sequoia, fiery redhead activist I knew there.

Ilana Stein, who I met in my April class at Kripalu, and whose vision of the "White Goddess", and her poem and masks ....... was a true gift to all of us from the divine.

Dellie Dorfman - Cranky mentor and friend from my days as a psychic reader.

Bob Meyer - beloved friend from Vermont, who always gave me a couch and good advice.

and so many others: Here's lifting that glass of mead to all of you. A place is set at the table.

"So much in American life has had a corrupting influence on our requirements for social order. We live in a culture that has lost its memory. Very little in the specific shapes and traditions of our grandparents pasts instructs us in how to live today, or tells us who we are, or what demands will be made on us as members of society. The shrill estrangement some of us feel in our twenties has been replaced by a hangdog collective blues. With our burgeoning careers and families we want to join up but its difficult to know how or where. The changing conditions of life are no longer assimilated back into a common watering trough.

Now, with our senses enlivened – because that’s the only context we have to go by – we hook change onto change ad nauseum."

Gretel Erlich

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