by Elisa Chase, certified Master Life-Cycle Celebrant®, Academic Director – Celebrant Foundation and Institute.
It turned cold last night, the frost returned, and I knew what had to be done. I pulled on my gloves and went out to gather the last vegetables from my backyard garden. It is always bittersweet. In between the acorn squash, eggplant, pumpkins, and kale are the remnants of the Summer crop of tomatoes, cucumbers, and zucchini long gone. Although the calendar says we entered Autumn a few weeks ago, for me, the season truly turns when I collect the last of the garden’s gifts. Here in southern New England, that almost always happens right around Halloween. When the garden is gone, so is the Summer.
The ancient Celt’s must have felt the same way. The holiday of Samhain (“pronounced “sow in”) was a time to commemorate the final harvest and slaughter the weaker animals in their herds. This abundance of food resulted in huge bonfires and feasts. In the lifecycle of the earth, Samhain is a right of passage, the culmination of a time of change and the acknowledgement that a transformative journey is complete. The seeds that were planted have fulfilled their destiny and become food. Samhain was like a bookend on the far end of the farming season. No more long lit days, tending to crops, battling insects, and critters and waiting out the weather. Samhain was and is, a moment of reflection on months of work and growth, to take stock of lessons learned, and to give thanks for the bounty yielded. And so, Samhain, like all good rites of passage, calls us to look not just backwards, but also forwards. The powerful experience of a rite of passage lays partly in the way it sits at a vortex of all that was, all that is, and the anticipation of all that is yet to be. This may be why Pagan’s also used Samhain as a time to pay honor their ancestors and their deceased loved ones.
I don’t have a particular spiritual practice, but that does not mean my life is devoid of ritual. The work that must be done in the garden inspires a deep sense of mindfulness. I have a box full of mismatched vegetables and herbs that need to be cooked. Later I will search through dog-eared recipes from books full of memories to find the best way to pull this all together for a Halloween dinner. As I move through the rows and beds, I am already planning next year’s garden and scratching notes in my journal. As I pull the stalks of dead plants and work the soil, I can’t help but recall putting the garden in this past March and April, full of fear and growing sadness as Covid descended on the North East where I, and most of the people I love most, all work and live. I ground myself in the earth beneath my feet and dare to hope that next Spring will be different.
The days to come bring an intersection of Halloween, Samhain, All Hallows Eve, All Saint’s Day, the Day of the Dead, Día de los Muertos and a big full blue Moon. There are many opportunities to mindfully reflect, respect, commemorate and celebrate in whatever way resonates with you. In my home, we will eat a good hearty harvest meal, and then go outside to light a fire. I bought a pack of Wish Paper on a trip to Maine this Summer. On it we will write our deepest hopes and gratitude as well as our concerns and burdens. We will watch them take flight in the fire pit. Instead of Trick or Treating which has been Covid cancelled, we are going to roast marshmallows and dunk them in hot chocolate. We will wrap thoughts of those who cannot be with us and the memories of those we have lost around us like blankets and give thanks for our home, health and jobs all in place during a time of great loss. And we will take comfort in the love that has and will endure and sustain us.
As for now, there is snow in the forecast. Before we know it, Autumn will usher in Winter as the great wheel of life keeps turning. I need to drop these garden gloves and go find some mittens.
From all of us at the Celebrant Foundation and Institute, we wish everyone a safe and healthy holiday weekend.