Celebrating Death And Life During The Festival Of Samhain

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Issue 311
November/December 2018
All Is One

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Article

Celebrating Death And Life During The Festival Of Samhain
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Cover: Winter Glow by Annie Soudain www.anniesoudain.co.uk

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Maddy Harland encourages us to renew our seasonal connection with Nature through a traditional celebration.

Image courtesy of www.hazelhill.org.uk

Image courtesy of www.hazelhill.org.uk

An important part of our journey of reconnection with the natural world is the rekindling of intimacy with the natural rhythms of the year and their seasonality. Our forebears had a living understanding of these rhythms and the celebratory practices associated with them, as do many first peoples throughout the world. In our western society many people have lost the intimacy of this connection. Yet we can re-invite these practices back into our lives, building seasonal connection and a deep sense of cultural wellbeing.

For the last four years, I have been studying with Agatha Manouche, an Indo-European Medicine Woman who has helped me to expand my understanding of natural rhythms and deep connection. An aspect of her rich teachings is the idea that we carry within us the sacred Dream of our Soul, the seed of our unbounded potential. The yearly cycle can be a transformative journey in which we discover and nurture the seed of our intention for the year and create the best conditions to birth this potential deep within ourselves.

As we enter the cycle, halfway between autumn and winter, the festival of Samhain marks the time when we begin the slowing-down process. “Like the leaves falling off the trees, we learn to let go of whatever is no longer needed or helpful; as we look at the shape of the tree trunks devoid of their ornaments, we allow the Dream of the Year to lose the illusion of its form yet keep its core essence,” Agatha says.

Samhain coincides with Halloween. It is the time when the veil between the world of the living and the world of spirit is at its thinnest, and for many Indigenous traditions this is when ancestors are most present. It is a time when friends and family can gather together, light candles in remembrance of their ancestors, and cook a favourite dish to share in a feast for the dead. We can tell each other stories about our ancestors’ lives and pass on our memories. By doing so, we reach out to our ancestors. Developing an intimacy with our niche between the past and the future is empowering and profound. We learn that we can become ancestors while we are still alive. In this place, we learn how to determine our individual and collective futures.

Ancestors help us go down into our own ‘underworld’, to reconnect with our spirit, the Source of all Dreams. Samhain marks the end of the year’s cycle and is a time of necessary preparation for the beginning of the next; from then on, we prepare ourselves for the renewal that winter solstice will bring forth. What seed will we plant? How can we prepare by making our own internal environment receptive and fertile for that seed? In the dark of the changing season we have the opportunity to pause and reflect deeply on what conditions will enable us to germinate the seed of our new intentions for the coming year.

At Samhain we begin the journey underground. We adjust our pace and enter a deeper dreaming. We review the year that has passed, for better or for worse, and we look at what has worked and what hasn’t. ”We learn to see the essence of our Dream of the Year and let go any illusions we may be carrying. We discover how to bring our ancestors closer and connect with the ones who can help us manifest the cycle of transformation,” Agatha explains.

It is not only our human ancestors who guide and help us. As the nights grow longer and the cold takes over, we can also learn from the more-than-human world as many creatures begin their hibernation. When we pause, we are able to form deeper connections with the other inhabitants of the natural world around us. We learn to listen to and observe their cycles and signs, to begin to understand their medicine. Like them, we are beginning the descent into the dark cave of the Earth, where rest and decay can be transformed into vital organic nurturing. How can this nourish, empower and heal us and prepare us for the birth of the new seed in the coming year?

Maddy Harland is the co-founder and editor of Permaculture Magazine and is the author of Fertile Edges: Regenerating Land, Culture and Hope and The Biotime Log. She is a Visiting Knowledge Exchange Fellow of the Institute of Theological Partnerships at the University of Winchester, UK.

Agatha Manouche is an Indo-European Medicine Woman who has studied with many Indigenous teachers and for over two decades has held the spiritual stewardship at Hazel Hill Wood, near Salisbury, Wiltshire, where she teaches ways of Medicine.

Supported by Agatha, Maddy will be co-facilitating the Honouring Our Ancestors weekend retreat at Hazel Hill Wood from 2 to 4 November 2018 with Marcos Frangos, who runs regular retreats and workshops at the woodland. For more details visit www.hazelhill.org.uk/heartbeatoftheland/

Maddy Harland is the Editor of Permaculture Magazine.

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