Season of darkness

October 31, 2002|By Patricia Montley

Long before Christians celebrated the Feast of All Hallows and its eve, the pagan Celts celebrated Samhain (pronounced SAH-win), the first day of the new year, the day when the herds were brought in from high pastures.

This is the time, as Pauline Campanelli tells us in her Wheel of the Year: Living the Magical Life, that marks our transition from the light half of the year to the dark, the time when our focus shifts from the physical side of life to the spiritual.

At this "summer's end," pagans harvested their fruits and celebrated the goddess of Earth, lit their bonfires and celebrated the god of light.

And on its eve, when the veil between this world and the Otherworld was very thin and spirits of the ancestors might return to seek a place at the hearth, food was put out for them. Pagans - originally a term applied to people who lived in the country - celebrated the changing of the seasons, the natural cycles of the Earth and of their own lives.

Now we are sealed off from nature. Bonfires have given way to electricity. Ingathering of fruits has been taken over by agribusiness. We live and work and drive in "climate-controlled" environments. Unless we garden as a hobby, we never put hands to soil. The roaming spirits of ancestors have been reduced to trick-or-treaters in Wal-Mart costumes.

How will we know it's time to slow down, to shift our focus from the physical to the spiritual?

Perhaps the end of daylight-saving time - scheduled, not coincidentally, for the week of Samhain - can help. The loss of light, together with colder weather, curtails outdoor activity. If we are lucky enough to live with trees, the raking of their leaves may induce calluses our forebears would recognize.

For those of us with gardens, the rituals are clear: It's time to prune, to snip off dead flowers and seed pods, to pull up annuals, spread a light fertilizer, mulch.

The rest of us must "winterize" our homes, our cars, our bodies. We put away the deck furniture, change the furnace filter, exchange storm windows for screens, shut off the outside water and drain the hoses, get out the apple cookbook, exchange cotton-weave blankets for comforters, send sandals, T-shirts and linens to the attic and retrieve boots, turtlenecks, corduroys and woolens.

We might decorate the front door with a sheaf of corn (alas, not home-grown), and replace the impatiens in the hod on the steps with autumnal mums.

These transitional rituals completed, we will be ready for the smell of mulled cider brewing and quiet time in the warmth of the Samhain fire - or the oven where cranberry squash casserole and pumpkin pie are baking.

Blessed be the changing of the seasons.

Patricia Montley is a free-lance writer who lives in Lutherville.

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