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Samhain: Learning to Release
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Author: Gray Lady
Posted: October 25th. 2009
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Samhain is felt by most witches to be an especially sacred time of the year. There is something in the air that suddenly makes us crave witchy activities and the company of like-minded people. It’s easy to attribute this to being cultural indoctrination to believe that witches and pumpkins go together like peanut butter and jelly. We are taught from an early age that Halloween is the only time that witches roam free, so it’s natural that our psyche would feel a deep connection to this time of year. But perhaps there’s more to it than that…
Our witchy ancestors may have also held an affinity for the energies at this time. Much like the question of the chicken and the egg, it may have been their yearly activities that gave rise to the witch being a common symbol of late October. Seeing as modern witches feel a palpable change at this time of year, it really doesn’t matter which came first, only that we recognize and respond to the energies that arise around us.
The main theme of Halloween is once again moving away from costumed children eating candy to embrace it’s much more macabre nature. Our subconscious is craving a modernized rendition of the nights of All Hallo’s Eve past where people believed the dead could roam the earth. But instead of old superstitions, our scientific minds spend millions of entertainment dollars to be scared out of our wits by ghosts and ghouls. It seems like no matter how much we indulge our brains in costumes and haunted houses, we end up still feeling spiritually unfulfilled.
In order to nurture our spiritual center during Samhain, we must ask ourselves: what is it that we are craving? What subconscious yearnings drive a whole society to want to wear fangs and scare the heck out of their friends? And why do I feel like that should be holy and sacred?
As the Celtic New Year, Samhain represents the end of the last year. But as the last year ends, it does not yet actually “start” the year. We tend to think of Samhain in terms of the secular “New Year” on January 1 where we all make resolutions and start new projects, but the energy of the sun doesn’t exactly match. Samhain is the start of the in between of the old year dying away and the incubating new year being birthed at the Yule. This time in between years can be likened to the time in between lives, a time of reflection and exploration before committing to the coming year.
This special holiday is poised right at the cusp of very two important concepts: death and renewal. The subconscious craving that our psyche yearns for can be found in the psychological impact of these two ideas. As mortals, whether we are aware of it or not, we deal with the concept of death on a daily basis. Western culture is lacking when it comes to dealing with death.
Dead bodies are painted to look alive and only specially trained people ever get to regularly be around the dying process. Generally speaking, families encourage each other not to talk about it. Even in life threatening diseases, our culture usually offers non-comforting words like “We don’t need to talk about that yet.” or “That’s not going to happen for a long time”. Family and friends of people on hospice will sit and talk about everything but death for fear of upsetting someone, but in reality what we do by not talking is to repress the fear and leave the subconscious to play out the emotion in isolation.
One of the many treasures that modern psychology has brought to Witchcraft is the understanding that the subconscious affects us more than we are ever aware of.
As our fear of death rides the ups and downs of our emotions in the shadows, we begin to desire experiences and ideas that bring us closer to the mystery of death. As if answering a prayer, built right into the Wheel of the Year, we find a secular holiday that gives society at large a chance to play out and toy with these ideas that we are encouraged to keep silent. Only on Halloween can we openly toy with the ideas of evil, murder, gruesome death, and paranormal activity… and that’s just walking down the isle at the grocery story. And the more money we throw at the toys, the more exciting the experience becomes.
Halloween has become a huge moneymaker for the industry, but all the glue-on-vampire-fangs at the year round Halloween stores will not fill the void that is still left. What the subconscious really craves is not to joke about axe murders, but for our conscious mind to think about and mull over the death our own of the ego, the end of our dreams, and the end of our loving relationships.
Halloween traditions give us the ability to try on costumes as alter egos, confront shadow selves in the open, and possibly even feel what it would be like to live as someone else in the next life, but only through a spiritual process can we really deal with these concepts. This is what makes Samhain a sabbat, and not a just a secular holiday.
The sacred lesson of Samhain is that death is not just something for our subconscious to play out, but death is something to be celebrated as the portal to renewal. The teachings of Witchcraft shows us that the rhythms and cycles of the natural world are also the rhythms and cycles of our energy and power.
As witches, we recognize that we go through the same cycle that nature does. We can clearly see that nature dies off every fall so that it can be renewed in the spring. It’s a cycle that gives fertility to the soil, strengthens the species in nature, and allows for creativity and growth in the spring. For humans, we recognize this same process, both on the physical plane and on a metaphorical plane.
Physical death releases us from this existence to move on to what ever is beyond. Although many lives have seemed to end before they have learned enough, without death, our spirits would eventually reach a place where we were stagnant. At Samhain, we recognize and celebrate this process as a means of growth.
Metaphorical death is something different and not quite as easy to understand. Practicing witches have long known that we do not need to just accept what comes our way. We have the ability to effect and change our environment, our situation, and most importantly- ourselves. The closer we come to living in harmony with the Wheel of the Year, the more things seem to just fall into place in our lives. But as we Walk the Wheel of the Year, we often focus so much on manifesting change that we overlook an deeper lesson of the Wheel: acceptance.
We get so involved in what we think we want, we begin to believe that we are settling for second best when we just accept what we have. This causes us to overlook, or sometimes downright throw out, our own gifts and talents from the Goddess. The wisdom of the natural world tells us that there is a time to grow and build, but there is also a time to let the periphery die away. Samhain is that time, the time to “let’ things die.
Learning to ride with the flow of energy around us is truly internalizing the old axiom that ‘everything happens for a reason’. Often, we litter our brains with ideas of what could have been or what we should have done differently. Although it is important to self evaluate how we affect our surrounding with our behavior, it is equally important to remember that everything that happened was supposed to happen and nothing else could have happened. With each action we take, we learn and grow, so even one hour after we made a decision, we are a changed person.
We cannot impose our new learning onto our old selves and expect us to have behaved any differently. When we try to, we create havoc in our psyche and lock up our magick powers trying to move them backward. This is an important lesson of the Devil tarot card that comes out at Samhain: we need to learn to let those anxieties die away before we can fully move into the gifts of the coming year.
Anxiety is an internal reaction that occurs when things do not happen or do not respond in the way that we expect them to. When we are anxious, we dampen our ability to receive energy and guidance because we are focusing on the perceived consequences of what is going to occur. Anxiety and fear hinder our abilities to be a part of the energies around us. As egotistical little beings, it is hard to give up our anxieties over what we don’t want to happen. But, perpetually we experience times where the Divine steps in and we do not get exactly what our ego wants because it against the goals of our higher selves.
Witchcraft is just as much about accepting change as it is about creating change. In accepting change, we let our anxiety die away and experience the beautiful energy of the world. In creating change, we knowingly interact and push around those exact same energies.
Samhain, the celebration of Death, is also about accepting and celebrating the beauty of the natural energies of the Universe and ourselves. This is the time where we ritually let the anxieties, the expectations, the desires for change, and the thoughts of how things “should be” die away so that we can see and appreciate the way things are.
With our ego released, we embark upon a period of self-discovery, acceptance, and listening that will prepare us for the full appreciation of the mystery of rebirth at Yule.
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