Column: Leaning Into the Lessons of Samhain

Crystal Blanton —  October 19, 2018 — Leave a comment

Pagan Perspectives


The shifting of the seasons and the feel of fall in the air brings about some of the most meaningful and symbolic times of the year. Whether it is the crispness in the air, the Halloween decor, or the increasing conversations about the ancestors in mainstream circles, October is a busy month for all things witchy. It is one of the times of the year where some aspects of the Pagan world collide with the mainstream over-culture.

While this time can be exciting for many of us, the depths of the coming celebration of Samhain is significant in many ways. We celebrate the turning wheel, the closing year, the power of the underworld, and the thinning of the veil between worlds. This is a time of divination and connection with those who have passed over. It is also a time to celebrate the process of death as we move into another cycle of the seasons.

[Pixabay]

All the things we normally discuss during these times of year are still of the utmost importance. In my world, honoring the ancestors, celebrating my Mighty Dead, decorating the home, and divination are staples of my Samhain practice. But this piece isn’t about that; instead it is about exploring another angle of the work of Samhain.

For all the reasons that the death cycle is important, this time of year brings up all kinds of feelings, memories, connections, reflections, and opportunities for magical work. It is easy to get tied to the idea that this time is primarily about physical death and forget about all of the other endings that we endure throughout the course of a year. The loss of a friendships, the changing of a path, the transition beyond an older version of the self: all of these things are important endings that make way for the shifts that death can bring. The idea that the cycles of our everyday life are important to identify, explore, and seek closure with, can open up a whole new avenue of work to engage in during the Samhain season.

In the Psychology Today article “5 Ways to Find Closure From the Past,” Abigail Brenner M.D. discusses some of the concepts of closure and how we move forward into our future.

“Closure means finality; a letting go of what once was. Finding closure implies a complete acceptance of what has happened and an honoring of the transition away from what’s finished to something new. In other words, closure describes the ability to go beyond imposed limitations in order to find different possibilities.”

Brenner goes on to discuss some of the tips she suggests to find closure: taking full responsibility for oneself, grieving one’s losses, gathering one’s strengths, making a plan for the immediate future, and creating a ritual.

This made me reflect on the many ceremonies, rituals, spells, and workings that we incorporate into our daily lives, and how some of those rituals honoring death and marking closure can be best used during this time. Engaging this time of year as a transition point to seek much needed closure and movement into the future can be the start many of us need in setting the tone for the new year.

For many people this isn’t a new concept, but for others it might be. Taking the chance to explore the ways we can ritualize and signify our forward movement into new journeys, while honoring our passage through life, can be very powerful. We know this to be true in our mundane lives with celebrations like birthdays, weddings, and the overculture’s reflection of celebrating a New Year in January. We also know this to be true as many Pagan practitioners engage in ceremonies to identify significant moments of internal and external change, or of necessary changes to come.

Leaning into the lessons of those things that have died can be uncomfortable, scary, and counter-intuitive. While reliance on externalized processes of death or the theology of spiritual cycles or deities can be comforting, the power of the parallel process can be a powerful source of healing.

Dr. Brenner goes on to explore rituals as an aid in transitions and the power of passages in a different Psychology Today piece.

“Rituals that mark “rites of passage”— major transitional turning points— help you ‘connect the dots.’ The classic rite of passage is a universal structuring device existing within virtually every culture. Major life events that honor changes in status or identity within any given society are marked by the three-fold process of separation, transition, and incorporation. You separate from the familiar, transition through unknown territory, and return, transformed by the process.

While all rituals have the potential to transport you to that timeless place, rites of passage have the unique power to transform.  So transformative are rites of passage that even a single one can divide one’s life into ‘before and after.’ And successive passage rites for life transitions can help organize and define one’s entire life.”

At every juncture of life, we have the opportunity to evaluate where we are, what we have learned, what we need, and where we are going. We can ask ourselves: what things have come to a end this year? What relationships need closure? How can we seek a path forward by honoring the closure of a previous path? What transitions do we need to honor in order to pave a way to what we are building for ourselves? What are we leaving behind in our elevation to our next versions of ourselves? What rites of passage would be important for us as individuals today?

In exploring these questions, I find that we give way for the opportunity to merge some of the mundane world’s experiences with the spiritual, magical, and emotional to support our own embodied wisdom and growth. What kinds of things could we add to our Samhain rituals to support the closure of those things that have died this year?

[Pixabay]

There are so many ways that we can embrace our transitions and the lessons that come from them within our practices. While this is not an exhaustive list by any means, here are some ideas to hopefully ignite more ideas for others.

  • Utilize mindfulness practices to increase our ability to hold space to acknowledge, release, and restore.
  • Add a symbol, picture, or piece of writing to an altar that identifies and reflects on what is being honored or what closure is being sought from. A separate altar could also be built just for these transitions.
  • Bury something, and have a burial service to go with it.
  • Share the story of an experience, loss, transition, or grief with trusted others or in sacred space.
  • Journal, then do what you will with that.
  • Repurpose some grief rituals to use for other situations that also embody the feelings of grief.
  • Write a goodbye letter, and mail it to yourself. Some say not to open it after it comes back, while others say reading it can bring closure; there is no one answer for everyone, though I would prefer to burn it when it came back to me as a form of release.
  • Create a gratitude jar, putting memories, reflections and lessons learned from those things being released or honored. Write them on small pieces of paper and put them in a jar for future reflections. That jar can be kept in a sacred place or an altar to be used in future work.
  • Create a transition piece to carry in a pocket or wear, to support positive release and restoration for a new journey. This can be done with amulets, stones, or sigils, or it could also be done with some type of craft project decorated by hand.
  • Cut cords.
  • Lean into community and share space that reinforces who individuals are today as a result of what they have learned.
  • Have a ritual, ceremony or celebration to mark a new time. Use this as a distinguishing point between then and now. This can be for any situation – big, small, or symbolic.

My own reflections of this bring me to a place of considering the balance between honoring and saying goodbye to certain things that have held so much space in my heart and mind this past year. Political fears, release of relationships, and the death of some unhealthy habits are on my list of Samhain time reflections. I am also carving out a space in time to acknowledge and say goodbye to the creeping imposter syndrome that has followed me for years. Time to let that go, too, and then celebrate.

When contemplating our Samhain celebrations this year, let’s inspire one another to dig a little deeper into the many ways we can honor and release those things that we are ready to let go of, and invite in the change that we are seeking in the coming year.

May this Samhain be full of positive endings and beginnings, reflections, Witchy-ness, new memories, and community. And may the ancestors continue to support our journeys.

 

Crystal Blanton

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Crystal Blanton writes the monthly TWH column. She is an activist, writer, priestess, mother, wife and Licensed Clinical Social Worker in the California. She has published two books "Bridging the Gap" and "Pain and Faith in a Wiccan World," and was the editor of the anthology "Shades of Faith; Minority Voices in Paganism." She also writes for the magazine Sage Woman.