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Honoring the Dark Time of Year

by Kailtlin Hetzner

The air is brisk and cool, the leaves turn the beautiful shades of autumn, the summer is gone and the season calls us inward. It is time to prepare for winter—not only physically for the cold but a slowing down in other ways too.

We are approaching Halloween, All Hallows Eve, a cross-quarter holiday between Fall Equinox and Winter Solstice. In many cultures, this is the most sacred of days. All over the world people honor and communicate with the dead at this time, as it is said that the ‘veil between the worlds’ of the living and the dead is at its thinnest.

The Celts celebrated their new year, called Samhain (pronounced “Sow-in”), on the eve of November. They believed the spirits of the dead walked the earth on this night. To protect themselves, people would wear masks or cross-dress to trick the wandering dead.

Trick-or-Treating has its roots in a medieval custom of the British Isles called “souling.”  Dressed in masks and costumes, the poor would go about offering prayers to a family’s departed relatives in exchange for soul cakes (little oatcakes or square pieces of bread containing currants) or a handout of apples, nuts, or copper coins. The more gifts they received, the more prayers they would promise to recite to expedite the passage of the deceased souls from limbo to heaven.

As we have grown up disconnected from our ancestors and our grief, many of us have made an effort to incorporate these elements into our lives. To that end, we hold a Samhain Ritual and Ancestor Feast at Earthaven each year. We bring pictures and mementos of our ancestors and beloved dead to the altar. We also bring a potluck dish from our heritage for the feast. While we feast, we give toasts and tell stories about our ancestors and loved ones who have crossed over.

Of course we also have our share of fun at Halloween! The kids trick-or-treat around the village in a big group and our Halloween costume party is one of the best of the year.

As the days grow darker, we remember that we are in the ‘cauldron’ of the year, the dark time of change, until the sun is reborn at Winter Solstice. Encourage yourself to slow down. See what changes are afoot. As the veil between the worlds grows thinner and thinner, take a look around. Who knows what you’ll see?

Kaitlin Hetzner is a ritual and ceremony leader at Earthaven, organizes special womyn’s gatherings under a Red Tent, lends a terrific hand to our office and administrative work, and just became a Full Member!

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