Into the dark
Having lived in Asia for close to 20 years I think I learned more about the ancient Chinese calendar and its role in shaping the modern way of being there than I ever knew about our own Celtic version. But I'm now on a journey to figure out where I fit in our little corner of this very large world, thanks to the wisdom of my teacher - in both yoga and spiritual matters - Mari Kennedy (read more about her here). Last weekend, under Mari's guidance, I moved into the folds of winter along with a diverse and very easy group of like-minded folk at Dublin's Fumbally Stables.
'Do you pay regular visits to yourself?' asks the Sufi poet Rumi. This simple question encapsulates what Samhain asks of us. The Celtic year begins at Samhain because those wise folk who created these ancient rituals believed that all new life emerges from the darkness and Samhain marks the beginning of the new cycle and a time to reflect back on that just completed. It is the season of death, loss, disruption and darkness - sounds quite morbid I know, but it is by going through Samhain's darkness that we can start afresh for a new beginning as such and as Mari attests, "once we embrace the darkness, the letting go, something new will emerge through us."
The Celtic Calendar
I have always loved Autumn - with her golden shades and her gentle way of slowing the earth's incessant energy (to me anyway) and by learning more about the Celtic cycle I'm beginning to understand why this time of year means so much.
Funnily, most of our group also treasure this season and together we grasped Samhain's dark energy and began our journey inwards in traditional Celtic fashion - much like the Danish hygge obsession with inward reflection and creating a sanctuary in the middle of very real life. Different cultures have unique cycles but they all share very similar themes. "This is the time to reflect back on the cycle that is finishing - something needs to die, to be let go of," she adds, "so we can move into the next cycle and live more aligned to who we truly are. This is evolution."
The Cycles of Life
Life is a cycle with a beginning, middle and end and it is how we deal with these stages that dictates their outcomes. Yes, Samhain comes with disruption (as all cyclic changes do) and we can either work with the changes or get stuck challenging change. The choice is ours.
Mari's own teacher is Dolores Whelan who clarifies the significance: 'This ritual celebration of the Samhain festival prepares us to enter more fully into the energy of this season. The entrance into the dark time of the year is extremely challenging to us 21st century humans addicted as we are to light and outward activity. As we cross the Samhain gate, the invitation is into stillness, inner activity, being and surrender. Samhain is a time to look deep into the well of our own selves and reflect on our lives and devote the necessary time and energy to healing what needs to be healed."
Samhain is also a time to connect with our ancestors – these same people who walked this earth before us and passed on the gift of life. Our group connected in a ritualistic way, each having something belonging to our ancestors (in my case a photograph of my grandmother and great grandparents). As Whelan explains, "we remember too that we are the ancestors of the future generation and so we seek to heal our own wounds and weaknesses while on earth and consider what gifts and legacy we will leave for those who follow us. we dream our visions for the years ahead and plant the seeds for the future dreams we hold for our planet."
Sometimes its hard to embrace this ancient wisdom midst the hate and unrest that is our world, but Whelan clarifies that with this dark news comes the opportunity to respond in ways where we become agents of transformation. "Darkness is always transformed by light and love so let us choose to share our light and our healing in both simple and profound ways as we go about our daily life."
As I learn more about these cycles, they start to make sense and I can feel myself becoming more in tune with nature's powerful energy. But we don't need to live according to the calendar, it is best used as a guide to give meaning to our lives and the greater world, especially during difficult times. Mari feels that we are often so afraid to shine in the world that we revert back to Samhain, rather than let the mother energy of Bealtaine or early summer shine through. "Let your heart bring you into the cycles even if the mind is afraid, " she advises, "and enjoy the fullness."
Up next is Winter Solstice. Contact Mari for further information!