Samhain 2007 Approaches

Jack-O-Lantern: This is a Jack-O-Lantern that I found floating around on the Internet. Pretty cool, eh?Harvest time has been a busy time as usual this year. In fact, the prolonged spell of hot weather seemed to add a certain feverish quality to the usual buzz of activity that always comes during the harvest season. Now that the cold rains of fall are finally upon us, though, I feel inspired to write a blog entry about Samhain.

What is Samhain? If you’re unfamiliar with the holiday, I’m tempted to just direct you to an article on the subject. Instead, though, I’ll offer a brief description in my own words.

Samhain, which is most commonly observed on October 31, is an old Celtic holiday marking the end of summer. As the sun spends less time in the sky each day, the winds grow sharper, the cold rain falls, the leaves start dying, the final harvest is taken in, and many of the flora and fauna of summer undergo some form of hibernation or metamorphosis to prepare for the hard, dark winter. Therefore, on a spiritual level, this becomes a time to consider the themes of harvest, change, challenge, and death.

Samhain is a Pagan holiday, but the themes of the season are recognized in many other beliefs and practices. Halloween, All Saints Day, and Día de los Muertos are just a few examples of related holidays that honor beloved ancestors and relatives at this time of year.

What does Samhain mean to me? It means many things, all of which are hard to put into words. I feel Samhain in the coming of the October rains… cold, sharp rains that wash away the leaves of summer and leave the landscape in the crystal clarity of winter. I feel Samhain in the return of the ancestors… on my home altar, in my thoughts, in the themes of my life, and in the landscape of my dreams. I feel Samhain in the magic in the air… an almost electric sense that the veil is thin, that unknown mischief is afoot, that anything is possible as the old year dies and the new year waits in the womb of winter.

My Coven is having a private Samhain gathering this weekend. It’s going to be much smaller than we originally anticipated since most of our out-of-town guests were unable to make it this year. Even so, it will be a good opportunity for all of us who do make it to meet up with each other, share stories of what the year has brought us, and prepare together for the coming of winter.

I’ll have more to say about Samhain as the day approaches. In the meantime, the cold rains of the past few days were enough to leave me eager to say at least a little something about one of the most important days in my year. Samhain is in the air — and even though it’s often a challenging time of year, it’s also a time of powerful magic that I welcome with open arms.

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Remembering

For a long time now, I’ve been in a rut. I wouldn’t call it depression, though it’s certainly had depressive aspects at times. Instead, I would say that it’s been more of a sabbatical. I was tired, broke, and disillusioned, so I took a big step back from my grandiose revolutionary schemes in order to recuperate, regenerate, and reflect upon my life and my world.

In many ways, this was a good thing. It gave me the time to develop closer relationships with my friends; it gave me new perspective on my goals and challenges; it lead me on a variety of quirky adventures and side quests that I would have never had the pleasure of exploring if I hadn’t given myself some breathing room.

But eventually, rest became inertia; stability became entropy; doubt became defeatism. Without even realizing it, I started to accept the problems in my life, my community, and my world as inescapable givens. The people I know and love will always be poor and disempowered; the community I live in will always be conformist and apathetic; the nation I live in will never rise to the challenge of changing economic and political systems that are causing so much social and ecological havoc. This may be unfortunate, but this is the way of things, and all that I can do is ensure that my personal contribution is positive (or at least neutral).

This attitude went on for a while, just under the surface, undercutting my otherwise positive attitude with a pernicious pessimism. Eventually, though, I remembered something.

I remembered that I have the power to create change in my life, my community, and my world.

Really, this idea was nothing new to me. I’ve believed it for a long time now, and I doubt I’ll ever fully lose sight of it. But sometimes, I get distracted by my circumstances and temporarily forget that each of us, in our own way, has the power to create change.

I first started noticing the positive shift in my attitude when I was sick at work the other day. I suffered through about two weeks of flu only to emerge with a persistent cough that was probably due to allergies aggravated by dairy consumption. Whatever the cause of this cough was, the effects on my psyche were at least as bad as the effects on my body. I was sick and tired of being sick and tired, and I wanted the coughing to end NOW.

Then, I had a moment of clarity. I realized that I had the power to improve my health, my mood, and my circumstances. I started singing a few spiritual songs to myself as I worked, and my cough diminished significantly. Later, I bought some herbal tea that helped keep the symptoms in check at times when I couldn’t rest or sing in order to stop the coughing. My energy picked up a bit, and I started getting back into some of my old projects, including the Forbidden Philosophies series. Over the course of a week or two, I found myself shifting from a sense of deep disempowerment to a sense of deep empowerment.

Sure, change isn’t always simple or easy. But change is possible — and through a combination of clear vision and focused intention, we can make it happen.

Now that I’ve noticed what a rut I’ve been in, I’ve started looking at my life with new eyes. Harvest time is upon us, and it’s time for me to harvest the blessed new fruits that have been growing in my life and cull the dead weight that no longer serves me.

Samhain is always a challenging time of year for me, but also a very rewarding one. It’s hard letting go of old patterns, old possessions, old circumstances, and old relationships that no longer serve me. But I’ve harvested so much in the past year that I’m sure it will be enough to carry me through this time of transformation and purging. New friends, new experiences, new ideas, renewed inspiration… Samhain always has its sting, of course, but I have high hopes that this year, that sting will be accompanied by a sense that I’ve harvested enough to carry me through the long, dark, and cold winter ahead.

With that said, I think I’ll be going. I’m in the midst of a major purging of possessions, and I’d better get back to it. I’ve allowed a fair amount of clutter to accumulate around me during this rut, and especially this more recent period of illness. Now, with Samhain approaching, I feel a need to wander among my possessions with a scythe, hacking and slashing at old papers and trinkets until only the most meaningful among them are left standing.

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Tribute to My Fairy King

Freddie Mercury: This is a photo of "My Fairy King," Freddie Mercury, walking around in full regalia. My only regret is that I never got to see him perform live...This may seem completely random… but I’ve decided today to dedicate an entire blog entry to Freddie Mercury. Maybe it’s a belated birthday present to him… but whatever the reason, I figure now is as good of a time as any to share my thoughts on this epic bard whose legend lives on today.

My first clear memory of Freddie Mercury comes through the song “Bohemian Rhapsody.” I’m not sure whether I was first enthralled by it before or after seeing Wayne’s World, but either way, it was one of the first songs that I gravitated to.

For me, Queen became a quest. The first audio tape I remember owning was a Queen “single” that I think I literally played until it wore out. I’m not sure which songs were on it, but I think it may have been Bohemian Rhapsody and The Show Must Go On. Luckily, that tape lasted me through to the first CD I remember, which was also Queen — specifically, the Queen’s Greatest Hits album with the red cover, which was essentially the same as the first disc of the main 3-disc Greatest Hits set.

It’s hard to put into words what that CD meant to me. At the time, I couldn’t explain it at all except to say that I liked it. But in retrospect, I can definitely say that it helped me through a prolonged period of extreme depression.

As the dawn of adolescence brought on raging hormones and expanding self-awareness, I found myself feeling extremely anxious, depressed, and trapped by my banal suburban circumstances. My family was good to me, and this was actually a point where my family life was becoming more stable than it had been in the past. But this was also the precise age where I really started looking beyond my family for a social life — and somehow, the petty tyranny of suburban junior high and high school seemed like a soulless wasteland where I could never be free.

If you had asked me, I wouldn’t even have been able to put into words what it was exactly that was being denied me. But I knew that there was more to life than this, and I felt a tremendous urge to discover that life, whatever it may be.

Enter Freddy Mercury.

Now of course, I don’t want to diminish the contributions of the other members of Queen when I talk about Freddie Mercury. They all had songs that I like, and none of the songs would have been the same without the full set of artists. And yet, there was always something that made Freddie stand apart. He had a certain manic energy, a certain irresistible charm, a certain powerful magic…

My life was so boring in those days that I couldn’t even imagine what it must be like to cut loose from all of my social inhibitions and have a real party. It would be years before I could even recognize and throw off the chains that were holding me back from experiencing the full power of human emotion. But when I listened to that music, and that voice soaring and diving through the heights and depths of human passion and ecstasy, I could feel something stirring in my heart that I’d never felt before.

It was a taste of pure freedom! Yes, the joy was often mingled with pain and sorrow, but the sheer power of the unchained human heart was what always shined through most brightly for me. It was the music of a heart longing to break free… a heart falling in love… a heart that would not rest until its epic passion for the beauty and magic of life had been fulfilled, bringing the power of eternity into the presence of a single moment.

So much rock music carries some of these same themes… but when they were at their finest, Freddie Mercury and Queen breathed an incredible life and love and beauty into the drama. People who know me should know that I believe in magic as a real spiritual force… and I believe that Freddie Mercury came to us with a magic powerful enough to open people’s minds and set our hearts free.

In other words, he rocked our world.

Of course, there was a great deal of controversy among some people over the fact that he never officially acknowledged his bisexuality to the public, and that he didn’t acknowledge his HIV diagnosis publicly until the day before he died. But really, I think that both criticisms are rather petty, though certainly well-intentioned.

Sure, it would have been very helpful if Freddie Mercury had joined some political campaign to speak up on behalf of the GLBTQ movement. But really, I think that his music spoke for itself. It was music of liberation… and even though he didn’t officially contribute to the queer liberation movement, he helped make those of us who were feeling trapped by our sexually repressed society feel more free. He was also the first role model I ever had who was bisexual, which lead me to learn more about bisexuality and ultimately myself.

It would have also been very helpful if Freddie Mercury had held some sort of AIDS benefit concert while he was still with us. I’m sure it would have raised awareness tremendously and raised a good chunk of change for the cause, too. But really, he was ultimately able to accomplish in death what his desire for privacy did not allow him to accomplish in life. He was the first role model I ever had who died of AIDS, and his death and subsequent tribute concert probably raised even more awareness than anything he could have done in life.

So, both in life and in death, Freddie Mercury had a lasting influence on my life, and on the lives of millions of others who still celebrate his music today. Whether you’re a die-hard Queen fan or someone who barely knows anything about them, I encourage you to take the time to listen to a few songs, check out a few of the music videos, and let yourself be inspired by the beauty and power of this epic bard’s talent. He will always be with us in spirit…

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Six Years Later

Tribute in Light: New York City, N.Y. (Sept. 9, 2004) - As the anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack approaches, a test of the Tribute in Light Memorial illuminates a passing cloud above lower Manhattan. The twin towers of light, made-up of 44 searchlightsAs we reach the sixth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, a part of me wants to just avoid the topic entirely. After all, over the past six years, I’ve devoted a seemingly endless amount of time to the topic, whether through personal reflection, 9/11 films, or public discourse of one form or another. Even so, a part of me can’t resist seizing this opportunity to talk about it yet again. Why? Because the events of that day are still having an impact on our lives, and there is still so much that needs to be said and done about it.

On September 11, 2001, I was awakened early by a phone call from my mother. As a roommate handed me the phone, I was surprised to hear a trembling sadness in her voice, as though she had been crying or was just about to. I don’t remember exactly what was said, but she basically told me that we had been attacked and that I should turn on the news to see what was happening.

Due to her early morning call, I was actually awake in time to hear the first reports of a plane hitting the second tower. From this point forward, I spent most of the day in my living room, watching the reports on TV and talking with my roommates and friends about what was happening.

It’s hard to describe my feelings on that day. And I mean that both in the sense of “difficult to explain” and “difficult to talk about.” I’d spent the past five years of my life being extremely critical of the social, economic, and political systems that those towers and that Pentagon embodied. Even on that day, the symbolism of attacking a major center of global capitalism and a major center of global militarism was not lost on me. Therefore, part of me wondered why it had taken so long for someone, somewhere to commit such an attack.

And yet, I myself have never had a love for violence. In fact, I have long had a love for peace. Intellectually, I was not surprised by this attack… but in my heart, I was shocked. No matter how often I see violence, especially mass violence, it never ceases to amaze me that anyone could be so wantonly destructive.

And so, on September 11, my fellow anti-authoritarians and I spent long hours talking about the tragedy, stewing in an odd mix of sorrow, fear, and cynicism. As the Pentagon was hit, I personally began wondering if there were hijacked planes in the air on the West Coast, or even in Chicago, where my stepfather was working a few short blocks from the Sears Tower. I also started wondering about friends in New York City who I hadn’t seen in a while but still cared about deeply. Were they one of those nameless faces covered in soot, running around trying to avoid the unthinkable collapse of another steel tower?

For perhaps the first time, I felt the reality of political violence as a personal experience. I’ve always been an empath, and thus violence has always felt very real to me even when I wasn’t the one experiencing it firsthand. This, though, was a moment when I felt a very real threat to my loved ones, and indirectly to myself. I’d seen friends subject to political arrest, surveillance, and abuse before, but that seemed to pale in comparison to the thought of people I know personally being injured or killed because someone decided to blow up towers in NYC, or LA, or Chicago, because of some political conflict.

In the days after 9/11, there were moments when I had a naive hope that this tragedy would give the majority of Americans a greater empathy for the survivors of war and terror in other nations. For a moment, maybe it did. But then, the moment passed, and our grief was twisted into a thirst for vengeance by our nation’s “leaders.” America’s sacred soil had been soaked in the blood of the innocent, and the evildoers must be punished for this unholy act.

I can’t even sit still as I think about the outrage of it all! The bodies of the victims weren’t even cold when politicians and pundits started singing their battle cries, using transparent but powerful propaganda techniques to twist national grief into nationalist war. Thankfully, most of the people I saw on the TV screen on 9/11 itself showed a genuine mix of sorrowful human emotions rather than any tendency towards war-mongering or spin-doctoring. But as day wore into night, and night slipped into morning, these genuine human emotions were pushed back into whatever dank dungeon they’re usually locked away in. Instead, as days turned into weeks and weeks turned into months, I found myself surrounded by a bazillion American flags and a bazillion people calling for war.

In the end, the cynic in me realized that a lot of this had to do with the way that many Americans were framing these events in their own heads even as they unfolded. It’s not that war, or terror, wasn’t supposed to happen anywhere… but rather, that it wasn’t supposed to happen HERE. Not on American soil to American citizens. Watching it happen elsewhere may have been sad… but watching it happen HERE made it an UNTHINKABLE TRAGEDY.

As I watched all of the lovely artwork sprout up depicting angels mourning and caring for the victims and survivors of 9/11, I wondered when I would see the artwork of angels comforting the targets of US imperialism, ecological destruction, and the like. Do the angels not weep for children who die in Palestine? Do the angels not weep for those tortured and killed by the Contras in Nicaragua? Do the angels not weep for the children who make our clothing in distant Wal-Mart sweatshops? Do the angels not weep for the gutting of the forests, choking of the air, and poisoning of the oceans?

Do the angels not weep for those tortured in American custody, or killed by Americans in Iraq?

I for one believe that the angels DO weep for these things too. I believe in angels, and I believe that many of them weep at the sight of such suffering. But looking at Fox News, you’d never guess that an angel is watching over anyone other than the supporters of George Bush.

I want to be clear about the fact that I do mourn the tragedies of 9/11. Like many people, I felt myself change on that day in ways that are hard to describe and likely to last a lifetime. The sorrow and grief that I felt on that day changed my perspective on the entire world. But in part because of that grief and that sorrow, I also feel an intense commitment to ensuring that the madness of war and terror doesn’t claim any further victims. And the only way we can do that is by understanding the logic of war and terror, and doing our best to eliminate it.

Therefore, I would like to conclude this 9/11 reflection with two questions. By striving to answer these questions, I feel that we as Americans and we as citizens of the world can hope to uncover new truths and discover new paths towards peace.

(1) What really happened on 9/11? I’m going to an event tonight at 7pm at the Big Muddy IMC which raises this question. What I know for certain is that the “official story” is one of the most absurd theories I’ve heard so far. For example, I’ve heard all sorts of arguments and counter-arguments about the Twin Towers and the Pentagon, but I still haven’t heard a reasonable “official” explanation for the fall of WTC 7. If we truly want to ensure that we never have another 9/11, then our first step must be to examine the events of that day. Once we understand what really happened, we’ll be better able to stop it from happening again.

(2) What would be some real solutions to the problems of war and terror? Seeing 3,000 people die in NYC sparked tremendous grief in me, but so does watching tens of thousands die in Iraq, and millions die elsewhere from war, terror, genocide, hunger, and the like. It seems pretty clear to me that invading Iraq and blowing a bunch of things up hasn’t done much to win this “War on Terror.” In fact, it seems to me like we’ve been using terror domestically in order to psyche up the American people for causing terror abroad. But if we’re going to say that the Iraq war is bogus, and that the War on Terror is bogus, then we need to come up with our own strategies for ending terror, be it state-sponsored or freelance. Maybe we can set up our own grassroots “Department of Peace” and launch a different sort of “War on Terror.”

Anyway, these reflections have been a bit unfocused due to a mix of the complexity of the topic and my lingering hints of flu. If you’d like to talk more about it, though, I am eager to hear what you have to say. Since 9/11 is still being used as a justification for an endless War on Terror, we all have a lot to talk about…

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My name is Treesong. I'm a father, author, talk radio host, and Real Life Superhero. I live in Carbondale, Southern Illinois. I write novels, short stories, and poetry, mostly about the climate.

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