As Samhain approaches, I can feel the veil between the worlds thinning…
So what is this “Samhain,” and what does it mean?
Samhain [usually pronounced “sow-in”, with “sow” rhyming with “cow”] is a word that means “end of summer.” The ancient Celts celebrated this time with bonfires and reverence for ancestors, who were believed to be especially present as the final harvest was taken and the land fell into winter. Nowadays, Neo-Pagans and others celebrate it with their own rituals and practices inspired in part by the ancient Celtic observances.
If you want a fuller description of Samhain, though, that’s been done by other people in other places. [such as WitchVox.net] In the meantime, though, I’m going to jump straight into my own recent experiences and how I tie them to the themes of Samhain.
In a lot of ways, I’d say that the past several weeks have been utterly crazy. To some extent, that’s the story of my whole life… 🙂 But I think that the most recent wave of intensity arrived when I set out on my journey to Missouri at the end of August.
The Earth Activist Training was an incredible experience for me! I wrote about it a bit on here, but words can’t even begin to describe the significance of that time in my life. I feel very strongly that I’ve been guided on a series of “field trips”… on the one hand, I’ve certainly had my fair share of quirky adventures right here in Southern Illinois, and this place seems to be at the heart of my revolutionary inspiration. But on the other hand, I feel like I’ve been lead by that same intuition to go out into the world on a series of “field trips” or “epic journeys” where I would make specific connections and learn specific information to bring back to my community.
Southern Illinois has a special magic to it that always launches me out into the world only to bring me back home with new experiences under my belt. At first, I was simply following my intuition blindly, not knowing where it would take me. For example, there was what probably qualifies as the first such journey… what sort of madness would lead an extremely socially anxious young man to travel alone to Idaho, meet up with a group of total strangers, and spend the summer in the woods doing forest defense? That’s exactly what I did… and even though it may have seemed strange to an outsider, my intuition on the matter was simply irresistable. I was driven… I knew that I had a place to be, a role to play, and a lesson to bring back home.
Now, even as these field trips have become less frequent, their meaning has become more clear… as more and more of the individual strands fall into place, the tapestry that they’re weaving becomes more clear. It’s a tapestry of love… a tapestry of life… a tapestry of learning… a tapestry of struggle… a tapestry of revolution.
The trip to Missouri was, in a way, the thread that finally pulled the rest together into a tapestry. It happened shortly after the first harvest of the year — and in a way, it was a great harvest of all that I’ve been seeking since this journey began. There were personal components… there were political components… there were ecological components… there were spiritual components… and together, in the space between the worlds, it all started making even more sense than before.
Then, after this massive influx of revolutionary inspiration, I returned to Carbondale just in time for another harvest: my second book. This, too, was a long time in coming, with many threads that had appeared in my life suddenly pulling together. I worked at an almost feverish pace, trying to put all of that inspiration down on paper even as the ideas for my future writings competed for my attention.
After this second harvest, though, I felt a shift in my life once again. It was the coming of Samhain… and even though the days were still warm then, I could already feel the chill setting into my bones.
I feel that this Samhain — perhaps like most Samhains — is a test of my resolve… my faith… my trust in the Earth and its ability to provide for me as I do the work that I need to do. In my latest book, Earth Conscious Revolution, I talk a lot about Shadow work… discovering and facing that inner portion of yourself that you may not currently be comfortable with. This writing is by no means an abstraction on my part… I’ve faced my Shadow on many occassions, and come to know it better than most people know the mask that they wear in their daily lives. I’ve done a lot to let go of my internalized repression… and now that I’ve reawakened some of the parts of myself that have been lost in the Shadows so long, I want to reclaim their power.
But am I ready?
That’s the test of this Samhain for me. I can feel the long-lost power of my repressed vitality returning to me. I feel a tremendous passion… an almost feverish drive to live, to act, to do, to be, to experience, to discover all of the joys and pleasure that have been denied to me by forces internal and external. Some people think of me as the Green Man because of my love of the Earth and my tendency towards forest activism and advocacy… but now, I can show them the full power of the Green Man — gentle, yes, and loving, yes, but also completely and irresistably wild, running naked among the trees and the faeries, filled with love and passion beyond measure, bursting forth with dandelions and moss in every parking lot that would dare restrain his sacred delight and blessed sorrow.
That’s the test, then. Now that my passion is reawakening… now that the power is returning to my body… how am I going to use it? Am I going to truly become the Green Man in the flesh, a loving child of the Earth who serves the Earth Conscious Revolution… or am I going to let it be twisted by my surroundings, turning it into an egoistic desire for more money, more power, more pleasure, regardless of the consequences?
That may seem like a silly question to people who know me well.. EVERYONE knows how peaceful, how gentle, how loving of a soul I am. But if that’s all that you know of me… then how well do you really know me?
We all have a Shadow… each and every one of us, whether or not we choose to recognize it. If we embrace it, it becomes a resource… an old friend, a hidden helper who lends us great strength and inspiration from unseen places. If we deny it… well then, like all things that we ignore, it controls us.
I’ve seen things, both with my own eyes and with my mind’s eye, that no human mind can ever fully comprehend without going mad… in my personal life, and especially in my political work, I’ve caught glimpses of unimagineable horrors. War… genocide… ecocide… torture. Luckily, in my personal life, I’ve managed to keep these things to a minimum. But the empath in me — and the revolutionary in me — has seen so deeply into these places of torment that I’ve felt something deep inside of myself twist and writhe in response to them.
Of course, in the past few years, I’ve learned how to feel empathy for others without letting their suffering or malevolence twist my psyche any further than it has already been twisted. But now that some of the feelings that I’ve suppressed are rising within me, a natural question also arises… which is stronger in me? The will to heal myself and the planet? Or its cruel distortion — the will to seek power for its own sake, and to dish back the anger and hatred that the world has poured into my soul?
In my heart of hearts, I know which will is stronger. I love the Earth without question, without restraint, with a love that no words can describe. But since there is the anger, and the bitterness, and the despair, and the rage, and the hunger for power… the time has come to be tested. The time has come for me to face these issues out in the world rather than in the comfort of my home sanctuary. The time has come for me to pursue my chosen path of Earth activism and advocacy with relentless passion… with tireless inspiration… with an unswerving dedication, no matter what circumstances the world may throw my way.
And so, we come back to the theme of Samhain, the Final Harvest.
After so many years lost in the Fog, it’s finally time for me to harvest what I’ve been dreaming of. It’s finally time for me to live the dream… to devote my entire life to the ecological and social causes that I support. Everything in my life that serves this revolutionary journey is being harvested as we speak, filling my life with renewed inspiration! I feel a strong connection to several friends, and new connections with other kindred spirits are forming… new ideas for my writings, my website, and my public speaking are blossoming… new possibilities are glimmering in a community that has so often felt stagnant and limiting… and in the end, I know in my heart that this new wave of inspiration is what will shine through during the coming new year.
But in the meantime… Samhain approaches, and the Final Harvest is a time of letting go. Letting go of my old fears… my old comforts… my old identities… even some of my old sources of inspiration and hope. The scythe slices, and slices, and slices… cutting away the old year, with many long, cold nights looming between now and the first stirrings of the new year.
So for a while, life will be challenging, especially for a Taurus like me who craves stability and creature comforts. I’m going to have to be creative just to get by… but isn’t that the point?
At around this time last year, I performed what was perhaps the most powerful and most spontaneous ritual of my entire life. I stood at the edge of a cliff — a literal cliff, on a ridgetop here in Southern Illinois — and I felt my own power over my own life. It was very liberating… and in that moment, I knew that deep down, I truly wanted to live as I had never lived before. So I took a big log, channelled all of my life-fearing and life-suppressing energies into it, and hurled it over the edge to its death.
For me, that’s what Samhain is all about — a harvest whose time has finally come. That which is alive is harvested to feed the living, and that which is dead is cut down without hesitation or remorse to make way for the living.
A year ago, I experienced a very powerful harvest on that ridgetop, and during that time in my life. But in a way, it was still largely internal and symbolic. Now, as the wheel makes another turn, the time has come for that harvest to become literal. All of those things in my life that no longer serve my passion for Earth Conscious Revolution will be torn to pieces all around me. It may seem brutal at times… but really, it’s all for the best. Because I can already feel what’s coming when the light returns… even as the nights grow longer, and the winds grow colder, and the Samhain rains sting my flesh, I feel a tremendous burning inside.
It’s the Samhain bonfire… a magical place between the worlds, where the ancestors walk with us, sharing their wisdom, urging us to cast everything that no longer serves us into the flames. And there are times when I resist these changes out of fear and misunderstanding… but in these times, on these long Samhain nights, I call out to Cerridwyn, asking her to chase me down and devour my ego. It’s time to let go of some aspects of life that aren’t working anymore so that I can seek out those that DO work… and if I won’t let go of what needs to be released, then may Cerridwyn chase me down relentlessly until the work is done…
These are challenging times, certainly… both for me, and for the planet as a whole. But our fear, our indecision, our complacency, our tendency to hold onto some last scrap of comfort that no longer serves us, will get us nowhere tonight. For tonight is the night when we must embrace the challenge… tonight is the night when we must actively cast that last scrap of comfort into the flames, knowing that it’s holding us back from the dawn of a new year.
On that note… since Samhain isn’t quite here until October 31, I’ve still got some gathering to do before the hour of the bonfire. I’ll be back again soon to let you know how that goes…