The old seasonal festivals have deep roots. Today is the half-way point between autumn equinox and winter solstice. We are on the threshold of winter, and we are harvesting nuts, apples, pumpkins and kumaras.
We are also harvesting our memories, for this is the time of southern hemisphere Halloween. For many years now I have been encouraging people to celebrate this festival by moving it from spring time (when the commercial world cynically promotes it) to late autumn, where its roots lie in the old Celtic festival of Samhain.
For five years I have held vigil on Ponsonby Rd, holding a space for people to come and light their candles and lanterns in honour of the dead.
For my Celtic ancestors knew that as the season darkens towards winter, the veil between the worlds is thin. Spirits of departed souls come out of their resting places to stalk the earth.
This year, Kiwi Halloween has come off the street and into a church hall, for a full scale ritual of remembrance. Families and children were especially welcome; and so the little one helped with pumpkin carving. We sat in the sun, making one for me and one for her. She’s good at scraping out the seeds, and making sure the base is flat enough to take a tea-light candle.
We held our remembrance ritual last night (a day early this year, because that’s when the hall was available). Can you see the cluster of seven white shells on the black cloth? They represent Matariki (the Pleiades), an important constellation for Maori, because that’s where the ancestors reside. At this time of the year, Matariki dips below the horizon for about a month. Its reappearance in May/June marks the start of the Maori new year. As part of the ritual I placed the small black cloth over the shells to symbolise the disappearance of Matariki.
Kawakawa leaves are associated with tangi (funerals). We began with stories of the dark. Maori would go into the bush to hunt birds and the little kiore (native rat) as winter approached.
Everyone was asked to bring a candle or lantern. When they arrived they were given small cards, on which to write the names of those whom they wished to remember.
We turned out the lights as people came forward. Lanterns and candles appeared out of the dark, the cards were laid down and the names spoken. We spoke the names back, in recognition.
One hundred and forty departed souls were remembered last night.
This is the last year that I will lead Last Light/Samhain/Kiwi Halloween. I have handed it over to Kim, an Auckland celebrant, and she will take the work forward. Just after I announced this, some women came forward and presented me with a big bouquet of red roses. What a wonderful way to end a long commitment. Thank you to all those who support my work with the seasons, and are equally committed to restoring the resonance to our southern hemisphere cycles.