Resonating with the dark

by | Apr 30, 2014 | Uncategorized | 15 comments

 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.

One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious. — Carl Jung

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.


  1. silkannthreades

    How lovely.No more words; I just want to dwell for a while in the silence and pleasure of this post.

  2. Juliet Batten

    Gallivanta, thank you. This is a time for deepening. The silence is with me too.

  3. Hotly Spiced

    I had no idea Halloween was meant to be celebrated at a different time in the Southern Hemisphere. Congrats on all your hard work over the years and how lovely you were given a bunch of flowers to thank you and acknowledge all the work you had done. It is so lovely to honour those who have gone before us and it sounds like you did a fabulous job of it on the night xx

  4. Penny O'Neill

    I always enjoy your photos and words and remembrances, Juliet, most especially this one. It is a good feeling, perhaps bittersweet, to hand off the responsibilities. Passing the light on to another also means that the light and festival and celebration will continue on. Enjoy the stillness that is coming in the days ahead.

  5. Vicki Lane

    A lovely ritual. A friend of mine builds ancestor altars in our autumn — and I do a similar thing with old photographs, animal skulls, seeds, fossils, corn and squash.

  6. Juliet Batten

    * Charlie, yes these are seasonal festivals and of course our southern hemisphere is reversed. My book ‘Celebrating the Southern Seasons’, published in 1995 and republished in 2005, gives a complete calendar for the southern hemisphere year, and brings in Maori seasonal practices as well as European ones. It’s helped a lot of people to wake up to the deeper meaning of these festivals.

    * Penny, bittersweet indeed to hand over. It felt like a little ‘retirement’ moment for me. But I think the festival is in good hands, and I will continue to be a resource.

    * Vicki, I love the idea of ancestor altars! Thank you.

    * Linda, there’s always a little sadness in letting go. But relief as well.

    Thank you Charlie, Penny, Vicki and Linda. It was a pleasure to wake up this morning to find your lovely thoughtful comments.

  7. Nadezda

    Juliet, what an interesting custom! The Halloween in Russia was started to celebrate some years ago. Thank you for sharing the story of Kiwi Halloween. These pumpkins are pretty with lights in!
    Hope your winter is not cold and the spring come soon.

  8. Juliet Batten

    Nadezda, the pumpkin lanterns look really magical in the dark. Thank you.

  9. Ruth P

    A beautiful post, Juliet. And special news too of the passing on of a mantle/tradition and the marking of your own milestone – with beautiful roses. Our own down hear have just finished as the really cold weather and beginnings of decent frosts start to take their toll and mark another year’s transition.

  10. Juliet Batten

    * Ruth, good to see you. I guess the frosts have started to bite down south. Thank you.

  11. Stephanie Faris

    It’s always so fascinating to see how other parts of the world celebrate holidays. We each have our separate traditions without really being aware of the others. Thank you for enlightening us!

  12. Juliet Batten

    Stephanie, it’s always a pleasure to welcome a new visitor. Thank you for dropping by and for your comment. I enjoy hearing about traditions in other parts of the world too.

  13. Hilary Melton-Butcher

    Hi Juliet – that’s wonderful you’ve found someone to take your mantle forward for this festival.

    You do an amazing job setting and keeping traditions alive for many ..

    It’s good to see your posts coming from the southern hemisphere .. and reminding us of two halves of the world ..

    Cheers Hilary

  14. Juliet Batten

    Hilary, I love the old festivals and I’m so pleased that someone will be carrying on the tradition. Thank you.


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