Outside the dark, noisy café, a woman sat on the pavement.
‘You’ve caught the sun,’ I said, as I stopped to talk.
‘Yes’, ‘it’s sweet autumn’, she replied.
I agreed. ‘These fine days feel as if they could last forever.’
‘But they won’t’, the woman said, balancing her lunch dish on her knee, ‘and that’s why it’s sweet. Because it’s about to change.’
As I walked on, through the flickering sun and shade of the tree-lined streets, I reflected on her words.
Already, the mellow days of autumn are interlacing with the chill of the dying season. southern hemisphere Samhain/Halloween, the threshold to winter, will be here on April 30.
It’s a poignant threshold and one that invokes remembrance for me — not just of the sweet times but also of friends and family who have left this world of the living.
How do you feel about this crossing?
Samhain is the Celtic night of the dead, a time to remember those dear ones, as we cross into the darkest season and the shadows gather.
What remembrance comes up for you?
A ritual of remembrance
On April 30, or a day or two either side, you may like to honour your loved ones who have died, by lighting a candle and placing a stone for each of them around the flame. (Or you could write each name on a piece of card.)
This is a special time to celebrate with your family. At an earlier Samhain/Halloween I asked my granddaughter (7) to gather dying things from the garden, and she came back with pieces of dead wood, leaves, twigs, and stems in various states of decay.
I brought fallen pōhutukawa leaves. I am fascinated by the way they turn red in this season, a red that reminds me of the summer glory of the pōhutukawa’s flowering. Remembrance, again.
I also brought rosemary to sprinkle around on the black cloth of the altar, because Shakespeare’s evocative words —‘There’s rosemary, for remembrance’— are always with me when I see this herb. (The words are spoken by grief-stricken Ophelia in ‘Hamlet’.)
In the centre, I lit a beeswax candle. It contained the memory of departed summer bees, and its scent filled the room.
Why do I love Samhain?
Samhain is an ancient festival that predates the more modern version of Halloween. So often in our culture, we squeeze remembrance of death out to the margins.
I find it profound to open up sacred space for grief and sorrow. Children and adults alike can name our losses, whether of pets, relatives, friends, or famous people who have inspired us and to know that death and grieving are part of life.
When we gathered as a family, we took turns to pick up a white stone from a tray, and place each stone on the altar to represent someone who has died: the little one’s great grandmother, my parents, a baby daughter, Prince . . . and now, in 2021 we will include all those who have died in the pandemic.
It’s also a time to remember our ancestors — for the Celts the ancestors were strongly present at Samhain on the threshold of winter: for Māori the ancestors’ presence is strongly felt at Matariki, which occurs later into winter.
Bringing simple rituals into family life is so satisfying. Maybe you have found this too? I would be interested in hearing about your ceremonies.
Blessings to you all, including our northern hemisphere friends who are in the season of high spring.
Even as we in the south feel our plunge into winter, we know that the green season is also alive and well, and will come again.
Seasons blessings, wherever you may be,
The dead are always looking down on us, they say
while we are putting on our shoes or making a sandwich,
they are looking down through the glass bottom boats of heaven
as they row themselves slowly through eternity.
Can children deal with the theme of death and dying? Check out my book Sun, Moon, and Stars to find out more.
This post is an excerpt from my Seasons Newsletter. You may subscribe to the Newsletter on this page, or on the Home page of this website.