Samhein (Hallowe’en)

Samhein or Hallowe’en
Our world is fast and furious.   We have gained a non stop twenty four hour clock that gives access to just about everything.    The furthest place from home is only a day away and we can go there if we want to.   The lights burn all night, the sound of civilisation is a roar that never ceases.   We live and eat in comfort amongst it.   All the seasons have been neutered by supermarkets.
What have we lost?     Silence.  We have lost true darkness.   We have lost sight of the stars as they used to be seen.  We have lost the life of the village where we all knew each other; where mothers could grow old and die at home and be buried in the graveyard nearby.    We have lost the comfort of the fire lit hearth and the stories of our ancestors.   We have lost the wariness of dark places of mystery where spirits might dwell.
There was a tradition when the harvest was over and winter was imminent,  to take stock.   What grain must be sold and what could be kept.   What livestock could stay one more year, which must be slaughtered and laid down for winter meat.  It was the beginning of another year – and also a time to celebrate – with a  great fire.
Last year’s fire in the grate was put out and a new one lit from the communal village bonfire.    The house was cleaned and prepared for a feast – and at the table an empty chair was set for the ones who had passed on that year.
There would be talk of those who had gone and they knew how close were their graves and wondered if their spirits might have wandered over to hear the talk – perhaps to bless them – so it was a good idea to honour them.
And where there had been misfortune maybe it was because other spirits had come out of the darkness to haunt their lives.   At this time when their minds were so full of it, was when they might come – summoned up by the talk and the whispers and the nervous glances at the night.
This was Hallowe’en, the 31st of October – or as country folk call it, ‘Samhain’.
In all the present day light and noise and cosy living, we still remember it.   It is in our psyche.   The church rearranged it as All Souls but it was still Samhain.   It is commercialised today with children running from house to house for bags of sweets and shouting ‘Trick or Treat’ and dressing up as ghosts in Tesco costumes – but underneath perhaps we still yearn for the darkness and the silence and the mystery of the bright stars and ancestors discussed in low voices.    And we yearn for the comfort of warm fires burning in the hearth when all is prepared for another winter.      Hallowe’en can be a good time for lost souls.

tony mcneile

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