Samhain comes at sundown. The Celtic New Year signaled, for our ancestors, the end of a half-year's intense outdoor labour. Samhain ("sow-when", literally "summer's end") heralded the onset of the year's dark half, a time to come indoors, gather around the fire, share stories and music, and re-weave the deep roots of cultural wealth and wisdom that bond us to this dear old Earth. Samhain--or, if you prefer, "All Souls' Night"--is also a time to honour our ancestors and all other dear ones who've gone before us, a time to acknowledge and even befriend our grief. Older reflections may be found here and here and here.
It is a time to embrace the gapped and tattered nature of life. On a recent foraging walk in the woods with two of our WWOOF volunteers, one of them noticed that, in the woods, almost everything was nibbled at the edges. Every leaf, stone, hump of earth or bit of bark was food or shelter to some living thing. Most of the mushrooms we found had been delicately edge-munched to satisfy some itty-bitty appetite, but creatures seemed content to share. Nothing was left perfectly whole, but neither was anything eaten down to the stem. Just as all foodstuffs of substance were nibbled, so too were gaps quickly mitigated: an ongoing dance of presence-absence-presence. Edges were quickly claimed by lichen, mushrooms, and insects. Other creatures claimed hollows as water or food caches, hiding places or homes.
There is a word for this strange harvest-time ache of awareness, the wisdom that comes from working with bushel baskets and sharp-edged knives. The word is GALORE. It comes from a Gaelic term variously spelled gu leir, gu leoir, or gu leor. It means both "sufficiency" and "abundance." In the Gaelic worldview, we are surrounded by abundance--and we are also expected to honour this abundance by living within the limits of the goodness the natural world provides. There is no need to hoard or overconsume: with goods gathered sufficient to our needs, we have wealth galore. The key is to perceive and celebrate this basic truth: Enough IS abundance. Or, as a related Scottish proverb says, "enough is as good as a feast." Perhaps our greatest "sin," as humans, is our tendency to forget this truth, to hoard and grasp too much, to dwell in the illusion of scarcity so masterfully crafted by the magicians of merchandising. When we take only what we need and give the rest back, the anxieties dissipate and we are freed to unclench, to recreate, to heal and dream.
We have gathered in the gifts of the earth. We have harvested herbs, flowers, and vegetables from our gardens. (The land was gracious and merciful: when all of our squash vines withered, pumpkins and butternut vines sprang forth from last year's pig-grazing range and mostly ripened in time to harvest before the frost!) We have gathered berries and apples and preserved them for the cold months to come. We have respectfully raised and butchered birds for our winter meat. We have taken five well-tended pigs to the butcher so we may feed other families as well. We have foraged for wild mushrooms and harvested them gently, always leaving some for the rest of the woodland creatures to enjoy. Now the larder shelves and freezers are full and the dark is rapidly descending. Music of thankfulness wells up in us. We dwell in remembrance of all the lives that enable our own.
So it goes. We enter the dark half of the year ready to share stories, ready to sing, ready to dance. We carve pumpkins as our ancestors carved turnip-lanterns: a creation of absence and presence, of wholeness made hollow and emptiness illuminated, all to shine the Old Souls home to the Land of Plenty. Welcome to the season of Samhain. May you all be graced with sufficiency and abundance, goodness and grace galore!
P.S. Buidheachas gun sgur-- unceasing thanks to Andrew, Amy, Robert, Antonn, and all of our other WWOOF volunteers who have contributed to our sense of abundance. Without your contributions of time, enthusiasm, curiosity, and energy, we would have much less to celebrate!