Happy Halloween, and happy Samhain to everyone except for all involved with the production of Halloween II that failed to catch that Dr. Samuel Loomis completely butchered the pronunciation of the word “Samhain.”
In 2019, my wife Erin and I started having a Samhain feast with a rotating cast of friends each year. I wrote the following and read it aloud at that first dinner, and at every dinner since. I decided to put it here this year as well. Hope you enjoy, and that it resonates with some of you.
The earth is dying. We disagree on exactly how and when it’s happening, but the people who would know best all agree that it is. I’d urge you to reflect on its place in your lives. Much like when we see our loved ones nearing death—a grandparent, a parent, a pet, or a friend with a terminal illness—we feel the urge to draw closer to them. To learn and remember their stories, their recipes, their voices and mannerisms, their smell, their laugh. Perhaps we need to reflect on our relationship with the earth in the same way: to identify the things we love most about it and our relationship with it, both individually and from the perspective of human history.
As much as we have built lives that separate us from nature, we depend on it for clean air, food, sunlight and energy, and shape our lives around daylight and weather and the changes of seasons. We also bring it into our homes to give them more life: we adopt dogs and cats, and nurture house plants, and fish, and leave seeds out for the birds and squirrels. Because, on some level, we know we’re still a part of it.
Modern hubris, technology, and the pursuits of cleanliness and profit have made us feel like we are separate from it, but these are new developments.
Our European ancestors were pagans. And not in some evil sense, as colonial Christianity has tried so hard to make us believe. The origin of spirituality was not concerned with conscious knowing of some singular truth, but with an attitude toward the universe, and the way it was reflected around us in nature. The pagans saw the changing of seasons and reflected. They knew when the night’s length would overtake the day’s, and halfway in between then and the longest night of the year, Samhain evolved into a natural moment for that reflection, seen as a moment when the barrier between our world and the next was permeable. Perhaps this can prime us with the desire to gather close to family and friends for warmth through the winter. And if the experience proves as memorable as we hope, we can gather again in exactly a year, and, more importantly, pass this relationship with nature on to future generations, in hopes of renewing our relationship with an earth that needs our help now more than ever.
Teach the children. We don’t matter so much, but the children do. Show them daisies and the pale hepatica. Teach them the taste of sassafras and wintergreen. The lives of the blue sailors, mallow, sunbursts, the moccasin flowers. And the frisky ones—inkberry, lamb’s-quarters, blueberries. And the aromatic ones—rosemary, oregano. Give them peppermint to put in their pockets as they go to school. Give them the fields and the woods and the possibility of the world salvaged from the lords of profit. Stand them in the stream, head them upstream, rejoice as they learn to love this green space they live in, its sticks and leaves and then the silent, beautiful blossoms.
Attention is the beginning of devotion.
– Mary Oliver, Upstream