Samhain: A new year, and an ancient knowing.

The Celtic new year begins. I light a candle. I nod my head to my heart to gesture to this commencement of time. But it is eternal time that I bow to; this marking of ancient ways and a knowing which we’ve almost lost. To be indigenous to this place, this land of Ireland, was to be in relationship to its cycles and its ceremonies. Eight annual markings of rituals and celebrations which were aligned to how the earth spun and how the light and the night danced around it. From these markings came stories and from these stories comes a web of mythology, archeology, psychology and in essence, ways of knowing place and our individual relationship to it. To be indigenous to place was to be indigenous to oneself, held and supported in a larger constellation of time and community. 

First came Samhain: the new year. Nights open up to the stories themselves; masked ghosts, wild ways, fire and shadowy flame. Who is behind the veil? What lies beneath? Between the thin gauze of knowing and not knowing, between the fine line between the visible and the invisible came an understanding that not all that’s dead is lost, and not all that’s lost is far away. They danced for their ancestors, my ancestors, and they danced for the soul of what makes a myth and what returns us to mystery. They danced for the dark. 

I find it comforting that the new year begins in the dark, the unknown. There is solace in not having to understand everything and an appreciation in realising that uncertainty is just a stage in the larger cycle of knowing. 

 

With darkness also comes the time: time to rest, time to recuperate, time to lay low and curl up like an embryo or an ember, until the spark of inspiration descends to rise new insights and then action. The winter is coming and the darkness it brings has gifts for our unfolding. 

But I also want to say this: the ways of this land, this place, speaks of ways beyond these waters too. They signal to an awakening and wisdom which is more than these shores, more than Ireland- and that’s to an indigenosity to a larger time, longer cycles, and our place in the wider whole. So wherever we find ourselves, whatever skin or culture we inhabit, this signalling invites universal questions for us,

‘What is my eternal nature? How can I be more in rhythm with the earth’s turning? What is my own relationship with time and can I incorporate these phases of rest and renewal, being preceding doing? How can I honour my own indigenosity to this earth of ours? And how can I place myself here in wider communion with all beings and all peoples? 

The ancient Celts knew this of course: we are not alone, nor are we the ones with all the knowing. Trace back any indigenous line, whether Aztec or Aboriginal, Inuit or Diné, Sami or Maori, you’ll find the same threads which bind a cosmic and earthly honouring through rituals, cycles and ceremony, each celebrating the privilege of being placed here, not as a culmination of consciousness or evolution, but as part of an extended family of time and place, human and non-human, light and dark both. Each tradition speaks the same language of knowing: We are made for the earth as we are made for each other. We are here as guests. We are bound to something larger. We have a duty of care. 

Tonight in my little West Cork village, the street will be lined with witches and ghosts. Is that the butcher or the local banshee? Is that the hairdresser or a Shaman? They are not questions we’ll need answers too because as the fire parade makes its way down the street, knowing or unknowingly, we’ll be participating in a bigger dance; this global indigenous honouring, this re-acquaintance with a the larger span of time and our privilege of being here. Our ritual is more than the sum of its parts. The bonfire flames will rise, signalling out across the bay: Rise people, rise; the great mystery is upon us, and we are here to dance. 

 

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