This weekend many Pagans have observed the turn of the wheel considered the most sacred – Samhain. As I light the candles on my altar this morning I reflect on the act of sacralizing our lives in the face of mortality.
My inner senses are still heightened from the time my own group spent in song and ritual for All Hallow’s Eve. In this state I woke this morning and reminded myself to make this day count as if it were my last. For I have eaten pomegranate seeds inside the circle, and having eaten the food of the dead, life seems the more precious, poignant, even piquant like Persephone’s ruby-red fruit.
Many Pagans deplore the split between physical and non-physical existence which came out of the Age of Reason. American society seems obsessed with materialism at the same time that we spurn the body as sinful, (love of) money as the root of all evil, and an imagined heaven as the only acceptable vision for our future. Me? I marvel that there are many ways of being, in this world and in other worlds, too, and feel lucky that I occasionally get glimpses of those other worlds.
Back of the house, putting away the tiki torches and munching on leftover pomegranate, I am still enjoying the feeling of having stood on the threshold between this world and the next. More than any previous Samhain (perhaps because I am entering the years when death is a more frequent guest in my life), I was aware of the Beloved Dead who joined us.
I remember their names again here, because while they are remembered, they live: Linda, David Y., Clarke, Iris, Ruth, Bruce, Shara, Laurel, David H., Bessie, Frances, Shirley, Neal, Betty, Robbie, Matthew and more. May you each return in love.
In my youth I had little interest in Halloween, but have come to understand what medieval Europeans learned when the plague swept so many lives from this earth. Artists of the time depicted the Danse Macabre, Death dancing with the living; but these paintings turn up alongside scenes of feasting and frolic. People then knew that even a short life is a blessing, and contemplation of death is neither morbid nor depressive.
What’s depressing is contemplation of a life wasted, a life not well-lived, an existence which doesn’t recognize the sacredness in and on which we walk each day, with which we are suffused, indeed, which we ourselves *are*.
Scholar Brendan Myers calls life events such as death an immensity. ” . . . the appearance of an Immensity is an occasion when one’s life stands on the edge of transformation . . . The Immensity . . . calls for a choice to be made. Spirituality consists in answering the call. It consists in the habits we create for living with the great immensities of life, understanding ourselves in relation to them . . . ” (The Other Side of Virtue)
My relation to death, my response to it, is to live. With all my being I prize the days given to me here, the precious hours and minutes I can touch or hold a loved one. I treasure the beauty around me, each colored crystal in my gem & mineral collection, the hue of the sky in the autumn sun, the smell of wood smoke and the sound of children running through dry leaves. I welcome every opportunity to learn new things, to try new acts of boldness. And I am awestruck in the times I am called on to stand at life’s threshold with another human being, holding their hand as they confront the Immensities of death, birth, relationship, fear or joy.
For it is by deeply living that we sacralize our world. This year may we draw from the deep well of life — as the juice of a ripe peach runs down our hand, as the smell of pine fills the room at Yule, but also when the baby cries, when we quarrel with lovers, when we long for the workday to end. Let us see in every facet of our lives a cause for joy, whether it be for the delight of a sensual fruit, or the hope of peace and reconciliation.