What I Did On My Samhain Holiday by Charlotte Rooney aged 45 and 50/52ths
I am writing this on a lovely gloomy misty day, from a cozy kitchen ,which really is just how Autumn should be when its not being crisp. As my friend Jacqueline Durban over at Hedgetemple often observes, there is a deep pleasure in allowing a period of time for celebration and reflection. Samhain and Hallowtide, like Midwinter, lend themselves particularly well to this approach I think with their sense of going deeper, quieter, slower…
My own Samhain reflections and practice began with the lovely historical ghost walk with Steve England which I have already written about, and which gave me my theme for those who I particularly wished to honour – those who were institutionalised and weren’t always remembered as they should or could have been. As well as keeping them in my thoughts, I was able to honour them through speaking at my friend and fellow Druid JJ Howell’s house. It was a lovely, relaxed, informal gathering – well, I say relaxed, it all got a bit exciting when the wind and the fire went up simultaneously and we all thought the top of the prodigious bonfire was going to blow away in plumes of billowing damp-leaved smoke! But it all held together and that and the distant firework made a grand contrast to the quiet reflection we also experienced.
JJ leads a beautiful sacred singing project called Enchanting The Void, and we sang, drummed and spoke to remember those who we wished. I was proud of Ivy who spoke for her great-grandfather, a much loved stalwart of my husband’s family and opened the way for John to speak also. Such is the gift of speaking out from the heart.
We also celebrated the kids version of Halloween – a feast at the table with our new Stroud friends and a seat left as the ‘empty chair’. Marked with a bunch of rosemary and two dark goose flight feathers to symbolise remembrance and the flight of the spirit after death, this place is for any of our ancestors or non-human companions that want to join us. That seat is getting more crowded as the years go on! Dogs usually feature heavily. And then out for trick or treating. Stroud does this very well round our way, the streets were busy with small demons ( I love the idea that a few real ones could have sneaked along for the ride and some Haribo), the houses were all got up in fancy dress too, a brilliant mix of kid’s exuberance and beautifully decorated grown up houses.
Our was – well, it was ours. Embarrassingly (or not) we never need to get anything for Halloween as our house is full of bones and capes and sticks and ooh, all sorts of treasures. Yes, that is a giant teddy sporting a skull and antlers.
A boon to a) avoiding consumerism and single-use plastics and b) covering up a complete lack of life organisation over half term *ahem*. The kids were a mummy and a possessed film projectionist, one of them binged and felt sick, the grown ups had a bit of gin and all in all it was a success.
And so what of the deeper work of Samhain?
Samhain is the time for transformation, for using darkness and shadow without and within as a powerful tool for transformation – another facet of the magic that we often think of at this time. Transformation is usually…. well, it’s hard. It requires a trust in what will be without knowing what will be. It requires a courage to face the unknown. It requires sheer grit and determination and bloody-mindedness to hang in through the exhaustion that only a serious processing can engender; to endure, to keep your shoulder to the wheel and keep your eye on the prize – even when you don’t know what the prize is going to be.
This has been a stronger challenge than I have ever known this year, and I’ve known a few. I know I’m not alone.
But as ever with this work, the rewards are vast. I am coming out of the initial stages now, though the work is far from over. What I have gained in this stage is clarity which in itself isn’t easy but knowing is always better than unknowing. Now further work begins. A couple of large, long-seated and entranced themes have arisen for me which will require careful and delicate attention, plus cunning and discernment. Also a new acknowledgement of this process of stripping and pruning away of the unnecessary that this menopause is bringing me!
Much of what is happening is too personal for this public sphere, so instead I will write about some of the magic that has accompanied this current work.
Firstly, the blessing of support and friends, kind and wise and friendly ears to hear, witness, offer good words and wry humour and distraction and hugs, Virtual and real, I am a very lucky woman to have such abundance.
Secondly – it turns out that my house is a very powerful ally. Now, we’ve been struggling a bit with our new house not being all we currently want it to be. We are holding on tight to our vision of what it will be, whilst accepting that house things take time and money and therefore never happen as quickly as we’d like. And it has been feeling a bit rubbish. But…
You may remember that we have a spring in our garden, just behind our kitchen. It sounds very pretty, but really it’s very functional – it’s a slightly grand name for a watercourse that comes out of our retaining wall and allows drainage from the hills up behind us (all builders and surveyors may wish to take a moment to lie down and recover from the knowledge that we bought an actual house with an actual retaining wall with actual water running through it, oh yes, but you just try avoiding hills and water in Stroud).
I had started to secretly worry that this constant watery movement through and under our house was disruptive, undermining, causing shifting, uncertain quicksand and not allowing us a solid base to build our new lives on. But I remembered only yesterday that water is the element of emotion, of the un- and sub-conscious mind. Moving water has a great power in moving emotion, shifting it, dispersing blocks and allowing newness to flood in. I think this house may have played a number of roles since it was built around 1900, but this now feels like the gift of this house at this time.
I also remembered, and maybe you will too, the strange dream I had 24 hours after we had our offer accepted on this house, of hundreds and hundreds of beautiful frogs spilling out of and surrounding our spring. I have just revisited my beloved Druid Animal Oracle and found that frogs are symbolic of healing, or magic, of sensitivity – of the hidden magic behind appearances. At this point I raise my eyebrows in surprise and acknowledgement, for the nth time since I embarked upon this path. Thank you froggies, to you, to the frog skull that I now have courtesy of the transformational powers of the good composting earth and of the cat, and the honorary frog Tod the Toad who has taken up residence in the garden. I like her (I think) name, not least because if I remember rightly its old English/German for death. Fitting!
To finish my Samhain musings for now, before turning slowly to the deepening peace and quiet of Midwinter I have one last reflection to offer. For years I have had excessively watery dreams- my head has always been above water but only just, in deep rivers, choppy harbours, dark ponds. For the first time this week I dreamt of shallows, of fording ankle deep manageable floods with ease and strong strides. Deep, deep transformation indeed.