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Death, Dying, Fall, & Samhain

by Windsong Moonchild

Let us celebrate death! O.K., this may seem a little over the top but, frankly, this is a big part of what we CSC Pagans are celebrating at Samhain. Death. Or, more precisely, dying. 

Dying is a process. Death is the culmination of that process. At Samhain, we celebrate dying; at Yule, we celebrate death. But, before we explore this in greater depth, let’s review the spokes of the Wheel of the Year as they apply to the processes of living and dying…

  • Imbolc (or, Candlemas) occurs on February 1st and it is the time we celebrate the promise of re-birth.

  • Ostara (the Spring or Vernal Equinox) occurs circa March 19-22 and is the time in which we focus on the germination of new life (and the point of balance reached at this time). 

  • Beltane (or May Day) occurs on May 1st and is the time we celebrate re-birth.

  • Litha (or Midsummer) occurs circa June 19-22 and is the time we celebrate the fullness of life.

  • Lughnasadh (the First Harvest) occurs on August 1st and sees us celebrating the promise of death.

  • Mabon (the Autumnal Equinox) occurs circa September 19-22 and is the time we celebrate diminishing life (and, once again, the balance reached).

  • Samhain (or Halloween) occurs on October 31st and is the time to show our reverence for the dying process.

  • Yule (the Winter Solstice) occurs circa December 19-22, and is the time we celebrate death.

Death, of course, is part of the dying process. This must be clearly understood if we are to have any real comprehension of the spirit of Samhain. Death itself is inseparable from dying, in that, as much as it is the culmination of the process, it is also central to the process. Leaves do not fall from trees because they have just found life, but rather because they have, essentially, died. Ponder this…

The fall of the leaf may mean the end of the leaf, but it does not, in itself, mean the end of the Fall. 

Now, more about the process: Early Fall begins to show itself in the mid-days of Summer. Most of us do not notice this, of course, (we are too busy enjoying the beach!) but I have observed that in the shabbier days of Summer (that is, when the relentless heat is taking its toll on the vegetation), if you look carefully, you’ll notice, here and there, leaves already changing colour. I call this time, “Copper Penny Season,” because it looks for all the world as if someone took a handful of pennies and threw them high up into the trees. This, to me, is the very first hint that, in the midst of life, we are in death. When I tell my students at this time that they should pay attention, for Fall is making itself felt, they usually suggest (in the nicest possible way!), that I need to get a grip! After all, it’s late July/early August, we are taking vacations, school is out, it’s SUMMER for crying out loud! Isn’t “oh look, it’s Copper Penny Season” rushing things a little too much?!

Well, let us examine this…

I am, as of the time of this writing, 51 years-old. Always assuming I live to, oh, let’s say, age 90, I am, at the moment, in the Summer of my life. The mid-Summer, to be precise. Litha. Or, my Copper Penny Season. The evidence is all there: Graying at my temples (hidden, but there, none-the-less!), a miscellanea of early sagging, wrinkles, drooping parts, and fading or discoloring parts. This is not full-on old age yet, but I could never be mistaken, anymore, for a young woman (much less a teenager!)

I am aware of the fact that I am aging, but I do not dwell on it. I would, however, be a fool to ignore it completely, because there is much wisdom to be gained in an awareness of the subtle changes we undergo on the journey toward death. (Notice I say “the journey toward death,” not “the journey of life,” this is an important distinction and one I shall explore further later on.)

The signs of my current stage of life are clear enough on the outside, but internally, emotionally, they are far more striking. I understand these signs of change as “fair warning”--or, a reminder, if you will--that I, too, am a mortal being with a finite cycle of seasons in which to live. These seasons are each present, one in another--both consecutively and concurrently--and each season contains within it, messages about, among other things, the future, about hope, renewal, change, and beauty.

Just as I can look in a mirror and see constant change, so too can I look out the window and see the same thing going on. But, why? Why was the Earth, the beings upon it, in fact, the very Universe itself created to run on set, distinctive, predictable cycles? Why does Spring always follow Winter, the Sun rise and set every day, the Moon wax and wane month after month, year after year, without deviation or change? Well, that’s a big question. And, here’s the big answer…

Because this is our “Bible.”

CSC Pagans have no need for a “Holy Book,” or any other sort of written tome to explain to us the nature of who we are or why we are here. We simply have to look out the window, up at the sky, through a telescope, or at the susurration of the tides, to understand what we ourselves are. In short, everything in creation is here to show us what we are! And furthermore, to show us that, in our cyclic natures, we are no different to everything else in creation--to know, we only have to look, really look!

So, now that I’ve dropped that in your lap, you may be asking what all this has to do with celebrating Death? And what, for that matter, does any of it have to do with celebrating Samhain?  Well, let me clarify…

The Wheel of Life, like the Wheel of the Year, is a dynamic, never-ending cycle of consciousness that conforms to a set pattern--a pre-ordained rhythm--that is unchangeable and inviolate. When we understand this--at the point that we make this connection, intuitively and on a visceral level as well as rationally, on a cognitive level--we have taken a significant upward step in our personal evolution. And, any time we make such a step, we should celebrate! Why? Well, for one thing, it feels good and, for another, more important reason, because it not only helps others to learn (without preaching to them), it shows the Universal Consciousness that we understand, we have become aware.

So, we engage in Silent Suppers (a ritual meal, partaken in silence, to show reverence to our ancestors), decorate with symbols of the Fall, visit the graves of those we have loved and lost, and a myriad other celebratory acts for the Sabbat of Samhain.

Now, about that “Journey Toward Death” thing…

 

We are here to learn how to die.

 

You may want to read that again… be sure to see that it does not say, “learn how to live,” it says learn how to die! Why? Because we can only learn how to die when we truly understand what we are. We can only understand what we are, when we make the connection between ourselves and everything else in creation. When we understand the connection between ourselves and the rest of creation, we will learn true compassion, empathy, kindness and kinship. We will learn that we are, all of us, connected by a common destiny and respect and love of others means respect and love of ourselves. This, ultimately means elevation of all humanity. 

Learning how to reach the time of our death and cross over in Perfect Love and Perfect Trust, means learning how to live. It means learning how to live in accordance with Natural Laws.  It means learning that we are a spirit in a human body, not a human being who has a spirit... And this, ultimately, means everything.

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Windsong MoonChild--or, Winnie, as she is known to most--is an eclectic NeoPagan/Wiccan living in Georgia with her husband and three Dachshunds. A “Maiden of the Crone years,” Winnie teaches Pagan spirituality to members of the open (and very, very loosely structured) Coven of the Silver Chalice. Since a diagnosis of Young Onset Parkinson’s Disease in her mid-forties, Winnie found the demands of in-person lessons became too much and now teaches many of her students from home via telephone, and through her Blog - with occasional group lessons as her health permits.

A Tarot reader and “Death Walker,” Winnie is an ordained minister of the CSC and teaches her unique take on Pagan spirituality from the platform that there are no wrong spiritual paths, that everything and anything she teaches--in whatever manner she teaches--her students are free to ignore (or adapt, adopt, or adjust) as befits their own spiritual needs, beliefs, and common sense.

A Solitary Wiccan, Winnie does open the Circle for group ritual on some Sabbats and Esbats, officiates Handfasting and Crossing Rituals, and special gatherings for her students and friends.

Visit Winnie's blog, The Circles of Life.

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Samhain Articles and Rituals

 

 

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