Today is the first day of Samhain study. In April. Right.
Though there is something sickly incongruous about studying the holiday of death when life is just jumping out of the Eugene grounds, I did pledge to stick to Roderick as close as possible, so here I go.
Roderick starts off today’s discussion on Samhain by giving a little bit of background about the holiday, mainly that it is the “annual festival of death that occurs at the conclusion of the Celtic agricultural cycle,” that it is a Gaelic word that means “summer’s end,” and that it is a place where endings and beginnings are united. So far, I’m on board. But then Roderick launches into a discussion on what Samhain looked like in “Old Europe,” and my mind shuts down. There’s not exactly copious evidence that Northern Europeans celebrated the Gaelic Samhain, though other holiday occured at roughly the same time. Then Roderick goes on to paraphrase Frazer’s The Golden Bough, which has largely been de-bunked as a serious academic text. The background of what Samhain was and how it came to be practiced today could be better. I wish I had a copy of a couple of Hutton’s books…but that’s something for another time.
The fact of the matter is that doay, we believe that the “veil between the worlds” of the living and the dead are their thinnest at Samhain, and it allows us an easier communication with our ancestors. One favorite practice is the dumb feast, where you set a plate for your deceased relatives and eat in silence. The Crone and the Lord of the Underworld rule at this time, and represent the wisdom that comes with age and the mysteries of death.
All in all, a fairly tight gloss of what Samhain is. But of course, there is an exercise to follow: Q and A.
How does it feel to celebrate death?
Feels fine to me. To celebrate it, you’ve got to embrace it…and in embracing it, it becomes a little less scary. And, yeah…death is scary. For me, the terror is mostly that I’ve grown rather accustomed to this life and this body and that even though I have faith in an afterlife and reincarnation, I don’t exactly know what’s coming next. But death is natural, and it is inevitable. Might as well give it its due.
Is death something to celebrate? Why or why not?
I think I answered that above. It’s natural, and if we pagans celebrate and embrace nature, we need to honor death, too.
How does death touch your life at this moment?
Well, I’m about to go into social death seeing as Spring Term at the University of Oregon is rapidly spinning into its final weeks. There will be papers. There will be agony. There will be seculsion. And then I will be reborn. And I’ll go back home to Indiana to spend a good chunk of time with my family before I have to sit for my qualifying exams. Death is also waiting for some of my loved ones. All my grandparents are no longer in the best of health. My grandfather recently had a major scare. They are not long for this world, and the thought of not being able to call them or see them makes me choke up.
How did it feel to think about death today? From where do your reactions about death come?
It was okay. I can’t say it was the most pleasant thing in the world–that sadness I get when I think about my grandparents dying is something that sticks with me. But I know that reaction comes because permanent separation is pretty hard for me to deal with. I cried buckets when I pulled out of the driveway in Indiana to move to Oregon. I missed my mom and baby brother so much it physically hurt. When Dad got on the plane to fly back to Indiana, I cried the entire way back to my co-op. It’s the loss, the permanent separation that sticks with me. Even if I believe in an afterlife or reincarnation, that relationship will never be the same.