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Siblings Rowin and Leticia are dressed as a vampire and a witch before they attend a Halloween party in Dresden, Germany, on Oct. 31, 2012.
Halloween is upon us again. For Pagans and witches who follow the old, nature-based religions of Europe and beyond, it’s our New Year, and we call it by its Celtic name, Samhain, pronounced Sow-in. For people in Northern Europe who lived close to the land, it was the time for bringing the herds down from the summer grazing lands in the hills to the winter fields. The harvest was gathered in, the old year was ending, and because every ending carries within it a new beginning, it was also the New Year.
Times of ending and beginning are thresholds, and Samhain is a portal between the worlds of the living and the dead. We believe that death itself is part of the cycle of life, not something to fear, and that the dead remain part of our community of love. At this time of year, we remember them and honor them. Many of our Halloween customs come from this belief. Candles were placed in doorways to light their way back home. Offerings were set out for them—today we give treats to children, who are the ancestors returning.
This year this season is marked by huge events and tragedies—the biggest storm to hit the East Coast in living memory, bringing death for some and huge losses for many of beloved places and homes and familiar routines. We have witnessed nature’s immense power, and been reminded that for all our wealth and technology and engineering we are still dependent on her grace for our survival.
We mess with her at our peril, and we are messing with her in the biggest of ways, with the climate itself and the major life-support systems of the planet. Scientists have warned us for decades that if we continue to burn fossil fuels and pump the atmosphere full of carbon, we will overheat the planet. The result will be what we already see today: droughts, floods, record temperatures, melting ice, rising seas, mammoth storms.
If we could hear the ancestors’ whispers tonight, they might say to us, “Remember us! Listen! We know that the worst can happen, that pride goeth before a fall. We lived in harmony with nature, because we had to. And so do you—you just don’t know it yet. Change your ways, and nature will work with you. Continue on, and you will breed disasters beyond your imagining.”
And they might say something else: “Pull together. Help one another. No one gets through this world alone. We are interdependent, part of one another. Choose compassion, generosity, and caring. Choose love.”
As we face the days ahead, as we face the elections next week and the huge choices we must make as a people, may we remember these words. Strong winds have a way of shredding denial and ideology. “Lean into the wind,” my mother used to say. Don’t close your eyes to it and pretend that it will go away. Face it, acknowledge it, and you will build strength as you walk forward.
Our hearts go out to all who have suffered from the storm, and our gratitude and prayers are with all who are rescuing, cleaning up, repairing the damage and offering comfort to the survivors. On this night of magic winds and portents, light a candle, share some food with someone you love and remember those who are gone. Offer them your gratitude and your prayers, and the most important gift: your commitment to pass on a thriving, viable world to those who will come.
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