All Hallow’s Eve is upon us, dear readers. Tomorrow is All Hallow’s or All Saints Day, and the following day All is Souls or (in Latin America) the Day of the Dead. A symbolically deep and rich time. It is also the time of the ancient Celtic holiday of Samhain (an Irish source has the pronunciation sow-en) who understood it to be a thin time—a time when the boundary between living and dead is very thin.
Fittingly, this is also the weekend in North America when we set the clocks back, the better to revel in the dark time, the season of S.A.D. or seasonal affective disorder. Ready or not, it is a weekend when we can’t help but contemplate death and transformation. Here are some thoughts that may come in handy. In the celebration Samhain, bonfires played an important role. Individual fires were put out and new fires lit from flaming boughs taken from a huge communal fire. The great American wise man and comedian Louis C.K. sheds a contemporary light on how liberating and strengthening it can be to douse your own light and join the greater collective fire:
“It’s not your life, it’s life. Life is bigger than you.
Life isn’t something that you possess. It’s something that you take part in
And you witness.”
There’s more. In some accounts of Samhain, there was a second bonfire with a second purpose. People walked through the fire for purification. According to many great teachers in many traditions we are meant to walk through fire not just look at it or toast marshmallows from a safe distance. We are meant to give ourselves completely to life.
“When you do something, you should burn yourself completely, like a good bonfire, leaving no trace of yourself,” taught Zen master Shunryu Suzuki
According to the female saint and visionary Julian of Norwich sin is “behoovely “or necessary because it is within the sensuality of the body, within a life fully lived, that God wishes to dwell.
And finally, words from the Irish poet Galway Kinnell, who died a few days ago: “…for a man, as he goes up in flames, his one work is to open himself, to be the flames.”