Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Musings in the dark of the year

I observe a holiday around this time of year. On the... 5th of May, I believe it is this year, by the astronomical calendar. It is an important holiday for me (as perhaps you could guess from my posts on Crossroads and the Dead) and it was on this day many years ago that I first made a formal dedication. I have come to call it Old Year's Night, on the basis that really it has nothing to do with Samhain and it wouldn't be right for me to adopt the name. I feel very uncomfortable doing that, especially at the point I've reached now in my practice. It never felt entirely right, probably because I always had issues with the pronunciation. And that made me uncomfortable with it; it felt wrong to use a word I was so unfamiliar with as the name of my own holiday. And of course now I am older and wiser and more politically correct, ha, and look at it and think "my religion is not Celtic, that is not the right name for my holiday".

So, Old Year's Night, for a few interrelated reasons. It's the night of the year, in a sense, stretching from here until it begins to get lighter again at the end of June. For a lot of people, this is the time the new year begins, but for me it's the start of the old year ending. The new year won't start until the end of Yuletide.

Last year I stretched my observance over two nights: one for the dead, one for the Gods. It worked well, and I still have a candle left over from honouring the fallen on ANZAC day a week ago that I will burn again on Old Year's Night, and another for those I consider "family", in one way or another. Last year I honoured the dead first and the Gods second, but I might switch it around this year. I might honour the Gods first, and work in a sort of connect-with-death ritual as a part of that, and then honour the dead the next day. Honouring the dead never seems as sombre as it should do. There's a certain lack of skulliness. I'd like to get some dark in there somewhere at some point, and that may mean swapping the days around. At any rate I don't think it would hurt to experiment.

There's another holiday around this time, as well. Winternights. Last year I waited until the 20th, until I smelt Winter on the air, but perhaps I waited too long. I certainly felt that way at the time. I think this year I want to take a look at a possible Alfarblót along with my standard blót to Hel and to Oðinn. This will involve Research, so. We'll see what happens. I always tell Hel in rites that I want to know her better, and honour her more often, and then have some sort of mental lapse and forget about it.... until six months later when it's time to blót to her again. And then I feel guilty.

Here is an odd thing, readers. I have been looking around at images on Deviant Art with the themes that run through this holiday. In doing so, one thing that struck me was that there were a few people saying things like "happy Samhain". Banners reading "Merry Samhain", things like that. And it's so odd. This just isn't the sort of holiday where one is merry. It's like saying "happy ANZAC day". How can I be happy today, the luckless person thinks to herself. I pulled myself out of bed at sparrow's fart to stand in the cold weeping like a baby. I mean sure you get a day off but you spend it with a face covered in tears and a head full of snot after bawling like an idiot.

Anyway. I do not, as I said, observe Samhain. I observe a different holiday that falls at the same time. But it is still weird to me. Are there holidays called by their observers "Samhain" that are merry and happy? I had thought most were focused on death of some kind. Even the Celtic ones seem to be from the 11th century onwards; my understanding is that most Celtic Recons honour the dead particularly at this time. I have heard too that it is rather reserved within Wicca, not a time of "celebration" as such. Maybe there are merry holidays with the same name. It's still a strange thing for me to come across. The idea of a holiday of remembrance being a big joyful thing.

I mean... this is not a cheerful time. Even in our comfort, surrounded by the dead, warm and content, nevertheless it is a sombre time of year. That is why I like it, and enjoy it so much. But then I am odd; not everyone takes pleasure in the dark and sombre.

Oh well! This gets filed in the "how odd!" basket and on we move with our lives. I have more pretties to look at, and some exercise to do.

EDIT: I feel like I should add, in case I've offended anyone, that I don't think there's anything wrong with saying "happy Samhain" or whatever. I mean, it's an instinctive thing to do when a holiday comes around. I appreciate it when people say to me "happy Samhain" even though it's not my holiday's name and it's not particularly happy, because people mean me well when they say it. I find it a little peculiar, but other people celebrate different things to me and think about things in different ways, and there's nothing wrong with that. :)


  1. I've never said "Happy Samhain" to anyone, but it seems like a sensible wish to me. "Have a contemplative/spirit-manifesting/death-evoking Samhain" doesn't quite convey the same sense of solidarity and beneficence. Plus, I think when people say this, they really mean "Happy leaf-gathering, pumpkin-carving, Bauhaus-listening and bonfire-dancing" rather than "Happy communion with mortality."

    1. You could say "have a good Samhain", which is what I think most people tend to do, if they say anything at all. :)

  2. I can't quite remember if I've ever wished anyone a Happy Samhain either (certainly not any time recently). I'm more of a vague "have a good holiday" type, since I can't always be sure that anyone I might be talking to celebrates the same things I might.

    While I don't see it as a "merry" type of holiday either, there is a bit of precedent for the potential of it being - if not joyful, at least a bit more on the light-hearted side, if you consider the idea of an Irish wake (though there are definitely somber elements within that as well).

    1. That's true! I hadn't thought of that. But like I say, I was just sort of commenting on my own impressions. It could be the most cheerful of holidays for some people for all I know, and that would be fine :)

      And you know, it's sort of funny, "happy Samhain" sounds less odd to me than "merry Samhain". I guess because "merry" makes me think of Yuletide...?

  3. Well, as someone more Celtic it is 'Blessed Samhain' and 'Happy Halloween' for me. Both festivities flow into each other at that time of year. The Samhain part is the end of Summer, is the start of the introverted half of the year, days of the Blessed Death, the Ancestors, of Remembering - no, not merry at all.
    The Halloween part is mundane and fun and has no religious meaning for me. (Like the Christmas part around the Solstice, it is more an overall folklore-ish thing for me.)