Samhain: We mourn, and we rise

A tweet I saw yesterday asked if, with the world being as terrifying as it is, we need a holiday this year designated to be scary.

It’s an idea I sympathise with. The world is indeed scary right now, and the combination of fear, grief and overwhelming despair has left me pretty much paralysed for the past week.

A new report has shown that humans have wiped out up to 60% of animal life in just 50 years. The IPCC say that we have less than twelve years to change our ways and reduce global climate change or else we face a runaway scenario that could render the planet uninhabitable. Twelve years. And yet we see people voting for climate-denying fascist ideologues who want to rape the world and sell its dismembered carcass to the highest bidder.

So yeah, we don’t need to pretend to be scared of spooky ghosts and shambling zombies. We are the zombie apocalpyse. We are the ghosts of futures lost.

But in this darkest time, we need Samhain more than ever.

Whether secular Hallowe’en, Christian All Hallows or Pagan Samhain, this festival, celebrated in some form by cultures around the world, is not just an excuse to wear costumes and get drunk, it is a recognition of mortality. In these parodies of decay and decomposition, we confront the reality that awaits us all. Facing death, and yes, laughing at it, we face what it means to be human at its best – to know that we will die, as all beings will, but to decide to live anyway.

The Western capitalist hate-culture of destruction, greed and consumption does not have rituals for this. The mumbled reading of half-meant words at a funeral or the glibly tweeted thoughts and prayers after yet another atrocity do nothing but insult the living and the dead alike.

So, as modern Pagans, we need to find, or create, these rituals. Looking at the roots of our tradition, we can honour the wheel of the year even as the fractured climate renders it obsolete. We can honour the past even as the future looks bleak. We can remember who we are, even as we face the rotting form of what we have become.

“And at the end of days, this will be our legacy…” – Atreyu, Stop! Before it’s too late and we’ve destroyed it all.

Samhain is a time for remembering, for mourning, for grief. This Samhain in particular is not a time for safe and scripted ritual, it is a time to keen, to wail, to howl the cry of the banshee into the void, to render our nameless grief and sorrow and fear into the death-song of our souls.

I mourn the loss of every human killed for being the “wrong” colour, religion, gender or sexuality. I mourn the loss of every other-than-human person killed for human hate and greed. I weep tears as bitter as acid rain, as overflowing as rising seas, and my heart breaks into shards as innumerable as the victims of my species’ worst impulses.

And I curse those who have done this, who have led us to this precipice overlooking a cruel wasteland.

May shadows rise against them, and may deathless death, the silent and the cold at the end of all things, take them.

But Samhain is more than just a death knell, it is a hinge and turning point of the year. Whether of ancient provenance or not, for many modern Pagans, Samhain is the Witches’ New Year. It is fitting, I feel, that the new year begins in the death of the old.

And as the year turns, we turn with it. We turn from our mourning and move our grief-stricken bodies. We rise. Like the Wild Hunt sweeping across the land, we must rise as one, as a wave of witness and resistance.

We fight for our world, not by destroying that which we hate, but by defending that which we love. We, and I mean you, me, every one of us, must be a light unto the darkness and we must shine brighter than ever before. We may not change the world, but we can heal the rifts within ourselves and so be the change, even in a small way. We will protect ourselves, our loved ones, our lands.

“When the mob and the press and the whole world tell you to move, your job is to plant yourself like a tree beside the river of truth, and tell the whole world — No, YOU move.” – Captain America, written by J. Michael Straczynski.

The dead do not return at Samhain, they never left.

We carry them in our hearts and minds and we make them part of us. We stand in sorrow and in solidarity and we defend what remains.

We bear witness to their existence and to our own.

May we rise rooted,
With the hope of the Birch,
With the strength of the Oak,
With the wisdom of the Yew.

This Samhain, we mourn. Tomorrow, we rise.

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