The Bones of November

Yesterday I was talking to someone who had never heard of the three day Festival of the Dead that occurs in almost every culture in one form or the other at this time of year from October 31 through November 2nd. How is this possible I wondered until I realized that I have been a student of world mythology for almost forty years and have studied these cross cultural traditions extensively noting their startling similarities as part of my academic background.

For example, the pagan, pre – christian Celtic tradition of Samhain means Summer’s End marking the end of the harvest season and the beginning of the winter cycle and “darker portion” of the year. It is believed that the veil between the living and the dead lifts during this liminal time and the dead walk amongst us so that communication occurs easily if one is sensitized, open to such thinking/sensing/feeling. This is a time to honor all the ancestors, to pay respect, and to commune with them…

In western culture we generally scoff at such ideas making a joke or creating macabre distortions out of All Hallows, All Soul’s Day, the Feast of the Dead, perhaps to deal with our personal and collective discomfort with death. It is a fact the only days allotted by Americans to honor the dead occur on Memorial and Veterans Day when we honor soldiers who died “ in service to their country” – but then we are a violent patriarchal culture that acknowledges/celebrates death only as heroic, and in the context of war. It is up to the rest of us to honor those who have gone before alone, if we do so at all.

I have adopted the Celtic (eight spokes) Wheel of the Year because it follows the natural cycles that I see occurring all around me in Nature. For example, I can look out my window and watch the golden cottonwood leaves fluttering to the ground to become compost, even as a hole opens under the fallen canopy in the east allowing the rising sun to enter the house at dawn. Snow covered mountains and fall rain brings life to the high desert even as she prepares for winter’s sleep. Indoors, I gaze at the mountains I think of as Grandmothers as I recall that in most cultures the Old Woman, Hag, or Crone reigns during the dark half of the year – She who presides over death and creates new life. I light the first fires to keep us warm and my beloved dogs and I bring in the night leaning into the comfort and warmth of early darkness. I think this is a time to reflect upon the passing away of people and cycles because like the Celts and many Indigenous folk I believe the year comes to an end as the bears go Earth to sleep…

I feel that I am an integral part of an ancient cross – cultural tradition, even as I set intentions for the coming year. In many of these traditions there is a break between the end of one year and the beginning of another and this liminal period extends until winter solstice. I note that All Hallows/The Feast of the Dead creates the space for new insights to occur so I acknowledge the “space in between” as part of my own practice.

I also take time to give thanks for every gift given over the past year, the winding river and streams, the cedar outside my door, my beloved animals, this house that offers me a window into Nature three seasons out of four (in summer I have to keep the shades down to keep the fierce white heat of the sun at bay). I honor my dead, and give thanks for the people who enrich my life through friendship. And most of all I give thanks for the Unconditional Love I receive from the Earth through any of her manifestations. S/he is my mother, my father, my lover, my sister, my brother, my child and grandchild, without whose constant presence I would be bereft.