Friday, October 31, 2014

Celebrating the Seasons - Samhain: Honoring our Ancestors

    The ancient celebration of Samhain (pronounced sow-in and which means "summer's end") has lost most of its original intent in our contemporary translation, Halloween or All Hallow's Eve.  Now we focus on the scary and macabre...the more gruesome the better.  But for the ancient Celts it was the thinnest of times and represented the beginning of their wheel of the year; it was their New Year celebration.  A thin time is when the veil between the worlds of the living and the dead was the most transparent.

   November 1st is the first day of winter according to the old Celtic calendar.  Animals who could not be fed during the long winter months would be slaughtered at this time and their would be great feasting.  It is appropriate that we celebrate Thanksgiving during November.  Most of us don't have to worry about our food supply during the bleak days of winter but the ancient people faced insecurity and hunger.  A good time to elicit help from their ancestors by leaving a west facing door open and a candle lit to beckon them in.  Lighted pumpkins on the doorstep is the contemporary version of this tradition.  My house does face west, lots of old farmhouses in rural Maine do, but I won't be leaving the door open.  More likely a raccoon would decide to enter!

    Samhain was a time to celebrate ancestors; those who had gone before.  The Mexican Day of the Dead celebration is really more in keeping with the ancient beliefs of the Celts.  In many respects, Samhain was more like our Memorial Day than a Stephen King novel.

   Looking at my family's old photographs, reading the words in their journals, setting it all in the context of the times they lived in, has been a wonderful experience for me.  I've been creating digitally collaged album pages and the story of my family's history is slowly evolving, page by page.  This will definitely be a good winter project for me.

   I also want to photograph my current family and record their thoughts and feelings. With the holiday season approaching, it is a good time to remember that contemplative photography can begin at home, around the Thanksgiving table or Christmas tree, and with those nearest and dearest to us.

    Photographing the material objects in your life can add to the story as well.  As photographers, we have a special opportunity to pass on our stories in a visual way; they do say a picture is worth a 1,000 words but pictures and words become a story.

    I do my daily photojournal, Memories4Me, for just that reason. (You can always check it out by clicking on the link in the right side bar.) I want to tell my story day by day, photograph by photograph.  When I am long gone these words and images will remain to tell the tale.  Start now, during the season of family and memory, to tell your own story through your photographs and words.

My Annual Samhain Ritual:
My grandmother - 1912

   This evening I will do my ritual of remembrance.  On slips of paper, I will write a message to people who have passed away.  I roll them up and as I utter their names, I lay the rolled words on the fire in my wood stove. My words will travel up with the smoke. 

   This idea of smoke carrying prayers or wishes is not new.  Tibetan Buddist and Taoist monks burn incense to carry their prayers heavenward. I saw them practicing this when I was in China and fell in love with the idea.  For me, this little ritual is simply an acknowledgement of my feeling for these people who have gone on before me and the debt I owe them.

    I saw an interview recently with actor Mandy Patinkin in which he said that he believed that as long as a person's name is uttered they are never forgotten. He says the names of people in his life who have died everyday. My ritual, as well as the digital album I am creating, is my way of remembering....

1 comment:

Patricia Turner said...

Thank you, John! Who needs the calories of candy! For me, it's all about those who have gone on before!