This week, and today in particular, journalling seems to be a particularly apposite subject, which is why you are getting a Thursday post instead of a Friday one!
In ancient tradition, the festival of Samhain, or Halloween as we now call it, was not simply a Feast of the Dead. There is so much more to it than that.
Our ancestors celebrated the last harvest festival at this time, the final moment before the real onset of winter in Northern Europe. The main crop harvests had been gathered in. Now was the time to choose which of the beasts on the farm was likely to survive the winter, and which were too old or too sick to waste valuable fodder on. Food had to be laid in for the coming cold months, for the next crops might not be ready until June or July at the earliest. So the animals that had outlived their usefulness had to be slaughtered and salted for meat, and the perishable parts eaten quickly.
It was not just the animals that faced mortality at this time. For the majority of human history, we have faced high mortality rates in winter, and even now, you are more likely to die in January than August (click here.)
As the weather deteriorated, and darkness closed in, people were forced inside to do more meditative tasks. Winter is necessarily a more interior time, and this means both literally and metaphorically. There is even an energy change – plants retract as greenery dies off, while the roots go dormant in the cold soil, recharging in preparation for the growth spurt of Spring. Some animals hiberate, and for good reason. It is no coincidence that there are many myths associated with this process, most notably that of Persephone’s sojourn in the Underworld.
We live in a 24/7 world adorned with electric light and heating, but if you suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder, you will understand how human biorhythms fluctuate over the seasons, despite our best efforts to pretend we are immune. Most of us cannot afford to spend 6 months of the year in warmer climes, and if we could, it would not necessarily be good for us. We need downtime too, just like the plants and animals from which we have evolved.
We need to withdraw into our interiors, our homes and our souls, to curl up beside a crackling fire under fluffy blankets, with hot drinks, to rest our bones.
The active, exterior period of the year is over. Now we concentrate on the swift approach of Christmas, a time for family, and New Year, and time for assessing our lives and where we want to take them next. Prior to the rush, it is good to set some time aside to contemplate our dark interiors, to work out what we really want, and perhaps, what we are most afraid of. Some elements of our lives naturally die off, whilst others are hibernating, or are seeds lying in the ground awaiting the rush of Spring.
We usually choose New Year in January to make resolutions and start new habits, but for the Ancient Celts, Samhain was the new year, and they valued this time of contemplation and stillness. The Scandanavian Viking cultures observed ‘Winter Finding’, also a period of contemplation. Instead of letting your plans arise out of the post-Christmas exhaustion and a haze of overindulgence, October/November can offer more time and space to think.
Samhain Journal Exercises:
Make space to be alone. Settle down in a warm room, light a candle, put on some soft music if you like, and have a glass of apple juice or red wine handy, along with your journal and favourite pen. Rest and relax. There is no pressure. This is time for you.
Think over the past year. What were your goals? What were your successes? Did you experiences failures or losses? Write about them – and what you have learnt from them.
Samhain is a time of natural wastage, of matter decomposing to feed future growth, a time of endings that feed beginnings. What has died for you this year? What relationships, habits, activities have fallen away? Are there elements in your life that you would like to release? Write about them.
If you have lost a loved one, take time to remember them in your journal, to write down your favourite memories. If you had a difficult relationship with them, write about your ambivalent feelings. People say it is wrong to speak ill of the dead, but it is far more damaging in my experience to deify them into saints that they were not. Do not judge yourself as you write. Lay your pain, your loss, your grief, on the page if you need to.
The apple is the fruit of Samhain. Inside its tasty flesh are five seeds. What seeds would you like to plant into the dark earth for the coming year? Take time over this – it may take you the whole of ‘Winter Finding’, or the run-up to Christmas, to decide what new dreams you wish to plant. Don’t rush it. You are setting your intentions for coming months. You may like to think about this post from Kelly Rae Roberts as inspiration.
Draw or collage pages to represent the past year, and what you hope for in the coming year. Don’t worry about how good your pictures are – they are for your eyes only. The point is to root images of your intention in your subconscious, which doesn’t care if you are Rembrandt or not!