It’s time for another blog about Samhain. What’s it going to be this time? Another mussing on the importance of the ancestors? Maybe I should talk about how the veil is thin? Maybe I can talk about how this is the end of the harvest cycle and what that means for the coming darkness. I’ve done all those things, and so have a lot of other people.
Coming up with something new to say about a holiday that has been celebrated by pagans for thousands of years isn’t easy. And we’re in the middle of a pandemic where all of us are stuck in one way or another. Whether we’re working from home where the days are bleeding together in an endless stream that feels stultifying, or you’re an “essential employee” who must continue to risk themselves in order to maintain others’ expectations and comfort, or someone who’s lost their job and is struggling to keep a roof over their head and food in the bellies of themselves and their family. We are all of us stuck in one way or another.
And so here we are, frightened, lonely, battered and bruised, trapped, and above all else, exhausted. For so many months we’ve been holding on. And it feels like any moment we might lose our grip.
What does Samhain have to teach us at this moment?
It is a mistake to believe that just because Samhain is when we can speak to our ancestors that it is a holiday about the past. Like all pagan holidays, whatever they are and whenever they occur, Samhain is about the power and urgency contained in the exact moment that we’re in. And that’s as true now as it is every year, at every Samhain.
What Samhain teaches us in this moment, right here, has to do with survival. The most difficult thing to do when you are feeling threatened, when there is danger all around, and when it’s unclear how or when you’re going to get through this, is to stand still. Or maybe that’s the easiest thing to do — play dead, and wait for it all to pass. We are all of us searching for a strategy to get through this. None of us is in a “normal” place. We are under duress, and in times of duress we discover what we’re truly capable of, and what we can survive.
Samhain is about all the surviving we have ever done to be where we are, not just here and now in your life, but on a generational level. You are the product of a series of miracles of survival. You are the one lone spermatozoa that made it to the egg. You are the one chance meeting that led your parents to find each other. You are the child who survived a flu pandemic to become your grandmother. You are the boy who fought a war for freedom and became your great great grandfather. And on down the line.
At Samhain, one of the reasons we honor our ancestors is that they are proof that we come from strength, from a lineage that is marked by survival. We are the outcome of their actions and decisions, for good or for ill.
During a time where there is so much at stake, where death stalks the land, where so much is so hard and where everyone’s nerves are frayed, we need to have something to believe in. And we can believe we have a future, because of all the survival that has made up our past. So at Samhain, we honor and remember all that has made us who we are, all the miracles of survival that led to us being here today, right now.
We all have stories of our ancestors. Some of them are stories of honor and greatness. Some of them are stories of darkness and pain. Not all of our ancestors were great or did good things. But we have the stories. We remember who we are when we tell them. Stories of struggle when we tell of grandparents who survived the Great Depression. Stories of ancestors who made some mark on history — an Olympic medalist or a famous novelist. Stories of ancestors who brought joy and laughter at dinner tables and at family gatherings. Stories of selfish ancestors who other of your ancestors endured and rose above. Stories of ancestors who sacrificed themselves for the common good by fighting a war or working as a nurse. At Samhain, we need to remember those stories, tell them to ourselves and to others.
Stories seem like a fragile shield against a growing darkness. Stories cannot harvest crops or keep you warm when it is cold. Stories cannot beat back an attacker or find you a job. But stories can help us find the strength and inspiration we need to do all those things. Stories help us to keep going when we feel stuck. Whether we’re paralyzed by fear or in a restless anxiety loop, or trapped in a moment we can’t seem to get out of. Stories help us find that thing within us that gives us courage to act, that gives us the peace to stand still, that shows us the way out of our situation.
This Samhain, reach back into your history. Find the stories of your ancestors. Find their strength in you. Find their wisdom in you. Find the miracles of your past as they live in you today. And use them to face the future.
Blessed Samhain, y’all.