The beginning of this month marks a new season in the Celtic calendar. We are now in Samhain, which literally means “summer’s end.” The other Celtic seasons are Imbolc, beginning February 1st; Beltane, beginning May 1st; and Lughnasadh, beginning August 1st.
The transitions into these times of the year are known as thin times as are the equinoxes and solstices. In the Celtic calendar, November 1st is a very special day. The first of November not only marks the beginning of the Celtic new year, that day (and the night preceding – Halloween) is considered the thinnest time of the all the thin times in the entire year.
A thin time is a time when the wall between earthly time and eternal time becomes transparent. And the sacred and the ineffable converge with humanity and the earth. In Celtic culture, the gates of the fairies, called síd (pronounced SHEE) are open and our ancestors are nearer to us then than at any other time.1
Hence, on November 1, we remember and feel close to those who have died. We honor and make peace with our ancestors. In the Christian calendar, November 1st is All Saint’s Day (or all Hallows), a day when we pray for all the saints and our loved ones who have died. As Christianity incorporated existing traditions, in the 9th century, Pope Gregory IV moved All Saint’s Day from May to November 1st, perhaps to be aligned with existing Celtic traditions.
As at the start of any new year, on this day, we take stock of our lives and contemplate our life cycles, our age, destiny and fate. And we work to bring ourselves into alignment with our life purpose and with our work. We acknowledge the blessings of our past year. I love New Years and fresh starts!
But most essentially, now is the time to harbor our resources. As Esther De Waal notes,
November, the first month of winter, was in fact known as the dark or the black month in Scotland, Cornwall, and Brittany. It was a time quite literally for drawing in, when the flocks were brought down from the summer pastures to be wintered at the homestead. The bonfires we associate with early November are in fact the bone-fires, the burning of the inedible parts of the carcasses of animals that could not be kept throughout the winter. 2
So we can burn up and rid ourselves of that which is not useful in our lives and prepare ourselves for any difficulty in the darkness to come. We do this by harboring our essential resources. When we lived closer to the land, those supplies included herds of animals and stockpiles of grain. Nowadays, we have other priorities we need to tend and to nurture.
What now are your essential resources? Here are some to consider ::
Rest is key so stockpile it and do so as often as possible. As we head into the holiday season, be mindful to take breaks and allow yourself to rest. Be mindful not only of your body but also of your mind and spirit. Take breaks from the news of the day and from your digital devices.
Learn to say no so you have the space you need to get through the season ahead. Create quiet time as a family or among your friends where you can enjoy an easy togetherness without expectations or drama. Give yourself permission to step back and regroup as necessary. Perhaps begin a meditation practice to counteract the hecticness of the weeks ahead.
During this season, we all tend to overdo so the things we do all year long to be healthy take on even more importance. We all know we should drink water all day long. Still, we forget. A great app called Waterlogged reminds me every hour.
Spend time with those who are compassionate. Reach out and connect with others and create community. Let those you love know they matter to you. Our relationships are an essential source of support. So pay attention to the ones that are most helpful to you.
The sharing of a meal is a beautiful way to nourish relationships and ourselves. As with water, eating food that is nutritious and delicious is an easy way to take care of ourselves and boost our immunity and health. Food is medicine – our most basic medicine, so choose with care.
As the darkness begins to overcome the light, we appreciate more the mysteries of the universe and the sacredness of the seasons. Whatever your faith (or even if you have none at all), seek out magic. Look for inexplicable wonder that moves you – be that in a divine space, a concert hall, or out in nature. Especially now, in this thin time, we, in the seen and temporal world, can know and feel the unseen and eternal if we stay open and aware.
Today is the start of a new year, a new time. Take advantage and begin again. Prepare for the weeks and months to come by nourishing all that is necessary to you. Have a “bone-fire” and shed the non-essential. Harbor your resources so you can truly enjoy the weeks to come.
1 Matthews, Caitlín. The Celtic Spirit : Daily Meditations for the Turning of the Year. New York: HarperCollins, 1998, p. 4.
2 De Wall, Esther. The Celtic Way of Prayer: The Recovery of the Religious Imagination. New York: Doubleday, 1997, p. 55.
3 John O’Donohue. To Bless the Space Between Us. New York: Doubleday, 2008, p. 15.
Light cannot see inside things.
That is what the dark is for:
Minding the interior,
Nurturing the draw of growth
Through places where death In its own way turns into life.