1. Betwixt Dog and Wolf.
Enter night, exit light.
Samhain (a Gaelic word pronounced “sow-win”), an ancient Celtic celebration from October 31st to November 1st, welcomes in the darkest slice of the seasonal pie. If there’s a liminal time of the year, this is it. Between and betwixt, we are on the threshold between seasons. We pull in the last of harvest and gather the plump pumpkins afield. Winter’s cold sheets lie silver on the horizon.
If we were to imagine that each season is reflected in one single day-night cycle, fall would be akin to the late afternoon and evening. Samhain is sunset. In the slanted light of the west, in the wild invitation of dusk, the beasts come out. The French describe twilight as “entre chien et loup” – between dog and wolf – evocative of the shifty sensation we get when things that seemed familiar under the midday sun turn otherwordly in twilight’s embrace.
Layer on the warm sweaters, scarves, socks, and get the kettle going – we’re going for a walk in the enchanted forest….
This is Halloween after all. Witches, skulls, scarecrows, spiders, webs, black cats, ghosts… The veil thins revealing the threads that weave our everyday world with the deep, mysterious underworld realms. The skeletons come out of the closet of Deep Time and the ancestors feel closer. Spiders furiously weave webs in our gardens and hedges, sitting as sentinels to catch all that might transpire between night and day.
There is magic held in the elixir of pearling dew and the cold kiss of first frosts. Do we dare stare into the marvelous looking glass of a dewdrop? Do we dare pierce the veil between this world and the mystical thickness of our existence by peering through enchanted eyes at the ordinary “stuff” of our lives?
There are mythical realms at our fingertips. The doorway lies in paying attention and stirring these bewitching impressions in the cauldron of our imagination.
3. Wolf or Dog? Trick or Treat?
Dusk is magnificent. Through its skewed light, the ordinary appears extraordinary. Wonder slips its arm around our waist and breathes in our ear as we take in the world through the eyes of enchantment. “Wonder is part fascination, part ability to believe in things as they are, part willingness to be confused, even devastated at times, by the epic mysteriousness of ordinary things” (Stephen Jenkinson, in Die Wise).
Entering the dark woods and forest grounds of dappled light, navigating the slanted light of dusk and tangled underbrush, we need a good compass. These are murky terrains and muddled paths. We need access to our wholeness, because our thoughts will play tricks on us – they might turn those dogs into wolves!
We need our senses, our perceptions, our hunches and premonitions, our embodied wisdom, and the wild imagination that lives within us.
We need access to that part of us that knows how to be lost in the dark. We need to enlist our mythical selves, our dream world, our longing for our life to be poem.
We need our thinking too, to ensure we have nourishment, warmth, and a bag full of little white rocks to leave trailing behind us, so our people can find us were we to stray in our wanders…
4. Give a Dog a Bone.
Samhain is also a time of decay, of death, of leaf mold and bare bones polished up by scavengers. Throughout autumn and into winter, we behold a season of small and big deaths. Mushrooms are allies in this work, as are the multitude of marvelous critters who do their work humbly, often invisibly, often scurrying in the dark of soil underfoot: bacteria and beetles, slugs and spiders, worms and that wondrous microscopic bestiary emerging form the dark Earth’s imagination.
Together they relentlessly dismantle what has had its time, what is sick, what needs to die now to feed life in spring. Endings and beginnings braided together through these non-negotiable cycles. Just as our depressions are braided with our inspirations, our shadows braided into our innocence, our beauty inseparable from our vulnerabilities.
Since spring and the emergence of Covid in our lives, I have turned towards death as a way to honor our collective grappling with Death. I completed my funerals certificate as a celebrant, learning more about the death positive movement, exchanging with many courageous individuals who work with the dying. I was also blessed with the honor of crafting and officiating a Living Life Celebration ceremony for a woman as she approached her final passage through the veil. On a personal level, I prepared my own advanced care directive as a way of symbolically (and very practically) grappling with my own mortality in these times.
5. Seeing the Skeleton for the Bones.
What bones did I come across on this journey, and how could I piece them together to make sense of them all? I realized that grappling with death is not something that happens only when we turn towards the end of a life. Grappling with death is a continuum. Throughout our living days, we are given ample opportunities to learn to hold, befriend, and tend to all the smaller deaths in our lives, all those endings – big and small – be they in the form of relationships, work, hopes and dreams, or through the loss of capacities, abilities or ways of beings in this world.
Each little bone we come across on our journey makes up a piece of the greater skeleton.
Through these big and small wrestlings with endings, we behold our essence and come into closer intimacy with what makes us Come Alive. As I wrestled my way through bones, I encountered my own resistance, a whole lot of resistance. It sometimes felt at odds, heavy, unknown, strange. But as Irish poet John O’Donohue, beautifully puts it in his poem ‘Entering Death’:
“You are not going somewhere strange,
Merely back to the home you have never left.”
In turning towards death, I found myself attuning to what most enlivens me. I became more intimate with my heart. Through the inner scaffolding of loss and grievances, my life thickens with meaning and with the resolve to make each moment count. The bones of small and big deaths in my life reveal a skeleton that gives me shape.
6. When Skeletons Frighten.
As I meander with my children through Halloween streets, houses decked out with skeletons and ghoulish costumes walking by, I protect my children from those that would scare too much, or calm their pounding hearts when they are shaken by an otherworldly sight. My heart aches for all those young ones who have had to deal with too many bones and deaths and traumas before they were able to hold them in a mature heart. Or, even, for older hearts whose lives have pulled them into nightmarish sufferings.
Not all skeletons are the same.
In his series on Living a Soulful Life, Francis Weller speaks to how soul initiations can happen through contained encounters with death that help us breakthrough to a greater sense of identity. He goes on to point out how, in the case of trauma, these are uncontained encounters with death that rip off the coat of our belonging to the cosmos and that require an active stitching back together of these unraveled threads.
The riches I discover in myself when facing death strengthen my resolve to help hold the excess of grief and pain in our sometimes crazy world – to be one more extended palm to cup all the tears for the encounters with big and small deaths that were not adequately contained. To be one more hand out there, one more member of a community that helps “give grief a bottom, a foundation upon which to come and rest” (Francis Weller) when that bedrock has gone missing from so many lives.
7. Wolf Bones Under Moonlight.
The wolf skeleton lies on top of the bedrock, on a thin but living layer of soil between bedrock and bones. The Earth embraces the death, takes the flesh into its toothed mouths, its vulture beaks, its minute mandibles and hooked mouthpieces. Flesh, tendons and organs softened by secretions from the strangest, tiniest creatures. Finally the bones lie clean and polished to shine under the moonlight. Now comes the slow penetration of collagen by invisible inhabitants of the underground, with even stranger names and stranger demeanours.
The Earth contains all deaths. It holds them. All things are transformed, transmuted back into original elements to be reinvented, recycled into new forms of life. As are we, transformed by the multitude of contained smaller deaths in our lives, to find ourselves changed and grown by the events we have surrendered to.
8. Wanted: Canis Lupus.
Sitting at the edge of the wood, overlooking the lake at twilight, I wonder what happened to the bones and skeleton of wolves taken through bounty hunting. I am out camping with my family and the kids are snuggling in the tent with a story from their papa. Even though the nights lengthen and temperatures drop, it is still camping season for our family. It is a privilege and choice that I feel endlessly grateful for – to encounter the natural world we are embedded in through all its seasonal mantles.
As I overlook the vast expanses of forest, I imagine the creatures roaming through them day and night. My ears are perked for any hints. Knowing I’m in a landscape inhabited by wolves, I feel enlivened. I feel vigilant. The wolf’s potential presence keeps me awake, aware, in my senses, curious, cautious.
I lived in Switzerland for 10 years where Canis Lupus (aka Wolf) had all but disappeared from the landscapes, as had any other semblance of big predators. It was very comfortable to go for hikes and sleep under the stars without having to worry about surprise encounters with teeth and claws. Or at least, without having to deal with those irrational impulses within myself that rise up like fog from centuries and centuries of collective fearmongering by my livestock-owning ancestors… This, compounded by the vicious carnivore depictions of wolves in the melodramatic tales we’ve been spoon-fed since childhood.
Comfortable, but not enlivening.
Comfortable, but sorrowful when facing the deep loss of such Wild Intelligences.
Comfortable but disconnected from the landscape’s potential fullness and my own potential fullness in experiencing myself as not only predator but prey.
9. Grey Wolf.
It is not only in Switzerland that the wolves were eradicated. Our own BC history is not clear of death tolls. By the late 1950s, BC’s wolf population had been drastically reduced by widespread poisoning, bounty hunting, and other control measures. Today, grey wolf has repopulated the Pacific Northwest and is no longer considered an endangered species. We can hike through our forests and mountain ranges knowing that wolf paws pace these grounds as well.
Turning towards my inner landscapes I start to wonder where I have eradicated the wolves in my life?
Where have I chosen comfort to eliminate risk, and at what cost?
What potential fullness in my life am I giving up on to stay in a comfortable, safe place of social belonging?
10. Feral Dog.
In comes the feral dog. The feral impulse. Our innate capacity to shape-shift beyond the domestic influences that dampen the flame. But this is matter for another entire blogpost in itself (stay posted!).
For now, let’s light the bonfire, take out the music-makers, shape-shift behind costumes, and let enchantment get the best of us. After all, we are being heralded by the Hunter Full Moon on this Samhain night, into the darkest quarter of the year.
What could possibly happen?
Wolf or dog…
Trick or treat…
With wild blessings and love,
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Fire & Honey Ceremonies