Today is Halloween. Or at least, that is what it has come to be known by. Yet, hidden beneath the commodification and consumerism, this celebration has deeply-winding roots in paganism (as is often the case, such as with Christmas (Yule) and Easter (Ostara)).
I’d like to invite you, if you haven’t already, to meet Samhain (pronounced sow-in). Here is a time of liminality, where endings meet beginnings, as seeds fall to begin their journey buried in the dark earth. This is the Celtic New Year, the midpoint between the autumn equinox and winter solstice, the first of the eight sabbats from the Wheel of the Year.
Pick up and follow any thread and there is, nearing the source, an ancient annual cycle of ceremony; older than the Julian calendar, older than the Church, older than Kingdom or State. The diverse creative environmental wisdom of Indigenous peoples, the global majority, and queer communities has long since been (and – devastatingly – still are) under relentless attempts to be erased. Fuller knowledge of prehistoric pagans has been buried; by force, fire, and stone. The original incantations of elder-witches and cunning folk may remain as ash and lore. Yet, we know what happens to matter buried in the rich fertility of ash: it grows anew.
Though the languages and means of contemporary seasonal ceremonies and practices may vary, what unites them is their fundamental connection to their environment. Each aligns with the cyclic rhythms of nature, often deeply rooted in intentionality and gratitude, fostering ways of being that hold ecological reciprocity at their centre. During this, a mass extinction event caused by our species (primarily profiteering fossil fuel conglomerates), creative expression and practice that encourages the reintegration of environmental (and thus, let’s be sure, self-) awareness, respect, and compassion, is nothing short of a necessity.
How might we come to understand how we can respectfully attune to environmental movements, intellectually and intuitively, in order to embody and creatively express them? To optimise the wellbeing of not only ourselves, and our species, but also the myriad of ecosystems we are intrinsically interdependent with? The sabbats may be our guide. Within each year there are cycles we can attune to which may help us process personal and global trauma, and progress, within the context of climate catastrophe:
To feel the inward hibernation of Yule, and to rest with the winter.
Knowing the necessity of hope with the snowdrops of Imbolc.
To wax with Ostara’s growth, taking action to rise with the spring.
Acknowledging the balance with Beltane, midway through the Wheel.
Come Litha, to take up joyful space, blooming with the fullness of a living summer.
With Lughnasadh, a time of harvesting the fruits of labour, and group games.
Then, waning with autumn’s senescence, reflecting with Mabon.
And now with Samhain, a time to grieve, and to prepare.
It is a simple practice, to notice the environmental rhythms surrounding us and how our botanic and beyond-human kin respond, but to integrate these cyclic movements into our lives and attune our actions to them can make for one powerful collaboration.
Why? Because it is easy to get stuck, to lose balance, and to forget. Some of us may not make time to rest, and then struggle to take our climate action when the time arises. Some of us may not hold space to grieve, or find it challenging to allow joy. But each phase, like the seasons and their cross-quarters, is fundamental.
Robin Wall Kimmerer writes that “despair is paralysis, it robs us of agency, it blinds us to our own power and the power of the earth.” There is truth to this, however, the same can be said of despair that is unacknowledged and unprocessed. This is why Joanna Macy, with her writings on ‘despair work’, contrastingly states how it is “through our pain for the world [that] we can open ourselves to power”. Like Jung knew deeply, shadow-work is essential to healing. The same goes for radical hope, and joy.
With Samhain, we can make space to deeply acknowledge some of the current cases and conditions of personal and environmental injustice and suffering. From these grounds, we will then aim to transmute the likely resulting eco-anxiety and grief into hope, and ultimately, environmental action.
Jesse Hill’s research explores poetry beyond the written word, especially in relation to creative catharsis and environmentalism. Her PhD in progress involves the formation of eight film-poems representing the ancient Celtic Wheel of the Year ecological calendar. They are researching how we can utilise creative expression in order to attune to the natural cycles and rhythms of our interdependent ecology, and what effects this may have for the individual and thus the whole, within the context of the climate crises. Feel free to connect on Instagram. (https://www.instagram.com/sabbatverse/)
Call to Action
Native scholar Gregory Cajete wrote about how “we understand a thing only when we understand it with all four aspects of our being: mind, body, emotion, and spirit.” Considering this, in order to provide a well-rounded and deeper understanding of living with the Wheel, hold this to heart at each turn of the year. Within each sabbat, we can address and tend to the areas of mind (addressing the quantifiable), body (actionable steps), emotion (making space for the spectrum), and spirit (offerings of ceremonial practices).