I waited beneath the Yew, its bedraggled branches still somehow providing shelter from the sudden rush of rain. The car park before me and the park behind seemed empty and not for the first time I wondered whether I was doing the right thing; whether these outdoor GATHERings were sustainable in the face of determined Derbyshire weather.
But they came; two women who needed to be outside today, even in the wet and wind. Two women, like myself, who felt the need this particular year, on this particular day to embrace the outdoors in its bleakness and find beauty there; perhaps because there was bleakness and beauty waiting inside us to be met.
We walked for a while, taking a circuitous route to the gathering site. I don’t usually do this, I’m usually laden with bags and bits and a gaggle of participants behind me all eager and chattering to begin. But today we were quiet, subdued; happy to make simple small talk and allow the silences to spread as we took in the energy of nature with each deep breath.
The rain stopped. Of course it did.
Nothing lasts forever.
And there, my first indication towards what this Samhain really wanted to tell me: this too shall pass.
We waded through the leaf litter, great swathes of russet and gold, around the ancient trunks of Beech and Oak and found a rhythm to our steps that connected breath and beat of heart. Gradually out talk ceased until we came across a second seasonal signpost: a rotting trunk, well into its stage of black decay and yet decked with fallen leaves as yellow as sunshine. The contrast was vivid, the message even more so: this falling apart, this letting go, is natural and beautiful if you let it be so.
Often at the festivals, when we tune our awareness to the rhythms of the Land we come from, we humans find ourselves fixating on the action we are inspired to take to bring ourselves into line; whether that be planting dream-seeds, nurturing them for growth, or reaping all we have sown. When it comes to the dark time we are encouraged to rest, to release, to let go and let die those things that no longer serve or that actively harm us. And in typically human fashion we often exert all our energy - our precious, declining energy – into doing so. We determinedly let go of our fears, we actively release our uncertainties, we fiercely expunge those aspects of life we wish were transformed. Yet this crumbling tree-body before us was teaching another lesson; reminding us that the time for action is past and that now is the time for true rest, true release; the kind that occurs naturally as part of the eternal life/death/life cycle. We have spent a year actively tending ourselves and our experience… perhaps now is the perfect time to just let it all go to rot.
The tree has no control over its decaying body, it is for the tiny creatures and fungi and the weather and the air to do the job for it. There is space it seems at Samhain and beyond for us to truly fall into the embrace of the Mother, to trust that by relinquishing action, relinquishing control and trusting in the natural process of life we might truly release that which is no longer necessary, allowing it to transform into nourishment for the year ahead.
The fight against active ‘letting go’ is a new concept for me and a difficult one to embody in a modern world and a life with responsibilities. Many of us are unable to retreat from it all, as the trees do; like the animals and birds we must work to survive the Winter and to bring our dependents through it too.
The third seasonal signpost of the day offered a suggestion for this dichotomy.
We moved into the shelter of a small Yew grove and as I walked the space carefully marking out our boundaries before we began I realised: it is not about exposing yourself utterly, brutally, but about creating space for the vulnerability of decomposition to be safely held.
This will look different for all of us. For some it will mean time alone, away from our responsibilities; perhaps in nature or on a retreat or simply in another room of the house. For others it might mean time circling with precious friends, those who see us and hold us in the truth of who we are at heart. It might be allowing oneself to curl up under a blanket with a book, to eat that food our body is craving, to get on the yoga mat or get off it as our body calls. You’ll know what it means for you.
In essence, it is about encouraging a sense of being enough while doing less. Just as a tree knows it is still utterly and perfectly a tree regardless of whether it is in full leaf or bare and broken branched, so too we are still utterly and perfectly ourselves whether we are busy curating our best lives or simply a heart beating in a body taking rest.
Since that day beneath the yews I have been welcoming in the gifts of Samhain and embracing it as the time to find the dark, safe, secure spaces where I can stop doing and simply be.
It is popular to assume that embracing the darkness should be a struggle in order to have meaning or worth, but I believe there is nothing to gain from self-appointed suffering. To truly appreciate the darkness, we need the comfort of an ember; whose warmth and light provides contrast and respite when the endlessness of it becomes too much. It might be a person, a book, a song or a memory; whatever is needed to remind us that this darkness we have chosen to enter is safe, and that ending is just another way of beginning. Like yellow leaves on a dying tree, beauty and bleakness can be embodied together and when they are, they provide a most potent source of soul-food.
So, light the candles, bank the fires and settle in for a slow, inevitable decline into the death of things this Samhain season.
Keli is a green-spirited Celebrant and writer based in Derbyshire, UK. She creates ceremonies and holds space for deep connection with the Land and enjoys exploring her own connections through poetry, prose and original stories. Find out more at Keli Tomlin Ceremonies.
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