Lunar calendars, Samhain and Happy Halowe’en

Early societies confronted the need to correlate the various natural cycles with human needs. Day and Night provided the most basic separation, each with its own “light”. As humanity began to order and give meaning to existence, the Moon became associated with the feminine, variable, hidden aspects of all life. Her growth, fullness and diminishment became synonymous with all cycles that waxed and waned; special significance was given to those human cycles that seemed to most closely mimic her: female menarche, pregnancy, and menopause. The Moon became synonymous with the miraculous and the mysterious. Agriculture, tides, fertility of animals, an association with blood, and the darkness and death that follows all growth, became her domain.

We think of time in familiar terms of minutes, hours, weeks and months, but these are just the familiar patterns particular to our 24-hour-a-day global business cycle. Earlier societies used movements of the sun and moon to keep them in sync with the organic cycles of mother earth. (Donna Cunningham wrote a marvelous book, The Moon in Your Life, a classic addition to astrology of the moon, as well as a philosophical musing on what it means to be a “lunar” personality in our “solar” world. )

The Celts’ starting place was the dark-of-moon, a lunar calendar that broke the year into “dark” and “bright” halves, adjusting the number of lunar months as needed, and marking lunar cross-quarter days in between the solar equinoxes and solstices.

Samhain is such a day, when the summer has ended and the “dark” half of the year begins. The old Coligny calendar, dating from 800 BC, marks this cross quarter day, along with Imbolc (February) Beltane (May), and Lughnasadh (August), ordering the agricultural cycle of harvest, birth of new livestock, seed planting, and ripening. These were not specific days, but rather nights, celebrated with Lunar rites of bonfires and purifications. These celebrations have come down to us as Hallowe’en, Oidhche Shamhna, El Dia del Muerte and Samhain.

The recognition of, much less celebration of the dark, goes against our more modern sensibilities. Instead of welcoming the night, with its opportunity for rest and relief from stimulation, we fill it with light, night shifts of workers, 24-hour everything. We resist the innate knowledge that things never stay the same, that old things must die before new things can begin, that there is no such thing as unlimited growth. But in doing so, we submerge and ingest the darkness itself. The darkness dwells in the 15 million depressed Americans, in the physical, emotional and sexual abuse in our families, in the anxiety and despair of citizens watching the richest country in the world spending its wealth on war and destruction instead of building a better world for everyone. But the cycles are the ultimate truth. Things do change. Diminishment and death are inevitable precursors to initiation and growth.

As you celebrate this Hallowe’en, you may want to reflect (such a lovely Moon word) on what you’re holding onto past its needfulness. What darkness are you trying to hide that would benefit from a bonfire or other form of purification? And what relaxing welcoming night are you sacrificing to too much work?

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