A Celtic Heart

“Now is a time to lay down your tools, the symbols of your productivity, and light a fire to honor not only what has been done throughout the past year, but also all that has preceded you — in this life, and in all the lives lived before. Now is a time to make space, in your heart and in your mind, for the stillness and silence of death.” ~ Teo Bishop

Irish and Scottish ancestry roots runs deep and wide in my family; and I have always been drawn to the magic and mystery of Celtic traditions. One of my favourite books growing up was The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley. I still love it to this day. I recently discovered a wonderful book, Walking in the Mist, by Donald McKinney. It reflects upon on the subtle nuances of Celtic spirituality.

The Celtic Fire festival of Samhain (a Gaelic word pronounced “sow-win”) is commonly known as the Celtic New Year. Samahin is a time of growing darkness and introspection. It is usually celebrated from October 31 to November 1 to welcome in the harvest and usher in the dark half of the year. Celebrants believe that the barriers between the physical world and the spirit world are thin during Samhain.

Ancient Celts marked Samhain as the most significant of the four quarterly fire festivals, taking place at the midpoint between the fall equinox and the winter solstice. During this time of year, hearth fires in family homes were left to burn, while the harvest was gathered.

Since the emergence of Christianity in the British Isles, the festival of Samhain became overlaid with the Christian festival of Halloween or All Hallows Eve, on October 31, followed by All Saints Day on November 1.

Although I do not formally celebrate Samhain, I like to practice simple rituals to acknowledge its presence. I burn candles and keep my fire lit. I create a small alter on my mantelpiece, with seasonal items such as: colourful fallen leaves; interestingly shaped sticks and twigs; nuts, gourds and mini pumpkins. I meditate and journal. I rest. I remember loved ones who have passed on. I feel their continued presence in my heart.

Samhain is an opportunity to pause and reflect: to grow a practice of stillness, silence and listening. It marks the transition of the seasons and helps to prepare the mind and body for the winter ahead. There is something powerful in marking the transition of the seasons and reconnecting with one’s ancestral knowledge. I enjoy the quiet introspection of this time of year and the chance to open myself up to the unknown.

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