It has been a strange year.
That’s a statement that should probably go into the Understatement Hall of Fame. Though not my utterance of it: there must be a billion or more similar sentiments expressed around the world.
For me, the strangeness all rolled up into Samhain.
Until just a couple of centuries ago, people around the world ended and began the day at sunset. Many still do. It’s a natural time of transition: the liminal period as color drains out of the world and we pass into twilight, an indeterminate in-between that fades into darkness and rest. Similarly, the year — in the median latitudes — shades into a liminal period as the light fails and the green earth goes to seed.
It is the season of twilight.
Today was gray, cool, and it drizzled just a little. Only a little. A quiet day. Liminal.
We decorated the front yard for Halloween in the afternoon, day before yesterday, while the sun was bright and hot. We have only a single box of Halloween decorations in our garage, but it’s an excellent box. Three witches — reapers, perhaps — that we set up in the front yard, lurking near the pampas grass and the Great Pot of Jade. A string of pumpkin lights, like Christmas lights but with little orange-mesh pumpkins around the lights. I bought three real pumpkins — Santa Rosa, just an hour south of here, is the land of Charles Shultz and the Great Pumpkin, after all — and Marta and I carved them together, in between trips out to the grocery store for more candy, and the next day’s breakfast. Hurricane lanterns, some with real candles, some with flickering electric flames. A skull with red and blue flames inside. We pulled out the Witches’ Cauldron for the candy, and both of us donned our formal summer Druid robes to greet the ghastlies and goblins who breached our property bounds to demand tribute to the traditional cry of “Trick or Treat.”
As an elder, I found I had to instruct some of the youngsters in the proper etiquette of extortion, after my sometimes inaccurate attempts to guess their True Names: Spiderman, Mutant Ninja Turtle, Skeleton. I nailed the Medieval Apothecary, with his bird-beak, much to his astonishment. I miscalled two Dalmatians: I said Holsteins, and was appropriately shamed. The Mad Hatter was trivial, but Alice confounded me — she wore buttons marked with card suits, and my mind was clouded; but the Red Queen was lovely.
The California evening was mild and exceptionally beautiful. We are only thirty-five minutes of latitude (a little over half a degree) south of Denver — all but identical to the seasons I’ve lived with throughout my life. But Denver is a mile closer to the cold vacuum of space than us, the air thin and the winds free, while here we nestle in a valley of grapes and pears in a Mediterranean climate with a wet season and a dry season. Samhain Eve was one of the last of the dry evenings for the year. We sat on the porch and greeted knee-high creatures of the night until Marta grew tired, and then I sat alone and watched flashlights bob up and down the street and offered chocolate benedictions.
Last night, we did the OBOD Samhain rite in our back yard. We have a power spot there, a crossing of fire and water lines, where we set the fire pit, with an altar to the West. Lanterns marked the directions, and we had strung white Christmas lights all along the fence, and on the gazebo and the arbor.
We spoke the familiar words, just the two of us — by power of Star and Stone; each presence is a blessing; here in peace and love we stand — and I ached for our fellow-Druids from the Place Before. This was no small move, to come here. But though I missed our grove, the call to be here is still very strong. The Ancestors came, and they comforted us.
Goddess knows what tomorrow will bring. But that is always the case.
After our rite, we walked over to the Civic Center, where the half-ton pumpkins have been carved and placed on display. Did I mention that this is the land of the Great Pumpkin?
Today has been cool, and misty, and damp, and very quiet. Two Jehovah’s Witnesses came to my door. I offered them a blessing, and they parted in peace. Is Samhain two days, or three? Or a week? Scholars bicker and denounce one another: that is their high play.
I think they are all wrong. It is a liminal time, time without time. It takes as long as it takes. We’ll be there when we get there. Deep chemistry is converting life into death, and death into life. Our obsessions with human calendric schedules is absurd.