- a collection of essays on Neodruidic Studies
- a journal of Post-Reconstructionist Neopaganism

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Grey November: Crossing the Wasteland

(( For my THANKSGIVING card to you and yours, click here... ))





If you simply give up trying to make Samhain represent a "beginning" * and let the agrarian year end there, the grey twilight of November stands before us as the desolate Wasteland, the Wandering Place located between the cycles of life where eventually we will find our way from the exit of one year to the entrance of the next. We journey from November's dimming into the blackness of December and eventually, at the very pit of the year, we arrive at Yuletide, the great feasting-hall of our year's underworld, eventually then to emerge on its far side, blessed with the spark of hope for the Sun's triumphant return.

You see, for all of our good intentions as serious Celtophiles, I still believe it's just too difficult for most of us to recalibrate our internal calendars to make the Samhain-as-Celtic-New-Years truism actually "work" emotionally. In seeking to reconcile the overwhelmingly "authentic" feel which Yule and New-Years creates at the year's end with the similarly familiar "fit" of Samhain as the feast of the death of the agrarian year, some time ago I began to articulate a pattern of myth and image which I believe we don't need to 'enforce' upon ourselves artificially. Rather, we can easily begin to discover that 

its componentry is already built-into us: as Westerners
we've actually been celebrating it all along...

- Earrach

* Contrary to just about everything you’ve read just about everywhere, there actually is a significant dearth of evidence to support the notion that the Celtic feast of Samhain (traditionally Nov. 1), is the “beginning of the Celtic year”. Yes, it's long been the assertion of Celtic Studies publications both academic and popular, yet the actual antiquity of the concept cannot be adequately verified.

In 1992 I had written an article, Samhain- the Beginning or the End? for the very first edition of our grove’s newsletter suggesting this idea. The article was later published in ADF’s journal The Druids Progress (vol.11, pp12). More recently the British historian Ronald Hutton examined this “factoid” in his exhaustive study of the ritual calendar of the British isles, "Stations of the Sun" (Oxford, 1996). Hutton uses both the folk record and extensive researches into calendar references in the medieval literature to show that there is really no evidence that Samhain was considered the Celtic New Year any earlier than the late 1800's.


Can folksong capture the essence of the Wasteland?

Well. this is a very personal choice of course but nothing quite takes me there than this old cautionary tale, "Long Lankin", sung by Steeleye Span. It has dire warnings gone unheeded. a grim and bloody murder and an uncaught and ever-lurking fiend, all framed in a vast landscape of November-grey moorland...


  1. Yes! I haven't run across many other Druids who approached Samhain in this way - as an entering into a kind of in-between time before the renewal of the solstice. Good to know I'm not alone!

    On the other hand, I think the emotional dissonance of Samhain as "beginning" is at least partly influenced by our own assumptions about the concept of "beginning" biased by a culture that focuses perhaps too much on activity and productivity. I think there is a spiritual Mystery (in the capital-M sense) to be grappled with and perhaps never quite resolved in learning to understand death and Samhain as another kind of "beginning" - albeit not as overtly and mundanely a beginning as the winter solstice or the spring festivals might be. There have been plenty of autumns where I made it to Samhain and felt the final release of tension as the light waned and the trees grew bare. This release into darkness can also be a beginning, a lacuna in which we can recollect ourselves and return to our centers. As your torc diagram illustrates, this space between Samhain and solstice is the threshold, the gap through which we can slip in to the cycle of the year - and in this way, that opening itself is a beginning, for it is our opportunity to enter into relationship. A complete circle is also a closed circle. An open circle, or torc, offers the beginning of relationship and engagement. Just as it is the experience of death (of loved ones, animals, the fields and woods entering hibernation and eventually our own death) that opens us up to the first stirrings of a relationship with the Otherworld and the realm of our ancestors.

    So while I have always thought of the cycle of the year as a torc with a "wandering timeless time" between Samhain and the winter solstice, I still think of Samhain as a beginning in some sense. After all, you can travel a circle in either direction. If we follow the year "backwards," so to speak, Samhain is a beginning - metaphorically, Samhain is a beginning to our relationship with the past, with memory, with the ancestors, with the beloved dead who have gone before us. In the same way that the winter solstice - which, where I live, comes right before the very worst, coldest months of winter - is a beginning of a relationship with the future, with hope and expectation and promise and all of what is to come.

    But now I'm rambling! Anyway, great post! Thanks for sharing. :)


    Thank you for your thoughtful reply. It's good to hear that I'm not totally alone in seeing this stretch of twighlit weeks as one of the great Mysteries of the Year. Also thank you for leaving a link back to your website. It's positively breathtaking and I'm looking forward to exploring the formidable body of fine work you've posted there.

    -One thousand blessings,