Beltane Dancers: Original watercolour by Martin Maxim (artist) Moretonhampstead
In my beginning is my end
Yes, that is it for me, for samhain. Every samhain. Every one of the sixty-eight samhainâ€™s Iâ€™ve travelled through so far in this incarnation. Strangely each one is better than the last. Sometimes, somehow, I donâ€™t know why I should feel strange; but then I do, I do know why. Strangeness is a beautiful feeling, a feeling of new, undiscovered, not known before, and samhain is about that.
Every year, since I was fifteen and my English teacher introduced me to Mr Eliot, Iâ€™ve read East Coker at this season. The beginning-words of the poem say it all â€“ in my beginning is my end â€“ as do the ending-words. And in between are all the colours and shades of Life, the Universe and Everything.
The cycles of life. How the Lady and the Lord weave life. Life-in-Death as Coleridge shows us in the Ancient Mariner. We cannot live life without death, if only the death of the body-skin-cells each day that we later vacuum up as dust, dust to dust indeed! When the cycle goes wrong we have cancer, cells that refuse and/or forget how to die and so become great tumours that kill us wholly. We have to learn how to die, how to know that death is a vital part of life. Without it we cannot live.
â€¦ old timber to new fires,
Old fires to ashes, and ashes to the earth
Which is already flesh, fur and faeces,
Bone of man and beast, cornstalk and leaf.
Death is the other side of the portal of birth. We are born out of otherworld and into incarnation. We live and breathe and have our being for our time and then we go through the portal the other way, we go from thisworld back to otherworld again, leaving our bodies here to be reduced again to atoms of Planet Earth, which go on to become cabbages and kings.
Wait for the early owl.
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â In that open field
If you do not come too close, if you do not come too close,
On a summer midnight, you can hear the music
Of the weak pipe and the little drum
And see them dancing around the bonfire
Yes, they come, the little ones, the faer folk, the Tylwyth Teg and the Ellyon, the Bendith y Mamau (Blessing of the Mothers). They come to dance around the fires. And the people come too, the folk of the land, the pagans, the Wledig folk like me. And the early autumn owl wakes us into life.
Earth feet, loam feet, lifted in country mirth
Mirth of those long since under earth
Nourishing the corn. Keeping time,
Keeping the rhythm in their dancing
As in their living in the living seasons
We dance the seasons â€¦ as we live them, as we live the cycles of life. We know the seasons, know them in our bones, in the stars.
The time of the seasons and the constellations
The time of milking and the time of harvest
The time of the coupling of man and woman
And that of beasts. Feet rising and falling.
Eating and drinking. Dung and death.
I am here
Or there, or elsewhere. In my beginning.
Yes, I am here, or there, or elsewhere â€“ everywhere. My atoms have been both cabbages and kings and will be again, and again. My body-atoms are immortal, only the shape they form is not. That is transitory, it comes and goes with every incarnation. Samhain shows me this as the leaves turn to fire and fall to the ground to nourish the Earth.
And my spirit knows this. Has it not come and gone many times, on many planets, in many forms and of many bloods? Indeed it has, and will again, eating, digesting and absorbing more and more of the kenning of the universe each time, eventually to give birth to it again. Ceridwen-as-hen did it, and showed us all how, when she ate the grain of wheat that was Gwion Bach and rebirthed him nine months later as Taliesin, Shining Brow. And Taliesin goes on to tell us â€œI have been everythingâ€ â€¦ is there any other way to know, to ken, the universe and all life, but to be it, experience how it feels for yourself?
Samhain reminds us. And so does Eliot.
And after samhain?
Â The dancers are all gone under the hill.
O dark dark dark. They all go into the dark,
The little ones go back under the hill. The plants settle for their winter sleep. The animals hunker down to come through the dark time â€¦ until Sun-Return when the light grows again, as it ever does, year-on-year.
We stand still at the solstice. For three days we stand still, looking back and looking forward from this threshold point. And every year the Earth gives us this time, this time of darkness, in which to cogitate our lives.
I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope
For hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love,
For love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith
But the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting.
Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought:
So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.
Samhain prepares us for that. It gives us the time to let go of old stuff, old crap and baggage that we no longer need, to put it on the compost heap with thanks and blessings for all it has given us. And with those thanks we let it go, allow it to return to the atoms and particles itâ€™s made of, out of the form in which it was imprisoned while we needed and held onto it. Now we free it and let it go, leaving a wide, empty space within which the coming seasons will fill up yet again so that, next samhain, we can again let go.
All that has come into us, over the past year, has enriched us. We give it back to the Earth, again enriched with all that weâ€™ve learnt.
And there is the new lesson, learnt and learnt over and over again â€¦
In order to arrive at what you are not
You must go through the way in which you are not.
And what you do not know is the only thing you know
And what you own is what you do not own
And where you are is where you are not.
Itâ€™s deep and disturbing. Â We must go by the way in which we are not, for we know and own nothing, nothing at all. We can be everything â€¦ but we can own nothing. Opposites? Oh no, two sides of one coin.
Home is where one starts from.Â
Yes, home. But, as Ursula le Guin says, you can always return home â€¦ as long as you realise home is a place you have never yet been! Now, at samhain, that is a thought to ponder on and take into the cauldron to cook and stew until you come to know it, know it in your bones. Then, only then, can you live and love and have your being full of joy on our Mother Earth.
The joys and blessings of samhain are endless â€¦
In my end is my beginning.