Season and Spirit: Magickal Adventures Around the Wheel of the Year
The Wheel of the Year is the engine that drives NeoPagan practice. Explore thw magick of the season beyond the Eight Great Sabbats.
What the Dark Reveals
The day before Samhain I went to the creek to pour libations. In the week since my last visit, a cold snap and windy weather had shaken many of the leaves from the trees, and had finally driven many plants and shrubs into dormancy. It was a wonderful warm sunny day, but I could see the descent very clearly. The sky between the branches was getting larger, as the vibrant green of the woods and fields faded into copper and brass, and then into taupe and gray.
The magick of October is undeniable. Nature's showiest, most voluptuous month is a 31
day count down to our culture's greatest celebration of the uncanny, the magical and the mysterious. The stunning beauty of the Wheel turning before our eyes, the trees aflame in golden sunlight and dazzling blue skies, sweetens ancient anxieties about the approach of winter. We approach the final and most solemn harvest of our harvest rites, Samhain. The Veil thins, we perceive sharply the presence of the numinous powers of the land, the spirits that surround us, the echoes of those we have lost. We confront our shadow, in the shape of what we fear. Movie monsters provide a comforting stand-in for the very real terrors—pain, trauma, loss, addiction and fear—that we live with every day, hiding them even from ourselves. And then we allow ourselves to dance and adorn ourselves with them at Hallowstide.
It feels appropriate to feed the spirits of the land as well as the spirits of our own ancestors. We are in the last days of warmth and light, but the growing season is over, no doubt about it. As the days shorten, the green fire of growth and creation retreats from the land, and I went to offer up honey and wine before the land went fallow. I was considering my work for my ancestors, thinking about the altar I was going to set up and food I was going to serve at the dumb supper. I approached the place where I leave the main path to walk down to the water. When I first discovered this spot, late last summer, the dense foliage—sumac, Russian olive, mullein stalks towering over my head—made it almost impossible to find a path down to the water's edge. It was there, faint and overgrown, but after a while I did find it. Now, as I walked towards the creek, the vegetation had died back enough that the path was revealed. It was not immediately obvious, but if you knew where to look the trail to the water showed up clear as day, snaking down past tangles of the Virginia creeper and maple seedlings that no longer hid it. Getting to the water was easy, and I arrived without scratches all over my forearms and shins.
This is what we gain from the Descent itself. It is a paradox, but as the darkness grows, things are revealed. In the stillness and dark of the Descent, treasures are brought to light. As the green belt withered and went dormant, my path showed up more clearly. As things became darker, quieter, more still, things I could not access in the waxing year became tangible and present.
And the passing of those before me, those whose work and action and will had created so many of the paths I follow, lit so many of the lamps that illuminate my life and my understanding: the Darkening year makes their impact and influence more evident. My debt to them, to their example and inspiration, is not paid on one night of the year. Their work and their sacrifice do not disappear from my memory when the altar is taken down. Like a path appearing in a dark wood, we see the lives of our ancestors as guiding our work and dreams and magick. Technology and scientific progress, all the gifts of modern life, do not negate the power that we draw on when we turn back to those who lived and worked before we were here.
Yesterday I went to the creek. The trees are almost bare now, and everything has died back. I found my way very easily to the water;'s edge, the path being perfectly clear . I know as the cold weather sets in, I will be out here less, and that this path will eventually be under so much ice and snow that I might not b able to find it again til early Spring. But I will find it, and I'll be able to follow it back, and it will be the clearer for me than it was, and my walking down will make it clearer for anyone who comes after me. Things pass, and things remain, and the things that connect us persist, through time and space, through lifetimes and centuries, persist like paths worn in earth and stone. This is why Samhain is not a day, it's a season. Our Guides and allies, our ancestors and totemic spirits deserve our respect and thanks for all the paths they clear for us. It is our time to give thanks for all their blessings.
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