This week began with Samhain, popularly known as Hallowe’en. It is the ancient, and modern, festival of the dead, of remembering and honouring those who have gone before us.
The night of 31st October, moving into 1st November, is the time in the year when the veil between the worlds of the living and the dead, of the physical and the spiritual, are thinnest.
In pre-Roman times, there is evidence that the ‘Celtic’ peoples of the British Isles would leave doors and windows open, to invite the spirits of their dead, and their ancestors to join them for the evening. This is still a practice that some modern day Pagans follow. The spirit of communion between the living and the dead can also be seen in the Mexican Día de los Muertos, the Roman Catholic feast of All Souls.
My favourite combination of these traditions, though, is the Reclaiming tradition Spiral Dance ritual, which occurs in San Francisco every year.
It is a solidly Pagan, Goddess religion remembrance of the Beloved Dead, the Mighty Dead and Ancestors – loved ones who have died in the past year, those who have died recently or in the distant past who inspire our spirits, and our personal ancestors of blood, bone and breath – but is strongly inspired by the altar-building traditions of the Día de los Muertos.
Remembering not only those who are dead, but those who are born
Where the Spiral Dance tradition differs from either Pagan or Catholic traditions of remembering the dead around this date, though, is that it is also a celebration of rebirth – both inner and outer. Its ritual facilitators take full account of Samhain not only as the year’s death, but also its birth into the ‘night’ of winter. So all babies born in the community in the preceding year are named, honoured and celebrated.
In the world as a whole, there are an awful lot of babies being born. There are now seven billion human beings on earth. Seven billion. Seven with nine noughts after it. 7,000,000,000.
That’s a lot of people.
One of the problems with such a huge numbers is that it is quite literally unimaginable. When we try to follow our spiritual instincts in connecting with our fellow humans all over the world, and feeling that human connection deeply, and we imagine all those other people, all over the world, our minds and hearts boggle, then turn away to things they can grasp: things like (we hope) the people we know and love, or (perhaps more often) whatever’s being waved in our faces by the media today, whether that’s our favourite soap opera / rom com / police procedural / action film, our favourite hate figure or a politician, or the latest news item to be horrified or scandalised about.
Expanding our capacity for love
Compassion, the passionate love of our spirit for all beings, the deep knowledge of our connection with all beings, needs to be developed. It is, undoubtedly, a natural human instinct, but in the face of the unimaginable – whether an unimaginably large number, or an unimaginable degree of suffering, or an unimaginable enfolding of love – we shirk away in fear.
In fact, I would say that our fear is not of the unimaginability of numbers or suffering or love, but of the possibility that the numbers or suffering or love is so vast, so huge, so immense, that our sense of self will be swamped, overwhelmed, washed away in the deluge, disappear.
The only way I know of to deal with this fear is to start with where we are. The saying “Charity begins at home” could have been written just for this.
First, we need to fill ourselves up with love – love from and for ourself, our lovers and partners, our family, our friends, our pets, our spiritual guides and guardians – until we’re overflowing. Then we let the love overflow.
It really is that simple.
The more we fill ourselves up with love, the more love we can let flow over, and the greater numbers, suffering and love we can cope with. There is no possibility of our sense of self being swamped or overwhelmed or washed away, because when we allow ourselves to fill up with love, we are not small in the face of anything; we are filled with the greatest, most powerful force in the Universe – that is, in fact, the spiritual fabric of the Universe.
So let yourself love and be loved by your Ancestors, your Mighty Dead, your Beloved Dead, the Newborns and all other beings in your life, for that is how all souls can indeed be blessed.