“Celebrating Samhain as a Naturalist” by Mike Ryan

I used to struggle with Samhain. It’s interesting how we deal with idiosyncratic issues within naturalism, wanting to be authentic, but struggling with the Gregorian calendar and society’s apathy to the seasonal holidays, or their usurpation for commercial and Christian purposes.

Samhain should be around November 6th/7th, as that is the halfway point between the fall equinox and the winter solstice. If there was no Halloween, I think that it would be easier, even with the lack of social sanction. But Halloween forces it to be a week early. This really used to bug me. One year we celebrated Samhain on the right day, and it felt wrong. Society had already moved on, and it felt forced to wait another week. The mystery and darkness was gone, and I just felt like an idiot. I wouldn’t even know what to do in the Southern Hemisphere with the seasons inverted. I didn’t even feel comfortable moving it a week.

samhain2On top of this, I love Halloween. The fear, the dark, the glowing orange of candles and fire in blackness, the dried corn fields, crunching leaves, crisp nights, freshly carved pumpkins with evil grins, bonfires, scary stories, scary movies, cider and pumpkin bread. … I love it all. It’s not even October and I have orange C9 lights all over my house, meticulously straight, with a scarecrow of which I’m really proud of. Even the word “Halloween” is beautiful.

As a naturalist, I don’t believe the spirits of the dead come back at the exact halfway between the quarter days, even though that’s the spirit of the day. The power lies in the community and the gathering. So I’ve come to grips with October 31st, and I embrace Halloween. We celebrate the carnivalesque, as well as the ancestor honoring Day of the Dead aspect. We usually make it a several day event. Mischief night on the 30th, dressing up on the 31st and making the rounds, and then staying up all night around a campfire in the backyard (we have woods) telling horror stories, eating and drinking, and keeping the dark at bay. We also leave food out for the dead, and have an altar for the deceased. We celebrate Samhain on Nov. 1st, visiting the graveyard, bobbing for apples, reading tarot cards, or at least pretending we actually know how to read them, and feasting.

And I keep all the decorations and themes related to the harvest and the coming winter. We don’t do gore or crazy animatronics. This is a nature-based holiday that celebrates the passing of fall and the onset of winter, the lengthening nights, the dying earth at the end of fall, and the relating of this death to our own mortality and the honoring of those who came before. My thoughts are on the seasonal change and the veneration of nature the whole time. It’s a beautiful thing.

My main point on this night though is to celebrate life, be around loved ones and a fire, and never disrespect the dark.

About the Author: Mike Ryan

samhain1Mike Ryan is an environmental scientist and a nature venerating naturalist who lives with his wife and son in north central New Jersey.

 

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