“The veil between the worlds is thin tonight.”
Or actually last Friday night. So they say. Of course, in all kinds of traditions including nominally Christian ones, the veil between worlds is reputed to be thin from All Hallows Eve to All Souls Day.
You couldn’t prove it by me. The veil (if any) between worlds (if any) remained its usual cement-thick self.
Nevertheless, I decided to begin my November 1 hermitting at sundown on the 31st (a more human-friendly way of measuring days than the arbitrary, but great for machines, midnight to midnight). So I lit candles and rice-paper lanterns and settled down for a contemplative evening.
I was ready for trick-or-treaters (despite the momentary lack of a front porch), but none came. It was quiet.
Friday sundown to Saturday sundown was also Samhain. I’m not talking about the neo-pagan/wiccan holiday cobbled together from odd historic bits and pieces and a big lot of imagination. But the ancient Irish new year.
Samhain — which, being an Irish Celtic word isn’t even remotely pronounced sam-hain* — just means November. Or by extension, November Eve.
But the Irish did believe that the “veil is thin” that November Eve night. Spirits walked. Fairies were abroad (and the Irish had some pretty unfriendly fairies, so don’t think “cute”). The truly brave or truly foolish could enter caves and carouse with ancient heroes. But these otherworlders are tricksy, as those types usually are. One slip-up, one broken rule, and things could go bad on you. More prudent just to stay inside with a nice warm fire and a locked door.
It’s from the Irish that America got the notion of dressing up and going scarily roaming on Halloween. Irish immigrants also brought us the famous tradition of the devilishly carved turnip.
Yeah, turnip. Or beet. Or rutabaga.
A lack of turnips at the right season caused the new Irish-Americans to turn to pumpkins. And I’d guess this is one American pop-culture influence that everybody would agree is an improvement on the original.
But anyhow, there I was in candleglow, longing to perceive (if probably not to pierce) that elusive veil. But of course despite New Age romanticism, the real veil (if any) isn’t just between the worlds of the mundane and the spiritual. That’s the nice, cleaned up, sanitized veil. The historic veil is between life and death. And barring a few million cheerful Mexicans munching on sugar skulls and partying beside their relatives’ graves on this weekend, who wants to go there?
Not me. But I did want to go into a state of silence, serenity and peace, and there’s nothing like darkness warmed by candlelight for doing that.
It was a good beginning.
There are so many goals I’d like to reach, so many items I’d like to cross off my hermitting to-do list (not that I was foolish enough to make one). But item number one on that list I don’t have is just be there.
Be still. Relax. Breathe. Listen. Listen to nothing if that’s all there is to hear. But listen.
Today, I “knitted for the soul.” More about that another time.
* For pronouncing Samhain, try SOW-in or SOW-een, though nobody ever seems to say whether that’s SOW as in plant crops or SOW as in female pig. And virtually all pronunciation guides are prefaced by “it sounds something like …”