The Bard's Grove

"There are times when people need stories more than they need nourishment, because the stories feed something deeper than the needs of the body."
Charles DeLint, The Onion Girl

Monday, December 3, 2012

Emerging Archetypal Themes: Sagittarius, Cosmic Law & The Way

          The daylight fades quickly now while the nights seem to linger.  We are approaching the darkest night of the year in the northern hemisphere.  (Our southern neighbors are bathed in light as they approach their longest day.)  Each year, we cycle back to this time of greatest darkness.  Each year we celebrate the return of the Light.  Each year, before this blessed event, we travel through the dark with Sagittarius.

There’s something mysterious and beautiful about the evening sky during late November and early December.  The sky is a deep sapphire blue, warm and protective despite the cold.  Sagittarius is like that.  The cold night sky sends us wisdom if we remember how to look for it.  During Sagittarius, the night sky is full of stories belonging to the Summer Stars.  We look at the sky and are assured that there are things in life worth living for.  The sky gives us faith and hope.   
Sagittarius energizes our spiritual search.  Coming after Scorpio’s emotional purge, Sagittarius’ fire energizes our search for a larger vision, a curiosity about what might be out there now that the old life is gone.  In Sagittarius, our perspective widens as well as narrows, like the vision of Eagle, Great Spirit’s emissary.  We want to look beyond our old beliefs and discover something new about the universe.  What we discover is Cosmic Law.  We discover what we have to do to live out our destiny.  We’re called back to our beliefs, whatever they might be.  We are called back to our center.
After the death & rebirth experience in Scorpio, we want a new understanding of our place in the Cosmos.  Our old worldview was distorted by our emotional wounds; a new worldview comes into being if we let the chaos of their death work on us.  We fear the chaos more than anything else.  Once we survive the break-down, the chaos, the silence of death, we’ll find that we coalesce into something new.  Our new energy does need a form, however; a structure to channel it into our new life.  This structure comes from the archetypes, and we access them through story. 
We all need a story to inhabit.  Our deepest source of life energy comes from our imaginations; it is the imagination that tells us the story of what is possible for us.   It is this belief that gives us energy, passion and will.  All too often, our stories are shaped by patriarchy and become too narrow for us to live with.  Hence, the need to leave those stories behind us and heal the wounds that they caused.  As we go through our death and rebirth experiences, we need to re-access our passion and find out what the next step in our life will be.  And that comes to us through the stories we tell ourselves. What does the future hold?    If we choose to live in a story of fear, it will hold fear.  If we choose to live in a story of creativity, it will be a creative story.  If we live in a story of hope, there will be hope.  So it’s important to choose what to believe in. 
Our beliefs power our lives.  Sagittarius helps us choose our beliefs.   While we might not go to a church, synagogue, mosque or temple anymore, we still need to believe in something bigger than ourselves.  This time, though, we need a personal relationship with Cosmic Law, Deity or the Force.  That’s the Sag way.

The Way
The movie I want to talk about for Sagittarius is a gem of a movie called The Way.  Written by Emilio Estevez for his father, Martin Sheen, it is a story of a surprising death and an equally surprising rebirth.  The story is simple: a father heads overseas to recover the body of his estranged son who died while traveling the El Camino de Santiago. Once there, he decides to make the pilgrimage himself.

El Camino De Santiago -The Way of St. James - has existed for over a thousand years. It has been one of the most important Christian pilgrimages since medieval times.  St. James and his brother John were called the Sons of Thunder, and were two of Jesus’ closest disciples.  Saint James supposedly preached in Iberia (Spain) and when he was martyred in Jerusalem, legend holds that his remains were carried by boat to northern Spain where he was buried on the site of what is now the city of Santiago de Compostela.  There are many different routes (how Sagittarian!) on The Way, ranging from 800 km to 227 km to whatever you can do.  Since the Middle Ages, people have settled along the different routes, providing lodging and food for the pilgrims.  Pilgrims walk The Way of St. James, often for months, to arrive at the great church in the main square of Compostela and pay homage to St. James.  Walking on pilgrimage is a time of letting go of our old lives so that we can find a new Way to live.
          Martin Sheen plays Tom, a successful doctor from southern California.  Stuck in his ways, content with his life, Tom can’t understand why his middle-aged son, Daniel, won’t settle down. As Tom drives Daniel to the airport to see him off on yet another adventure, they argue. They argue over how to live life. Daniel dropped out of his PhD program to travel the world and experience what he’d been studying and now he wants Tom to drop everything and come away with him, to travel as father and son.  But Tom thinks it’s irresponsible. This is the patriarchal lie that we all tell ourselves.  Tom thinks that Daniel looks down on him for the life he’s chosen.  To which Daniel replies, “You don’t choose a life, dad, you live one.” This is so typical of the tension between a patriarchal father and a son who wants to follow his own dreams.  Unfortunately, that’s the last time Tom sees Daniel.

          Tom misses a call from Daniel and gets annoyed that he doesn’t know where his son is or how to contact him.  Tom tells his assistant, “He wanted to see the world.”  And his assistant says, “And he did.”  She sees what Tom can’t see, which is so true of the feminine spirit of life.   Tom wants everything secure and controlled.  Unfortunately, Daniel won’t give it to him. This is how we’ve been trained to live under patriarchy.   Let nothing be left to chance!
          The next day, Tom gets a call from France in the middle of his golf game: Daniel has died in a sudden storm on the very first night of his journey on el Camino de Santiago.  Tom leaves immediately to claim his son’s body, but when he arrives in Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, France, he talks with a very sympathetic police captain who explains what his son was doing and why it is important.  Tom rejects the whole notion of the pilgrimage, but going through Daniel’s backpack that night, he suddenly decides to cremate his son’s body and take his ashes on the pilgrimage.  The police captain tries to explain that he isn’t ready to do it, that he lacks the training, but Tom is nothing if not determined.  He will make sure his son gets to finish his pilgrimage.

          And so, Tom sets out on The Way.  He doesn’t know what to expect.  He’s in a chaos of emotions over his son’s death.  And so he walks.  He walks alone, even though other pilgrims join him.  He walks alone even when others try to connect to him.    As Tom says,” I’m old and tired.”  He’s lost his faith, not only in God but even in his golf partners.  When people ask him why he’s making the pilgrimage he says he’s doing it for his son.  But the captain tells him, The Way is a very personal journey.  The journey itself will teach Tom why he’s going.
Before Tom starts out, he is sitting alone at a restaurant when a fellow pilgrim, Joost, sits down with him.  Joost is a gregarious Dutchman who tells Tom that he’s walking to lose weight for his brother’s wedding - and to make his wife and doctor happy.  And then he proceeds to eat, unconsciously and compulsively.  And of course, Tom can’t wait to get away from him. 
 One thing you can say about Tom, he’s determined to do this for Daniel.   While he says he’s going on pilgrimage for his son, I think he’s going to prove to himself that he loved Daniel. They had grown apart since his wife’s death, mainly because of Tom’s judgments about Daniel’s new lifestyle. And while he thinks he loves Daniel, his guilt is strong.   And he has a fear of death - he couldn’t even touch Daniel, like I imagine his mother would, when he went to identify his body.  Tom thinks he goes on pilgrimage to reclaim his son.

The Way itself is beautiful.  Tom and his fellow pilgrims walk through fields, forests, hills, mountains and cities.  The Way encompasses all of life’s beauty, strength and compassion, as well as its quirks and horrors.  When Tom passes a homemade cross on the mountain the first day, he flashes on Daniel and realizes this cross is where Daniel died.  He leaves the first pile of Daniel’s ashes there.
Lost in thought at the site of his son’s death, he has to trek through the darkness to his first pilgrim hostel.   Being late, he gets no supper, and finds he has to sleep in a big dorm room with all the other pilgrims.  Nothing like what a wealthy doctor expects - a metal bunk bed in a crowded, noisy room.  There he runs into Joost again, cheerfully eating and smoking grass. 
Tom ends up traveling with Joost, letting him talk him into getting coffee before they leave and then goat cheese at the next village.  He looks down on Joost while joining him in all the distractions along the way.  While Tom walks with Joost, who finds joy and food wherever he goes, he doesn’t journey with him, hiding from Joost whenever he leaves ashes.  Tom doesn’t share himself.  He’s locked away.  He looks on Joost as a fool, without seeing his kind heart.  But he, like Joost, is searching for what will nourish him.  

Everyone shares why they are going on pilgrimage, but Tom won’t tell anyone.  He thinks he’s hiding his wound.  Finally Joost puts together the story – Tom is related to the young man who died in France.  Once Tom tells Joost his story, he finds an excuse to go his own way and get away from Joost.  He stops at a wonderful Basque pensione, where travelers argue with their Basque host about history. Tom can imagine Daniel enjoying these conversations.
Tom runs into Sarah at this pensione.  Sarah is sarcastic, hurt and angry.  She taunts him about his motives for being pilgrimage.  He tries to ignore her, which makes her open up.  She’s going to give up cigarettes, but she’s going to enjoy them until she gets to Compostela.  Tom’s reply to that is, “Spoken like a true addict!”  Tom has no social skills anymore after spending his time with his doctor buddies, whose way of relating is to taunt each other.  He has a superior attitude and doesn’t think much of the other pilgrims.  Tom’s lack of social skills, communication and caring are evident at this stage of his journey.
  In the morning, he sees the proprietor pretending to be a bullfighter.  When he’s discovered, the owner tells Tom, “I wanted to become a bullfighter.  My father wanted me to become a lawyer.”  All over the world, our personal desires are negated by the expectations of our fathers.  Tom isn’t alone in what he’s done to his son.  But he sees how other sons have dealt with having their dreams denied.

Tom’s adventures continue to include Joost and Sarah.  After some time, they run into Jack the Irishman.  Jack is running around a field, acting crazy, but when he sees them, he proceeds to give a lengthy description of his time on the road.  To wit, he’s a travel writer and he has writer’s block.  He’s both full of himself and also down on himself.  Tom dislikes him from the start.  A true shadow projection!  Later in the movie, Tom tells Jack that he reminds him of Daniel and it drives him crazy.  But in reality, Jack is Tom’s shadow.  He even tells Tom about giving up his dream to be a great writer when he started making money on travel books. “But it’s the life I choose.”    Tom’s words in Jack’s mouth!
Soon after this, Tom and Sarah have an altercation.  Joost has let slip the story of Tom’s son, and Sarah shares her story about an abusive husband and her decision to abort their baby.  Tom finally shows some feeling and says he’s sorry about her baby and she replies that she’s sorry about his.  When he says that his son was almost 40, she says, “But he’s still your baby.”  Sarah, his anima/soul, reminds him of a truth that he’s forgotten.  Something changes after this conversation.
Tom, the typical patriarchal man, is so out of touch with his feelings that he has trouble feeling any empathy for other people.  Sarah represents his bitter, wounded shadow anima.  His feminine, feeling side is just as wounded as Sarah.  They are both prickly.  They are both sarcastic.  They both hurt.  As their relationship improves, they both get in touch with their feelings.  

At one point, they all argue about what makes a true pilgrim? Tom has had it and asks, “Someone who died on the Camino?”  Tom then proceeds to get drunk and tells them all what he thinks of them.  Jack is a writer who thinks he’s better than everyone else.  Joost is a great big lug who eats too much.  Sarah is the poor, victimized woman. 
Tom gets rowdy and ends up in jail. The other three bail him out, but they ignore him. Tom’s outburst makes them all think.  The silence of the Way comes into play now.  Ignored, Tom finally gives in, but instead of apologizing, he goes to Jack and insists he’ll pay him back.  Jack asks Tom to let him write about his story instead.  That’s when Tom says that Daniel was like Jack - smart, confident and stubborn.   “He pissed me off a lot.”  
On the Way, Tom meets his shadows: the unconscious need for comfort, the bitterness of harsh reality, and the blocks to his creative spirit.   

At Burgos, the four meet up again with old acquaintances they’ve met on the Way.  That’s where a young gypsy boy steals Tom’s backpack with the ashes.   The four of them give chase and end up where the gypsies live.  Joost and Jake tell him to give up, that the gypsies are trouble.  That he’ll never get his pack back. That’s when Tom does give up – with the box gone, he loses hope. 
But boy’s father arrives with the backpack and an apology, and invites all of them to be his guests at dinner. That night while the gypsies entertain them, Tom sees the power of family.  The gypsies are outcasts, yet they have a strong sense of honor. The father, Ishmael, tells Tom to take Daniel’s ashes to the sea at Muxai past Compostela.  When Tom says he’s not religious, Ishmael replies, “Religion has nothing to do with this, nothing at all!”  The next day as they leave town, Ishmael has his son carry Tom’s pack for him.  When Tom tries to downplay what the son has done, Ishmael asks, “What would you do with your son?  Our children – they are the very best and the very worst of us.” 

After this meeting, a deep healing occurs in Tom and therefore in the others.  They finally begin to journey together!  They are no longer separate, but now they are a family.  They help each other, they laugh together, they enjoy each other. 
When they come to a big town, Tom treats them all to their own rooms in a marvelous hotel.  They can have anything they want, but food, pedicures, and writing no longer serve them.  They all end up in Tom’s room.  A family!  He’s become not only a companion, but a father.
When they get to Compostela, Tom dedicates the pilgrimage to Daniel. Each of them has found a measure of peace.  And they all go with Tom to Muxia where he releases the last of Daniel’s ashes.  The Way has healed them.  The pilgrimage has bestowed grace on them.   

The wisdom they’ve found?  Jack realizes that words don’t stand up to experience.  Sarah admits that it’s never really been about giving up smoking.  And Joost admits he needs a new suit.  Tom is now free to live his life.  And he does.  He starts to travel!  He continues on his Way!
The Way is a modern-day mystery play.  Tom symbolizes our western ego, lost in the glamor of things and work and responsibility.  As he walks the Way, he discovers his own shadow: his unconscious use of the world, his bitterness and fear of emotional pain and his useless intellect.  Along the Way, he re-integrates his kindness, his courage and his vision.  And so is made new again.
As we wait upon the arrival of the magical, holy season of Winter Solstice, may you walk the Way and discover your inner child once again.
From the Bard’s Grove,

Friday, November 9, 2012

The Fountain: Scorpio's Path to Transformation

Scorpio's initiation is one of the hardest in the zodiac.   To complete this spiritual test, we have to face death.  Since this is happening on a cultural level as well as on personal ones, it's time to stop being afraid of death and start 'taking death as our adviser' as Don Juan taught Carlos Castaneda.  We have to stop looking for our immortality on the physical level: our immortality lies in our soul.

Would you like to see an intelligent, well-acted, emotionally moving, exquisitely filmed and brilliantly realized metaphysical film about death, multiple lifetimes and karma? Darren Aronofsky offers us a sumptuous feast of amazing images as well as a transformative message that is sorely needed in our culture.  The Fountain examines these issues with greater depth and imagination than this year's movie about karma, The Cloud Atlas

The Fountain examines a theme that is highlighted in this month's Scorpio Solar Eclipse.  The Sabian symbol for the solar eclipse at 22* Scorpio is: Hunters shooting wild ducks.  The question posed is: What do we do with our aggressive, warrior energies?  This movie examines the transformation of the warrior archetype.  The message of The Fountain is that warriors have to stop fighting death, and instead, learn to defend Life.   

This metaphysical film not only explores other dimensions of reality but also operates on many dimensions of reality. The Fountain's story is relevant on many levels: it shows us (1) how we individually and collectively can transform our cultural warrior mentality into a search for wisdom through love; (2) how each individual has a mythic story that needs to be explored and understood; (3) how a psychological complex is broken through and transformed; and most importantly, (4) it reminds us how we human beings need to understand and accept Death.   It is the awesome story of how knowledge of the soul's journey through time can illuminate our current life struggles and bring us to consciousness and an acceptance of life, which includes death. Hence the line in the movie, "Death is the path to awe."

The Fountain takes place -- essentially simultaneously -- in the past, present and future, as well as in the body, mind and spirit of the character, Tommy, interweaving three stories through the lives of a man and a woman.


The story in the past takes place in 16th century Spain which is in the midst of the Inquisition. The Grand Inquisitor flagellates his own flesh as the source of evil and death, and tortures anyone who does not follow his death-dealing beliefs. He is determined to kill the Queen, Isabella of Spain, who is intent on finding the Tree of Life, which she believes is hidden in the jungles of South America. She sends Tomas, a conquistador, to find The Tree of Life and bring it back to save Spain. And to become her true lover. She gives him a ring that he will be able to wear once he accomplishes his task of finding the Tree of Life, thereby uniting them forever in Love. The Ring symbolizes their unity, as well as the inner unity of body, mind and spirit.

In the present-day scenario, Tommy is a scientist who is desperately seeking a cure for the cancer killing his wife Izzi, who has almost finished writing a book called The Fountain about Queen Isabella and Tomas. Tommy struggles with his wife's coming death by spending most of her last days of life in a laboratory experimenting on chimps to find a cure for her cancer. By not really dealing with Izzi's immanent death, he misses out on her life. By doing what he thinks is right, he does the wrong thing. He can't accept the laws of life, and so he decides that death must be just another disease, which he will find a cure for. He is so frantic to save his wife from death that he uses death to fight death. Sound familiar? In one of the very first scenes, Tommy loses his wedding ring. He loses his connection to his wife Izzi, and to his soul, even as he struggles desperately to save her. 

The future is the 26th century, where Tom floats in a bubble-like spacecraft towards Xibalba, the golden nebula wrapped around a dying star that Izzi had shown Tommy in their previous lifetime, when she shared her wonder and delight at the Maya's ability to pick a dying star as the source of rebirth. Tom no longer has his wedding ring, but instead has tattooed a ring on his finger, along with circles on his arms, like the rings of a tree. He is trying to become the Tree of Life himself. While he floats through time and space, he tries to understand his past lives and especially his beloved's whispered words, "Finish it." This is the task she has set him. 

Is it to finish his search for the literal Tree in South America, or to finish his experiments and save her life, or to finish the book she leaves for him to finish, or is it truly to finish the task she originally set him: to find the Fountain of Immortality. In this future lifetime, Tom is becoming a spiritual warrior, meditating on his behavior in dealing with those other lifetimes. Until he attains the wisdom from the Tree of Life, all three lifetimes hang in the balance. The turning point of greater consciousness comes when he finally listens to Izzi's request to come for a walk with her instead of working on finding a cure for her disease. He makes a different choice, and that makes all the difference in all the lives.

These lovers are united through time and space to work out a problem – "what is eternal life?" Isabella/Izzie represents the Soul, the archetypal Feminine which symbolizes life itself – just as all the ancient Goddesses represent life. The character of Tomas/Tommy/Tom represents our Western, masculine, rational, warrior ego-consciousness, as well as our individual relationship to life, and therefore to death. The story shows us that the Feminine Soul is in jeopardy; if the masculine consciousness of the Warrior/Scientist/King does not listen to Her demands, there will be no immortality.

The mythic element of the story explains the journey and the task. To find eternal life. The myth of the sacred King, the one who is willing to lay down his life for the greater good, is found all over the world. The Tree of Life is symbolic of eternal life, as well as the Great Mother, and yet in the myths, it is the sacrificial death of the god/king/warrior/ego that brings us eternal life. The mythic Tree of Life grows out of the body of the sacrificed god. It is the story of Osiris, Dionysus, Christ, Mithras and the Mayan creator god, Gukumatz. Out of his body, the Earth grows. The myths state it clearly – out of death comes new life. And yet we doubt it and so fear death. Our fear of death creates more death. What is acknowledged in the myth is that life demands the acceptance of the Earth's natural laws, which includes the part of the cycle of life that brings death. Unless we accept death, we will never find rebirth.

The Queen symbolizes the soulful aspects of life. She seeks the Tree of Life to offset the cruel and unnatural tortures that the Church, which demonizes the body and the Earth plane, brings to her land. The archetypal Queen's power lays in life, just as the Feminine Spirit is the Incarnated Spirit – the life of the body and the Earth, the feeling and intuitive side of life. As Isabella, she must see the bigger picture to bring life to her country and stop the unnatural death that the Church's Inquisition has brought there. They bring terror with death, for they see death as only damnation and burning in Hell. This is our western unconscious belief about death. The Queen, however, knows what is needed to restore balance to the land - the love of life here on the Earth. For it is in the physical body that we experience and learn about love. 

In the contemporary story, it is only after Izzi's initial fear of death is overcome that she makes her peace with life. But her husband Tommy cannot overcome his fear and accept death as a natural part of life. Psychologically, it is often the masculine element of life that wants to hold on – it can become a holdfast. But it is also the masculine element that strives for the answers, and finally, it is the masculine ego that must eventually die, as exemplified in the myth of the death of the son/lover. Tommy doesn't give Izzi what she asks for. He thinks he knows what is called for in the face of death – to discover a cure for her cancer. She, however, just wants him to be there for her – to live life with her, until her death. In the future life, Izzi becomes the archetypal muse for Tom, the source of his meditation and the inspiration for his transformation. Hence we have a symbol of the triple Goddess – life, death, and rebirth.

It is the Goddess of Life (which includes Death) that sends her son/lover/hero on the quest for new life. Queen Isabella knows that her purpose is to defend life in the midst of this unnatural death, and sends the warrior Tomas to the New World to find the Tree of Life. Tomas succeeds in finding the secret pyramid guarding the Tree, only to be confronted by a Mayan high priest, who is also a warrior of the god (a bit like the Spanish Grand Inquisitor, they have both disfigured their bodies in sacrifice to their gods). Tomas must get past this Guardian at the gates to achieve his quest for eternal life. 

It is the Warrior who must achieve the Quest. But the Warrior archetype needs to be transformed by greater consciousness through time. The Conqueror/Conquistador becomes the Scientist/Explorer – the body and mind united. But it is only with the added dimension of the Spirit that the Warrior can fulfill the Quest. The Warrior must sacrifice himself to renew the land. And it is up to the man to transform his consciousness. The woman has already done so because of her intimate connection with Life.

Tomas/Tommy/Tom represents our individual ego's relationship to life – and therefore to death. This man Tomas/Tommy (perhaps named for Jesus' twin, Thomas, in Gnostic belief) represents Everyman, our cultural masculine ego consciousness that needs to be transformed. Tommy's trinity of lives is lived out on the cross of matter: on the horizontal axis of shared humanity as past, present, and future; on the vertical axis as his individual need for the unity of his body, mind, and spirit. This axis or Cross or Tree is the Eternal Now, when everything happens in eternal time, all at once. Western culture is faced with a paradox – is time linear, or does it circle around, or does it spiral? Or is it something else entirely. 

Psychologically, Tommy represents the heroic ego, while Izzi represents the soul. Symbolically, he represents the warrior mindset of our culture, while Izzi represents the love and ideals that uplift the warrior archetype, for Venus/Love is always coupled with Mars/War. Love is the only way to guide and ultimately tame the warrior spirit. 

When Izzi dies, life and love and feelings freeze up like winter snows. It is only when Tommy integrates the inner truth of feminine consciousness – that life contains death, and love contains loss – that he can find new life. Western culture and religions have cut
life off from death, and so we fear death instead of welcoming it as a creative act of life.

Death is imaged in Nature as winter, and yet we have the sure knowledge that spring will come again and life will return. The old form is really the seed of the future. The death of an old form gives way to a new form. This film wants to make Death our adviser, as don Juan would say. It wants us to see death as a creative act of awesome dimensions, because when we take death as our adviser, we live life fully and deeply.

It is an archetypal truth that the Ego must die to the call of the Self, just as the ancient King died so that the greater life of his people could go on. It is this mystery – that life is served by the death of the old form – that is explored in The Fountain. And it is a mystery that our culture must look at and understand if we are to get through these tranformative times. For as a culture, we are called upon to let our old values die - the values of the Warrior, of Christianity and of Capitalism - so that new values can give birth to new life for our planet. 

Death of the ego, death of our power, death of a worn-out vision, death of our fear – which is why we need the courage of a warrior, the mind of an explorer, and the imagination of a mystic. The death of an old, outworn belief system, the death of a culture of fear. We have to work it out in our individual lives (and many people are in the midst of learning this, which makes the movie so relevant), but even more importantly, we have to work it out as a society. It is time for the military-industrial complex to sacrifice itself for the life of our planet. We need to change how we do things. 

Each and every one of us must go on this quest. The feminine spirit, which is capable of great love and even greater wisdom, can lead our masculine side to give up our old life – to accept the sacrifice that things will be different, that we can live differently, both individually and collectively. The Fountain speaks to the transformational process of setting ourselves the task of understanding, loving and accepting our lives, just as they are. And letting go of what is no longer life-giving. Then each death can become a creative act.

This film gives us a multi-dimensional vision that anyone who is on a spiritual path will feel immediately. The film itself operates on many levels – engaging our attention on all those levels at once. So it feeds the entire Self. What other film has done that in recent years?

From the Bard's Grove,

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

All Hallow's Eve


          All Hallow's Eve or Samhain, the Celtic festival that marks the beginning of winter, is still celebrated in many countries.  Samhain, meaning 'Summer's End' is the time when the sun's power wanes, and the forces of winter and darkness - and therefore of the gods of the Underworld - grow in strength.  It is a celebration of the dead, when the veils between the worlds open and the spirits of the dead can come into our world.  During this time, all fires are extinguished, and the new fires can only be rekindled from the 'sacred' fire of the Druids.  Herne the Hunter and his White Hounds sweep through the skies as they hunt the souls of the Dead and of the Dark.  Samhain stands opposite Beltane, the festival of the beginning of summer, on the Wheel of the Year.
          In English-speaking countries, we celebrate Samhain as All Hallows’ Eve, or Halloween.  Halloween is a time when sprites, trolls and nature spirits, as well as the spirits of the dead, can commune with human beings.  These spirits demand some form of nourishment to propitiate them, for all spirits, both good and evil, crave life.  Hence, our custom of 'trick or treat'.  In Latin countries, the memory of this festival is celebrated throughout the Roman Catholic Church as the Feast of All Saints or All-Hallowmas, celebrated on November 1st., and the Feast of All Soul's Day celebrated on November 2nd.  These are celebrations commemorating the dead, and many cultures believe that the dead need to be nourished on these days, both literally and spiritually.  And so prayers are offered for the souls of the dead, while families leave out extra food to feed the wandering spirits in the night.
          On Samhain, we are reminded that we too, as children of the Earth Mother, must face Death, and acknowledge that Death is the other face of Life.  In facing the death of another year, as well as the possibility of our own deaths, we acknowledge that the rhythm of life is slowing down.  Now, the darkness is most evident, and the life force turns within, retreating into the Underworld until the nadir is reached on Winter Solstice, when the Light of the World is reborn once again.  The gift that Samhain brings is the knowledge that in accepting Death, the possibility of change and new life is just around the corner.


          The cold, silvery light of the full Moon reflected off the bone-white bodies of his hunting dogs as they raced the wind through the clouds.  With a smile cold enough to match the moonlight, he slowly raised his arm above his head, and sent out his call to the winds, and they silently began to gather 'round him.  Blood-red eyes shone with a hypnotic intensity as his hounds raised their heads to him, eagerly awaiting his command.  The moonlight reflecting off the top of the cloud banks was blinding, and all he could see of his pack were gleaming red coals of fire, flaming out of that field of white.  He waited as the winds gathered their fury, now moaning and shrieking in the airy heights.  The column of air funneled high into the atmosphere above his arm, straining to be let loose upon the world below.  With a cold, triumphant cry, he finally flung out his arm, and with an explosion of sound and movement, the Hunt was on!
          The old woman huddled more deeply into her cloak as the winds tugged at it with angry fingers.  The coldness stung her eyes and then froze the tears as they formed.  The winds shook the trees above her until the last remaining leaves flew free to brush against her on their wild ride to the forest floor. 
          "It will take more than a strong wind to scare me on this black night," the woman thought with a grin.  Wiping her eyes and pulling the hood of her cloak closer around her head, she looked up.  Through now-bare branches, she watched as the Moon sailed in and out of swiftly moving clouds, then looked back down at the forest path that shifted in shadows with the comings and goings of the light.  Slowly, she continued on her way through the darkling forest.
          Before she emerged into the hidden meadow, the woman stood within the shadow of the trees to stare out at the dark Mound rising into the sky on the far end of the field.  With cries and groans, shrieks and howls, the winds swept through the treetops in a wild, dark dance.  In the sudden wide expanse of sky, she could see how the clouds formed dark masses whose tops became snow-white fields as the light of the hidden Moon shone down upon the moving clouds.
          "Ah! Sweet Lady of the Night!"  The woman felt her heart swell with love as the Moon suddenly shone out into the clear cold night, turning everything to enchantment. 
          She released her breath as the dark veiling was drawn once again over the Lady's bright face, but that momentary vision had given the old woman new sight.  Looking at the whitened fields above her, she saw ruby eyes and blood-red ears as Herne's hunting hounds rampaged through the night sky.  Herne's cold laughter sounded in her ears and she thought, "So it begins!"
          Another woman walked through the forest on her way to the Mound.  As the Moon revealed Herself to the old woman, Her light found its way to the forest floor as this woman stepped onto an old wooden bridge crossing a stream.  An ancient being watched her stop to look up at the sky, and saw that the woman was of middle years, with a strong face bleached white by the moonlight.  As the woman watched the cloudy veils hide away the light, the Ancient One scampered under the bridge.  "There," he thought, "I am hidden away from the human woman's sight.  It wouldn't do for her to see me on this night of nights."  And with a chuckle, he hunched down into the shadows beneath the bridge, and faded into the boulders that held up its wooden beams.   
          The woman threw back the hood of her cloak as she looked up into the face of her Mistress.  "Ah!  The Goddess plays with us tonight!"  And the woman smiled in pure delight as the winds tossed leaves back and forth over the stream, sending them in twirling dances high into the sky, left to gently spin down as they were forgotten and left behind.  As the clouds raced by, creating shadows only to spear them again with light, the woman caught sight of a gnarled figure scampering away under the bridge, and her breath caught in surprise.  To see an Ancient One, on this night of all nights!  Her Mistress was indeed with her tonight!
          Keeping her eyes on the tumbled boulders, the woman stepped off the bridge and climbed down to the rocky streambed.  Leaning down into the darkness beneath the bridge, she looked directly at a large grey boulder and said, "Good evening, old troll.  Will you come with me to the Faerie Mound?"  With a grumble and a groan, the Old One threw off the illusion and tumbled out from his rocky nest.  "What else can I do, on this night of nights, with the moon-sight on you?"  And pulling up her hood to hide her smile, the woman reached down a hand to help the troll up.
          A third woman hurried through the night.  She lifted her cloak as she leapt over a fallen tree-trunk that lay in her path.  She ran through the shadows and she ran through the silvery light, afraid that she was late.  It seemed like she was always late, and always hurrying, like those clouds sweeping through the sky overhead.
          "But, there are so many things to see; so many interesting places to explore," she thought with a sigh, as she slowed down to watch the flowing moonlight dance in and out among the tree trunks.  The young woman stopped, entranced, as a dark shadow flew through a moonbeam.  And then the Moon threw off Her veils, and flooded the forest with light.  There, off to her left, sat a white owl, staring at her out of the lowest branches of an oak tree.  When the light suddenly vanished, the young woman stepped off the path and found her way to the tree.
          It was an ancient tree, a grandmother tree, and the wind barely moved its upper branches.  The young woman went and put her face up to the rough bark, and breathing softly, sent out tendrils of awareness into its core.  In a silence of her own making, the woman felt how the tree absorbed the wind's violence, taking it in and transforming it into vibration as it carried its message down into the Earth.  The woman heard it as it moved through the tree - Herne the Hunter was riding with his Hounds.  The Wild Hunt was abroad in the night!
           As soon as the young woman came out of her silence, the winds shrieked around her head and then flew off in the direction of the Mound.  Looking up into the shadows, the woman found the owl staring down at her.  And as she stepped away from the tree, it silently took wing to settle heavily onto her shoulder.  The woman looked into wild, fierce yellow eyes for a moment before it lifted away and flew before her into the night.  Hurrying back to the path, she swiftly followed the ghostly shadow as it flew to the hidden meadow at the center of the forest.
          And so, the three women finally came to stand at the very edges of the forest, one at the North, one at the South, and one at the East.  On the Western end of the meadow rose up the Mound, darkly brooding beneath the moving skies.  The women silently watched as the winds gathered in a whirlwind above the dark Mound, where Mighty Herne sat on his own dark steed, as the old Crone saw clearly enough.  Then Herne's arm pointed to the North, and the winds were suddenly baying with the voices of many hounds, while with a wild tossing of leaves, the released winds blew away the last of the clouds.
          Then the Lady of the Night, the White Pearl of Heaven, looked down upon Her Child, the living Earth, Whom She nourished and sustained with Her light, and governed with Her rhythms.  One rhythm had been struck that night, a rhythm of power and terror - the rhythm of Death. 
The Night of the Dead was upon the Earth, and the Moon Mother offered Her light to help strengthen Her Child's children as they met their Fate - as the Earth Herself walked through the veil to meet with Death.
          The three women came forward and stood before the Mound. With hands uplifted, they prayed in the silence of their hearts.  Their prayers were offered to their Mothers, for the strength and courage to meet their task: to look upon the face of Death and live.
          While the women prayed in the bright moonlit breath of the Mother, the Mound before them drank in the light.  And started to move.  The earth on the hillside rippled and shuddered, and exploded in little volcanoes of dirt.  Then, as if two giant hands slowly ripped apart a woven veil, the Mound split open.  A dim light outlined the breach for a moment, but was suddenly blocked by a dark figure stepping up to the opening. 
          For a moment, the women felt the warm, fragrant winds of Springtime and smelled the intoxicating scents of lilacs and roses as they looked on the face of the Bright One standing before the Mound.  They saw plants and vines grow and decay, leaving the fruits of the fields lying at her feet.  But when one last cloud swept over the face of the Moon, the cold breath of winter blew away the last memories of summer, and the women huddled deeper into their cloaks.
          When they looked back to the Mound, they saw that the Woman was now veiled in black.  Silently, the four women waited, while the Moon poured down Her light and blessings upon them.
          Slowly, a vast silence sucked away the last breath of sound in the meadow, and the veil between the worlds opened further upon the night.  The dark figure in front of the Mound slowly turned away from the three women and walked through that torn veil - walked into the land of the dead.
          In the place where she had disappeared, there now shimmered above the Mound a Presence of terror and splendor, dark wings outstretched into the starry sky above.  The Crone quickly stepped forward, and raising her arms, began to chant an ancient song, a song of power to hold the Angel of Death at the door which had opened between the worlds.
          The second woman turned to the troll, who had been watching, in terror and delight, the opening of the veil.  Calling to the other sprites, gnomes and trolls rollicking on the far end of the meadow, he hurried forward to stand next to the woman who had called to him beneath his bridge.  Now he was compelled to do her bidding, as the others were compelled to do his.  And with much tumbling and tossing, shrieking and laughter, the spirits of the Earth took a stand in front of the torn veil.  And with the lightness of a laughing heart, the woman turned to confront the demons who were trying to force their way out of the rift.
          The demons took on all the faces of fear, trying to get by that line of imps.  But just as terror began to overwhelm the woman, a troll would tumble forward with a loud and smelly bellow, and the demon would dissolve in the mists.  Or a sprite would imitate the fierce and deadly faces before them, and soon they were rocking with laughter at her antics.  The demons, being unable to produce one tremble of true fear, shrunk and shriveled up and ran shrieking back to hell!
          And still the old woman kept up her song, and the Angel of Death stood guard before that dark door.
          The third woman, the youngest, also set about her task.  Looking into the eyes of the owl once again sitting on her shoulder, her vision followed after the Wild Hunt, as it gathered in the souls of the dead.  There was one she especially looked for; one who was the other half of her own soul.  When it was time, it was with joy and sorrow that she finally caught sight of him, flying before the Hounds.  "He was always quick, and even death has not taken that away."  The tear that rolled down her cheek fell to the ground unnoticed.
          And so she called to him, who led the dead on their last journey.  Called, he came to where his heart still lived.  Called, he led the souls a merry dance before the hunting hounds.  Called by love, the other souls remembered and so flew before the winds to that dark door.
          Baying and belling, the white hounds ran upon the winds, their master riding behind, driving the souls toward the broken veil.  Herne's horn resounded through the cold night air as they came to rest high above the secret meadow.  The bone-white bodies leapt and danced beneath the prancing feet of Herne's dark mount, while the souls descended to the earth like a lowering mist.
          The owl flew off to settle on an oak branch, as the young woman turned to face that misty gathering of souls.  The terror of the dead was settling over the forest, yet she stood forth to meet them unafraid, for there before them all stood her beloved.  With love and sorrow, she looked upon his face once more, but while his face and figure were known to her, his eyes were already full of stars.  He, for his part, recognized the woman, and knew her for his love, and yet it seemed a far and distant love, for there was no warmth left in him.
          And as they stood there, the living and the dead, something happened.  A little imp, one who had clung to his mother as they tossed and tumbled before the torn veil, approached those two lost lovers, and shaping his face to their lose and love, he bridged the two worlds.  In his face, he showed the fire and ice of their love, and for a moment, they knew their love for what it was in truth.  And were set free.
          When the young ghost finally turned toward the veil, the host of dead souls moved through the night with him.  The three women saw there souls of great ugliness and of greater beauty, of twisted lives and full; saw faces full of great sorrows and of great strengths.  They stood and witnessed the ghosts of young and old float silently through the waiting veil, while the dark Angel of Death held open the gate.
          When the last of the dead had disappeared through the veil, a great light shone from within the rift, as if the souls themselves had turned to light.  Then with a mighty shaking of wings, the towering Angel cried out, "It is finished!" and like a dark flame, sank back into the rift.
          The three women (deserted now by all the imps and sprites except for the old troll) watched as the veil began to reweave itself in the grey morning light.  The Moon looked down upon Her children with a final blessing before vanishing beneath the horizon.  The jack-o-lanterns the imps had fashioned to frighten away the demons were scattered around the Mound.  Then just before the veil was whole once more, a great light shone out from that hidden world and began to burn within the hollow faces.
          And so it was with quiet laughter that the women took up the jack-o-lanterns with the new light to carry it home.  The light would light their hearths, and others in the village would come to them, and the fire of the souls of the dead would live on to bring warmth and light to those they left behind.  And the old troll took up his light, and departed for his hill above the stream.
          And Herne the Hunter looked out across the fields of heaven, and called his hounds home as the sun rose over the winter forest.