Old to New

Samhain1There’s an amazing energy where I’ve visited the Ardennes: thousands-of-years-old caves at Hans sur Lesse, the Ourthe River near the village of Bérismenil and the ancient Celtic camp of Cheslé, the large old stones or dolmens of Wéris. Turning off the cell phone, putting aside immediate worries of daily life, and sitting among these forested old mountains gives the opportunity to be quiet . . . quiet enough to hear the wind blow, the crow squawk, the hawk shriek, the life force pulse within one’s self and the earth at one’s feet.

Last weekend I attended my second meditation circle in Wéris to observe Samhain, an earth-honoring tradition of the New Year. It is a pagan event evolved from indigenous European peoples among whom I share ancestors (the Celts and Teutons). What I experience most powerfully at earth-honoring gatherings, though, is connection with my Cherokee ancestors of North America. That is why before we began I smudged juniper to the directions (inviting healing to our circle), gifted the land with tobacco (honoring the earth), and gifted the fire with sage (dispersing negativity).

Samhain2Among the south dolmens in Wéris, we held hands in a circle around a fire and reflected on the past year-its gains and losses, lessons and mysteries, completed and unfinished tasks. Some people put lists into the fire to release old dreams. I burnt sweet grass to let go of anger and shame, and to invite kindness and gentleness into my heart. Some of us placed objects around the fire as reminders of this gathering, where we embraced new goals more fitted to who we’ve become.

While pagan in name, Samhain is contiguous with the tradition of All Saints Day, an occasion in Europe when families and communities remember their dead. Cleaning graves is a common practice as is bringing flowers. Of course there is no coincidence that Samhain and All Saints Day are observed at the same time of year, the autumn season in the northern hemisphere. After all these are traditions birthed from the European continent, though traditions to honor the dead are common among world cultures.

Samhain3I attended All Saints Mass a week before the Samhain meditation and am struck by the parallels: gathering at a place to worship as a community, lighting incense or wood to commence the event, prayer or meditation led with words. More strikingly, the old church’s architecture mirrors nature . . . vaulted ceilings convey the immensity of sky, stone columns remind of tree trunks, stained glass filters light as do translucent leaves.

In closing my new-year meditation, these words come to mind:

From my blessed bounty,
I wish you peace and hope
putting to rest the old for the new,
by whichever tradition
in company or solitude.

All images taken by MDH at the south dolmens of Wéris, November 2009.

For another reflection about Samhain, check out the blog Mystery of Mysteries.


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One Response to Old to New

  1. Lucas says:

    Well said for these concluding days of the year. Traditions, mystic rites that have been passed through veils of time. Scared places, power spots; ways to reconnect with nature and ancestors. Yes, there is a difference between knowing the path and walking it.
    Love the photo shots!;}

    Lucas James.

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