Samhain and the Colour Red

by Maria Ede-Weaving

The autumn equinox brought that moment when the light and dark hours of the day, for just a brief moment, were perfectly equal. That moment is like the silent, still gap between breathing in and out; sometimes we catch ourselves noticing it, frozen in our observance of its stillness but knowing full well that we must release back into the relentless movement of the inhale and the exhale.

And now the dark seeps across the lines, spreading out and staking a claim to more of the day than I would currently like. Samhain will soon be here…

For modern Pagan’s the festival of Samhain celebrates the earth’s shedding, that part of its cycle that expresses the dying back and letting go. Amongst other things, it honours the rot and the shit, that through the miraculous transformation of death and decomposition, transmutes into the rich compost that feeds new life.

It is perhaps easier for us to accept this process in the natural world around us but painful to experience it in our own lives. This year, Samhain will hold a powerful resonance for me as I find myself walking away from a 27 year old marriage.

Endings can have their own unique tonalities; sometimes they are joyous things: the end of pain or a difficult time; sometimes they bring almost unhealable grief: the death of those we love and the things we cherish. When we are there in the midst of the chaos that endings can bring; we can only, as a friend of mine recently advised, ‘keep breathing’. Just like that momentary pause of equinox, there are still, clear moments but we quickly realise that none of us can stand truly motionless; life will not allow us the luxury of a long pause because our hearts continue to beat and betray the unstoppable nature of living.

I am walking away from a whole life-time of shared experience; someone (me, something deep inside pushing for it) set fire to the forest and now I stand at the centre of a strange kind of devastation, one that brings deep feelings of sadness and grief but also a sense of the necessity of that act.

In our northern hemisphere, at Samhain, we can walk in the forest and smell the rich, woody earthiness of the mulch beneath our feet; the wet, rotting mass breaking down gradually but relentlessly into the food that will sustain the forest’s life. In less temperate areas of the planet, where the change of seasons are fewer, this vital transformation crucial for the continuation of a forest’s life  must come from other means. Fire plays its part; stripping back whole areas to charred plains that on first observation are distressing and lifeless. However, the nutrients from the ash prepare the ground for new life just as effectively as the moist, rich compost of our own woodlands and are as necessary to the survival of those habitats.

This said, on a human level – although the inspiration of nature can help us deal with the changes that we encounter – the courage it takes to let go – the pain and uncertainty of it – are no easier to bear and we are called upon to trust in the process, to face the growing darkness without even knowing if the light will ever reappear.

For me, there are places of hope in my life that keep me going when I feel the exhaustion upend me or when the fear of the future paralyses me; even amongst the hurt, guilt and confusion can be found strength, love and joy (although it might take a greater effort to see it, or sense its presence, on those days when all that has happened weighs heavy).

Yesterday evening, the autumnal sky in the west shone with a golden light reminiscent of Turner’s paintings; in the east was a vast bank of the darkest cloud, a wash of murky browns and greys, thick with rain. The two skies began to merge, the cloud taking on the light as if the world below were on fire and it reflected its burning. And there, drawn across the darkening sky, a rainbow, it’s most dominant colour, a vivid red…the colour of love, of passion, of the blood that pumps through our hearts; the colour of the energy and will to keep living and breathing and being, whatever life brings; whatever losses we inflict or endure.

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