Sunday, 30 April 2017

Samhain: Gateway to the Dark

Unlike last year, when warmth unfurled itself generously into May, autumn has come already. March was a month full of rain, and since then the nights have been cool, filled with cricket song, and sometimes the call of a boobook owl. Although I do mourn summer’s loss, as soon as daylight saving time ended at the beginning of April, I felt ready to welcome the dark. Night rises early, and there is comfort in that. I feel held, cradled in its gentleness.

I’ve written of the darkness before, and will again, I am sure, for the dark is such a fertile place, and I refuse to characterise it, as we too often do, as negative. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t unknowns lurking in the dark that it is natural to fear. I remember one night about six months ago when I had fallen asleep asking, What is in the dark? During the night I was woken by a scratching sound so loud I was sure there was something in the room with me, crawling over my bedside table, over my books. My heart was pounding. Twice I turned on the light, expecting to come face to face with a rodent. But there was nothing/nobody there. Once I had calmed down and convinced myself that whatever had made the noise was inside the wall, and not actually in the room, I had to laugh. What is in the dark, indeed! There are others who we may have to share the darkness with—such as terrifying mice—but we can face those fears and learn from them. 

Last year I also wrote of Imbolc and why I tend to eschew the New Year’s Eve celebrations at the end of December. Imbolc, early spring, is when I feel the New Year rising into being. Yet in my reading I’ve come across the idea that the Celts marked their New Year at Samhain, one of the most important hinge-points in the Celtic year (the other being its opposite, Beltane), when the transition is made into winter, the dark half of the year, the harvest period over. (Their day also begins and ends at sunset.) This intrigued me—that the year could begin with the final descent towards the solstice, and the long darkness of winter, rather than with the brightening of springtime.

It is almost as if the year ends at Samhain, and we enter a cocoon of disintegration and regeneration for a time, before the wheel swings upwards and the year begins again at Imbolc, with the first green and the returning sun. For a while we are floating free in the dark, surrounded by unknowns, possibilities, things growing and waiting to be birthed. 

I think this year I will try to see it in this way—the winter-dark gaping between the end and the beginning, in which there is a cessation of mundane distraction, an opportunity for going deep within and tapping into the well, the River of Creativity, where possibility and renewal dance in the darkness, unknowns gradually coming into vision, before rising up to begin again at winter’s end. 

I want to explore the darkness. I hope I will find more than mice.

Merry Samhain! And a happy Beltane to my northern readers.


  1. Even scratching in the walls would terrify me! So lovely to read about Samhain at this time, as most of the blogs I follow are in the north. I love the dark, it is so magical and limnless. But I have always had a hard time getting my head around this time being the start of the new year. Like you, spring has always felt like my personal new year. Of course though, Samhain is when the new growth is truly beginning in the dark - seeds starting their life, only to come into display in spring. Perhaps if I was a better gardener, closer to the land, I would have understood sooner. It's also like a promise, isn't it? That dying is only the beginning.

    1. Thank you for your beautiful comment, Sarah. I agree, spring still seems like the proper beginning for the year. Yet I find the idea of marking some kind of ending at Samhain a powerful one. It's true, many plants are already preparing for spring, even now, so they are making a promise about what is to come. I like the idea of marking the long, dark wait of winter, as a kind of gestational period, acknowledging the dying away in preparation for the springtime beginning.


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