Thursday, October 27, 2011

From Darkness All Things Emerge

   For me Samhain doesn’t really start until sunset on October 31st.  The Celts marked their days from sunset to sunset.  Some have hypothesized this in honor of Bile, a god connected to the Underworld and often seen as Danu’s counterpart.  Marking the days from sunset to sun may have been a way to remember that they came from the darkness of the Underworld (Bile’s realm), and that all things have to pass through darkness to come into light.  Whatever the reason I find myself contemplating this concept as we approach Samhain.  Having the new day begin at night may seem odd to us today.  We think of our days beginning in the morning with the rising of the sun, but we aren’t that different from the Celts.  The new day technically begins at 12 am, a time of darkness, so even today we acknowledge that the day begins in the depth of night.  We tend to think of death, darkness, and the Underworld as the end of the journey.  But really it is our starting point.  We are born out of darkness, and to it we return to begin again.  We spend nine months in our mother’s dark watery womb before coming into the world of light and life.  The seed germinates in the dark rich soil before it reaches up towards the light of the sun.  We survive the cold and long dark days of winter, to reap the fruitfulness of summer with it long days of warm sunlight.  When must pass into darkness of the Underworld to be reborn. All things come out of darkness.  Through the darkness of Samhain night, the new year is born.    
     Although she is not a Celtic goddess, Nyx, the Greek goddess of night has been on my mind the past few days along with the idea of seeing night and darkness as a beginning.  She was a primordial goddess, one of the Protogenoi (the first-born elemental gods, who made up the basic components of the universe, which included earth, sea, light, day, and time).  She was the mother of Eris the goddess of chaos, and Thanatos the Greek personification of death, but with Erubus (the god of shadows and darkness) she is also the mother of Hemera the goddess of day.  At times she is prophetic, dispensing prophesies from her cave beyond the sea (at times her cave is at the end of the cosmos).  She is depicted either riding in her chariot, trailed by stars or a woman with black wings.  In her mythology she is a force to be reckoned with.  Even Zeus, the king of the gods, listens when she speaks.   Each sunset and sunrise she passes by her daughter Hermera as they exchange places.  That moment as night becomes day or day becomes night is that only time the goddess of night can greet her daughter who ushers in the day.  I find it interesting that the goddess of night gives birth to the goddess of day.  To me it mirrors the Celtic idea that light can only be born out of darkness.  While today we think of day preceding night, our ancestors saw darkness as the beginning of all things.  They knew we needed to pass through darkness in order to find light.  Whether it is our inner darkest or a dark time in our lives, we must pass through darkness in order to find light and new beginnings.  Dawn would be meaningless without the long journey through the night.       

                                Nyx Sunset Spell for New Beginnings

At sunset carve what you wish to manifest on a black candle.  Concentrate on your desire, see it clearly in your mind, see that image filling the candle.  Hold the candle in your hands as you invoke Nyx, saying:

Black winged Night
Dark mother Nyx
All things are born from your darkness
From the dark of our mother’s wombs we are born
From the dark soil the seed germinates and grows
From the dark of the Underworld our spirits are reborn
Nyx as you wrap your dark cloak over the world
I recognize that night is a time of beginnings
A time of rebirth and becoming
In the dark womb of night let my spell form and grow
And with the dawn manifest
Mother Night hear my prayer!

Light the candle and let it burn out.  If you can not let it burn all night (in a fire safe container of course) light it for a few minutes each night until it is spent.  

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Samhain, Morrigan and Dagda

  When he first saw her, she was bathing along the river bank.  Long pale limbs, her skin the color of polished bone.  Clever hands loosed the nine tresses upon her head, leaving her hair to spill down her back.  It was the black of a starless night, with the glossy sheen of a raven’s feathers.  She sang softly as she poured the water over her porcelain skin.  The song was both somber and joyful, filled with all the pain and ecstasy that was life.  Something roused in him at the site.  He knew this woman.  Some called her Death, others knew her as Battle- but all he could see now was a painful, dangerous beauty that he longed to make his own.  He didn’t realize he had moved towards the bank until she was already in his arms.  She looked up at him with dark, raven eyes that mirrored his own passion.  He laughed to himself, perhaps it seemed odd that the God of life and the Goddess of Death should make such a passionate union together.  But as the sun sank and the old year died, he happily died in the ecstasy of her love, knowing with the dawn he would rise again, reborn.  The Morrigan may bring death, but Dagda knew her true gift was rebirth. 

   To many the story of the Morrigan and Dagda’s union on the eve of Samhain is perplexing.  They don’t seem at first glance to be two figures who would get along at all, let along come together in the manner that they do.  Like most myths there are several ways to look at it, and I find during different times of the year different aspects of the story stand out more than others.  On one level Dagda’s union with the Morrigan is a sacred marriage between the king and the Goddess of the land, giving us a glimpse into the Morrigan’s origins as a tutelary earth Goddess.  But as Samhain approaches it is the close connection the Celts saw between life and death that stands out to me the most. 
   At first they seem like an unlikely pair.  While the Morrigan is a very complex deity, at Samhain her connection to death comes to the forefront.  She is the Washer at the Ford who warns warriors that their deaths are near.  She over sees battle, taking pleasure in the bloodshed.  Dagda on the other hand is a comical figure in most of his myths.  He lives life to its fullest and indulging in all it has to offer whether that be good food or sensual pleasure.  He represents fertility, plenty and the bounty of life.  It would seem these two have nothing in common.  Yet upon seeing one another, they come passionately together, in a perfect union that ushers in the new year and new beginnings.  
   In today’s culture death and life are suppose to be enemies.  We think of these forces as opposites that clash, forces that exist to destroy the other.  Yet upon seeing one another, the Goddess who personifies death and the God who embodies life come together in a perfect union.  To the Celts life and death worked closely together, rather than being at odds with one another.  They recognized death is an unavoidable forces within life, and when we cross its threshold it ushers us into rebirth. 
   More often than not we concentrate on death during Samhain. After all it is a time to honor the dead and Samhain marks the end of the old year.  The veil between the worlds thins and we can more easily connect to those who have passed on and celebrate the lives of our ancestors.  But rebirth is also an important part of Samhain.  We must remember that life, death and rebirth are intrinsically linked.  Where one is present, the other is as well.      
   So as you prepare for your Samhain celebration, remember that it is also a time of beginnings.  A celebration of both life and death.  As the new year is born, we can shed the burdens of the past and begin anew.  Like Dagda, when we embrace death and welcome Her powers of change, our lives can be transformed, and with the dawn we can be reborn anew.