Last Saturday I attended a concert of the Seattle Choral Company called “Celtic Nights” which marked the upcoming feast of Samhain on November 1st. Samhain is the beginning of a new year in Celtic tradition and is primarily a celebration of ancestors and harvest. It is considered one of the great doorways of the Celtic year which is divided into the seasons of dark and light and is connected to the holidays we may celebrate today — Halloween, All Saints Day, and All Souls Day.
The music was sublime and one piece in particular moved me deeply called An Caoineadh, which is Gaelic for “The Keen.” As the program explained, keening is a specific type of wailing done over the body of the dead, and was traditionally performed by women while rocking back and forth calling the name of the dead relative or friend. It is a custom that dates back to pre-Christian funerals. When I was grieving the loss of my mother, there was one line I clung to from the Gospel of Matthew that refers back to the Hebrew Scriptures — Rachel was weeping for her children and she would not be consoled because her children were no more. There is tremendous power in allowing our grief to be unleashed and not letting our cries to be silenced.
The veil between this world and the next was considered to be especially thin during this time of year as the Northern world descends into darkness. As many of you know, I am a great fan of the dark season and welcome winter’s coming with its wisdom of release and rest, of trusting in things that are deep beneath the ground. I relish these autumn days that sing of death’s beauty, radiating a spectacle of color in celebration of surrender.
As a part of my Jungian work, I have been doing some research recently around my ancestors, especially the Austrian side of my family. Indigenous cultures offer us a much more immediate sense of the presence of those who have walked this earth before us. Christian tradition speaks of the “communion of saints” or “cloud of witnesses.” Lately I have had a much more profound sense of the presence of my ancestors in some form with me. Now at this thinnest time of year I listen especially closely for what wisdom they might be whispering to me.
-Christine Valters Paintner @ Abbey of the Arts