Memories, musing and mischief

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Time is fluid at Halloween.  It is the old Celtic new year, when past, present and future merge.  On this night, all borders dissolve and we can commune with our ancestors or see our future.  Summer has ended and the sun will slumber until spring.  It is the time of Hecate, the crone goddess who both guides us to the land of the dead and is ready to act as midwife to the rebirth of the sun at the winter solstice.   This is the gateway between the old and the new year, when the wheel turns and the cycle begins again.

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It is appropriate that the world is unsettled leading up to Halloween.  Rain, gales and thunder have assailed us in the past week.  A storm is making its way across the country and the sky is full of a luminous darkness.  Now and then, I hear the squawks of geese, as they pass over on their migration from the arctic.  The trees have begun to turn: the small sycamores and the horse chestnuts are the first to show their colours and the ground already crackles with leaves.  There is a hint of smoke in the air and the clatter of fireworks leading up to Bonfire Night.  Fittingly, it is the crows that now seem to colonise the green spaces, tricksters and harbingers of death and magic that they are.

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This is a time to celebrate the wisdom of age and experience.  On Halloween night, our ancestors may choose to visit us, so we might set a place at the dinner table for them or leave offerings of food outside or on their graves.  The pumpkin lanterns now traditional at Halloween have evolved from the candles that were left in the window all night to guide the dead home.  It is a tradition at Halloween to create an altar to your ancestors, containing photos and mementoes that honour them and trigger memories.  It is a good time to consider the gifts your ancestors have given you, both genetically and through the lives they lived.  But you might also recognise the strangers that have gone before – the writers and artists that have inspired you and stoked your creativity.

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Halloween signals the death of summer and the old year, for which we mourn, but we also look into the future.  This is the best time of year for divination, when we use the old arts, such as scrying and Tarot, to gain guidance about what is to come.  Winter is the still, dark time of the year, when the earth retreats and we have space to delve into the hidden places within us.  This is where the cycle of our creativity begins.  Time to ponder our dreams and hopes for the year to come.  The hushed repose of winter is when our vision for what this year could be is dreamed into being.  That spark of creativity is always there, though it may not seem so in the dark, cold months, until the winter solstice, when it will be symbolically reborn.

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Halloween is a time of deep thinking and remembrance, but it is, of course, also the season of mischief.  The chaos and unpredictability of winter will last for many months.  For our ancestors, it was a time of great tension as they worried if the harvest would help them survive the winter.  The mischief of Halloween is both a challenge to and a light-hearted acceptance of the uncertainty to come.  The costumes are disguises to protect us against malevolent influences.  The traditions, such as bobbing for apples, an affirmation of life.  Creativity is often kindled out of chaos. So before the introspection of winter, why not indulge in a little mischief and see where it leads you?

The gleam of the lantern

Sometimes you know that you need to withdraw from the world to replenish your energy and re-charge your inspiration.  Sometimes too much work, too much creativity, too much stimulation stops buoying you up and becomes obsessive, repetitive.  I know it’s too much when the period before sleep becomes clogged.  The air and the darkness feel too thick and I wake endlessly with the same looping dream image in my head every time.  But still, although you might know it, sometimes you need a little push to slow you down.

For weeks, I’ve been over-stimulated.  Preparing for the opening of a major new building at work, weekly blog posts, revising my novel, painting, and so many ideas jostling for attention.  I didn’t notice the small signs telling me to slow down because I was caught up in the buzz of activity – at turns feeling both overwhelmed and intoxicated by the pressure of it.  And so the day before the Easter weekend came, and there was no more I could do at work to prepare for the opening of the building the following week.  I now had four days that I could fill with all the activities I had no time for when I was working.  But barely an hour after I got home, full of plans, the flu landed and gave me no choice but to step back from the world for a while.

The Hermit - Hanson Roberts deck

The Hermit – Hanson Roberts deck

During my enforced retreat, I’ve been reflecting on the symbol of the Hermit, from the Tarot.  A lone robed figure, with a long white beard, he’s an archetypal symbol of the wise man.  He carries a staff and a lantern, lit with a six pointed star.  He holds the lantern up, as if to light our way, and the expression on his face is calm and content.  Generally, The Hermit represents a period of withdrawal from the world, often during a time of transition.  The lantern can be said to represent guidance, which can come from an outside teacher, but often represents the inner guidance you receive when you stop your world and listen to your self.  To me, the Hermit is a friend and his lantern lights the path I must follow to reach my own spark of insight.  I find it a calming, comforting symbol, like a deep, satisfying sigh of relief.  Hecate too, often has a lantern to guide us, and although the Tarot most often depicts the Hermit as a man, the Hermit can be a wise person of either sex.  The lantern really represents what we already know, if we’d only take the time to listen to ourselves.  It’s the wisdom within – not a catch all wisdom for the world, but the wisdom that is right for us and our lives.

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It could be said that the writer / artist has a little more of the Hermit in them than most.  The creative life is usually a solitary one.  Unless working in collaboration, only the individual can do the work necessary to create their work of art, using their own inner reality to create what goes on the paper / canvas.  But in this modern world, with the Internet, social media and 24/7 information overload, even if you don’t have an outside job, there’s still a need to get in touch with your inner Hermit now and again.  It’s still necessary to disconnect from the outside world and focus just on that glow coming from the lantern that is your creative spark.   You may prefer to work with a real Hermit figure that you can personify and ask for guidance, to keep you company on your journey, or you may choose only to focus on the flame itself and the glow of what’s inside it.  Either way, it will tell you what you need, and what you need may seem to have nothing to do with your next great creation at all.

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My withdrawal from the world was temporary and short, but when not in the throws of the illness, I had time to appreciate the simple pleasures of the weekend, rather than rushing to fill it with yet  more projects and activities.  Short walks in the first real spring sunshine with the dog, a home-cooked meal, good coffee and sleep.  And in the end I did create, working leisurely on a single painting, just for the pure enjoyment of it.  I didn’t learn any major life lessons beyond the ones I already know but sometimes forget: that sometimes you need to just slow down and live a simple life and your creativity will be all the stronger for it.