Turning Toward the Dark
by Frank Fox
As we pause in the essence of autumn, we can create a time to incubate new life.
Since the Fall Equinox in September, I have been more aware of the waning of sunlight. True, our abrupt rainy season left us cloudy many days. Yet I’m especially conscious of the relentless march of sunset backward into what I have claimed as daytime since spring.
Now, my dread is poised for the calamity of the switch from Daylight Saving Time to Standard Time at 2am on Sunday, October 30, this year. “Fall back,” the broadcasters warn. “Fall indeed,” I say, as the dark claims another hour from my sun-time afternoon.
A chilling breeze pours through a window in the midst of my autumn remorse.As nature goes dormant in this season, many cultures believe that the sacred dead are closer to us. For millennia, our forebears around the globe — from Japan to Britain to Mexico — have celebrated a fire festival midway between equinox and winter solstice, drawing together in acknowledgment of the impending passage we must all endure during the darkest quarter of the year.
On the Day of the Dead, the people of Mexico, for example, honor their dead relatives by recognizing that without inevitable death there can be no continuity of life. They commemorate our shared mortality, and often humorously celebrate the risk, magic and irrationality of life.
Perhaps as we experience the dying of vegetation in autumn, we think of the generations of folk who have preceded us on this earth. But do we visualize those relatives as hundreds of men and women whose passion and loving, over and over again, brought forth new life, life that led eventually to our birth? Just look in the mirror: the DNA of your ancestors is alive in you.
Instead of joining in the increasingly commercial silliness of modern Halloween at the end of October, I prefer to join that tradition of singing, dancing, feasting, lighting fires and candles to remember those who have gone before.
During some Octobers, I create small memorial altars in my homes — photos and objects, candles and flowers — to keep memory of a loved one vivid for a time as I go about my daily routines.We get so insulated from the realities of cold and darkness in our cocoons with central heating and electric lights that we lose touch with our roots. Every new electronic device encourages us to separate further from nature and one another.
So part of my pleasure in celebrating Day of the Dead, All Hallows Eve or the Celtic Samhain (pronounced sow-en) is feeling in harmony with the rhythms of nature and alive in spirit. Often I join friends in leaving home and comforts behind to join ranks in the woods a quarter mile from the houses. We gather in a festive circle around campfire, eat a hearty meal of foods of the season — apples, pumpkin, grains, corn, nuts, squash, wine — sing and tell true stories of those who are gone but with us still.
Once in a while by the campfire, I read a passage from Starhawk’s Dreaming the Dark that evokes the power and possibility of darkness:
We need to dream the dark as process, and dream the dark as change, to create the dark in a new image, because the dark creates us. The dark: all that we are afraid of, all that we don’t want to see — fear, anger, grief, death, the unknown. We need all the power we can raise together, because alone no one can dream the dark into love. We need each other for that. If there is to be renewal, it begins with us.
Renewal? Change? How can we be thinking of that as we prepare to hunker down for winter? By remembering the birth-giving dark of the earth: seeds are planted underground, we start in the dark of the womb, life forms itself anew in hidden places through the long, cold months.
As we pause in the essence of autumn, we can create a time to incubate new life. To make a time for clear thinking, set quiet moments aside each day, when you are alone, free from interruption. Merely sit or lie down, either keeping your mind blank or calmly thinking of your true work in this life.
Whether in celebration or meditation, this time in the annual cycle of earth’s seasons offers a moment to reach behind the veil of hurry to touch ancient traditions, reach for harmony with nature and friends and remember loved ones who live in us still.
Frank Fox is a writer, teacher and environmental activist who lives in St. Mary’s County and enjoys walking in the woods with goats.