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Over the years I have noticed a natural rhythm, an ebb and flow of activity and attendance to annual celebrations of the Wheel of the Year. Many seem to skip Imbolc, perhaps it the weather or perhaps we're still shaking off the winter hibernation. Still some confess not really being sure how to celebrate Imbolc, regardless, we usually seem to warm up by Ostara and are always in full swing for the Maypole Dance at Beltane. We cruise along through the wheel at a steady even pace until Samhain when we turn up the juice full throttle for everyone's favorite holiday.
It's really no surprise the Samhain is arguably the most popular of the Sabbats, it perhaps one of the most fun and memorable social events of our childhood. It is not a far stretch to assume the positive experiences of dressing up like our favorite hero or villain and canvassing the neighborhood collecting candy found a comfortable place to nest in the psyche of our young minds. It can be a dream come true for many who grow up, come to Paganism and discover one of their favorite childhood holidays has deep cultural and spiritual roots which complements their religious beliefs and practices....
Two fascinating insights deepen our understanding of death and Samhain, which honors its sacred dimension. In one of his essays on nature poet Gary Snyder made a point I have never forgotten.
An ecosystem is a kind of mandala in which there are multiple relations that are all-powerful and instructive. Each figure in the mandala – a little mouse or bird (or little god or demon figure) – has an important position and a role to play. Though ecosystems can be described as hierarchical in terms of energy flow, from the standpoint of the whole all of its members are equal.
. . . We are all guests at the feast, and we are also the meal! All of biological nature can be seen as an enormous puja, a ceremony of offering and sharing.
As I was finishing a chapter in my forthcoming book, Faultlines, I encountered a compatible observation by Carl von Essen regarding what he called the “hunter’s trance.” Von Essen wrote
Many contemporary Pagans use some form of the Wheel of the Year to mark the Sabbats, the eight times of ritual celebration usually determined by the sun's procession, and the general seasons we experience. At least, that's what I was always led to believe during much of my training with different groups and traditions. Solstice and equinox mark the quarters of the wheel, and the midpoint between covers the "cross quarters". The odd thing is that we rarely actually do what we're saying we're doing here.