Traditions of Transition

Just in time for Halloween, we are pleased to feature this post from Johanna Young about some of our autumn rituals and transitions.

Leaves have turned from green to caramel, butterscotch and rich cranberry. The forest floor is littered with an abundance of leaf, seed, fuzz and stick.

An ancient longing calls us from the earth, lulling us to sleep.


In the Northern Hemisphere we call this seasonal transitionfall. If you stop, look and listen you may notice the loudest sound is the wind rushing through the dried leaves which clatter on their branches. Songbirds have migrated South, ducks have headed for the coast, and other mammals which hibernate are digging dens or frantically scurrying to collect nuts to store. Frogs and turtles are deep in mud. For humans it is a time for dozing off in front of hearth fires and warming toes by wood stoves.

At Church of the Woods in early fall, several of us gathered by a bonfire to watch the sherbet lunar eclipse. Its now a month later and the moon is reaching full once again. Halloween approaches and soon Christians will celebrate All SoulsDay and All SaintsDay, marking the mid-point of the season heading towards winter. Lawns are decorated with pumpkins and ghouls of Halloween.

For the ancient Celts 2,000 years ago, October 31st was New Year Samhain a day to honor the departed when it was widely believed the dead would return to the land of the living. Bonfires were part of this celebration. Sacrifices and offerings were performed. For the Celts, Samhain signified the end of harvest and the advent of winter. Many of the customs we observe today as part of  Halloween, such as dressing up in costume and treats, have their roots in this ancient Celtic festival.

Eventually, as Christianity spread into the regions of Europe and Great Britain where Celts dwelt, Samhain was taken over by Christian practices that many observe today on All SaintsDay (November 1st) and All Souls Day (November 2nd). Halloween has become its secular cousin.

In both traditions lies a common thread – this season signifies a time where we come face to face with the natural cycle of life and death of all things.

Rainier Marie Rilke writes in his poem Autumn:

The leaves fall, fall as if from far away,

Like withered things from gardens deep in sky;

They fall with gestures of renunciation.

And through the night the heavy earth fall too,

Down from the stars, into loneliness.

And we all fall. This hand must fall.

Look everywhere: it is the lot of all

It is also a time to notice the earth, stripped to its barest elements.

What can we notice as we step outside into the growing chill of dark mornings? What can we see and hear as we step beyond the threshold of our warm homes, and listen to the wind? Perhaps we might discover the beauty of the bark of trees, once camouflaged by green and thicket, or admire the stature and texture of the trees, the softness of the forest floor under our feet, the persistence of chipmunks with cheeks stuffed with seed.

Feast on the deep reds giving way to earth tones.

Poet and author John ODonaghue writes in Anam Cara: Each day is a journey. We come out of the night into the day. All creativity awakens at this primal threshold where light and darkness test and bless each other. You only discover balance in your life when you learn to trust the flow of this ancient rhythm. The Celtic people had a deep sense of the circular nature of our journey.(p. 5)

Fall invites us to this journey in the dark.


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