This episode of Living Myth offers a reflection on time and timelessness and the deep understandings behind ancient rituals that marked the beginning of the dark season of the year.
To be modern means to be lost and running out of time; to be careening towards an uncertain future and increasingly dislodged from the past. Originally, time was not simply linear, but an alteration of darkness and light, of night and day, like ocean tides that swing to and fro over the body of the earth. Once separated from the tides and lunar cycles, time began to march on rather than flow.
Having lost any connection to the eternal, time becomes a process of loss, a losing proposition, wherein each passing moment simply disappears, lost forever, dismissed by the next moment as time floods faster and faster, with no hint, much less a promise of any redemption.
As we approach the time of turning the clock back a single hour, what we really need is to turn back far enough to touch timeless things again. That's what ancient people used to do at the beginning of the dark time of the year. Since darkness was there at the very beginning, turning to darkness meant returning to the moment when light appeared and time began.
Between the light half the year and the beginning of the dark half, there fell a timeless moment, a little drop of eternity that could begin the next cycle of life. That's what was hidden in the darkness, an unlimited space, a moment of dark gestation that was able to renew time and revitalize life again. So, people would turn to the mystery of darkness and to timeless rituals whenever the earth grew dark again.
Not turning the clock back an hour, but turning people’s imagination all the way back to the beginning of time to touch the mystery of darkness turning into light and of death turning back into life. The dark season was when the spiritual world became more visible to humans. Darkness shaped the doorway to the Otherworld which opened wide as the spirits and the soul of the dead mingled with the presence of the living.
That was the origin of Samhain (sawain), the remains of which people now call Halloween. We see wispy remnants of the ancient connections between the dead and the living in the costumes of children dressed as ghosts or skeletons or even the Walking Dead on Halloween night. We can see it with greater clarity in the bone memories and intense creations of Dia de los Muertos. Celebrations of the Day of the Dead go back over 3000 years in Mexico and Central America and now appear, seemingly revitalized, in North America. As if some ancient understanding is trying to catch up to us and reconnect us to the mysteries of darkness and light, to a deeper sense of life and death and timelessness.
Ancient peoples from around the world saw death, not simply as a dead end, but also as part of the continuous, indelible cycle of the renewal of life. Even now, the sense of the light hidden in darkness remains so close that it takes but a moment to connect to the ancient mysteries. Simply allowing the movement of sorrow in the heart and in the body can open the doorway between the worlds. The simple act of accepting loss can connect us to the “dark interval” where light and shadow, life and death become reconciled as the song goes on, resonant in us, beautiful in the earth, tender in the sorrow of songs and in the dreams that keep pouring timelessness into each moment of life on earth.
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