I love fires; campfires and fires in fireplaces. Some of my fondest memories of childhood include the experiences of fires. I grew up in Girl Scouting—and spent fall weekends camping with my troop where our fire was a key feature of creating “home” away from home. We warmed ourselves by that fire, prepared meals there and sang around the fire before bed.
At home, my father loved fires in his fireplace. In the last house he lived in he built a two-sided fireplace. One that lit both his living room and dining room. He loved setting up the fireplace so that it could be easily lit at the end of the day. Nothing warmed us more than a glowing, crackling fire on a cold winter’s night. Even today, a fire in the fireplace seems a source of great warmth and comfort.
So, it was a surprise to me to read recently about the Celtic tradition called Samhain which marks a time of transition between the harvest and the darkness and cold of winter. Taking place at the beginning of November Samhain was an evening when all individual hearth fires would be extinguished. Then, every household fire was relit using a communal fire. Perhaps the king’s fire was the starting point for igniting all of the other fires in the community.
I love the metaphor in this! Striking all of a community’s fires from a single fire; restoring warmth and wholeness. Such a good story to hold onto whether you are feeling the chill and darkness of winter’s arrival or in an experience of grief and loss. There is still light to be found. And our community can be a source of igniting and renewing the fires within.
Memory as a source of light
Many other traditions are thought to have sprung from this ritual… All Saint’s Day, All Soul’s Day, All Hallowed Day, Halloween, Dia de los Muertos… days said by some to be “thin” places when those who have died are very near us. And days of rituals that invite us to gather together in our communities and light the fires of memory. Days to remember those we love who have died.
Memory is one of our richest resources for drawing near to our loved ones. When we remember we connect to that person and to the legacies they’ve left us. Remembering is an opportunity to mourn their absence while rejoicing in their life and the difference they made in ours.
So, this Halloween, All Saint’s Day, Dia de los Muertos, the ancient ritual of Samhain is an invitation to remember. It might be sitting by a fire in the fireplace, lighting candles, building an altar to honor your loved ones, assembling or making their favorite foods, making art, taking a walk in nature or visiting a gravesite. There are as many ways to remember as there are ancestors on our family trees.
How do you rekindle your fire in times of darkness? What will you do at this turning of the seasons to remember?