Like everything, it started in the stars, and then we started telling stories, mapping the movements of the skies on the walls of the caves, planning our own movements, ensuring provision for our survival, tracking the tilting of the seasons as the Earth went round the sun, and the seas warmed and cooled.
The modern festival of Halloween began as a marker of the darkest of the four so-called cross-quarter days in the Northern Hemisphere. A cross-quarter day marks the half-way point between an equinox and a solstice and in the case of Halloween, obviously this is between the autumn equinox and winter solstice, reversing these if you are in the Southern Hemisphere.
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Halloween began as a Bronze Age festival, Samhain (pronounced Sow-in) Though it may well be far older. The name meant ‘summer’s end’ and its signal was the sighting of The Pleiades seen overhead at midnight.
This midnight zenith of The Pleiades now occurs 21 November owing to the Earth’s tilt and the wobble on its axis, an effect called precession, and in addition, the Julian calendar was replaced by the Gregorian calendar and further added to the discrepancy in dates.
But this astronomical event did apparently once coincide with the days around 31 October as recorded during the 11th and 12th centuries.
Samhain was a period rather than a single day and marked the start of the winter for Celtic societies, ending one planting cycle and beginning another. Seeds for the next year were often planted at this time.
It began about a week after the modern Halloween or All Hallows Eve, and it was believed that all those who had departed this life the previous year were finally freed from all their earthly ties.
The Pleiades or The Seven Sisters is a star cluster in the north-west region of the constellation of Taurus the Bull. Classicists debate the origin of the name which may derives from πλεῖν (plein -“to sail”) because of the cluster’s importance for the sailing season in the Mediterranean: “the season of navigation began with their heliacal rising” (Wiki)
Here is how to locate them:
The Pleiades feature as prominent stars of winter in the ancient agricultural calendar of the northern hemisphere, and the Greek poet Hesiod wrote:-
And if longing seizes you for sailing the stormy seas,
when the Pleiades flee mighty Orion
and plunge into the misty deep
and all the gusty winds are raging,
then do not keep your ship on the wine-dark sea
but, as I bid you, remember to work the land.— Works and Days 618–623
For the Bronze Age Celts, and probably going back far earlier the Pleiades were associated with mourning and with funerals. At that time in history, on the cross-quarter day the cluster rose in the eastern sky as the sun’s light faded in the evening and this association has persisted even though The Pleiades no longer mark the festival.
Every culture has had its own names and stories about the Pleiades.
The Blackfoot called them the Lost Boys and while they rose high, the buffalo were not available, so that the setting of the Pleiades was a signal for the Blackfoot to travel to their hunting grounds culminating in the buffalo slaughters or ‘ jumps’, that sustained their whole way of life.
In the ancient Andes the Pleiades were associated, not with death or deprivation, but abundance, returned to the skies of the Southern Hemisphere at harvest time.
But for those of us for whom home is the Isles of Britain, this time of year is Scorpio, and in Tarot, its card is the Death card; Transformation and Resurrection when the veil between realities is at its thinnest.
It is ghosts, memories; those who are gone but will endure as long as memory lasts, and will talk with us there, in that place, and walk with us until it is our own time to become memories, and to leave, returning to the stars, ascending through Capricorn and the Gate of The Gods.
By P J Whyte
All is lost, in death, they say.
Not all, nor straightaway.
Records of state and memory last a while.
For some, memorials, for others work in word or form,
Sustain their name.
For many, genes still stalk the pool,
Promises of progeny,
If not the immortality
Of Gargantua’s heartfelt plea.
And for all, there’s particle subsistence,
As material laws require.
But if that wasn’t all?
If walls have ears, have they memory too?
If the pendulum distinguishes one
hurled in anger, in a heap of stones,2
And if creatures all had souls, as Pythagoras claimed,
If all we did, or felt, or thought, lived on,
In cyberspace or noo-sphere
Oblivion wouldn’t quite hold true.
Or is all the good done lost, and evil too?
Till next time 🙂 Meanwhile I’ll leave you with this from Enya: numinous and timeless; The Humming.