I’ve had a difficult relationship with Autumn all of my life, being a son of Summer and lover of Spring. I never trusted Autumn because as it approached it had one hand behind its back, holding Winter. However this year has been different. The storms have challenged my new-found love, but the beauty of the season is singing to me.
Here in the South of England there is magic in Spring, as everything begins to wake up after its Winter sleep. Then Summer arrives and with it the heat. Life matures in Summer, then Autumn brings with it a sense of the year slowly returning to the slumber and renewal of Winter. The trees withdraw their green, and the countryside is awash with yellows, golds and reds. Leaves flutter in the breeze and fall to the ground to nourish next year’s new growth. Then in late Autumn the trees stand with bare branches reaching into a night sky that is darker, clearer, deeper as the Sun sinks away towards the Solstice.
It seems that with each of the festivals of the Wheel of the Year there seems to be a new Meme on Social Media pointing out some aspect of the festival that makes it somehow not the ancient festival we were led to believe. The latest one was that our tradition of the Thinning Veil is not an ancient belief, with some academic Pagans suggesting that if someone tells you it was an ancient tradition of Samhain (like people have been saying for decades) to now treat them with scepticism.
Here’s the thing. I don’t care if it isn’t an old tradition. In fact it might be even more exciting if it wasn’t. Does the Veil thin at the time of Samhain any more that at other times of year? I don’t think it really does. I don’t think that we have to wait until Samhain to be able to talk to our dead loved ones. I have been talking to my Dad almost every day since he died in January. But, and it’s a big but, at Autumn and the time of Samhain all around us things are dying away. If our spiritual teacher is The Book of Nature then Nature is showing us that everything, in the end, dies, but that life is also always reborn in the Spring. At Samhain there is a palpable change in the air, in the light, all of which makes me feel that the Magic of this time of year is different from the Magic of Spring and Summer. Mists appear, rivers break their banks, the Autumn storms arrive, and somehow the cry of the Corvids just seem louder and more insistent.
Is the Veil thinner? Probably not. Is the Veil more noticeable? Definitely. Is that an old tradition? Well, it might be that our ancestors noticed that too. But maybe to us death is more hidden away behind hospital and morgue doors, maybe to those ancestors they were already more in tune with death than we are now. Maybe it take us to step outside in late October and feel that chill, hear those birds, sense those storms, see the changes in the trees and plants and think to ourselves, mmm, death is in the air. Little surprise then that we have taken that moment to mark a change, and to know that you aren’t the only person who has felt that change, so we come together in our circles, and share tears and connection with each other, and those we have loved who are no longer physically with us.
So when someone says the Veil is thin at Samhain, it probably means so much more than just trying to replicate an ancient tradition. If it is new then it is ours, and we can own that, and then move on without having to justify anything to anyone. What matters to me isn’t that it’s old, or even the name we call the festival. What I think really matters is that we mark the seasons, fully experience them, connect to the Wheel, to life and the Kin with whom we share this incredible, diverse, ever-changing planet we call home.