(Edited version; originally posted at MySpace; 3 November 2009)
It is the season known poetically and spiritually as “the Gloom.” I stand between Samhain (Halloween) and Winter Solstice; two very powerful, symbolic moments in the earthen round of the seasons for me. These two ‘holidays’ always bring out my imaginative side! This year for Halloween we set up a séance table on the porch with an old witch ball in the middle of it propped up on an LED light, so it was illumined from below. We sat to either side of the table with end-tables decorated with pumpkins and skulls, cornshalks and candles, etc., and then acted as if we had just ‘conjured’ a spirit and were waiting for it to ‘materialize’ on the other side of s curtain that shut off the far side of the porch. There we had set up rocking chairs to which a string was attached, so I could make the one rock by pulling on it. We had made a CD-R of spooky music that we kept playing throughout the evening, and had a really good time. Now, I’m anticipating beginning to decorate for the Yule (probably later this afternoon).
As a poetic naturalist, engaging in the stories, myths and poetics of old holiday seasons is one way of breaking the ordinary; creating situations in which people can step out of their day to day routines to experience something that might spark their imaginations or, at the very least, allow them a little enjoyment. We all get into our routines; and these are necessary—living efficiently and responsibly requires a certain degree of discipline to make sure everything that needs done gets done. However, the routine of the ordinary can dull the senses and the mind, stifle emotions and even render us physically lethargic. We need something to live for; we need to be re-enlivened from time to time—and to have this happen often requires breaking our routines in some positive way that allows us to step out of the ordinary for a while. This is one purpose that 'holidays' have always served in human cultures. _But there is more to it.
Breaking the round of the ordinary need not be 'just for fun' and a little relief from our daily round. What so many of our holiday customs and decorations point to – even in their degraded, mass-marketed state (I am appalled to go into Halloween stores and see the kind of trite, superficial stuff now being marketed!) – is the fact that there is always – and has always been – a mysterious dimension to life. Life is 'back-grounded' in mystery; it is – I might go so far to say – 'grounded' in the mysterious.
By this I mean nothing arcane or occult; much less superstitious. I’m referring simply to the fact that the universe in which we find ourselves is awesome – i.e., "full of wondrous things that inspire awe" – and that we cannot, nor will we ever, fully comprehend it. We live our lives – no matter how much we learn about life from living it and from science, art and other sources of knowing – against the back-drop of mystery. _And yet we all too often lose sight of this; we get lost in the ordinary and 'forget' that the universe as a whole and the biosphere of our home planet are full of wonders.
One of the things that will characterize a truly earthen spirituality is an awareness of 'Mystery.' Naturalistic spirituality will embrace it and seek to find ways of awakening to it and then experiencing it, authentically and more fully. While seeking an understanding of the universe and our place in it via science, art, music and philosophy, etc., it will strive to open us to the mysterious and allow for experiences of wonder and awe. 'Mystery' in this sense is not a 'mystery' to be solved; as if by a detective—it is a 'fact' or perhaps a 'given' of our existence. Human beings are capable of experiencing wonder and awe; we have been moved – down across the hundred millennia since our species first evolved -- by what is grander than ourselves. Religion is as much a response to this sense of mystery inherent in reality as is art.
In the stories associated with traditional holidays, we can often find symbolic references to experiences of mystery. At Halloween I love to re-read "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" by Washington Irving, or watch the Tim Burton adaptation of it. Both text and film evoke a sense of the mysteriousness of the season which, if we are not superstitious, can carry us to the thresholds of the Mystery in the Universe. Stories and rituals can carry us out of the ordinary round into the presence of wondrous and awesome things.
I find in Nature, however, the most powerful experiences of this Mystery. Just walking in a wood with the last of the leaves falling all around me, or watching the changing colors of the fields and the hills as the foliage changes color and falls away – can be a powerful experience, breaking the ordinary and carrying us into the presence of the Mystery of what-is.
I'm now looking forward to the Winter Solstice Season, as I always have just as imaginative of a time journeying through it as I have in the tides of Samhain. I don't know why people think that having a naturalistic worldview is somehow boring or less interesting than a myth-driven one (e.g., a religious worldview). I have a lot of fun—and without all of the superstitious baggage! So be it.