Archive for the ‘Leigh Bardugo’ Category

Thresholds, Doorways: Fifth Day of Samhain (27 Oct. 2020)

[Samhain: Season to Taste]

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Some of you may know author Leigh Bardugo and her recent (2019) novel Ninth House. Set in New Haven, Connecticut, it takes place mostly on the Yale University campus, where it re-imagines the school’s actual secret, elite “landed” societies or Houses like Skull and Bones, Book and Snake, Scroll and Key, Berzelius, Wolf’s Head, etc. as occult organizations, each with its magical specialties. Certainly those names are wonderfully evocative all by themselves!

Berzelius House or “tomb” at Yale University / Wikipedia.

Spoiler alert: one of the novel’s characters, familiar with portal magic, encounters what he thinks is just another magical portal, until he realizes — too late — that it’s a mouth instead.

A little Samhain shiver, of the kind that horror movies offer their fans.

The mouth of what? you ask. So do Bardugo’s readers, who await the sequel. But the metaphor is an apt one, outside the novel and at large in what we are pleased to call the “real world”. We resist change for this among other reasons — that the opportunity, doorway, portal will swallow us whole. Nothing left. Gone. Yanked out of our old life, which for all its problems and burdens is at least familiar. Sucked, tossed, flung into some new and terrifying realm where none of the old rules apply, and at the very best we have to start all over again. And at worst? Well, it just doesn’t bear thinking about.

Fear is a favorite emotion these days. It sells! And it rouses us from lethargy, it pulls in donations and ramps up political action. Right and Left both doing their level best to drum up every imaginable terror at the thought of the evil Others taking control at the next election. In the U.S., November 4 looms for far too many like a shape of fear brighter and darker than any Samhain hysteria.

At best these are distractions from something far more important.

In a 2015 post, “Reclaiming the Wild Self“, I quote Clarissa Pinkola Estés (author of Women Who Run with the Wolves), who writes:

The doors to the world of the wild Self are few but precious. If you have a deep scar, that is a door, if you have an old, old story, that is a door. If you love the sky and the water so much you almost cannot bear it, that is a door. If you yearn for a deeper life, a full life, a saner life, that is a door.

In part, the doors Estés refers to are a matter of human time. Live long enough and you’ll very likely acquire such scars, carry such stories, cherish such loves. One way to find common ground with others is to focus on these doors. And one of the best ways to access them is by careful listening to ourselves and to each other. (Yes, it’s a “slow fix” which, in case we haven’t noticed, is the only effective kind.)

Often enough, we may fear such a world and such a self as much as we yearn for it. A doorway means change. Even if it just opens onto another room, it’s not the room we were in a moment ago. Fears can outline such a door, too — including fear of a door itself. If you’re anything like me, you know or have been someone who at one time or another has walked into a cage and exulted as it clanged shut behind you, reassured that at least you wouldn’t have to walk through yet another damned door.

How many horror movies give us spider webs across the face as a sign we’ve passed a portal? Can we do it without fear for once?!

How to recapture the sense of the preciousness of these doors, as Estes calls it? For in the end our own longing compels us to find them and walk through. Ritual is one way, though by no means the only. By defining boundaries in ritual we can make a door easier to see and peek through. If the past is difficult country for me, I can approach it with safeguards in place. Ritual can help with its prescribed beginnings and endings, its containers of energy and wisdom we can safely draw on at need for balance and perspective and protection. A holiday like the upcoming Samhain, like Halloween, a holy evening for remembering who and what has passed from our lives, offers a safe space to honor and to say farewell to what is gone. Sometimes all that is needed is for us to agree that we can finally let go.

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Samhain can be good “portal practice”. Every year we already walk through many doors, whether we choose to or not, so why not practice doing it consciously? (Or if we choose not to walk through a door we face, that too is valuable.) By ritualizing our experience, we get to explore it, viewing it from several perspectives, and if we’re part of a community, a ritual circle, a group of friends, we get to do this together.

One of the advantages of Samhain (a fruitful subject for meditation all its own) is of a holy day “outside of time”. During Samhain we can gaze up and down the time track, the pathways of our lives and those of our ancestors.

The ritual words of the OBOD Samhain ceremony address the uncertainties and doubts that we may face:

“Is it then possible, during the celebration of Samhain, to pass without risk or fear from one world to another: the living to the realm of the dead, the dead to the span of the living?”

(Those with recall of past lives whisper to themselves “It sure ought to be — after all, how many times have I already done this before?!”)

One good answer: if we do it with love, the answer is yes. Many of us have made the journey already in meditation and dream, meeting loved ones where the boundaries are less daunting, unless we close ourselves off to such experiences. No rush, no need to force these things: we will know when the time is right.

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