Samhaintide and Thanksgiving

To all my American readers, happy Thanksgiving – and to those elsewhere, I hope your day is as special in its own way.

Tomorrow (it is still Wednesday night, at this writing) is Thanksgiving. In my own evolving spiritual journey, it marks the close of what Mam Adar recently dubbed my “Samhaintide”, which began on November 1st; this concept has just kind of grown on its own, without my really directly noticing until this year. Basically, the period between Samhain and Thanksgiving has become a time when I focus more on my personal Ancestors, and family in general – it begins with acknowledgement and drawing closer to those relatives who have passed on, and ends with gathering with those who are still living.

This year the reminders and coincidences are especially strong – from the Day of the Dead encounter that I described previously, to last weekend when my late uncle’s widow brought up a bunch of his old slides and audiotapes of family gatherings, many of them from the period of my childhood when we all lived with my grandparents.

I also see this as another example of the “Americanization” of my religion – revival Druidry comes out of the British cultural matrix, and particularly living this far south the seasonal shifts are not really in alignment with the Wheel of the Year as traditionally understood, and so I find I have to adapt it to both the culture and nature where I am actually living. Some American holidays, particularly the patriotic ones, fit neatly into the Hellenic side of my practice – after all, libations to the Ancestors and Heroes are well attested in the oldest Greek literature – but some, like Thanksgiving, seem to fall more naturally into the Druidic aspect.

Of course, I also appreciate and observe Thanksgiving in its own right, for the things it normally stands for. This year I am especially thankful for my health, as my shoulder injury has turned out to be fairly minor (no tearing!).  I have to take Celebrex and go to physical therapy for a few weeks, but the therapist said I can resume Aikido as long as I baby that arm; I was able to get back on the mat last night, and while I had to sit out some techniques I was able to train and was not even particularly in pain afterwards.

And, along with the Velveteen Rabbi, I am truly thankful for all of you who find these ramblings interesting enough to follow along – may the Gods bless you and yours with abundance, joy and peace tomorrow and throughout the holiday season.


8 thoughts on “Samhaintide and Thanksgiving

  1. Cat C-B

    Hey, Erik! Thanks for putting into words something I’ve long felt–that the sabbats are really just tides, markers of the bigger ebb and flow of the seasons! I feel the Samhain/Thanksgiving tide especially keenly–actually, I begin feeling it in mid-October, and it keeps on through Thanksgiving, when the Yule tide takes over.

    I was really pleased to learn of a tradition in Brittany, apparently, of terming November the “Black Month” and of setting it aside as a special time for telling stories (particularly horror stories) around the fire. It fits with some of what the season conveys to me–and particularly the importance of and nearness of ancestors at this season.

    As an American, and as a New Englander, I’m particularly aware of how this season has been important to my ancestors for a long time. Like you, I think that a nature religion truly lived is likely to connect us more solidly with the spirits (ancestral and otherwise) of the particular land in which we live, and that those leadings may take us at least a little distance away from theoretical understandings of a pan-Pagan Wheel of the Year.

    I took a somewhat humorous look at this many years ago, in a piece I wrote called “The Yankee Trad Wheel of the Year.” I am amused to find the piece lingers on as an Internet ghost–I’ve long since misplaced my own copies, but it’s still out there, making at least a few people chuckle.

    There’s a serious element to it as well, though. The ordinary traditions of the culture, ancestors, and landscape around us are also a part of our Paganism–if it is a real, lived spiritual path, at least, and not just an excuse for dress-up.

  2. executivepagan Post author

    The ordinary traditions of the culture, ancestors, and landscape around us are also a part of our Paganism

    Yes. Indeed, they are becoming more important to me than the more academic notions that we are frequently told are the “core” of Pagan religiosity. I am American, and with one exception my ancestry is entirely American dating back to before there was an America – how could the rhythm of American life *not* be the rhythm of my faith life?

  3. Cat Chapin-Bishop

    We listen… to our gods, to our ancestors, to the land. How could we not hear new and different things from the things already recorded in a book? Not just that one notorious Holy Book, but all the books ever written, by any of us?

    Each of us lives in a unique new time, landscape, relationship with gods, ancestors, and place. So, yeah, we get something new when we listen for it. :-)

  4. Pax

    Tag, Your It!!


    And welcome to the Chrysalis Must-Link’s Holiday Meme 2008! Your Mission, should you choose to accept it, will be…

    1. Surf to Chrysalis, One Witches Journey

    2. Click on the ‘Links!’ button in the Pages in the Book of Leaves box in the upper right hand corner.

    3. Poke around there briefly

    4. In both the comments section of your blog where this message was posted, and in the comments section of the Chrysalis Links page, leave a list of 3 must-link links for the list, and 3 people you are tagging.

    I am tagging Deborah Lipp, Oak, Executive Pagan, Dianne Sylvan, and Sannion!


  5. R.D. Hammond

    This is actually very timely, as it’s related to something I’ve been pondering the last few years or so.

    A lot of American society’s traditions—Thanksgiving, the rush of Christmas—are, with the notable exception of Easter, sufficiently divorced enough from practical day-to-day Christianity that I feel nothing odd or hypocritical in celebrating them alongside family members. I don’t necessarily feel this is a bad thing—at least, in the public sphere—although some might object strenuously. (And they’re welcome to their opinion, I suppose.)

    It’s always bugged me that I don’t have a similar support network during pagan holidays, though. Quietly bootstrapping Yule onto Christmas isn’t a problem (a week more of celebration? Yes please!), but try explaining why I’m visiting the Nashville Parthenon replica every Halloween, and it’s blank stares all around. Oy.

    For all that’s said about Christianity co-opting pagan traditions way back when–and I’m disinclined to believe it was chicanery so much as natural adaptation–maybe it’s time the needle swung back in the other direction. Is it possible we can steal adapt current societal traditions into our own faith? After all, living, breathing religions adapt to whatever times they find themselves in.

    Anyway, just musing randomly in the space given. Hopefully I’m not co-opting anything. Glad to hear your arm’s better. Even happier to hear you’re being sensible about it. First rule is not to injure yourself but still train as much as you can. :)

  6. executivepagan Post author

    Thanks for thinking of me! I’m kind of off memes at the moment, so I’m afraid I’m going to decline to nominate anyone. (I’ll gladly go see if I can add to your links page, though!)

    Oh man, I’d love to be able to go to the Nashville Parthenon every year! My one experience there was truly stunning. A shade too far for regular visits, sadly…

    I think that, realistically, we *are* adapting current traditions. We do it all the time – every time someone pours a libation to the heroic dead on Memorial Day, or prays to Liberty on Independence Day, that holiday has become a part of their living pagan practice.

    I feel nothing odd or hypocritical in celebrating them alongside family members

    That’s how we view Christmas – Solstice is for us at home, and then we help the extended family celebrate their holiday.

    I’m disinclined to believe it was chicanery so much as natural adaptation
    The historical record is pretty clear that both processes were going on at simultaneously. On the ground, there were certainly a lot of people quietly adapting their old traditions, holy wells, etc into the new Christian paradigm – but there was also conscious and deliberate (and documented) co-opting of pagan holy sites and traditions by the Church hierarchy.

    It’s always bugged me that I don’t have a similar support network during pagan holidays
    The eternal problem. Sadly, other than moving to Boston or San Francisco (where I know there are actual concentrations of Hellenistai), I don’t have a solution either.

  7. Pax


    Have you checked out the Religio Americana yahoogroup? From your writing I think you may find it an enjoyable group!


  8. executivepagan Post author

    I’m one of the founders, as it happens… so please keep evangelizing it! :)

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