Old pagan proverb: “An ye harm none, do what thou wilt”
We drove past Stonehenge last Friday on the way to St Austell. I loved how the Neolithic stones first present themselves as a randomly compressed grouping from a distance, before expanding out into their full majesty.
Words like awesome don’t begin to convey the atavistic stirrings at the sight. The big rocks were sandwiched in time between squalls and rainbows that were lashing and arcing across the Wiltshire countryside, in weather that reminded me of southern Ireland.
It was dark when we reached Cornwall. But the drive back along the A30 on Sunday provided tens of miles of landscape eye-candy. So rugged. Tors and hills scarred with stone but happily grazed by sheep under grey skies.
The turning weather was the perfect prelude for Samhain, the Celtic or pagan name for the night of October 31st that marks the end of the harvest season and the beginning of the darker half of the year. Christianity has incorporated it into the remembrances of All Saints and All Souls, and Hollywood has bastardised it further by spooning kids into wearing costumes and masks to ward off harmful entities.
Samhain is at least 28 times more fascinating than Philip Hammond’s budget or Brexit negotiations. The idea that the division between this world and the otherworld is now at its thinnest, allowing spirits to pass through and mingle with the living, has me wanting to do cartwheels of joy across our world of logic, algorithms, mobile phones and the Financial Times.
Imagine being a Neolithic human fretting at the decline in the strength of the sun, lighting your winter fires to speed its journey across the skies. Staring into that fire with such a focus that you have no body to worry about anymore, no memory of how tired you are. Then remembering with fear that the boundaries between your land and your neighbour’s are a dangerous place to be tonight, due to the army of ghosts to be found along these lines. Bridges, crossroads and especially burial places to be avoided at all cost. Living in a magical world where maybe a small blood sacrifice might please the Gods tonight, before the bigger sacrifice of your prize boar at the forthcoming mid-winter feast.
Spending many seasons outside growing vegetables does provide small glimpses of how you might think in those modes.
On Samhain 2017, I cycled out alone to Matching Green in amazingly bright and warm weather. The ride was more effortless than I have ever known, to the extent that the bike almost rode itself. The wind was admittedly low but this was unprecedented. Anyway I got to the Chequers, leaned my trusty steed against a table outside and nipped in to buy a drink. Came out a minute later and sensed that something was wrong. And saw that the bike’s front tyre was completely flat. Had to ask Maureen to come out and get me.
I’m staying in tonight. Will make ritual offerings of sweets to ward off urchins, and to speed West Ham’s forays into the Tottenham penalty box from 7.45 onwards.