Moving into winter is a process of completing the biological year. The growth-spurts of Spring and Autumn are over, and the searing, deadly heat of Summer that browns grass and stunts growth, too.
Moving into winter is marked in my Pagan practice by Samhain. Life is thinning, death and potential death is drawing near. This is a time of farewells, of remembering the past and the ancestors, of thinking things through, of sitting by the fire (or the laptop) and analysing the past, both by self-reflection and by the passing on of our tales to the young: tales of their childhood, tales of our own personal history, tales of grandparents, uncles and family friends, and the tales of our society's inner wisdom that we encode into "fairy stories" and dismiss.
After taking part in a few Samhain rites in the eighties, I went solitary for many years, and for many years my Samhain rituals were also solitary, marked more by contemplation than by the props of circles and magical tools.
This year for the first time ever I attended three separate Samhain rituals, all of them run by different people, within the space of around ten days. It was very pleasant and relaxing not to have to run any of them myself, but to follow someone else's cues.
In one of them, I was asked to gather up and farewell people I may have lost. In one of them I was asked to contemplate the end of my own life, and how my life will have been of value, and who I look forward to joining after death and/or what I need to do before death. And in the third I was asked to invite the spirit of someone dead to join us (I noticed there was little emphasis on dismissal).
I invited Gladney Oakley, someone I'd been very friendly indeed with in the 1990s, an elderly bearded man with a quiet and gentle wisdom that I had very much valued. I had always regretted that after he lost his vision and before he died I had not spent enough time with him, allowing the bustle of my life at that stage to get in the way of even thinking very much about him. And he, for his part, was far too reticent and gentlemanly to remind me that he was unwell and might need the company.
I always regretted that. I wanted to apologise to him silently during the rite, but I never felt his spirit. I few faces from my past that came and went, but nobody really stuck around.
For several days after that rite, living in my disappointment with myself regarding Gladney, a dead person did, in fact, come to me, whom I had had high hopes of early in our association and who became more and more hostile, clinically insane and violent as time went by. I remembered all the different ways that I had fantasised about killing her. I remembered the many different ways she actually tried to kill me. Death hung in the air for days, old death. Violent, passionate death, real and imagined.
And her face hung in the air, too, reproachful. I tolerated it for days, knowing that it was just a part of the whole Samhain thing, and thinking I'd probably overdosed on Samhain energy by attending not one or even two but three whole rituals. Mental note: in future years, limit it to one or two!
Today I attended Pagans in the Park, a regular monthly social get-together I enjoy attending and try to get to as often as possible, and the group's resident rock-hound was there. He knows about my affinity with minerals and always tries to give me some, and today was no exception. Last time it was fossils of sea-creatures and assorted non-fossil minerals, this time it was petrified (ossified or fossilised) wood of different kinds: different species, and fossilised in different ways (agate, silica).
He also gave me a small bag of Apache Tears, tiny translucent obsidian gems, black and precious. Wikipedia is only very sketchy on the subject, but interestingly, it was Gladney in the early 1990s who had talked earnestly in Kibble Park with me whilst our companions chatted elsewhere, about Apache Tears.
He had talked with me at length not only about the history that they grew out of, but also what they were said to do for those who carried them close to their heart. Apache tears, as the hardened and preserved tears of that intense grief, stand in the stead of the tears of those who can no longer cry.
Now, but much more so in the past, our society encourages girls to cry (to some extent), and actively discourages boys to cry. Discouraged long enough and hard enough, their tears eventually die. My tears died differently: between the years 2000 and somewhere in 2003, I cried so much that I appeared (and still appear) to have simply exhausted my lifetime supply of tears. I just cannot cry any more.
It could be said that perhaps I don't cry any more because nothing is as bad as those years, but that avoids the obvious, which is that the period between 2003 and 2005 was actually far worse. I had more reason to cry, not less. No, I had simply biologically run out of tears.
I remember crying, both as a child and (occasionally) as a younger adult. I got snotty. I got hot and blotchy-red. I developed pulsing headaches. And the act of crying was very, very physical, so physical that it exhausted me. People talk about crying as "emotionally cleansing" or as an "emotional release", but in retrospect, being able to view the physiological process of crying with some distance and objectivity, I feel that it is more draining, it is so exhausting that it leaves you (or me) without sufficient energy to maintain the intensity of emotion that brought it on, and because you cannot sustain that intensity, it buys a period of relief in which to sleep, or review the situation, or escape, or turn your attention elsewhere.
Not being able to cry, I am no longer able to drain myself so completely and so immediately, either of the energy to feel things intensely, or of the toxic body-chemicals voided in tears and snot. Feelings hang around in my body for longer, even though my mind mercifully lets go of them fairly easily.
I offered some of my Apache Tears to a friend of mine who also doesn't seem to cry and he politely refused, saying he didn't want to cry. I think he missed the point. I certainly don't expect that carrying these subtly beautiful little objects with me will make me - or him - cry at all. We are your basic non-crying people and probably will remain non-crying people for life, which is not wholly a bad thing and is certainly less embarrassing that finding yourself crying in public.
No, what I suspect these stones may do for me is take their darkness into my own energy, ferret out the stuff I never cried about in the past that I probably needed to cry about (even things that are totally resolved), and without my conscious knowledge, reduce the amount of tension that I might or might not carry in my body. Who knows, perhaps some of that vague mystery-pain that comes and goes in my body might be the after-effects of unwept tears, and who knows, using these stones mindfully might help with that.
And so I conclude by thanking Gladney, who belatedly came to me today whilst I was thinking through all this stuff, rather than when I wanted and expected him to. You were a wonderful man, and although I never told you, I feel certain you knew all along how much I loved you. I'm sorry the months of your final illness passed without my making any effort to see you at all. Go in peace, old man, knowing that from now on I am freed, and will remember you infrequently and with only pleasure.