When I was nine years old, we moved to a new town. In my new school I made friends with a girl called Lindsay who lived in the next street, and we would walk home together. One day she invited me in to meet her family. Her mother welcomed me in and offered me a drink of lemonade or something. I remember she was warm and friendly, and didn’t seem particularly odd. Lindsay’s four year old sister, Susie, was playing on the floor. I can’t remember how the conversation went but at one point her mother looked concerned, pulled me aside and said, “Whatever you do, don’t mention death. Susie doesn’t know about it yet and we’re saving her from it for as long as possible.”
I remember how viscerally this affected me, how wrong it felt, how confusing and weird. I couldn’t comprehend of a four year old not having heard anything about death. Even at the age of nine I thought, why would they want to keep her a baby?
This is an extreme example of something we all do, one way or another. We all have the capacity for denial, and we all want to shield ourselves and our loved ones from pain. But built into our seasons and our own biology are events that awaken us to the reality of death, and thus to the possibility of renewal, transformation, and rebirth.
Women and men traditionally had different ways of understanding death and of developing wisdom through death-awareness: men encountered it through the bloodshed of war and the hunt; for women it still comes every month with menstruation. This type of understanding doesn’t arise directly through the intellect or spirit, but emerges via the body which informs consciousness.
In an ovulatory cycle, every time you bleed menstrually you experience a mini-death of that month’s possibility of fertilisation, as you shed the endometrial lining of your womb. And along with that comes the eruption into your conscious mind of whatever it is you are in denial about in your life. That’s why dreams and moods can feel darker around menstruation. If you can suspend your natural distaste for what at first glance feels unpleasant, if you make the time and space to listen to the underbelly of your consciousness, there’s wisdom in there, information you need. And all this is exaggerated at menopause, the death of the biologically fertile self. Menstruation and menopause open us to the deep, hidden and magical aspects of life and ourselves.
Hallowe’en, traditionally called Samhain (Celtic) or the Day of the Dead (Mexico), is celebrated as the time when the veil thins and the dead are in contact with the living. All the symbolism of Hallowe’en, the skulls, skeletons, cobwebs, ghosts and goblins, all represent the Other Side of conscious life, within which lies the seeds of our new beginnings, and our truly regenerative ideas. This year it occurs with the Scorpio New Moon, amplifying the theme of death and rebirth. In the Southern Hemisphere, it’s not Samhain but Beltane, the time of fertility. But it’s still a New Moon, still the traditional time to menstruate, still in the part of the sky we call Scorpio, and a time of great potency. It’s the strongest time of the year to open to the normally hidden realms of the psyche where the jewels are buried along with the cobwebs of the past.
Lindsay’s mother was just trying to protect her innocent young child, but in so doing she was freezing the child’s developing awareness, preventing her psychological growth, and that’s what we do to ourselves when we shy away from the cyclical teaching of the body, which is our doorway to the fertile dark. If you can find a moment or two in all the busy-ness of everyday life to sit quietly tonight, honour your dead, and vow to open yourself to the wisdom of your “Other Side”, maybe we’ll all go a little bit further towards resolving the splits in our riven collective field, exemplified so distressingly by the current U.S. Presidential race. And for sure, the more we heal this fear of the Other within ourselves, the easier we become within our own skin, and the more intimate we are with ourselves, the closer we come to everyone and everything.