This is the season of the darkness here in the Boreal forests of the north. Snow has begun to swirl although not in earnest, but we all know it is coming, along with the dropping temperatures and the longer nights. From now until Solstice on December 21, the shortest day of the year, we will spend increasingly more of our time in darkness and cold. This is a season of a “slide into darkness” as the poem here describes, and it is a season many people dread. The long winter can be a time of severe hardship for some, when warmth and food, and psychological safety, becomes hard to find.
My Celtic pre-Christian ancestors several thousand years ago viewed this time of year as having an extra special power, and this sense remains for the people who honor the ways of the ancestors. The “All Hallows’ Eve” or Samhain (pronounced Sa’ween) recently celebrated has its roots in these traditional beliefs. The blessing of a “slide into darkness” was one of offering individuals and communities an opportunity to renew strength, soul and mind. It was not a time of year to be feared, or to practice bizarre and cruel rituals.
In recent times, scientists have identified a condition named “Seasonal Affective Disorder” – S.A.D. – something which affects a minority of people quite severely at this time of year. For these individuals careful steps must be taken to maintain a balanced well-being and to halt a deeper slide into depression. Ironically, it is after the days lengthen when the Spring Solstice arrives that suicide rates show a slight up-tick, but the concerns around the “spirit of suicide” are known to all the seasons.
Perhaps the topic of suicide is better left for a column all its own, but at a time of year when the metaphor of “the dark night of the soul” is paralleled by the lengthening darkness around us, it seems like a good time to mention the issue of suicide. There is no danger in talking about this topic – indeed, we would all be collectively better off if more people would talk about it. That is the only way stigma can be overcome, thus freeing those who suffer from urges to end their life to be able to reach out and connect with caring people.
In the slide into darkness we need to remember that it is through our connections to life that we can find renewal in the darkness. A “dark night of the soul” can teach us many things such as patience with our own shadows and regrets. We can learn to be still and listen to the cry of our own soul and develop strength to tolerate our inner pain, and vision to find our way out of pain. Finding vision in the darkness may seem paradoxical, but that, I believe, is the power of Samhain.
This is a good time of year to learn to be kind to ourselves, and in so doing perhaps we can learn to extend forgiveness to others whose carelessness or selfishness has harmed us. We can make peace with our darker dreams and learn to rest in a trust that the light is still ahead of us even if we can’t see it. When we label the darkness “evil” and project it into an external embodiment we miss the opportunity to transform things within us that destroy our better selves. Fear of the dark does not come from the darkness itself but from distorted messages and lies.
I leave you with the thought that by keeping yourself safe during this time of a “slide into darkness”, and by giving yourself time to reflect over the past year, or the years in the past, you can discover and embrace blessings that your ancestors would wish for you to enjoy. This is a time to renounce the “spirit of suicide” and all that would be robbed of you by ignoring the gift of a season of darkness. The dark is not to be feared, nor is the cold. As a great person once said, “Joy comes in the morning!”
Dream well! Blessed be!
Annie Wenger-Nabigon, Ph.D., RSW
- The Hollow Tree by Herb Nabigon
- Pathlight: Journey to a Good Life archives
Author of Pathlight; Annie Wenger-Nabigon, Ph.D., RSW is originally from the U.S., earning her Canadian Citizenship in 2013. June 16, 2015, following more than 8yrs of studies, Annie was awarded her Doctor of Philosophy in Human Studies degree by Laurentina University. Annie & her Husband live in Pic River First Nation. Annie Wenger-Nabigon, MSW, RSW has been a cinical social worker since 1979 working in mental health, family therapy, and addictions services. She works full-time as an Adult Mental Health and Addictions Therapist at the Marathon office of North of Superior Counseling Programs. Annie also works part-time as a consultant for LYNX, owned by her husband Herb Nabigon, MSW. Herb provides traditional Anishnabek teachings and healing workshops for both Native and non-Native organizations. Together he and Annie provide training and education to professionals on a wide range of topics blending mainstream and traditional approaches in healing. They also provide cultural safety and anti-racism training.
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