The first day of September roughly lined up with a full moon this year, meaning the weather shifted to something cooler while the calendar starting putting thoughts of Fall in our heads. It won’t be long before we’re gazing at colourful foliage or walking the ocean shore with a sweater wrapped tightly around us. For now I content myself watching long reaching shadows in the slow twilight of evening, and reflecting on symbolism of the season.
There are many joyful reasons to choose to celebrate life as a spiritual person. If you’re one of us, you might feel like your rose-coloured glasses tint the world in sacred energy. It can give hope and lend optimism, and arrange thoughts in an attitude of gratitude. Speaking for myself, I love the shore by it’s own merits but also feel connected to a larger and ancient world when I stand in the ocean – and also wonder who or what is out there throwing those waves at me. So long as we remain grounded while we open our senses to this other world, it enhances our lives and brings happiness and perhaps camaraderie with others that share part of our world view.
The other side to this coin, however, is when we look to our spirituality not as an optional enhancement but as a much needed source of strength. In tarot we might say that the Death card deals with transition or that the Tower suggests a collapse down to the foundation. The depth or intensity of that transition or breakdown, however, can vary considerably. One transition might take a week, or the collapse of a tower might take months to begin to rebuild; in other situations, they could be years or even a lifetime. This, I believe, is a situation where experience teaches in a way that books, peers, and reflection simply can’t.
In modern Paganism, we often associate the shortening days of Autumn with a transition from an outer focus to inner reflection. If the Summer Solstice symbolizes getting out into the world, and the Winter Solstice a time where we snuggle into a warm blanket, the Autumnal Equinox in the time when we transition between the two. It can also represent going through difficult times, as we battle inner turmoil, doubts, or demons. This symbolic decent into darkness is made easier with the promise of another Summer Solstice to come – a light at the end of the tunnel.
Many Pagans are familiar with this waning half of the year, and the ideas of sacrifice or transitioning through darkness – but it’s theoretical, or limited by their own life experience. When we find ourselves someplace new that might be dark or overwhelming, it can be frightening and easy to feel alone. Over and over I hear Pagans share that they have experienced very intense hardship and that others don’t understand the depths of it. Friends express compassion and concern – which is wonderful – but in the end, we can still feel alone. This is a time where our faith in our symbolism is put to the test.
We talk about the waxing and waning of energies in many different ways. We watch the seasons and the length and warmth of days shifting between the Summer and Winter solstices. If we stand by the shore, we can see the tide rolling in then pulling away. Every day the Sun rises, reaches it’s peak, and sets. We aren’t worried that Summer won’t eventually break through, or the ocean won’t return, or the Sun won’t rise again. We share myths or enact dramas to explain or encourage it, but these are largely symbolic words and actions to reassure our minds and spirits. I think it’s an important thing to try to hold on to these beliefs when we feel ourselves lost in dark depths – it will get better.
Along with waxing and waning energies, some Pagans talk a lot about cycles. Each day is a cycle, each passage of seasons, or the life of a person. For many of us, what follows is a belief that these cycles repeat. Even in a non-religious context, people say, “History repeats itself”. When I have gone through my own difficult times, I found comfort knowing that what I was going through was not new. There is literally nothing that can happen to me that hasn’t been happening to people for thousands of years. When I place myself in that stream of humanity, I feel a little less alone. In my darkest times, it was a sense of connection that gave me hope.
These are only a couple of ways my Pagan spirituality has helped me through some difficult times. I think a group of people could sit and discuss it over tea for hours and come up with enough to fill a book. It’s one of those things where you reap the benefits of what you have sown. We need to build up our faith in these ideas during the good times, so they are there for us in the difficult ones.