I have chosen here to take a very personal journey, starting with what is an increasingly popular public celebration, and explore some tangential ideas for human and horse/animal nations. I make a few apologies for content as this represents my own very personal exploration. This is a conceptual line of thinking, not a teaching of facts, so I encourage those of you that read on, to read on in objectivity.
We are approaching the Celtic festival of Samhain which marks the end of the season of light, that period born in bonfires of Beltane. It corresponds with what we now celebrate as Halloween. It represents the start of “dark time”; but also the start of a new year – preparing seeds for the next growing season, early winter seeding etc.
It was both a time to look ahead to the next year, a time of divination, but also to look back. Places would be set at tables for ancestors and their spirits invited to the table.
It is a liminal time; a time where the boundaries of the mortal world and the Otherworld we at their least defined – in essence ancestral spirits walked earth, along with faeries and other super-natural beings. Those that went outside dressed in disguise lest the spirits not recognise them as their own; such dressed mortals were offered food at dwellings they visited (yep, trick or treat!).
It is easy to get tied up into our world view of horrors and ghouls and miss the venerations in this festival. Here there is a healthy respect for ancestors – their wisdom and their knowledge. Something lost in our world of “progress” and its implied generational development.
So why might this have been so important?
In a time of non-written culture, knowledge was passed down through generations orally. Ancestors were our knowledge our wisdom. Life in many ways was replicated generation to generation, cycles and patterns repeated. It is a reasonable assumption that challenges faced in a given lifetime had been experienced by a previous one; ancestral knowledge could offer direction and advice in context, maybe even hope.
Even most non-sedentary cultures were still territorially limited in the context of their lifetimes. Generations succeeded generation; living and dying, and everything in between. The landscape, its rocks, its rivers, its trees and the pathways between them were often immortals; each had a place in the stories and tales told to each generation, locations venerated in the legends and lore of a tribe. These remain reflected today with ideas such as Aboriginal dreamtime.
Further the dolmen scattered around Northern Europe, or the larger sites such as Newgrange in Ireland, remain as three dimensional lithic records, proof of societies attachment to rituals that connected with the wisdom and insight of ancestors. It is easy in an age of the printed word, internet, Wikipedia etc. to simply dismiss as unnecessary mumbo jumbo, but we should ask ourselves, how may years did such beliefs support our way of life, compared to the relatively short-history of our technologies.
This type of connection is spiritual/soul energy-centric, not some anthropocentric cortex driven faith mechanism. Spirit and its energies transfuse all life and the needs of connection within populations and generations, and ancestral connection, extends beyond the human domain.
As a race we have largely chosen to move away from this approach to life, and those cultures who lived in such a way have either been constrained to reservations or removed. But what of the other species on this planet, what of their own geographical bearings, their geo-social needs. We have adapted our expectations, provided ourselves with rewards and distractions; what do we gift them.
Look at how we have slowly constrained the boundaries of natural herd animals. I am sure our horses intuitively would choose to exist in a dreamtime, freely within herd bound space seeking, grazing and foraging as required and needed – for example, we now know that animals can effectively and intuitively self-medicate, perhaps they also carry a mental mao of where things grow around their territory. It is noted that we have introduced other “safeties” for them, freedom predation etc. yet whilst we praise our humanity, just how alien is that actual environment we have created; we finally have caught on to the social and psychological effects of keeping Orca penned thanks to the Blackfish film, but the whales had to start killing people for people to stand up and listen.
Perhaps we should ask ourselves what the psychological need for the horse to roam is, not to limit ourselves to “accepting that stabling is bad” – but what does landscape and territory really mean to a herd animal, the incredibly complex geo-social patterns and awareness of elephant herds are slowly being understood as we recognise their abilities to communicate over distance.
If you have ever had the misfortune to be at a stable when a horse is put to sleep (particularly shot) you will know there is something that connects the horses to the passing spirit. They know.
It stands a testament to this incredible stoic beasts that they not only survive but engage and sustain, and in most cases perform without contest in line with what we demand of them; but I wonder just how removed from their soul needs they actually are: the physical elements of food company shelter and safety aside. We choose to travel to the moon before we would travel within ourselves; what is the likelihood of us looking onto others.
If we came upon a human that seemed so deprived of their soul needs we would most likely cry foul. Yet in so many ways we all are; we have just moved the goal posts so far we can no longer actually see the pitch as we continue with our goal orientated existence; we offer ourselves material gratification to obscure the loss. We offer nothing so diverting to the rest of life; but let’s face it would it want it anyway?
So as we carve our pumpkins this year and don the Dracula suit and stage blood. Stop and think why we once acknowledged this time. And wonder if that need might still exist in some form or another, both for ourselves and for the other life with which we share this increasingly busy home we call earth.