Lessons from the Dark Season

by Billy Templeton

It’s corn maze season and as the days get shorter and the air crisper, many tourists and locals will find themselves wandering lost through the walls of tall stalks until they reach the end of the maze and solve the puzzle. It’s a tradition that has taken hold of our society and become synonymous with autumn.

Mazes and labyrinths are nothing new. Hundreds of years ago it would not have been uncommon to find pilgrims following a maze, deep in prayer or meditation, quickly losing track of the physical world when lost in complex twists and turns of a hedge or wall. Although our modern interpretation of this maze might not have the same spiritual gravitas as the medieval labyrinth, its walls continue to reveal certain truths worth contemplating about our contemporary society.

I have always found myself in awe of nature’s wisdom in autumn. The trees are very much conscious of the coming winter and make preparations to live off of the stored energy as they rest through the winter. This bit of wisdom may have once been considered vital to the survival of all living things, but in the confusion of our all-consuming society, we rarely stop to consider just how significant, dangerous even, winter has been and will be again.

We are lost in a labyrinth of corn, all of us surfing the Internet on our iPhones as we bump into another dead end. All the while the leaves turn brown and the air bitter cold. Life is warm in the winter when we have the luxury of burning fossil fuels, but if there is one thing we can be certain of it is that eventually, energy will cost more than we can afford.

It was also once thought that a labyrinth could trap evil spirits. That a cold wind carried demon spirits from the dark water to the lit shore and that by building a labyrinth we could trap those who meant us harm. This is a comforting thought, a tale to tell children before bed.  Of course we know there are no demons in the night, but just in case there is some evil in this world, we will be able to protect ourselves. But will we?

Halloween was once a time when we would lift the veil between this world and the next. We’d honor good souls already passed as we prepared for the long, hard months of winter. Bonfires were lit and masks worn to ward off or confuse the evil spirits that roamed during the hours when the veil between worlds was at its thinnest.  These rituals also served as a form of mock reverence and a cathartic gesture towards acknowledging the very real existence of the more destructive forces in nature: giving the Reaper his due, so to speak. Men and women spoke of harvest and storage, respect and honor because they all knew what awaited them in coming months.

Today, our children don plastic masks, run door to door to collect and consume corn sugar in celebration of the holiday. Supervising their children, parents discuss football and fashion, reality TV and gas prices. The approaching winter is rarely considered.

And why should it be considered? Winter, to most, is shopping season. When the refrigerator empties we simply head to Wal-Mart to re-stock; if it’s gets cold, we turn up the heat. We have all been raised with the understanding that every problem has a solution and if times are tough, we work harder and life becomes easier. I would love to be able to continue believing in these mantras. But, as we continue towards tougher times, we’ll begin to realize that we are not dealing with answerable problems so much as we’re looking at unsolvable dilemmas.

Let us re-enter the corn maze, no longer half-blindly looking at our iPhones, mindlessly walking the same paths over and over. The time has come for us to walk the paths and contemplate our own inner demons. Take off our masks that hide our eyes from the reality that we have created and come face to face with who we are as individuals and examine how we spiraled to where we are today.
In order to move forward in a safe, sustainable manner we must all confront the dark, destructive nature that has guided our all-consuming society for so long. Carl Jung often spoke of man’s hidden shadow and its destructive nature when left buried in the subconscious. As each of us represses that which drives us to destroy our environment (consumerism), the more destructive the shadow grows.

So maybe it is time, as the leaves continue to fall, to again walk the paths of the maze, and light the bonfire that will allow us to become conscious of our own inner demons so that our society can once again listen and learn from the changing of the seasons.

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3 Responses to Lessons from the Dark Season

  1. Patrick Donlon says:

    Thanks Billy for your reflection on the old Celtic Halloween night. Having grown up in Ireland I was once asked, if we have a thanksgiving, or harvest festival there. It took me a while to see that Halloween combines a number of wisdom traditions, including harvest thanks. We always got apples, nuts and the like, seldom would a household offer candy to children, when the request was “help for the Halloween party”. The party we had consisted of games like bob the apple, or trying to bite an apple hanging with string. [no hands to be used]
    The lighting of fire was the big event, after a night where children and adults poked fun at evil and dark forces. The light in religious traditions or spoken of in stories, contains wisdom. When the fires light, “God is in heaven and all is well in our world.” 🙂
    I wonder if anyone in the USA experienced the harvest foods aspect of Halloween. It may be a good practice for transition folks to explore, maybe with a few Celtic tales to tell to the young folks. Maybe some day the White House might include some “real celtic” traditions, enough of the green drunks on March 17 already.
    Slan agus Beannacht. Patrick.
    Celebrate Yates, for Celtic Wisdom.

  2. Jan S says:

    Karen, I couldn’t agree with you more. We have become so materialistic and assumptive in what is available will always be available. It almost discusts me. When I was 10 (1963), my Great Aunt Anna asked me to fetch her some foil. I found the box of Reynolds. “Oh no, honey, there are some sheets of foil in that drawer.” What? They were used, wrinkled, folded, and there were lots of them…different sizes, of course. At the time, I thought she was either crazy or cheap. Hmmm, now I find myself looking at a piece of foil whose only purpose was to cover a bowl in the fridge, not even touching the food below it. Yes, I wipe it, fold it, and reuse it. Call me crazy, but I’m doing my part, all from a lesson from someone born in 1880’s.

  3. Karen Rice says:

    A very insightful and certainly unique perspective on autumn and corn mazes. We do trail blindly ahead, oblivious to what is lurking around the corner. Another Great Depression? Possibly. The way we are living now does make me think of the gaiety of the 1920s, basking in the golden days of prosperity with no idea that Old Man Winter was ready to take over in the form of the Great Depression, the Dust Bowl, the hunger, the despair. But we got through it and … and my, how quickly we forget! “Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without!” was the mantra of days gone by…now it is “Use it a little, play for a while, toss it away, it’s out of style…” My mom used to save and reuse aluminum foil until she could not do another thing with it. She was a child of the Depression. We should look to that era of survival and return to those roots of “Waste not, want not.”

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