By Jack Wolf
October 31st in the Thornish Context:
For many people, especially people in North America, October 31st is seen as Halloween; a time of costumes and parties; of candy and lights and in general, a rather spooky theme. Most people have no idea that there are much deeper roots to this thing.
Among some Pagan cultures today this time is observed as Samhain (Pronounced ‘sow-wan’) and has come down from the old countries in Northern Europe. Samhain is considered to be an observance of the dead and the honored ancestors. As well it is seen as being the Celtic New Year.
Amongst people in more southern climes in North America, particularly Mexico this time is known as Dia de Muertos; the day of the Dead, which again, is an honoring of ancestors and the honored folk who have departed this material life. Indeed I know of quite a few people all over North America who have taken to celebrating this day in such a way.
Veneration and connections with the dead, something for a long time forgotten by many, has begun to come back in a powerful way more and more these days. I think this is a very good thing indeed.
Among Thornish people, October 31st is seen in a special way as well. The original people who founded the Thornish way created a tradition, informally at first at gatherings back in 1955 – before the Thornish tradition was officially founded in 1958, that was called Harrow-night. Among Thornish people the word Harrow is used to describe an altar-space or place of offerings, and in the context of the word Harrow-Night we give offerings to our dead.
On October 31st, 1958 the founders of our tradition gathered to honor those who had gone before. They gathered around a fire and in good cheer made toasts and hale gestures to ancestors and lost friends. The following day, November 1st 1958, was made Founding Day, in which the Thornish tradition was first officially brought into the world.
Thus, for Thornish people this time of the year can be complicated. For those of us who have families we find we are juggling the popular craziness of costumes, candy and trick-or-treaters along with the need to also switch channels at some point and spend time in reflection about our beloved dead.
Harrow-Night (also spelled Harrownight) is a powerful time for Thornish folks as it carries with it flavors of both sadness and joy. We reflect on our losses, yes, but in this we also remind ourselves of the joy and wisdom that was brought into our lives by those who went before us. We show respect and gratitude to the Old Ones the Elder Kin and to the Great Essence itself (not to mention the currents of sacred Wyrd) for steering us onto paths where we have had the opportunity to share the world with such special people. And it is not only deceased human beings that are honored by Thornish people on Harrownight: We see any other beings who have made our own journeys brighter, as worthy of words, offerings and honors on this sacred night. In my own case especially, in addition to passed relations, friends and hearth-kin I take time to fondly think about my dog Brin, gone many years now, who I still hold very dearly in my heart, and my cat, Jake, recently passed, who honored me with the nearly nine years we spent together.
As with many aspects of the Thornish tradition, we tend to go deeper than most, always seeking to connect with the primal and always striving to rekindle the more ancient flames within us. My late Thornish brother, Björn Hammarson for instance, used to make offerings to ancient kings and warriors in addition to his other honored dead on this night. He did this because he felt a deep kinship with them even though he knew he was not directly related to them in blood, line or tradition. Thornish founder and my own teacher, Ari Torinsson, used to have a very special place in the forest where he would make offerings to ancient cave-bears, long extinct, because he considered them to be his spiritual ancestors. Master Tiva, another of the Thornish elders, would go out on Harrownight to sit beneath his tree-of-bells; a shrine he had built that had dozens of tiny bells, one for each spirit he sought to remember and honor, tied into the branches. He told me once that during his late night vigil in the woods, beneath that tree, the sound of the bells in the breeze became voices for the dead.
Very often one will see a simple shrine set up to honor the dead in a Thornish home. Sometimes these are just a small shelf set with photos of special people. Other times one might see a table set with candles and mementos of the fallen and yet at other times we might see something more elaborate; with a place for incense, candles and offerings. These shrines may be erected inside or outside and indeed, I have attended more than one Harrownight ritual where a bonfire was held and offerings made to the flames.
To the Thornish mind, life and death are intricately connected. We cannot have one without the other. If we are to honor life we must also bring honor to the realm of death. Death is not seen as a bad thing, only as gateway between one incarnation and the next. This respect of the sacred balance is not something we package away and bring out once per year though. It is something we are constantly aware of in our day to day lives. However, on October 31st, on what we call Harrownight, we put special effort into gathering and remembering those upon whose shoulders we stand.