What do you offer to the compost pile? A Samhain ritual

I listened to a podcast yesterday with the incredibly original and thought-provoking writer Sophie Strand. Strand is interested in the intersection between ecology, storytelling and myth, and as someone with chronic health challenges, she has really potent and fascinating takes on wellness that I’d love to explore more here. But for today, this offering felt very fruitful.

She was asked “I’ve heard you say a lot I’m not throwing it out, I’m throwing it in. You talk about compost a lot, and you visualize this idea of melding ideas and information and making something brand new… but when is the moment it becomes the new thing, versus when are you just resisting throwing something out that really needs to be thrown out, that is outdated, that needs to transform..?”

And she answered: “So you can’t throw anything out. Cities, our culture, is built on the idea that you can ship your waste somewhere else and it will disappear. There’s no throwing out. When you throw something out, what you’re saying is, I want someone else to digest my shit. So throwing it in is taking responsibility for your shit. It’s not saying I accept this, it’s saying I don’t want to give this to someone else to have to digest, who didn’t create it in the first place. So throwing it in is about making it rot. When I take patriarchal capitalism, I’m not saying you get to hang out here, I’m saying I want to combine you with so much water, with so many microbes, with so much grossness, that you start to break down. Inclusion is the first step in decay. When you throw something out, and don’t take responsibility for it… [it builds up and can’t decay.] 

Samhain, the festival of autumn’s end and the beginning of winter, often marked by Halloween, is seasonal festival where we explore the way death feeds life.

Scary costumes let us manifest our darkest fears and then we reclaim the dark and gloom with revelry, glee, fireworks, roaming gangs of candy hunting ghosts and trolls and zombies and Harry Potters and inflatable dinosaurs. Everybody gets to play with make-up, and let their alter egos out for a moment.

The wheel of the year moves into a dark phase – as days grow shorter, everything moves into a kind of descent. And the seeds of future adventures settle in for a period of sleep and incubation, like the garlic we’ve planted (or are planning to as soon as there’s a weather window…)

It’s a time to acknowledge and honour our ancestors and for me, this idea comes to life as a sense that I am the current garden of all my ancestral lines. I am the soil, the organic matter their energy currently lives in, roots into, can help grow. So many possibilities lie within me, from all the people in my line who went before me – blessings and burdens, gifts and curses, strong influences and barely discernible ones – and I am the gardener and the garden, so in many ways I get to choose which influences to tend, which to water, which to bring forth, each season.

And also, just like putting the garden to bed, I get to choose what to leave and what to pull up and toss on the compost heap.

I love Strand’s generosity about compost – about tossing everything on – and letting it be transformed by the heat and the mash-up of all the things. And the idea that we don’t need to outcast or exile anything that doesn’t serve us… we can just let it decay and become the nourishment that feeds next season’s abundance and growth.

What might you dump on the compost this day? What garden dreams might you begin to incubate for the spring, the season where life comes shimmying up all around us from everywhere? The richer the compost you feed it, the more lively and healthy things will be… which feels like a lovely invitation to let go and not cling anymore to the things that might be feeling stale or no longer needed. Let them be compost. Let them be fall’s falling leaves and spring’s delicious fodder.

Happy Samhain and Happy Halloween.

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