In the season’s change, in the last month of the traditional Celtic year, with the death of a friend, first snow on the leaves, a visit to a reservation, increasing darkness, heat coming on in the house, and retailers reminding us of the approach of Halloween, my thoughts turn to ancestors, heroes and heroines - those who have been and those who will be.
Our Celtic literature is rich with heroes and heroines, gods and goddesses, spirits and Good People. Writers who like to speculate on such things sometimes say that heroes are the stories of once-actual people grown in memory and tale to larger than life; and some gods may have been such heroes before their “elevation.” Indeed, one day we will ourselves be at least ancestors to generations to come, and will leave behind a legacy of memories, stories and arts.
The friend who just died left behind a grieving family and a legacy of memories and dramatic clay sculptures. Among the grieving was a granddaughter she brought back from an abyss. As family and friends shared stories at her memorial, it was clear she was a woman of many facets. She was a warrior walking the landscape of family, Al Anon, physical challenges, and the tension between religion and spirituality.
We sometimes are challenged with the values-laden question of what we’d be willing to die for, but I think a more useful question might be What is worth living for? To give a life for a greater purpose (through death) can certainly be a worthy thing, but so is giving our life to a greater cause by dedicated effort.
For example, a favorite cause of our people (Celts, Celtophiles and Druids) reflects our reverence for trees, for the land and the waters. Of course we can hardly do everything, but we can do something. This is how we become heroes: to take clear action in the world for something that will make a difference to our descendants. It is not with stories, memories and fantasies of swords and castles, but by taking up our cause, wielding the pen or giving our time. The dragons and Fomorians of our time have a different shape than before, although they may still resemble cattle raiders, inhospitable governors and negligent kings; we still have corrupt people in power who are blemished and unworthy, and disrespectful of Truth. It is helpful to speak out against decimation of the woods; it is also helpful to plant a tree (or contribute to those who do).
But some causes are very close to home: let me return to my deceased friend. Before she slipped into the Otherworld, she was known to swear grandly, to challenge others in their spiritual work and to the embodiment of her soul through her art. How could anyone consider this new ancestor anything less than a heroine? She saved a life (perhaps more) – not with sword, spear, poetry or magic words. Nor was it with cunning or eloquence, but by giving time, attention and care to a child who, because of those efforts, has grown into beauty.
Perhaps those things – time, attention and care – are the greatest of weapons.