Maia Toll
It’s the time of letting go, the season of releasing.

No longer held tight to branches, leaves swirl and twist with new found freedom. At night, the owls whisper of winter; the earth sighs and exhales after a season of productivity…

As the year winds down, we face both forward and back, like the Roman god, Janus. We gather the harvest of the year that’s been—seeing to fruition the things we’ve put into motion—while simultaneously peering into our own becoming, beginning to plan what will be.

This time is in-between, balanced between past and future.

In Ireland, we celebrated the close of the year on October 31, called Samhain in the Celtic tongue. While ending the year now makes little sense to the modern mind, the farmers of old had just brought in their crops and laid in their stores for the winter. The time of life and growth was ending, and winter, the time of death and incubation, was coming.

Death opens the gates to the spirit realm and the death of a year is no different.

The old year’s death throes were thought to pull the realms of spirit close and open the veil to the Other World. So as we leave one year and journey toward the next, we still step into this interstitial place where spirit is close and so are the timeless realms of possibility. At this crossroads, our future, while still shrouded in mist, begins to form a misty and fathomless path stretching before us.

My time in Ireland was one of those paths I could never have fathomed before my feet found themselves walking it. My way was often shrouded in mist, both metaphorically and actually. My long-term navigation stretching no further than the next step, the next moment.

A thick fog had settled into the valley where my teacher’s house stood. I could barely make out the hawthorn hedge four feet from my hand, let alone the herd of Ayrshire cows grazing somewhere in the mist. The herd’s bull had taken a dislike to my presence and was known to charge me with little warning, making my blind walk feel particularly treacherous.

I was picking my way toward the cattle-gate when I spotted a bottle, black glass, its color blending with the churned earth. In the morning’s dense mist, everything felt magical and a bit surreal, so pulling that bottle intact from the mud had the emotional impact of finding an unbroken pre-Columbian urn on an archaeological dig.

I called it my Medicine Bottle. Soon after, I found two more: one brown, one clear. For years after my return from Ireland, while I worked with the toughest clients—those with cancer and Lyme, interstitial cystitis and psoriasis—those three bottles sat on my desk or my office windowsill, reminding me of my training and the Medicine I’d been gifted. It was an intense time: doctors phoned for my opinion, universities and hospitals asked me to speak.

When we moved to Asheville, I was emotionally exhausted. And then I got the call. “Hi Maia? Hi. This is XXXXXX. I’m friends with J and T. You saved their lives; now I need you to save mine.”

And that was it: I was done.

I wasn’t in the life-saving business. I was in the business of helping people reconnect with the natural world, and through that connection, rediscover their path to healing.

The dissonance between what I saw as my role and what my clients saw as my role was suddenly glaring, the source of my exhaustion stunningly revealed. So when I unpacked my Medicine Bottles from the moving boxes that summer I did something I would have sworn up and down was on my list of nevers: I recycled them. There was no declaration or ceremony. I simply walked out to the recycling bin, dumped them in, and walked away.

This spur of the moment symbolic move shifted my energy dramatically and quickly. My client work finished up within 2 weeks. Something deep in my subconscious was already recycling the energy and making it into something new… but what?

In those first weeks in this new place I could feel the spacious emptiness beginning to fill me, the feeling of letting go, of opening, of releasing.

Life became full of the serendipity and wildly broken plans that happen when your energy truly shifts and new things become possible.

That is the energy of this time of year. Not only the letting go but the opening that happens when we no longer know exactly who we are; the playfulness  that can inspire us to try on the masks of “other,” seeing which one might fit and allow us to grow.

One of my autumn rituals is to re-read November first’s entry from my Ireland journal. It reminds me of the magic of Samhain:

By morning the gods and goddesses had fled and we mere mortals were left to sweep up the chips crushed into the grooves between the floorboards. Samhain, the end of the old year and the beginning of the new; the day the dead drop in for a visit and the faeries piss on any crops remaining in the fields. Our celebration seemed almost American—costumes and candy and way too much wine—until midnight when the bodhrans were brought out and poems and ballads and ancient stories were offered to the night sky. It was then I remembered that behind the innocuous make-up and masks were different kinds of souls.

On the night the spirit world comes close, you, too, get to become “a different kind of soul.”​

At this time, you get to step into the divine, into the yearly moment of endings and beginnings when spirit and matter mingle. You get to let die what is done and step into the mists of what is yet to be.

It’s these small yearly deaths that allow us to reincarnate ourselves, to recycle our past and make ourselves anew. Like Janus, we need to see forward and back—not in a straight line, but around corners. And sometimes, we need to trust ourselves to walk forward though our eyes are blind.

This is a magical time of year, but also a scary one.

What personal ghosts and demons do you need to release so you can become the person you are meant to be? What are you willing to leave behind to become the person who can navigate life’s hairpin turns?

And so we wind into the season of darkness. Death opens the gates to the spirit realm and the death of a year is no different. Click To Tweet

May you find peace in these lengthening nights and in the glory of letting go.

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