|The Zodiac Constellations, and some others. The vertical line marks the solstices, and the horizontal line marks the equinoxes|
There are some people who seem to have made a pact with habit. They go about their business and can be relied on to appear in an accustomed place at an accustomed time, with regularity. And they appear too, to inhabit this routine with cheerfulness. Of course we only see from the outside. But this at least, is the appearance. And we come to rely on this regularity, it helps to give structure to our everyday world. (Think of bus and train timetables!) Just as we rely on the regularity with which the Sun comes up, and the seasons change.
I go to the milkman's van, which appears in the street on the same days of the week and at more or less the same time, give or take a few minutes. I buy milk, eggs, fruit and fruit juice from him. His manner is utterly reliable too. He is invariably friendly in a calm and unassuming way, quietly cheerful, and seeming content with his work and his life. Our conversation is usually limited to comments on the weather.
Goodness it's warm today, I say.
For the time of year, I'm astonished by the warm wind, blowing the gold-tipped leaves off the trees.
Yes, it's mild, he agrees.
He tots up the bill, using the kind of mental arithmetic that I'm accustomed to, as I learned it at school. As he is round about my age, he probably learned it then too. Why use calculators when you can do it yourself?
My purchases come to £6.66 pence.
Oh! he says – we'd better make that £6.65. And we laugh at this.
And it's Hallowe'en too! he remarks.
Here's some change, I say, take the 66 p, no-one will ever know, we'll keep it secret – only God or the Devil that is, will know, apart from us.
Funny though isn't it, he says. And then tells me a story. His granny is buried in a local graveyard, not far away. He passes it regularly, on his milk round, but never, he says, goes to visit her grave. Then one day, the thought came to him, to go and visit her grave. And this is the odd thing, he says, for the very next day he got a phone call to say that his mother had died.
I asked if this was recent.
Oh no, several years ago. But that's something we all have to go through. Still, that was odd wasn't it?
I agree. One of those strange coincidences.
But I do believe, I say, that we can communicate with others like that.
And I could have told him stories about people appearing to others, in dreams or visions just as they died (so they were told later) and about my own grandmother's near death experience, but this is not a conversation in a café, this is a small but colourful story – so it seems, with all these autumn colours around, yellow scarlet and gold – a gesture from a larger world, slipping its warm hand into our time-wrapped one, a gesture that shows how porous the boundaries of time can be, especially at this point of the year, one of the 8 marking points of the ancient calendars, in the days when we were more connected to the cycles of the seasons and the turning world, which gives us life, and its relationship to the Sun, which gives us life. It is one of the Quarter Days, (sometimes known as the Celtic Quarter Days) all of which fall on the mid-points between equinoxes and solstices. These days are the first of November (Samhain) of February (Imbolc/Saint Brigit) of May (Beltane) and of August (Lammas).
All Hallows E'en, the evening before Samhain or All Saints Day, has been turned into a ghoulish festival in this part of the world, with emphasis on the dark and frightening. (There's a fascinating article here by Robert Moss, on the origins of Hallowe'en). According to Rudolf Steiner we are closer to the spiritual worlds not just on this one day, but throughout the winter, from this Quarter Day to the next (Saint Brigit's Day). And he says – and others would agree with him, including my grandmother who saw angels and her beloved husband (who was deceased) waiting to meet her in the light in the distance – that those we were close to while they were alive in the body, but are now in the spiritual worlds, may well reach out to us and be felt by us, whether in near death experiences or dreams or small promptings (like the unaccustomed visit to a grave), sudden unaccountable feelings of joy, or perfumes that seem to come out of nowhere on a dark city street, as if we've walked past a blossoming garden.
As I leave, the milkman puts his finger to his lips. Remember, he says – don't tell anyone!