Honoring Our Ancestors
Samhain is less than a week away and, with each passing day, the veil grows thinner and thinner. I can feel it like static electricity around me throughout the day. I can see it when I look up into the night sky, the stars and moon having a magickal, almost eerie glow, and in the faces of my beloved family and friends who frequent my dreams. I can hear it in the caws of the many crows that fill the trees near my house as they oddly do this time every year and in the acorns dropping to the ground. I can feel it in the early morning dew, the mist of a warm late October morning, and in the soil made richer from decaying matter. The voices of our ancestors are whispering to us, becoming louder each day, as we prepare to honor them.
My family, like so many Pagan families, pays our respects to all of our departed loved ones by creating an ancestor altar each year. Tucked among the Autumn leaf garland of the household altar are the pictures of generations of family, dear friends, and even pets who have passed beyond the veil, the fallen leaves in our lives. Sadly, a new picture or two is added each year. On Samhain, a place is set at the table for whomever of our ancestors wishes to join us for the meal and an impromptu prayer said to welcome them. As we eat, we share stories of our loved ones, those “remember the time when…” stories, and you can feel those people lingering very nearby, laughing with us, crying with us, maybe even arguing with us that “it’s not the way it happened”. After dinner, we place some candy or a piece of that Samhain’s chosen dessert on an offering plate upon the altar with a glass of wine for all those who will come and go throughout the night. The kids then head out for trick-or-treating (although my son has outgrown it now being nearly 15) and later we gather for the Samhain ritual and a bit of divination.
Yet, in my family, it is not only our own ancestors we honor. On the morning of October 31st, if the weather is not too dreary and wet, my husband and I head over to the cemetery where my mother is buried. It is an old cemetery, some of those buried there having departed this life in the 1800′s. We first pay our respects to my mom, placing the little bouquet of flowers and herbs from my own garden, sitting in the grass by her headstone, listening to the wind through the trees, and sending her nothing but love. Then we move on to some of the older graves, spending a few minutes with those who most probably have not had a visitor in a very long time, perhaps their families are long gone from the area or their bloodlines have died out. We clean up the area, removing the fallen leaves and broken branches from the headstones, reading each and every one as we go.
We wonder aloud about whom they were, what their life was like. In family plots, we find the headstones of children mingled among those of their parents and grandparents. There are Civil War heroes and some who were born during the Revolutionary War. My husband and I try to envision what life was like during such pivotal and violent times in history. Did the person know how important those times would be to coming generations? Did they know the crucial role they played? As we wind our way through the cemetery from grave to grave, I am sometimes overcome with such an overwhelming sense of gratitude that my eyes begin to blur with tears. Perhaps it is the person’s way of communicating their thanks for us being there. At other times, I may feel like I am being watched or think someone is right next to me but no one is there (at least, physically). I am never scared by this because I know that the veil is at its thinnest and it is only the dead moving among us.
We try to keep it simple here in my Pagan household. Honoring our ancestors is unique to each Pagan family, the traditions created from all those who have touched our lives and are no longer here with us. My own family’s Samhain celebrations evolve each year, with each new passing of a family member or friend and depending on those who gather with us to celebrate. However you choose to celebrate this year, I wish you all a very blessed Samhain!