Ancestral energy lives in the stars above us, the stones beneath us. Their memory gathers in oceans, rivers and seas. It hums its silent wisdom within the body of every tree.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Songs from a Samhain Night

It’s important to know the history and etymology of the traditions we include in our lives, to be aware of their purpose and adapt them as needed. That is what our Ancestors did before us. What began as Samhain (sow-en), a Celtic fire festival honoring spirits, became All-Hallows-Even in the Christian calendar, honoring saints, and by the 16th century was called Halloween, which fell out of practice by the English in light of Martin Luther’s Reformation. This new religious system did not include the belief in saints and forewent the holiday set aside to honor them. Everything changes, all is in motion.
Like my Irish and Scottish ancestors, I believe the dead walk on Samhain night. For me, it’s not a myth or a folk superstition. Multiple worlds exist over top of one another. We live in one. Spirits live in others. On Samhain everyone can perceive this as true if they choose to. It is the most important festival I celebrate, and I dedicate several days to its activities.
At events throughout the year I facilitate Ancestor Shrines where people are invited to write the names of ancestors and deceased loved ones on ribbons and strips of muslin. I safeguard them until Samhain, where we ritually read the names of the remembered dead out loud. We pass the ribbons, taking turns to speak and honor the memories of loved ones. After the names are spoken into the dark, we burn the natural fiber strips in fire. The smoke sends the wishes, prayers and petitions into all the worlds, so those at unrest may know peace, both living and dead.

Harold Lafayette Riddle and Elsie Elizabeth Durant
Richard James Riddle and Donna McDonald
Mark Dutcher Eaton and Ruth Emma Ruston
Charles Duvall and Jurgen Banse-Fey
Tommy Amyotte and Paul Seeloff
Karl Weber and Susan Alvarez-Hughes

I carve my pumpkin with the intention of creating a lantern, as the jack o’ lantern is called. I create it to be a lighthouse that will guide spirits to my working. Whether I cut out the image of a tree, owl or series of stars, my jack o’ lantern will be a source of light in the darkness to help guide their way to me. On Samhain day, when the lanterns are lit, the house begins to smell faintly of pumpkin and apple.
At dusk I light the candles on my ancestor altar, which sits year-round in a permanent place in my office. It can be as simple as a glass of water and a candle, and as elaborate as you wish to make it, adding personal items like photos and mementos. At Samhain I fill the water glass with fresh cold water, for the spirits who thirst. I light a new candle and add candles to illuminate the space. I call my ancestors home, to feast with us.
In the gloaming time between light and dark we wait by the door for the knocks of small children wearing new and different skins. I offer them candy as a reward for their bravery. I remember how much knowledge I had as a child of the wholeness of the world that I lost as I grew into adulthood. I honor that in the children I meet until the dark falls and our supper begins.
A modest table set on black tablecloth is our Supper. The spirit chair at the head of the table is shrouded in black fabric. This chair is for All Spirits who wish to dine with us. Then a chair for me, a chair for my partner, and one each for the spirit we chose to invite. I always invite my Great-Grandmother, who I knew in life. I call Elsie in, light the candle on her plate and take care to offer her food before myself.
The Dumb Supper is served in silence, so as not to scare timid spirits who might wish a bit of remembered humanity when the veil is thin. I usually play instrumental music low, like cello or piano, to help drown out the noises from outside. The food we serve is homemade, prepared with loving hands. We dine backwards, dessert to salad, serving the spirit chair first, then our guests and then ourselves.
            Everything about the supper is the reverse of how we would normally eat. The courses and the place settings become a mirror image of life, the line where reflection meets image, where shadow meets physical form. The house is dark except for candlelight and we open ourselves to any impressions we might receive. We welcome in images, thoughts, perceptions from any spirits who wish to speak. Even in years when the spirits are silent, the supper is a deep and profound meditation.
Beneath Elsie’s plate is a note I wrote to her. I love you and remember you, always. You are as important to me in the spirit world as you were in the living one. Please continue to watch over our family and be a source of comfort to those struggling or in need. I will have you in spirit for as long as you wish to remain.

            Before I go to bed, I extinguish the lights in the rest of the house, all save those on my altar. I speak the names of those who died within this last year, separating the fresh grief from the old and opening a way for those who have not yet crossed over to do so if they will. These are my traditions, adapting and changing each year as my spirituality deepens. I remember those who came before me so that I better see where I stand and where I’m going. In my dreams I will pay attention once more, to visitations I might receive and messages I might be given, on the night when the edges are softest and the worlds and I are open to each other.

Relevant Posts:
Simple Sweeping Lines (posted September 29, 2010)
Setting a Place for the Dead (posted October 27, 2010)
Reflections from a Dumb Supper (posted November 2, 2010)

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