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, October 24, 2012

Calling the Dead on All Hallow’s Eve

At this time of year, the air is cooling, the garden beds have been put to rest, cider is mulling and apples are transformed into a myriad of treats, whether candied, cobblered or sauced. Crisp autumn leaves fall and dry, skittering across sidewalks and pavements when the winds lift. In the Northeast, the green world is dying and we feel the approach of winter’s arrival. In this time of in-between our connection to the Dead is strongest.
My Ancestor Altar stays up year round as my ancestor work is every day of my life. They walk with me always. My altar lives on top of a bookshelf and holds a photo tree with pictures of my deceased grandparents and great-grandparents. I have a special glass I use to make oblations, liquid offerings, to the ancestors and a candle holder I light to act as a beacon. It is also decorated with pieces of petrified wood and fossils. I add items and take some away during the year but this altar is my working altar.
Samhain night, Halloween, is the time of year that you don’t have to be a sensitive to communicate with the dead. Just as in our world, it would be hard to call your friends without a phone, spirit work is no different. There are tools that help strengthen those connections: names, candles, personal objects, and offerings to entice them. I make another altar specifically for this holiday, decorated with items appropriate to the season, like petrified wood, bones, tree bark (I’m partial to birch), little pumpkins, festive candles, and autumn leaves. It pulls the energy of the outdoors inside my dwelling for those nights when the idea of being indoors feels stifling. It’s a means of opening our personal space; the spirit world does not take much notice of walls, but we do.
This time of year prompts many people to remember the loved ones no longer with them. The visual loss of leaves on the trees stirs an introspection from deep within and we emotionally feel each person we have known who no longer breathes reflected in the dying of the natural world around us. I refer to them as my Beloved Dead, and it is specifically this group I reach out to communicate with on Halloween. I place photos of them on my altar, though I do not include photos of anyone living, for superstitious reasons. I use post-its to cover the images of the living when I have no other photos, so as not to get them confused with the dead.
I have personal items that were passed down to me after loved ones died, as well as items gifted to me by them that I add to my altar. I strengthen the connection with objects the spirits are familiar with and might have a lingering attachment to. It also helps me focus my intent more strongly. I have a glass ring that my Great-Grandma Elsie gifted me when she began her decline into Alzheimer’s that I place on the altar every year. I also put out our cat Luna’s food bowl, with her collar and her favorite patchwork mouse toy, into which I’ll sprinkle some of her favored catnip treats, in hopes that she too will return for the night.
On Halloween, when the veil between worlds is thin, light a candle on the altar and call in your Beloved Dead by name. Invite them into your home. Pour a drink for them. I leave a glass of water for the wandering spirits to quench their thirst, an emotional memory from their living years. I also pour a cup of Blackberry Tea for Elsie, a cup of coffee for my Grandpa, and a shot of rum for my more spirited ancestors, as a treat. Our memories are made up of sights, sounds, tastes and smells. Our spirits can still access them even as the ability to touch fades.
Allow yourself to sit in the silence of the evening, interspersed with the giggling hordes of lively trick-or-treaters. Be open to the impressions that come from the balancing energies of life and death. Once the doorbell has stopped ringing, attend to your altar. If you sense that you are not alone, speak gently to the room about you.
This night is the time to say the things you need to say to those who are no longer physically with you. It’s important for our own lives, for the ones we live here in the world, that we not feel the weight of things left unsaid holding us back from moving forward from our grief. Just because a loved one dies, doesn’t mean we are silenced. This night is also the perfect time to honor those who came before you, to remember them and to keep their memories alive for your children and grandchildren. It’s the perfect night to reminisce and share some of your favorite stories of those who are gone. What is remembered lives.
I light a candle for my Beloved Dead, calling in their names individually, inviting them to my home for a visit. And then I put out tea lights, one for each person I know who passed since last Halloween. This year, I have five spirits to light candles for, five souls who have passed within the last twelve months, five Newly Dead. I will ask nothing of them but speak prayers for them to be at peace, and to reassure them that those left behind will be all right.
As part of my larger work, I will unroll the names of ancestors and dead I have gathered from the multiple shrines I’ve tended over the last year. I will read each one aloud and burn them in a Samhain fire, sending smoke out into the thinning veil, sending prayers from the living who remember them still. To Those Who Have Gone Before, be at peace and travel well. Until we meet again. Ase.

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