Samhain- In Review

I’ve had bits and pieces of this post lying around for the past month, and just now am finding the time to sit down and organize it all. Even starting as early as I did with my planning, Samhain still snuck up on me and I wasn’t totally prepared. Though, honestly, who is? But I would definitely call the celebrations a success.

So here’s how our family observance was going to go: I was going to wake up early and totally scour my house, saining as I went. A and I were going to spend the day listening to traditional and tribal music, make parshells, and go around in costume. Them I was going to cook a lovely dinner, lay out the Feast for the Dead, and eat with the family. After E and A went up to bed, I was going to bust out my drum, and do some meditating before launching into my solitary ritual service. Sounds like a wonderfully laid plan, right?

Here’s what really happened. A spent the previous week adjusting his sleep schedule from waking between 8 and 8:30 to around 6/6:30. I am not a morning person, ever, so waking up early was shot to hell. But we did get up, and what could have been cleaned in about an hour to an hour and a half, took a little over three. I’m convinced toddlers exist to disrupt cleaning. But the house was cleaned, if not sained, and ready for company. We did listen to some music, but then A decided he needed to watch every Thomas the Tank Engine movie ever made, so off went Pandora. We made no parshells, and my attempt at the masks I wanted to make flopped. But hey, the house was clean, and I kept the thought of the Ancestors foremost in my mind that day. I did make a lovely, delicious dinner, and invited the Ancestors in, and laid out leftovers as offerings outside for any Folk about that night. And then I crashed.

I did have the opportunity to attend ritual the next evening with a group that are Celtic/Norse influenced within a Neo-Wiccan/Eclectic framework. I absolutely loved their group dynamic, and the energy flow during the ritual. It began with calling the quarters and such, but there was an altar for the Dead, individual cleansing, deity invitations, and toasting, all of which I practice personally. Attending something like this that is led by a group that obviously has an understanding of the cultures and deities they were working with was a pleasant experience. Near the end, we went around and announced what our New Year’s resolutions were, and within the energy raised and the group focus, it felt binding. Mine is to find discernment and empowerment in the projects I undertake, to not let myself become overwhelmed, to let things flow away that I can’t control or worry over at that moment in time. So far, I’ve felt empowered, but not so discerning, because I still find myself taking on (what I feel to be) too much.

A few days later, I believe it was November 12th, we had our first snowfall of the year, and it was a real snow, not just a super light dusting that was gone by midmorning. I skimmed a bowl full of snow, and once it was filtered and melted, I ended up with about 6oz. of water. At least I now have water for saining.

Samhain I- The Ancestors

It’s October, yay! I don’t feel so bad about posting about Samhain, since it is less than a month away now. As a huge fan of Halloween (in secular practice), I always get really excited around this time of year. Which is something I think surprises my husband even now; he didn’t celebrate Halloween growing up (you know, because it’s Satanic), and I feel awful for him because it’s such a part of our pop culture. But now I’m faced with the dilemma of actually explaining Samhain to him, the kid who’s mom thought dressing in costume and begging for candy is all about the devil. And if you skim through some of the more readily available pagan books and possibly some of the more widely read websites, you see a lot of repeat and fairly shallow info on the holiday. Its the end of harvest season, the slaughter festival, the feast of the dead, and the time to look to the Crone/Dark Mother/pick your “dark” goddess.

While all of these tags have some merit, and I for one am very much not a subscriber to the idea of Maiden/Mother/Crone, none of them really delve into the meat or the “why” of any of these. So I’m going to commit a major research faux pas, and start delving a bit into my understanding of Samhain without citing my sources (I’m taking a day out of the house, and typing from a coffee shop), but I will try to remember to come back and add them in when I have a moment.

I want to start with feasting the dead, welcoming the Ancestors into our homes and honoring their life, death, and enduring wisdom. I know that there are some within the Reconstructionist movements that use the concept of ancestor worship/reverence as a front for racism. This is disgusting, and I think an awful, terrible concept. One should never be ashamed, ridiculed, or turned away from a spiritual path on something so trivial as ethnicity. With that being said, I believe that one of the ways we connect with our ancestors is through blood meditations. No, this does not involve slicing open my skin and bleeding myself to connect with any blood relatives in my past. For me, I combine visualization, rhythmic pulsing/drumming (recorded, because I don’t own a drum), and a dark room. It’s about turning my focus inward, finding myself, then reaching into my past through my blood to connect to the Ancestors. Now if you’re not of Western European descent, how does that work? I would argue that no matter our ethnicity, we share a common ancestor at some point. We also are impacted by archetypal Ancestors, who we can reach through ourselves but may not be blood relation. We know of instances of adoption and fostering Celtic Ireland and Britain, and my thoughts are that everyone that embraces a cultural spirituality is being adopted into the tribe (I do plan on addressing the concept of Outsiders this month). So we all share a collective ancestral tie. And just because your immediate ancestors may not be of Celtic descent, so what? That makes them no less important to you and your practice. While I, as a Pagan drawing inspiration from Celtic Ireland, Scotland, and Britain, chose a specific cultural group, its the mores and ethics that were held and have a rooted meaning in the culture that have kept me here. I just don’t think people should feel that they can’t embrace Celtic-based Paganism solely because they aren’t of that lineage.

While we say Samhain places a large focus on ancestor worship, how many of us actually see that as a part of many Samhain celebrations and rites? I know I haven’t, but I don’t have a connection to a diverse Pagan population. For me, worship and veneration of the Ancestors is the focal point of Samhain, especially those we have lost throughout the previous year. Samhain is about welcoming long-lost, and perhaps long-forgotten, family in for the feast, and assuring them of their continued legacy so they may rest easy until Beltane. Growing up, when I thought about death and heaven, I used to get really worked up about dying and being lonely. I obviously didn’t feel a personal connection to the Christian concept of God, so there really wasn’t a source of comfort in being with God. I knew my mom and dad, and all four of my grandparents (three of whom are still living), and numerous aunts and uncles. I felt really connected with my family, and to me, death was a wall between us. After finding a Pagan path, I’ve retained that connection (and actually felt more spiritually attached to my living family than ever before), but I’ve also discovered and developed a lifeline to my deceased family. We talk about the thinning Veil at Samhain, this is the time when we can use this spiritual lifeline to find our way to our Ancestors and help them to find us. It’s about finding and honoring family, the hospitality for each other, and the reassurance of enduring life and love. I honestly cannot think of a Pagan holiday more family focused than Samhain, and it just astounds me that it seems to be the hardest to find family-friendly rites for.

The heart of our Samhain rite in our household is inviting the Ancestors in for the feast, especially my husband’s wonderful great-grandmother who we lost this past April. Our son is so blessed to have so many living relatives (6 great- and step-great-grandparents, both sets of grandparents, numerous great-aunts and -uncles, an aunt and two uncles, and lots of extended cousins), and I want  him to grow up knowing this connection is deep and spiritual, and it lasts well beyond this thing we call death.