Compared to most people my age I’ve got a lot of dead relatives. When one stops to consider all of the ancestors who have come before them, everyone does. It’s just that mine are more immediate to my generation. By the age of 36 I’d already buried both of my parents, a beloved aunt and uncle and all of my grandparents, not to mention a handful of dear friends. So many of them left this earthly plane too soon. Death has never been a stranger to me during this life, while it has hardly touched some people such as my husband (aside from losing his in-laws, of course) and he is 12 years my senior. Our entire family is very blessed by the continued health and happiness of my mother and father-in law who are in their mid-eighties. Incidentally, my sweet mother-in-law celebrates a birthday on All Soul’s Day, which as it turns out is only a few days after my own birthday. Making my debut in this season of transition and being squarely situated in my Scorpio has been a key component to surviving my last decade with any transcendent grace, at all.
We’ve all witnessed the unintentional carelessness of a culture ill prepared to navigate the difficult waters of death and bereavement. Personally, my experiences range from a bizarre episode of outrage in my hometown 20 years ago over a Day of the Dead exhibit at the local museum to unfathomable insensitivity towards me in the aftermath of each of my parents deaths. Culturally, we’re a long way from needing permission slips to go to see a Dia de los Muertos exhibit on a school field trip, but we still have a long way to go in the way of cultivating sensitivity and support around grief. The deeper implications of death scare us, a lot. Yet daily on newscasts and movie screens we’re bombarded with images of casual human slaughter. Not only does this cheapen the meaning of life it kind of confuses the hell out of our society. No wonder nobody knows how to act or what to say when someone dies. I’m here to tell you just say something simple. “I’m sorry for your loss,” is totally ok. Use it.
The evolution of Halloween, Dia de los Muertos and Samhain in the western world over the last couple of decades has been quite spectacular. Halloween is creeping up on Christmas as the most decorated holiday in America. Dia de los Muertos is creeping into Halloween and people now actually know not only how to pronounce Samhain (Sow-een, by the way), but also what it is. To me all of this indicates a strong cultural desire to follow the natural inclination at this time of year to tap into something darker, mysterious, and sacred, even. I’m just going to skip past the discussions of cultural appropriation and instead, celebrate the societal break-on-through to the other side. We’re taking baby steps, but we’ll get there. Not everyone can embrace the life-death-rebirth cycle overnight. We’re not all Scorpionic keepers of the dark, thankfully!
"Autumnal rites are among the oldest celebrated on earth. It appears that in every country the Day of the Dead occurs at the year’s end, after the last harvests, when the barren earth is thought to give passage to the souls lying beneath it." ~ Marguerite Yourcenar
Americans are comprised of all the cultures of the world and yet, living in this modern world we are far removed from our ancestors way of life. We have so many gorgeous points of entry back to deeper meaning and more fulfilling lives through our many ethnic traditions and customs. If done with intention and reverence, I am in favor of weaving a rich tapestry of traditions. Life is not static and neither is culture. We’re evolving, growing, changing, mixing it up constantly in this post modern world. It is in that spirit each year that I set la ofrenda, or shrine, to my ancestors. Instead of pan de muerto, I bake my mother’s whipped shortbread recipe into soulcakes to appease my mostly Celtic (Irish and English) deceased relatives. Pomegranates laid on the altar honor Persephone and her adventures in Hades, which gave us the four seasons, but they are also offered lovingly to my husbands Sicilian grandparents as fruits of the homeland they left to immigrate to the new world. We spend days leading up to the festive feast placing photos of our beloved dead and leaving offerings to them on the mantle place hoping to entice them into visiting us. As the veil thins, I swear sometimes they do!
I got serious about genealogy within a few months of my mother’s (and last living parent) death. I recommend getting started while one’s elders are still alive and if you happen to blessed with grands then waste no time in learning about your roots from them. Fortunately, I had paid close attention to both my mom and dad’s family stories and knew many branches of our family tree. Even the ancestors I’ve never met hold a sense of familiarity to me. It is an almost unexplainable feeling of exhilaration to discover who I am descended from and to gather up whatever pieces of their story I may. That’s just in ordinary reality, too. Through my shamanic practice I’ve had the pleasure of meeting many loving ancestors in journey. I am the medicine keeper for both of sides of family my lines. I feel a tremendous responsibility and devotion to my ancestors. Through my soulwork, the wisdom of the ancestors and the protection of my guides I am healing both future and past generations. I believe this same impulse calls to others, too and is at the root of the revival and preservation of our more chilling and spooky traditions this time of year. We must honor what has lived and died so that we may live and create life anew. Someday we will be the ancestors, may we be remembered well. Passing on our lineage and raising a mindful family is our responsibility.
My observance was solemn this year as I paid reverence to my many missed and cherished ancestors. To the Aztecs, this was not a time to shed tears because it was feared they would make the path of our dearly departed too slippery along their journey. This is meant to be a joyous time of festive celebration and we did enjoy our soulcakes and wine, but the truth is that my heavy heart was cause for celebration. For years, I had kept myself together by keeping myself from really grieving my parents deaths. There was never a gentle way in for me to begin the process until this autumn in the safety of SouLodge encircled by a fierce network of sisterhood. We journeyed intently each day for seven days with our guide, Bear who led us through a powerfully transformative initiation. In one especially sacred journey I was reunited with my parents again. Our reunion was sweet and oh, so short, but I felt the familial love and received the guidance I had been longing for since they’ve been gone. It was a profound and transformative healing. I have taken all of the medicine they gave me in that moment. The past is gone and I let it go. I cherish the memories and rest secure in the knowledge that our ancestors live in our hearts for as long as we continue to remember them. In the dark of the night I made heartfelt speeches of gratitude to those who came before me. I laid myself bare humbly asking for their continued blessings. As I stood in the silence before them I felt their gratitude for being remembered. I went to sleep this Samhain nestled in the warm protection and love of a thousand ancestors, basking in the comfortable truth that they live on in my very bones.
And now for Tricks....
.... & Treats!