The snow that fell last night had melted by morning. The moon is a crescent in the western sky. Many trees have dropped their leaves, although a very few remain near peak color. A breeze comes from the north, and as soon as the sun nears the horizon the air turns cold. Autumn has settled in, and I am reminded of Thomas Hardy’s Return of the Native, which opens on a weekend evening such as this, with a traditional bonfire lit upon the highlands of the heath.
This week we turn our attention, alongside many Indigenous people, to the great mysteries of life and death, and to those spirits who share our family histories. These spirits are usually persons who have lived and died, but may be souls that have yet to incarnate. They may be human or animal, and are connected to us through blood and/or emotion. We burn candles, light fires, prepare food and drink, and tell stories about those who have passed over. We acknowledge their presence and influence in our lives, and our appreciation for their caring and aid. For those who lived troubled lives, perhaps harming us, or other family members, we set firm limits on their presence, and pray for their healing. This is indeed a sacred time.
Tomorrow is Halloween, or All Hallows Eve. This is the time in the Celtic calendar when the veil between the worlds is thinnest. It is a sacred time in many
traditions, as Ancestors and loved ones are thought to visit the living at this time. Actually, the veil is understood to be thin for a few days. The Days of the Dead, El Dia del Muertos, are traditionally celebrated in Mexico on, or about, November 1st and 2nd. This Indigenous, Pagan, and Catholic holiday fuses traditions from both the Old and New worlds. It is a time when those of us with mixed Native and European heritage find our traditions united in respect for the Ancestors and spirits.
During late October and early November food and drink may be prepared for, and offered to, the departed. Candles, jack-o-lanterns, and bonfires are lit at night, providing light to guide the returning souls home. In Latin America, individuals and families may return to their ancestral homes to share the holiday with extended family. When circumstances require, the celebrations may be delayed for a few days, and the returning souls still come and are welcomed.
In many traditional cultures, and perhaps all shamanic cultures, the spirits of those who have died are perceived to be engaged in the lives of the living, at least until they are reincarnated. To make matters even more complex, each person is believed to be a composite of souls, only some of which may reincarnate. Others may remain the world permanently, living in rivers, rocks, and trees, and potentially engaging with people. These Earth bound souls or spirits may be helpful, harmful, or simple disinterested.
Next Sunday, November 6th, we at JourneyWorks hold our annual Remembrance/Ancestor Ceremony. We gather with others in the community to welcome the Ancestors, and all loved ones who have passed over. We place food and drink, pictures, and candles on the altar, and share stories about those who are gone. At the conclusion of the ceremony we sit down together to eat. The ceremony is often profoundly healing for participants, and a highlight of our year.
May this week bring you close to those you love, living and passed. May you be reminded of the good that passed between you, and renewed by those memories.