Gateway Goddess: Summer Samhain Feels Both Wrong and Right

Memorial Day is usually considered the beginning of summer in the U.S.

Since I became Pagan, I’ve both enjoyed the holiday and felt it was seriously out of sync with the Wheel of the Year. And yet, it has elements of ritual that fit well with my personal Pagan blend.

We don’t have any war veterans in the immediate family, so that part of the holiday has less meaning for us. I have a cousin who spent a couple hitches in the Navy, both of them at a submarine base in peaceful Scotland. His father served in the Navy in return for tuition to become an electrical engineer. My father spent some time in the Army Corps of Engineers. Neither served in a war zone, despite being in the military during the initial years of the U.S. involvement in Vietnam.

No one in my immediate family served in World Wars I or II, or Korea. It’s possible we had some Civil War veterans. My research on Ancestry.com turned up two Revolutionary War veterans from Maryland, who were rewarded for their service with farmland.

Family Memorial Day ritual, part 1: food.

Having once bent swords to plowshares, my people kept plowing. A farmer may never get rich, but his family usually eats well.

So on Memorial Day, my family meets for a huge cookout. The barbeque these days is held on a piece of the Wright family farm, which my Navy veteran cousin has outfitted with a manufactured pond and a climate-controlled weekend cabin. I’m of the generation that sits on the porch and chats. My cousin’s children, in their late teens and early twenties, float in the pond on inner tubes.

Family Memorial Day ritual, part 2: flowers.

Later, we’ll go to the grave sites. There’s Grandma and Grandpa Wright next to the church they attended. My aunt has been known to spritz their dark granite tombstone with Windex. Then it’s on to a small family cemetery reached by a path mowed into the tall prairie grasses. Until last year, there was no sign directing families to it. The local philosophy seemed to be that the cemetery’s all Logues and Wrights and Durbins, and if you’re not related, well, you don’t need to know where the small wooded cemetery is, anyway. We leave flowers, then go on to a third cemetery, where Great-Grandma and Great-Grandpa Sweazy and their parents rest. More flowers.

It’s summer Samhain, and feels so odd in the Pagan context. And yet, in another way, it perfectly fits with my new traditions. Keeping in touch with and honoring one’s ancestors is very Celtic. And my readings of Orion Foxwood have taught me that it is through the Ancestors that we reach our Faery cousins. I also learned to revere ancestors both of blood and spirit through my studies of  the Anderson Feri Tradition and my deeper work with its descendant, Morningstar Mystery School.

So on Memorial Day weekend, I’ll be connecting with family of blood. I’ll honor the dead and strengthen ties with the living. My cousins and I will tell stories about the summers we spent on the farm, the long pony rides into the woods, the days spent splashing in the little creek, the secret afternoons daring each other to jump off the highest stack of hay bales onto the straw-strewn barn floor.

We remember, too, watching the soft green plants grow into fields of soybeans and corn, or a garden full of beans and tomatoes. None of us ever sat down for an afternoon of cartoons during gardening season without a tub full of beans to snap or peas to shell for the canning jars. On Memorial Day weekends, we would know all those things were ahead of us. It was a summer ritual, and my introduction to the turning of the Wheel of the Year. My Pagan self was born in those Illinois farm summers.


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About Kathy Nance

Kathy Nance is freelance writer and green entrepreneur who lives in the Gateway City of St. Louis, Missouri with her cats, Charlie and Lulu. She has a B.S. with majors in mass communications, sociology and English. She has worked as a newspaper education reporter, feature writer and editor. Her freelance work has been published in general circulation and specialty publications in the U.S. and Great Britain. Before coming to Patheos she was a featured writer for Civil Religion, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch interfaith blog. She has organized both large and small public Pagan celebrations bringing together groups from a variety of traditions in the St. Louis area. She leaves offerings to the Fey and to her ancestors, as well as a multi-ethnic family of Gods and Goddesses who so far are content to share altar space. She can be found expressing opinions on a daily basis on Facebook and Google+, or @GatewayGoddess on Twitter.

  • Alyson

    Memorial Day has traditionally been about a time of gathering the family together for a BBQ, as well. In the years since my paternal grandfather has passed, it has been a time of going to the National Cemetery to lay flowers or visit. I will also go to the local cemetery where my maternal grandfather is to visit as well. While it is slightly better marked than your family cemetery, if you don’t know where your relatives are, you’ll have a heck of a time finding them.

  • http://Wulfcry.com/ Garath McCathron

    Sounds like a marvelous tradition, and a great way to keep in touch with your spiritual ancestors. I would ask you, though, to light a candle (or whatever your observances are) for those who gave their lives for the freedom you enjoy–to talk on the porch and enjoy the beginning of Summer. Just because you don’t have war veterans in your family does not mean they have not touched your lives. Be thankful your family has been able to stay out of harm’s way thanks to those brave men and women.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/paganswithdisabilities/ Tara “Masery” Miller

    Welcome to Patheos Kathy!


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