In a few days, September will be over and we will have entered the month of Samhain, the month in which some of us celebrate Winter Nights, the month immediately preceding the Day of the Dead, the month which is, in so much of Paganism given over to honoring the ancestors. I think this is good. Granted, I think it is even better to honor the ancestors consistently throughout the year but I am glad we have a holy tide centering around celebrating those who came before us. It’s all too easy to forget about them in a world constantly obsessed with the young, the new, the up and coming.
So I want to suggest a challenge to all my readers. The goal of this challenge is to give people the opportunity to consciously deepen their own ancestral practices. That connection is important. There is a Lukumi proverb that says “we stand on the shoulders of our dead,” because, as another proverb states, “the knife cannot carve its own handle.” We are part of a line of men and women, connected to us by blood, or perhaps only by heart and spirit (for spiritual ancestors are as important as our physical ones) stretching back to the beginning of our world. That is a tremendous amount of strength, wisdom, and luck supporting us, a tremendous reservoir of power upon which we can draw; because our ancestors want us to succeed, to be happy, whole, successful beings. They’re in our corner, so to speak.
The only thing they ask in return is recognition. Those that were part of our family line remain part of our family line corporeality not withstanding. Learning to properly and consistently honor them is a very important piece in the puzzle of one’s spirituality. It’s foundational. One doesn’t have to know the names of one’s ancestors to honor them. They know us, because they are connected to us by an unbreakable bond. It’s only necessary to call them, collectively if that is the absolute best one can do. Beyond a certain point, we must all issue that collective call because I doubt any of us can trace our ancestral lines back to pre-history! Those that are adopted have four lines: maternal, paternal, adopted maternal, adopted paternal upon which they can call, not to mention most of us have spiritual kin, those people who have guided and mentored, supported, and taught us but who are not related to us by blood. They’re ancestors of a type too.
If one’s immediate family was malicious or hurtful, they need not be honored. Go further back. For everyone, there is a point in one’s line where the dead will be supportive. You might have to reach far, far back generations upon generations, but it’s worth doing. Nor does honoring one’s dead take a tremendous amount of effort. I always recommend setting up and maintaining an ancestral shrine: a table or shelf that is given over only to them. I admit, that living as I do in a spacious home, that for some this might be a luxury. As nice as it is, to have an ancestor altar, it’s not absolutely necessary. Those for whom this is an impossibility can still honor their dead. The act of honoring comes from the mind and heart after all; what we do physically is an external outgrowth of that mindfulness. The ways in which we can honor our dead are endless.
With that in mind, my challenge for October is this: each and every day of this month, do something to honor your ancestors. It doesn’t matter what it is, but celebrate them. Instead of just giving them one ritual at the end of October, give them every day of the entire month. Talk about them. Share their stories. Give them offerings. Do things in their honor. Put up their pictures. Maybe, if you can, set up an altar. Visit graves and make sure they’re clean and maybe bring flowers, maybe share a meal with your dead. I’m sure that folks can come up with ideas for celebrating their dead that I haven’t even considered and I encourage you to share those ideas here. Moreover share their stories every chance you can. But honor them, commit an entire month, thirty one days, to living in mindful, ongoing partnership with your dead. That is my challenge, and it’s something I’ll be doing myself as this month progresses. One day, whether we have choose to have children or not, we will be ancestors. Let’s do for them now, what we might wish done for us: let us keep them in living memory, in celebration and honor.
Hail to the dead,
and to the Gods who guard them.
Hail to those who have come before us.
Hail to those who stand behind us.
Hail to those upon whose strength and sacrifices,
successes and failures we feed.
Hail to our ancestors.