Death is about more than just the dead. Death is also about radical change and the transitions, good, bad, and neutral, we continually experience as time marches on. Radical change often leads to mourning and commemoration of what used to be. As a result, the energies of Samhain are powerful for any kind of mourning you may be experiencing, and for commemorating any important parts of your past.
The only constant in life is change. No matter how stable things are, something is always changing, in the world around us, the people we know, and our own circumstances. Whether those changes are good, bad, or neutral, they can sometimes be difficult, and even painful. When things change, there is always loss along with gain. Any time there is loss, there is the potential for mourning. Any time there is gain or mourning, there is potential for commemoration.
We Can’t Control What We Mourn
I have seen quite a few people in online circles asking if they can mourn changes of circumstance and life. Odds are if you are wondering if you can mourn something, you already are mourning it, and your question is more about seeking societal permission to express that mourning. Luckily, you don’t need anyone else’s permission to mourn, no matter how trivial or confusing the cause might seem to someone else.
We don’t get to choose to what we mourn. We can’t help the fact that we mourn not only other people, but animals, objects, places, relationships, activities, our previous selves, and anything else we place personal value upon. When we value something, anything, and it leaves our lives, it is natural to mourn it, because that leaving is a kind of death, a change from what was into something else. Samhain is a perfect time of year to consciously make room for any kind of mourning and to commemorate the passing of things that impacted your life.
By giving mourning healthy space in your conscious mind and practice, you are giving it a better chance to heal, like cleaning and bandaging a wound vs. rinsing it off and ignoring it to potentially fester, or picking at it thoughtlessly. Just like with physical wounds, sometimes they are superficial, and sometimes they are deep. Sometimes they heal very quickly, and other times they persist, with a resulting scar that will stay with you for the rest of your life.
It’s the deep and festering wounds that can be the hardest to resolve. Sometimes our emotional wounds can have multiple layers, such that we might think we have healed, only to find that there is another layer to process that was hiding underneath. When that happens it is easy to lose hope and feel like it will never heal, but with patience and persistence it can heal, even if it takes a long time. With the big things, it’s rare that we can handle everything all at once. The layers to mourning give you a chance to deal with it in smaller, manageable pieces, especially when the whole of it would be damagingly overwhelming.
Sometimes mourning is a lifelong process, even if it doesn’t involve layers of wounds to heal. Finding healing allows peace with mourning, and acceptance that we will always miss or be sad for what once was or could have been, and no longer is. It can also help with finding wistfulness and joy in your memories instead of just pain, even if the pain never completely goes away.
Mourning and Commemorating Life Transitions
We all change throughout our lives, but sometimes that change is so dramatic that we can point to a single event or span of time and say, “The me before this is not the same as the me after.”
For me, that span of time was about a decade. I decided in my teens that I didn’t like a lot of things about who I was, and they were contributing to my misery. If I didn’t like those things, that meant they weren’t inherent to me, and I could change them to become my truer self. It’s a very difficult thing to engage in critical introspection and self-change, but it is absolutely worth it.
When I reached a point where I was happy with myself (never perfect, but happy), I changed my name to mark that transition. It was a very tangible way to declare to myself and to the world that I had become a different person. I still answer to my old name, and there are a small number of people who knew me in my youth who use it regularly. I don’t consider it a deadname, but instead I think of it as my child name and my current name as my adult name. That may work for me, but if you have a deadname, other people should respect that and only use your real name.
Gender transition in particular carries with it a tremendous process of change and a lot of potential for mourning. Just because you are happier being another gender, doesn’t mean you can’t also mourn aspects of the old or assigned gender. You might mourn people, possibilities, and circumstances associated with your assigned gender. You might mourn happy times that would have been impossible had you transitioned earlier. You might mourn something else entirely. Alternatively, you might not mourn for anything you lost or are losing in the transition, yet still desire to commemorate the importance of that change in becoming your truer self.
You are completely valid in mourning or not mourning any aspect of your transition. Whatever is important to you about the transition is valid to commemorate. Making space for it in your Samhain observations might help you to find closure, heal any wounds caused in the change, and celebrate the good.
Any dramatic change of life may be helped by including it in your Samhain observations. Near-death experiences, marriage, divorce, having children, having pets, becoming disabled, changing careers, starting or finishing schooling, working on mental health, severing toxic ties, and moving to a new area are just a few examples of circumstances that might cause a profound life change.
Even if you don’t mourn for what existed before the transition, it can be helpful to observe and commemorate the death of the old so that the new may be more fully embraced. Closure for what has passed is important, and ultimately that closure, like mourning, comes from you, not from some outside person or circumstance. You may not be able to control what you mourn or how long you mourn, but you can control how you do or do not process that mourning.
Observing Your Transitions
Exactly how you go about observing your transitions will depend upon your personal path and what in particular you wish to observe. These are only my suggestions. Take, adapt, or leave them as makes the most sense for you.
Write down several lists to help organize your thoughts and your intent in observing your transition. If you feel it is appropriate you can use the lists as representations or tokens, burn them, carry them, place them on your altar, use them as focus for spellwork or meditation, or just keep them so you can change the contents of the lists as you gain greater conscious understanding of your transition.
- List all the things that are being lost which you believe you will miss.
- List all the things that are being lost which you believe you will not miss.
- List all of your hopes around the transition.
- List all of your fears around the transition.
- List all of your questions about your transition.
- List anything else that makes sense for your transition.
If you are mourning or need to heal, be careful not to focus your intent on healing everything all at once right now. Magic follows the path of least resistance, and if you place your intent on healing everything now, life will throw you all the pain and life lessons that you need to work through right now. A fix-this-now approach can help you work through things quickly, but it can also upset everything else in your life and put more on your plate than you are prepared to handle, leading to unnecessary trauma and greater hardship.
Instead, focus your intent on letting mourning and healing happen naturally, and in such a way that you will come out on the other side stronger and happier, rather than beaten and bruised, even if it takes a long time. If you work with guides or deities, consider asking them for help in making the process as smooth and uplifting as possible. Healing is usually painful, but through conscious intent you can try to avoid making it harder than it has to be.
If your intent is to commemorate, focus your intent on gratitude for what you gained or are gaining thanks to the transition. Also give gratitude for whatever has passed or is being sacrificed in the transition.
If your focus is to both mourn and commemorate, give thanks for the sacrifice, and acknowledge how it contributed to the transition. It might be hard, but acknowledge the pain and the loss, while keeping the good you will miss close to heart. While it is remembered, it is never truly gone.
If it is appropriate to your altars and practice, place representations of your transition on one or more of your existing altars. Try to pick one the altar that is most conducive to healing from or commemorating your transition. This might be a memorial altar, main working altar, Samhain altar, a special altar created specifically for the purpose, or another altar altogether.
Dedicate and light candles or incense to your observation. Candles illuminate difficult or obscure paths, and incense smoke carries your observances to the past, present, and future.
Choose a token that represents your transition to carry with you for the Samhain season, some other length of time that feels right, or until it too dies. Use it as a meditation focus, or touch it to seek peace and gratitude whenever you find yourself thinking about the transition. This can be especially helpful if the transition is currently happening or was not welcome (like illness or disability), or if thinking about it causes unneeded stress and dismay. It is important to continue on, find a new way of being, and make peace with the pain. Dwelling on the pain and focusing solely on what has been or is being lost keeps the wound fresh and inhibits finding new happiness. The carried token is to remind you that all things eventually end, but that doesn’t mean your life is over. You can always find happiness somewhere new.
If you do a special death observance on Samhain, be sure to include your transition. Give it the same gravitas as anyone or anything else you are including.
If you are creatively inclined, consider making a commemorative object or art piece, or creating a sigil. Use your creation on your altar, on your person, or in your home to represent the transition and provide focus for your observations.
Make a token out of something that can be burned, and burn it in ritual as part of your observance. Fire is very cleansing and transformative. Anything that is burned literally becomes something completely different by the process of burning. If you are gender transitioning, consider burning your deadname to represent your commitment to being true to your heart’s gender, no matter the difficulties involved.
Use the lists you made as a focus to craft a spell to help with completing or processing the transition as smoothly as possible.
Just like a drop of water, every transition, every period of mourning, every memory, are all unique and individual. Take it at your own pace, in your own way, and let the changes inherent in the Samhain season help you while they are here.