Talking to My Ancestors at Samhain: Religion In A Crisis

Talking to My Ancestors at Samhain: Religion In A Crisis October 20, 2014

Bonaventure Cemetery. Photo by Sara Amis

So, week before last, a local Georgia wingnut and would-be DeKalb County commissioner by the name of Tom Owens took a restraining order out against a reporter who wrote a profile on him he didn’t like.  He also tried to get said reporter arrested for stalking.

The reporter in question is my significant other, George, previously referred to by me as my Lovely Assistant.  Things were…interesting at my house. Not only did the sheriff come by twice in three days and Bill Torpy from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution come to sit on our porch, but it became national news.  The Huffington Post called, then Eugene Volokh of the Washington Post weighed in on the First Amendment issues.  People who had previously encountered Tom Owens warned us that they thought he was dangerous. Meanwhile, he and his allies were yawping loudly from the Internet tree-tops that George threatened Owens and he was “in fear for his life,” a phrase that can be used to justify violence.  And while in a rational world there was no way this would fly, the world is not always rational. Plus a restraining order had already gone out which should never have been issued, which meant things had already gone awry somewhere.  All of this made me a little nervous.

So naturally I set up my Samhain ancestor altar. Because, aside from it being that time of year, my ancestors are generally my first line of defense when things go wrong or I feel the need to protect me and mine. I have a well-established relationship with them (I have a smaller ancestor altar year-round) and I know they have my back.

They are also fairly chatty.  I have a Tarot of the Dead that I use mainly for communication with them.  The first reading I did said, among other things, “keep your guard up, and ask for help.”  So, I did; I called on my wider personal network of friends and allies for their support and advice and just to let them know what was going on.  I lit candles.  I talked to Miss Bev at Miller’s Rexall. Subsequent readings said it would turn out fine, in fact things would be better.  (Some of that is already starting to happen).

As it turns out, Tom Owens and his friends made complete fools of themselves in court. The video they offered as “evidence” of George’s threatening behavior actually contradicted their testimony rather than supporting it. Both the warrant application and the TPO were summarily dismissed.  Mr. Owens has destroyed what little chance he ever had of winning office, and because of the national exposure this incident will follow him for the rest of his life. George on the other hand has already been a speaker at the University of North Georgia and is speaking to the Atlanta Press Club week after next, and is presently working on his next assignment for the Guardian.

Now, George is no kind of Pagan, and credit should be lavished on his own conduct, the meticulous and stellar competence of his lawyer Tom Clyde from the Georgia First Amendment Foundation, the stunning incompetence of Mr. Owens and his crew, and the fact that truth and justice do sometimes prevail.  But George remarked both while it was all happening and afterward on how calmly I was taking it.  As I’m not actually a naturally calm person, I feel this can be placed solidly at the feet of my religious practice…including my relationship with my ancestors…and my community, who also have my back.  The support I received allowed me to in turn be supportive of him, without letting my own worries and concerns get in the way.

Here is a theme I keep coming back to, which is a foundational notion in my theology and the ethics which rest upon it:  My “community” is not just the human one, nor yet merely the living.  And our relationship of interconnection and support is mutual; the strength of it rests not only on my willingness (or need) to ask for help, but my maintenance of ties and reciprocity.  Ancestor altars, ritual, daily practice, communication and, to some extent, doing my proper work in the world all forge a strong connection. Recently while speaking to a friend who is in mourning, I offered this quote from General Orders No. 9:  “The dead pray for the living,  just as the living pray for the dead.” My ancestors are family.  I acknowledge them and make a place for them in my life because, among other reasons, it is a statement about my own place and worth in the world, my own value…which is also demonstrated both in what I receive and even more so in what I give.

And it did turn out exactly as they said.

For more about ancestor practices, check out the Patheos Pagan Ancestor Remembrance Project.

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