It’s been good to see so much written about the ancestors this Samhain. I was especially pleased to be part of a Patheos site-wide feature on Remembering the Dead, where Lilith Dorsey and I were joined by Catholics, Evangelicals, Progressive Christians, Mormons, Hindus, and Humanists as featured panelists. Honoring our ancestors is not just a Pagan thing.
Our communion with the ancestors serves as a reminder that some day we will join them on the other side of the Veil. Samhain is more than a time to honor the dead – it is also a time to contemplate our own deaths.
Our mainstream society likes to hide death. People don’t die at home any more. Instead, they’re taken away to hospitals to artificially prolong their lives even if only for a few more hours, then to funeral homes for embalming to make them look alive even though they aren’t. People don’t raise food animals and they don’t hunt – they’ve never seen an animal die unless they run over a squirrel.
We can hide death and deny death all we like, but the fact remains: everything that lives will some day die. Teenagers may be able to convince themselves they’re immortal – the rest of us know we aren’t. We can try to ignore death – and let the fear fester and grow – or we can accept its reality and meet it head on.
We do not know what comes after death. Some of us have had experiences that give us confidence in our beliefs about death and the afterlife, but these are not transferrable to others. In the words of author and Druid Kristoffer Hughes:
To stand in your own power and to come to know what it means to die and what happens to the person beyond that point is something you must discover for yourself.
In this season of Samhain, take a few minutes and contemplate death. Perhaps, like Mark Twain, you think about your experiences before you were born and decide your experiences after you die will be similar. Perhaps you speak with your ancestors and ask them what they know. Perhaps you use this time of the thinning of the Veil to journey beyond and see what you discover. Perhaps you simply sit in quiet meditation and wait for what comes to you.
Our fear of death is largely based in ignorance – we don’t know, so we assume the worst. When we deal with death openly and honestly, we learn something about it, and it loses its power over us.
Some religions say death is the enemy and make preparing for death their greatest concern. Paganism says death is a part of life. We contemplate death not to make sure we believe the “right” things about it, but to overcome our fears so we can spend our lives living as fully as possible.
May your Samhain be blessed!