At Samhain when we call upon our beloved dead, it isn’t just humans that we remember and mourn. Some of our beloved dead are the animal companions that we have loved. When we celebrate Samahin that should include our beloved pets. The loss of a pet can be just as painful as the loss of a human loved one, but our society doesn’t always make space for that grief. When a pet dies we are expected to get over it a lot faster than we would be expected to for a human loved one. The lack of empathy from others can be just as painful as the loss.
Humans and Animals
For centuries, cultures across the globe have had loving and devotional relationships with animals. Pharaohs would have cats mummified to keep them company when they went to the Underworld. In Siberia the dead were often buried with their dogs. In China horses were given elaborate burials and arranged carefully in graveyards. We could argue that humans and animals have always been connected like family; humans are animals after all.
My Beloved Dead
One of my longest relationships was with my little black cat Bearclaw. I met him when he was about a year old and he lived to about seventeen. He was such a good boy, my Mr. Kitty. He was sweet and loving, and just a little bit stupid. I swear he could fly. He was able to jump higher than any other cat I’ve seen, and just hover – it was amazing. As you might expect he slowly deteriorated over the years. It was just the aging process, but it was hard to watch him change. Over the years we adjusted his foot and gave him medication to help him. But the last few years of his life, the aging process continued, and he got sick and then sicker.
I knew when it was time to take him to the vet for the final visit. He told me. It was clear.
We took him to the vet and sat with him while he took his last breaths. I sang him songs and spoke in a soft voice. I told him who would be waiting for him on the other side. I called upon Bastet to help guide the way. It was beautiful and horrible, but more than anything else it was peaceful.
Afterwards it was terribly painful, but also a relief. An ailing pet takes a lot of work. They need more help, they may be incontinent, they may need medications that are hard to administer. The relief that comes with their loss can also bring guilt. I didn’t think that I should feel relief over not having that responsibility anymore, and yet, I did.
Pets at Samhain
At Samhain he always shows up. I see him out of the corner of my eye. Even though he’s been gone for a couple of years now I still find myself calling for him, forgetting that he is no longer here. His ashes sit on my ancestor altar. Sweet Bearclaw is one of my beloved dead. At ancestor dinners, he gets to eat off of the ancestor plate.
The animals that we have loved and mourned are part of our beloved dead. We can call their names at Samhain, toast to their memories, and make space in our magick for them to visit. After all, what is remembered lives.