Honoring the Dead at Samhain has become more important to me over the years. The reason for this is likely obvious; as we get older, more and more people in our lives have gone from us.
When I first began practicing Pagan traditions in my late teens/early 20’s, the Samhain season was more about turning inward and focusing on deep personal work. It became a time of deepening my understanding of self, of striving to heal wounds and uncover more of my own authenticity. It was a time of creative gestation and introspection. There was always the element of the Dead, of course, but for me that aspect had more to do with the Mighty Dead than with loved ones who had passed on.
(The Mighty Dead, as understood in the Anderson Feri Tradition, are beings who shone so brightly in life that their imprint is still felt upon the ethers long after their deaths. Jimi Hendrix, Grace O’Malley, Martin Luther King, would all be examples of the Mighty Dead).
It wasn’t that I didn’t care about the recently deceased. It was simply that I personally didn’t know many dead people.
This is no longer the case.
This year, our greater community has lost more people than in any year I have been alive so far. People who will surely claim a seat at the table of the Mighty Dead. People whom I was very close to.
Since last Samhain I have lost yet another coven sister to cancer, as well as a cousin to stroke. Added to those who already grace my altar from seasons past, I have come to realize just how important it is for me to have one night that is dedicated to sitting alone in private communion with my Dead.
This I did last night.
What an lovely tradition this is! We Pagans have our foibles to be sure, but this is one thing we really get right. To set aside space to remember, commune with, and celebrate departed loved ones answers a longing left in their absence that little else can. I miss these people so much! I miss my Dad, I miss Tara Webster and Teresa Morgan. Hell, I miss my cats! To make a special place to toast them, share memories, say things I wish I had said, opens me to life and meaning in a glorious way. This tradition honors our Dead, reminds us of the connections we shared, and makes sacred the roles they played in our lives. It evokes melancholy too, of course; I sobbed full out for a long while. But that is part of it, part of fully owning who these people were to us.
Our Samhain traditions give us an opportunity to really sit with Death, to process it and come to terms with it. My cousin Sandra died while I was on tour. Aside from a brief conversation with my aunt while in the car, I had virtually no time to unfurl my feelings about it.
Lest my way of talking about this makes it sound like this is purely a psychological process that benefits the living, let me say that I see it as more than that. Yes, for those of us left behind, these rituals are profoundly healing. But it is not only that. The field of consciousness is a fascinating thing. I won’t pretend to know how it works, but there is something to the collective unconscious, the Akashic records, and those types of things. There is something that happens in the field of consciousness that is more than “our own psychology”. At least that is how I see it. I am one of those who believe the Gods have a life of their own, and yet our own consciousness can flow into them and theirs into ours. There is a continuity of consciousness that continues on somehow, that transcends life and death and the boundaries of physical composition, and this is how we can commune with our Dead. As Lon Milo DuQuette likes to say, “Yes it is all in your head, you just have no idea how big your head is”.
But I digress, on a topic that has been discussed at length, with no known way of answering definitively. Suffice to say, communing with my Dead – and my Gods – from the perspective that they are more than a part of my own psyche, is the most empowering for me. This was certainly the case last night.
My private Samhain reminded me how important ritual is in my life, and how I have let my ritual practices slide somewhat in deference to career. I have become “All Business” over the past few years, with my Capricorn tendency for goal setting, and the realization that as I get older I’d better have my financial house in order. That, coupled with discovering that the thing I most love to do – music – is also the most viable of the career paths available to me, but only if I work it relentlessly, has made me very driven indeed. As such, my ritual practices have suffered.
It is crucial to have parts of our lives that are not about goals, strategies, and saving for retirement. These thoughts can easily dominate; we live in difficult economic times, and most of us have to think about these things constantly just to keep our heads above water. This is all the more reason for us to practice, IMO. We need to remember why we work so hard. The things that are most meaningful are often not the things that bring home the bacon. Honoring our Dead is just one of the rituals that are important to me. Others are opening the gates to inspiration and beauty. Rituals for healing and relaxing. Spending time with friends and family among the living.
This year, my Dead have reminded me that all work and no play makes Sharon a dull girl. They have reminded me that feeding my soul is every bit as important as putting food on the table. One mustn’t be sacrificed for the other. This Samhain marks the beginning of a new commitment to keep the magic alive in my life on a regular basis. I give thanks to my Beloved Dead, who continue to teach and inspire me in death as they did in life.
May Samhain weekend bring equally insightful and meaningful communions with your own Beloved Dead, as well as a period of fruitful creativity!