Ancestral veneration is something primal and universal, spanning the ages beyond both culture and class. Societies have celebrated Those Who’ve Walked Before in ancient Egypt and Rome, from South America to Asia…..everyone has ancestors, and someday, we will all be ancestors ourselves.
In many european earth-based traditions, the festival of the ancestors is Samhain, oft celebrated with bonfires to illuminate the pathway into the dark half of the year. We chose this final harvest time to honor our forbears because we know this is the time when the veil between the worlds is the thinnest. As the trees shed their leaves and turn their energies inward for the winter, so do we, reconnecting with our origins.
One Samhain, I had the blessing of celebrating at my family’s farm, where now 5 generations of us have enjoyed summers and Christmasses all of our lives.
I was alone on the property, save my everso trusty dog to keep me safe. Even though this was one of the most familiar places in the world to me, being there alone in the throes of autumn seemed to transform the farm into a slightly different place….a kind of parallel universe where I could sense the skeletons of the land.
In my grandmother’s kitchen, I cooked a simple meal using the utensils and pans that she used to feed her family. I set a place for her and all the others that had eaten at that table before. I ate in silence, listening for their voices in the wind.
Towards the end of the meal, my dog got up suddenly and went to the kitchen door, asking to be let out. As I opened the door for her, a quite unseasonable wind swept up, billowing orange and yellow glowing leaves , beckoning me outdoors and into the woods under a pale sliver of the moon. I had walked these trails all my life, knew the best sledding hills, and the best hiding places…..but that night it all seemed different somehow….even though I had no flashlight and the moon was quickly darkening, I could see through the trees and rocks, beyond the old stone wall fences and pathways into the spirit of the land.
I walked with a purpose that was unknown to me, my dog trotting along, staying close. The air was stiller in the woods, there were hardly any sounds. I could sense the energy in the woods around me…the intricate web of things and beings that makes that place unique……walking downhill, unable to avoid swishing in the leaves, I surrender to the woods, and I realize where I am going.
A bit further down the hill….I know its off the the left here somewhere…here? nope….no white birch here….oh, here it is…..wow this path has really grown in….oh, wait, thats not the path…argh…why am I doing this?……just down here…it should be…..yes…I know this is it!…..just a little ways up this stony ridge…..up under those two big pines…..the place where we sprinkled my grandparents ashes so many years ago, where they returned to the land and became a rich part of its heritage and ours.
I sang blessings to my beloved grandparents in the still darkness of the Hepatica patch, cleared the pine needles off the stone we had placed there, and headed back to the house, newly ready for my winter’s work.
Celebrating the people who’s hearts carried your bloodline forward, you can’t help but realize that you are connected with all that has gone and all that will come. With a sense of that perspective, you can see the grandest scheme of things, and your role in that cycle, which is at once both humbling and empowering.