Ramblings on the Dead
I like this quote (someone sent it to me via Facebook). It’s a gentle reminder that our ancestors are with us, supporting and guiding if we let them. One of the things that so many polytheisms (and paganisms too) have in common is respect for the dead. It’s an important thing. Likewise many of our traditions (though not all) have holidays, holy-tides, around this time that focus on honoring the dead. There’s Samhain, Winternights, Dia de los Muertos for example. I think as the earth starts shedding its excess, crisping into brazen color, readying itself for the cold and frost of winter, it’s easy to think of things past, to focus on the ancestors, and all the people we have lost. There’s something contemplative about this time, but there’s also a synergy that makes it easier, I think, to connect, and to tap into some sense of continuity with our ancestors.
I love this time of year. Even though the shift in seasons makes my bones ache, I really look forward to autumn, particularly late October-early November. Summer can’t pass quickly enough for me! I like the religious holidays that fall around this time and hell, I even like Halloween. The whole thing makes me happy. Today, while waiting for house guests to arrive from the airport, a friend and I decorated my porch. I only have minimal decorations but a couple of people in my town have gone all out.
I cannot tell you how much i adore these decorations. This is a house near the gallery I co-own. I almost drove off the side of the road when I first saw it. I want to do this next year. (of course, knowing me, I’d never take them down!)
I like the idea of being festive about the dead. Ok, maybe that’s not what secular Halloween is about now, but I still enjoy it. There is a time for intense grief, and a time to be somber in our reflections but sometimes it’s ok to celebrate them with joy too. There can be such tremendous joy in devotion, both to the Gods and one’s ancestors. I’ve had rituals for Winternights and/or Samhain that went to both extremes: a communal sharing of grief for our beloved dead, and at other times a raucous celebration of their lives. Sometimes I don’t know what it’s going to be, which way it’s going to go, until the rituals are about to begin. So much depends on the hearts of those participating, their losses, their griefs, where they are with their ancestors and their ancestors with them, and what they’re willing to share. In a way that’s the true magic of ritual work: you can (and should) prep and plan but then when you’re in sacred space and the ritual unfolds so much depends on what everyone brings to it. It’s beautiful, often unexpected, an act of weaving and cobbling together so many threads of experience into a shared and powerful whole. Then that all is given to the Gods or the dead. Good rituals are warmth and light to the spirit. They enchant and sustain and help us not only to honor the Holy Powers well, but to remember ourselves somewhere along in the bargain.
I have no idea what i’m doing for my dead this year. Some years I go all out and set up a full shrine: I take the breakfast nook in my house and lay out a huge offrenda for them. I’m not feeling pulled to do that this year. One year, I had a party for them, but that doesn’t feel right either this time around. Ditto with elaborate rituals. This year, I’m feeling that the days set aside to honor the dead in a special way are going to be deeply introspective, quiet, and very, very personal. I’m ok with that, so long as they are content that I am giving them their due. I often feel as though I do not go deeply enough in my work with them and I’ve been struggling the past few months to overcome whatever blockages are there. It’s been a wild ride.
I want to explore new ways of honoring my dead this year and, inspired by a colleague’s work, I want to write new prayers and a litany of remembrance for them. I want my practices to always be fresh and vibrant. I don’t ever want to fall into a rut – not with my Gods and not with my dead. (I see the words that I am using “want” and I realize how much this time teases my longing to the surface, longing to connect to the Gods and the dead, longing to honor Them well, longing to strip myself back to the bone until there is nothing that separates me from the Gods, until nothing impedes my clarity with the dead. This time of year is about longing for me, and it may be joyous or it may be terrifyingly painful but it is at the core of everything I do from now until the brighter holidays come, maybe always. This time of year is about a sacred longing and re-connection. This time of year, as I prepare for Samhain (I always tend to celebrate Winternights on Samhain—old habit from FOI days), I’m always reminded of that, the need for renewal, the need to reinvigorate my practices again and again and again. This year is particularly special — I’ll talk about that in later posts— but there are many things in my relationship with Odin that I want to lay out metaphorically at my shrine, examine, remember, and restore in the deepest places within my heart. There is much to celebrate and never a better time than now to take a running, laughing leap into the labyrinthine abyss of Their mysteries.
I would love to hear what everyone is doing for Samhain or Winternights or whatever holiday you and your traditions celebrate. I’ll be writing more on this over the next two weeks.