If my family got together and spoke to me once a year and walked away thinking I’m all better for it, they better think again. How do your ancestors feel? Samhain/Shadowfest/Feast of the Dead shouldn’t be the only time we commune with our beloved Dead. They have a right to commune with you, to be fed and honored.
Honor your past so that your present has meaning and your future is blessed.
It’s That Time of Year
This time of year is interesting in the NeoPagan world, because many of the people and groups influenced by Traditional Craft and are DIY Wiccans honor their ancestors on Samhain. By the by, DIY Wiccans is now my term of preference rather than “eclectic Pagans” and “NeoWiccans.” Feel free to use it. Anyway, Samhain is an important part of the NeoPagan Wheel of the Year. If you pick up any 101 book, it’s a night of sorrow and joy to feast with the departed. Many will even state that it’s a wonderful night to divine, and mediumship is popular. Black robes, lit candles, and processional chants with shrines hallowed for passed loved ones (including animals) are the highlight of the festivities. Some folks incorporate what’s known as a “Dumb Supper,” a silent meal shared by the community in honor of the beloved dead.
My quote above is not to go against the Wheel of the Year and be disrespectful towards this sacred day or the people who celebrate it. It is special and very important because it connects the community with the realization of Memory. But if the dead are so powerful and existent, why not continue to celebrate them beyond Samhain/Shadowfest/Feast of the Dead? They subsist as you and I do, but in a different reality than what many of us are used to. In this blog I won’t go into hauntings and my personal take on them. I don’t want to lose the focus here, which is that many modern communities, for the most part, have severed themselves from the living well of Memory. To many the dead aren’t as interactive and alive, or if they are they are not fed to maintain their egregore with the family unit.
The Wellspring of Memory
An abundant stream of consciousness that finds its source in the Underworld cauldron of wells and trees, the Wellspring of Memory is the most powerful contact that a people have with their lineage. It is something within our very DNA that births and links generations upon generations with their past, so that they might carry on the continued work of their ancestors. We honor the past by being alive, by overcoming the odds and becoming more than what we are on a daily basis. Each time we grow into self actualization, we are culminating into the peak of what our ancestors have fought and conquered so much for. Memory is a living fabric connected to the strings of Ananke, of Fate: a golden thread which connects all people. But in a family unit, a specific clan within a tribe within a nation, the clan is banded together with their own stories and songs which may be similar or different than the tribe and nation they belong to. And these stories and songs of the ancestors were passed down to succeeding generations at one time. People were proud of their heritage, and some still are. My own family is just discovering our lineage through mementos and photographs. We are informing one another, thanks to my mom who set the whole thing up, about our family histories. Knowing these informs me of my own spiritual practices. Why? Because I believe that blood and bone never die.
The Body of Memory
The immense information held deep within the blood and bones of who we are, the Body of Memory is the vessel that is evidence of the past succeeding into the present. It is the caricature of triumph held within our very flesh. Like I said above, if my family all spoke with me once a year and thought that was okay, they better think again. Many of us hate to be disconnected and feel alone. Loneliness is the requiem of companionship, and humans are nothing if not social creatures. We evolved that way. It’s how we’ve been able to thrive for hundreds of millennia. It’s not enough to know you meet someone and you have similar tastes in music, art, films, drinks, food, etc. It’s not enough to simply have a family or even friends around us, because loneliness is a disassociation of the soul: the soul has forgotten why the connection to the living exists in the first place. It has forgotten the message of Memory, the stream of consciousness connected to Ananke that underlies all of us. There is no clan, no Mythos, no tribe, no rites of passage to pass on the past to the present and give us hope for the future. We have forgotten that our bodies are a living testimony.
The Shrine of Memory
As the living are lonely, so are the dead. They aren’t frightening, just sad. Many folks have a shelf or several in their homes that has photos of the their departed loved ones. They frequently look at them and smile, saying, “Happy birthday dad” or “I miss you brother.” Today lots of folks also have Facebook pages up to memorialize the deceased. This is commendable, because it demonstrates that within our very being we are desiring to acknowledge that our bodies are the central whirlpools of energy within the stream of Memory: in other words, we are desperate to remember and keep something alive within us. The only way to be truly alive is to maintain the shrine of Memory. A shrine is a shelf or flat surface that acts as a house. This “house” has photographs and mementos of the beloved dead. Candles may be lit and offering bowls may be present. This shrine is the external manifestation of the internal stream. This is the central point that our inner energies are connected to. The building and maintaining of a shrine to the dead is not only ancient, but it is where we actually weave the strings of Memory and Ananke to tie us always to the spirits. We establish the foundation for an egregore. After that, it is up to us to continue to remember the dead not just by being alive, but by helping them to not be lonely. We need to acknowledge them all of the time. We need to feed them, care for them, and speak with them. They are desperate to speak and help us. Many, myself included, are learning or have learned to ask them for assistance rather than a Deity because the ancestors are closer to us. In my temple, we honor the dead before we call on the Gods, because it was our ancestors who taught us the stories of the people. They revealed the spirits and Gods. They contacted the Old Ones and shared these so that we might be able to have an identity and be a part of something greater than ourselves: to bring honor to them. Honoring ourselves is honoring them.