Monday, October 31, 2005

Samhain and Tending the Dead

Today is Samhain, the Celtic New Year. Today is the final harvest, a time to give thanks for all the blessings of the past year, and a time to both reflect and look forward towards the goals for the next cycle.

Tonight is also the Dark Moon – time to cut out of your life what you no longer need.

It is a sacred night, filled with joy and reflection and honour.

One of the most important things we can do in these difficult times is to Tend the Dead. I’ve developed a series of ceremonies spanning several days, beginning with Samhain and continuing for several days thereafter, to honor the spirits of the Dead. They are a combination of Celtic and the Days of the Dead celebrated in Mexico.

Especially with all the lives lost through floods, famine, war, and other natural disasters over the past few years, this is exceptionally important now.

Samhain – Oct. 31 – Honoring the Ancestors

Nov. 1 – People I know personally who have died

Nov. 2 – The Children

Nov. 3 -- The Animals

Nov. 4 – Souls preparing to reincarnate

Nov. 5 – The Lost – the homeless, the unknown, the runaways, those without families, who have no one to mourn for them.

(Note: this has been adjusted from the material presented in my article “Tending the Dead” in the 2003 Llewellyn Magical Almanac. Rituals evolve).

Creating your own ritual is far more powerful than using someone else’s, but I hope the ideas presented here will get you started. I’m simply sharing what I found works for me:

**Start at Midnight;

**In addition to my regular ritual candles, I have one candle for that specific night;

**Music or poetry to read to the dead;

**Call in strong circle guardians, such as watchtowers, dragons or angels. Remember, you’re dealing with the dead. Just because they’re dead doesn’t mean they’re nicer now than they were in life. You can also invite one of your Ancestors to assist you in the rest of the work;

**Listen to what they have to say, but don’t get manipulated into doing anything with which you are uncomfortable or making promises you can’t keep;

**Open the West Gate to receive them;

**Send them back the same way and SEAL the gate;

**Take extra time grounding and centering;

**Eat when you’ve opened the circle.

Please note that these ceremonies are not for beginners; make sure you have a solid foundation in your craft before dealing with any dead rather than your own ancestors.

There are several ways to honour the Ancestors tonight:

--The Dumb Supper: This is a meal where no words are spoken. The entire meal is served and eaten in silence, with a place set for the Ancestors;

--The Black, White and Red Supper: similar to the Dumb Supper as far as setting a place for the Ancestors, but all foods are black, white or red. Nothing with any other colour is served;

--Simply setting a place for the Ancestors at your evening meal;

--Setting up an altar specifically for the Ancestors, with photographs, tokens and items that were important to them, and offerings of their favorite food and drink. Some people I know keep up their Ancestor Altar year-round, and simply use it as the focus for these ceremonies, at this time of year;

--Including the Ancestors in your ritual for the evening;

--Speaking the names of all the ancestors you know, starting with those closest to you and working backwards as far as your known genealogy.

These are simply jumping off points. There are as many different ways to honour the Ancestors as there are families. The intent is to strengthen, renew and retain the connection with those of your blood.

What if there are Ancestors with whom you had a bad relationship, or with whom you do not want to retain a connection? They are still part of your lineage. You do not have to invite them in to your ceremony, but if you can somehow manage true forgiveness and wish them well far away from you, that will hasten your healing process.

While tonight is a night of celebration and revelry, it is also important to remember just how sacred it is, and use the holiness of the night to set the tone for the coming cycle.

Blessings to you all on this night of Samhain, and for the coming year.