We’ve entered one of my favorite times of the year, where the veil between worlds is considered thin. It’s also considered by many as ushering in the new year. And for me it certainly marks the turn into the more inward spiraling energy that will take me through the winter months.
I like to take time over these next few days to celebrate, to reflect, to remember. I often get questions about how I do this, so I thought I’d talk about it today.
I always put up a special altar for my ancestors. While some years I make them very elaborate, this year I’m leaning towards simple. While I’ll be adding a few more things today, here’s a photo of the essential items that are there now. Flowers, candles, sugar skulls. Check. Also a bowl containing photos of my family and friends who are deceased. There’s also a corresponding bowl that contains bay leaves, on which I’ve written each one of their names. There’s also a burning bowl and a bowl containing rosemary – an herb for remembrance.
Tonight, Samhain evening, after the trick-or-treaters have returned to their homes with all their sugary treats, I’ll spend time remembering and honoring those beloveds of mine no longer here. As part of the ritual, I start by pulling one of the bay leaves and then the corresponding photos. I focus on that person, remembering, talking to them, honoring them and celebrating them and their part in my life. And when I’m done I take the bay leaf and light it from a candle and put it in the burning bowl. I add a pinch of rosemary, say a blessing, and then simply sit quietly while the leaf burns. There’s magic in those moments, watching the burn patterns and observing the smoke as well. And then when that’s complete, I move on to the next person.
For me it’s a really rich and satisfying ritual, like being at a perfect party where you get to connect and chat with those who hold you with love in their hearts. On the whole, our Western culture doesn’t give much space to honoring our ancestors, but for me it’s an important part of who I am. And even more so as my spiritual belief is that we choose our families and our important connections before we incarnate. We come into this life saying bring it on; help me unpack and unfold all that I’m here for. And so why not take time to acknowledge all the players in our game? Even marked with flaws and foibles and sorrows we are all gifts to each other at the highest level.
Another part of ritual I do every Samhain is do a personal review of the year. I do this piece before I connect individually with each of my deceased beloved. I start out with a recalling of blessings the year has brought me. No doubt it’s a wonderful reminder practice in itself, but it also serves the purpose of starting the conversation with my ancestors. Sort of bringing them into the loop of what I’ve experienced during the year, and helping me remember how aspects of their presence are woven in what I carry now.
I also do a review of what I’m ready to release at this time, and do a burning ceremony for that as well. For this part I like to burn a skeleton leaf – symbolically for me this represents releasing old structures that no longer support me. They’re also fun to watch burn as well.
So there you have it. A little glimpse into how I celebrate this time. I’d love to hear about any customs you observe or any special things you do that bring you delight. And if you’re wearing a costume tonight, do tell. However you celebrate, or don’t, may this turn of the seasonal wheel bring you blessings.