With deep pre-Christian roots, the Celtic fire festival of Samhain (an old Gaelic word meaning “harvest at summer’s end”) celebrates the beginning of the Pagan Year in many traditions, and marks a liminal time when the Wheel of the Year turns from light to dark, and winter is coming. In Celtic Reconstructionism, Celtic Spirituality, Avalonian, Druidic and Pagan traditions today, Samhain or All Souls Day has been revived as an important holy day for solitary ritual or “gathering of the tribes,” with practices emulated the ancient traditions and rituals of lighting the sacred fire, divination, masquerades and costumes, feasting, dances, songs, storytelling and practical jokes.
At Samhain, when the veil between the worlds is thin, spirits, deities, fairies (the Fair Folk or “aos sí”), or souls of the dead may choose to visit, and with offerings, rites or libations, much can be accomplished in communing with our Ancestors or interacting with the gods, goddesses and spirit beings. The borderline time of Samhain is excellent for remembering our Beloved Dead, receiving their wisdom and guidance, and acknowledging the cycle of life, death and rebirth according to our own specific ancestral traditions.
“In many non-western cultures, the Ancestors have an intimate and absolutely vital connection with the world of the living. They are always available to guide, to teach and to nurture. They embody guidelines for what is most valuable about life.” (Malidoma Somé)
Designing ancestor altars with special objects such as photography, artwork, poetry or heirlooms that represent our Beloved Dead, create a vibrant channel or “portal” between the living and the spirits. At Samhain, candles, flowers, incense, fragrance, and offerings of food and drink can be arranged to honour and welcome the spirits back home. Portable Altars are great for travel, pilgrimage, offerings, outdoor installations, creating sacred space or visiting grave sites, and also function as containers for our grief, respect and honor.
Also, honoring the Ancestors opens a valuable channel of knowledge that travels back and forth from the Ancestors to ourselves. The Ancestors are waiting to make contact! As much as we want to communicate with our Ancestors, they are willing to communicate with us.
Waking Memories are the sudden realizations and "epiphanies" that arise from spending time with the memorabilia and myths of our Beloved Dead, and travel to the geographic places of our our ancestral heritage. Tapping into the reservoir of "epigenetics" or ancestral messaging that resides in our physical essence can affirm the vitality of the unseen worlds, and the deep sense of belonging that dwells in our hearts and souls.
Dreamwork and Intentional Dreaming allows us to deliberately create the conditions for the Ancestors to meet us in the dreamtime, and to return to the exact same dream for more information. The process of Dream Archaeology is the extensive research that can be done to validate the symbols, messages, and direct communications we receive. In addition to paying attention to our dreams - guided meditations, visualization and pathworking are other kinds of spiritual modalities that can bring us closer to the spiritual realm of the Ancestors.
“With prayer, you may be offered help by those who have crossed over into Spirit. Many cultures make invoking the wisdom and assistance of the Ancestors a part of their daily spiritual practice. The spirits of the Ancestors live on and can connect to us, and they are there to help us everyday.” (Sonia Choquette)
As we become more attuned with our heritage, both our own stories and the memories we hold from the family soul, can become a rich source of guidance and strength. Any healing work that we do in our lives heals our ancestors as well, as they continue to send us their blessings, and cheer us on! Samhain is the perfect time to renew our respect for the Ancestors, reconnect with their energy, and receive their gifts, support and spiritual guidance.
Working with the Ancestors and reviving the magic of ancestral veneration is vital to the re-enchantment of our world, and is an organic part of the recovery process for the reconstruction of earth-rooted societies. By honoring our ancestors on All Souls Day, we acknowledge that these “wise mentors,” “special messengers,” “spirit elders” and “loving spirit guides” are there to help the living. As they shaped us, and passed on the gift of life with their intentions, sacrifices and achievements, thanking the ancestors is an extension of gratitude for our entire Earth Community.
“We call upon those who have lived on this earth, our Ancestors, who dreamed the best for the future generations, and upon whose lives our lives are built. With gratitude we call upon them to teach us and show us the way.” (Chinook Blessing)
Pegi Eyers is the author of Ancient Spirit Rising: Reclaiming Your Roots & Restoring Earth Community, an award-winning book that explores strategies for social justice, uncolonization, ethnocultural identity, building land-emergent community & resilience in times of massive change.