Here is my latest blog for the Moon Books’ main blog page. May the ancestors guide you well! x http://moon-books.net/blogs/moonbooks/ancestors/
Samhain is a time to think on the ancestors, as it is often said that at this time of the year, the veil between the worlds is thin. Our ancestors can mean so much to us, and yet, how much do we acknowledge them in our lives?
If you stop to think about it, you are the result of hundreds of thousands of years of ancestors, their numbers legion. You, right now, are the result of evolution. Taking a moment to stop and think about this can have great impact upon our lives. We may suddenly realise that we are not alone – that we have the songs of millions of ancestors running through our veins. That we are part of a grander cycle of life, death and birth that makes the little dramas, worries and events in our lives pale by comparison. It also reminds us that we are connected to all living things – that if you go back far enough, we have the stuff of stars in the minerals of our blood, the water of the vast oceans in our bodies, the sunlight and storms of times gone by. In this way, there is absolutely no way we could say that we are an entity alone on this planet, and yet so many of us feel to be disconnected from everything and everyone around us.
Why do we feel this disconnection? Ancestor worship used to be common, and still is, among many societies around the globe. While the word worship may prove to be difficult for some, perhaps simple acknowledgement of the ancestors would be more apt. We have the good, bad and the ugly in our heritage – we need not worship any of them. However, connecting with and knowing that they are there, with all their glory and all their faults allows us the time and space to truly see life for what it really is – a culmination of everything that has previously happened, and the potential that lies within the future, with this present moment the very real blessing that it is if we are awake enough to immerse ourselves within it.
So why have we lost this connection to our ancestors? I don’t really know – I can only speculate. Our real, blood ancestors may have been replaced by myths from the dominant religion, or pushed aside to form the secular culture of today. Patronymic and matronymic Names such as Svensson or Gudrunsdottir were pushed aside by governments and churches in order to identify people according to the fashion of the time. Women were forced to give up their maiden names when they married, and whole lineages were lost in a patriarchal society. Voices were muted, or forcibly silenced.
What we can do now is to piece together the fragments that remain, in order to connect with our ancestors. For some this is easier than others – broken homes and families, orphans and adoptees face a very and ever increasing challenge in coming to know and understand the ancestors. Through rising conflicts in various countries, researching your genealogy might reveal some truths best left hidden from your social peers. There may not even be access to records available – so what is a person to do? We must remember that it is not only the secular world we live in, but also a spiritual world, where our ancestors await us if we choose to meet with them.
And so we do, in an odd fashion, at this time of year without really knowing why. Stories of ghosts and witches and the dead coming to life flit through the minds of children and adults alike, as they dress up in ghoulish costumes ready to tackle the dark streets with other like-minded adventurers. I remember fondly my years of trick-or-treating with my brother and sister – roaming the streets full of children, very little adult presence, dressed up in scary or not so scary costumes, out past the normal time allowed and going onto neighbours’ properties, walking beneath the bared branches of the trees, the moon shining spookily through just like in all the pictures we’d been drawing in school, a cat running across our path. Ghosts lurked behind every bush and darkened window, witches flew on brooms past the rounded face of the moon, skeletons danced in the graveyards. These images of the dead, the scary, the ancestors were still so evocative and ignited the imagination of every child wandering and testing the dark streets of both their neighbourhood and their soul.
We have a very real fear of death in our society. We do not talk about it. We go to visit dying relatives in the hospital and tell them that they will be okay. When they do die, we send the bodies off for preparation by someone most likely not a family member – if we are lucky, the family knows the undertaker through their previous work. On this night, the night of Samhain, Hallowe’en, we the masses are allowed to talk of death, or if not talk about it, act it out in a sugar induced high as children, or an alcohol induced platitude in our adulthood.
Taking a step back from all this and really acknowledging the season for what it is, for what it means to relate to our ancestors, is what Samhain is really about for me. I acknowledge not only my human ancestors, but all those who have gone before, whether they be cat or tree, mountain or sea. The tides of time and life and constantly changing, and death is always around us, as is life. However, at this time of year, where here in the UK the leaves are changing colour and falling to the ground, the ground foliage dying back and bare earth being exposed for the first time in many months, the smell of death and decay all around – it is easier and much more obvious to honour the cycle of death. Rebirth will happen when the sun begins to warm up the earth, when the days begin to become longer. Right now, the darkness awaits, and in that darkness, the stillness of death. Taking a moment to be still ourselves, to experience a little death on this most hallowed night, is so utterly freeing and grounding at the same time.
We are so often not human beings, but human doings. To stop, to cease doing things, to stop being active is to become old, or worse, dead. Yet we are not annihilated when we cease to run around on the hamster wheel – instead we are immersed in the wonder of life and death, of creation and destruction. That immersion is, for me as a Druid, what it is all about. Dropping that sense of self to be free within the world is all important. Knowing who you are first is essential – for when you know who you are, you can then let it go into the dark void of potential, into the cauldron of unknowing.
So this Samhain, take a moment to stop and connect with the ancestors. Realise that the threads are always with you, shimmering along ethereal lines of connectivity in a grander tapestry of life. Some may have faded with time, some may need mending, but we have the magic lying within our very souls to do this. Pick up the veil that lies between the worlds, and see the shimmering lives of the ancestors on the other side – and know that there is no other side in truth. We are all here together, but our minds create the gauzy veil between the worlds. Lift that veil. Look death in the eye. Smile, and death will smile back at you. Rejoice in the impermanence of all things, and know that one day you too will be an ancestor, your threads still connecting you to all that is within the web of existence. Dance in the present moment, with the ancestors of past the future dancing alongside you.