As I grow older, I see the overlap of Samhain & my day of birth as functioning to draw my attention to the frailty & impermanence of the fleshworld; of my own flesh & bones, as well as those of others. So much is made of ancestor veneration & the "beloved dead," but I find that the mental act of ticking off another year on a day reserved for honouring endings puts a different spin on "Happy Birthday." There are several other factors which stymie my Samhain spirit & I have been giving all of it careful consideration this year (while successfully avoiding the emotional pitfalls of last year). I feel I am reaching some conclusions & possibly some new directions.
|All Hallow's Lanterns 2012.|
This is one of those inconsistencies in Wicca that has always bothered me. On the one hand, Wiccans generally subscribe to the concept of reincarnation, yet they also assert that the "beloved dead" can join the table at a Samhain rite. If, after death, we "return to the cauldron" how can this be? How do the dead make it to dinner?
Besides, I'm not convinced that my ancestors & departed loved ones would really appreciate or understand being honored in that fashion -- in ways that are not their own -- in contexts strange & woo-ey.
A few weeks ago I purchased a children's book about the Day of the Dead. Of all of us, I think I love the book best, but the Changeling likes it very much too & he walks about, shoving it into laps & faces insistently repeating, "Dedd! Dedd! Dedd!" What I like most about the book is that it captures the celebration of family & departed loved ones in a way that makes all the trappings & activities make sense. Being written for children, it tells about the rituals & rites without attempting to put on airs or create a mystery. It's Boo-Woo free. This children's book gave me a clearer, deeper understanding of the Day of the Dead than any other source I have previously encountered & I believe it was precisely because it was written for children. Honesty; no spin, no frills.
|Pages from "Day of the Dead," by Tony Johnston & Jeanette Winter.|
In addition to helping me understand the holiday & it's traditions, the book revealed something unintentional. One of my major stumbling blocks to ancestor veneration & honoring the dead is the lack of physical access to their remains. I cannot go to my humans' bones. In the book, the families process -- with all their parcels & flowerpetals & candles -- to the churchyard where their loved ones are buried. As a modern citizen of the U.S., my ancestors & deceased loved ones' burial sites are scattered all over the land. There is no close knit, ancestral burial ground to which we can process, no neighborhood churchyard at which we can celebrate, no village graveyard in which to visit & remember.
|A Samhain Season Moonrise.|
Then, there's the harvest side of Samhain. I have not the time nor inclination to discuss this at length (mostly, because life has become very complicated). Instead, I will make a short note: Agriculture is very limited in Alaska & so completely over by the end of October that it is a moot point. Additionally, I have many misgivings about celebrating agriculture (I will not expatiate here, except to point to modern agriculture as the root of most of our current ecological problems). Some say Samhain is the first frost. My bioregional self really likes that, but the first frost sometimes arrives in September & that's just awkward. Samhain in it's guise as the final harvest festival is equally problematic -- not quite satisfying or even making sense. I question our motives. Are we just celebrating this day because everyone else is doing it?
My conclusion for now is to ask the ancestors for input (or not) & give Samhain a break.
|An oversized Amanita Muscaria...|
Our fruits sure don't fall far from the tree.
November: our month of preserving/preparing our foraged foods. This Hallow's Eve we started up our first batch of wild-harvested black-currant liqueur, baked a tray of chocolate malt biscotti (to be vacuum-sealed & preserved for holiday gifting) & set up a couple litres for vanilla infused vodka (makes a great drink & also works in baking as an extract). So, setting aside Samhain (for now), we shift to an ushering-in of hunkering-down. Like squirrels. Or something.