Touching the Ancestors

As the Wheel of the Year winds down and the earth prepares to sleep, it’s time to turn our thoughts to Samhain. Traditionally, this is a holiday when pagans honor our ancestors and beloved dead, while the veil between the worlds is thin and the dark nights grow longer. Often this means cooking their favorite foods and setting a place for them at the Samhain feast. But what are some other ways to honor and connect with those who have crossed over?

If you have friends or family members who have passed away within the past few years, perhaps you wish to create something new to honor their memory. Writing a poem or song, embroidering a wall hanging, or building a rock garden are some examples of a creative tribute. Use your imagination, and as you work, focus on happy memories of times you spent with your loved one. If you like, charge your creation in sacred space, dedicating it to the spirit of the person it’s made for.

Another way to honor your ancestors is to find out new things about them. Ask your elders about people in your family or community you were too young to know or remember. You may discover many funny or poignant stories by asking questions and then sitting back and just listening. At a recent family gathering, I discovered that the cat symbol I have drawn since I was a kid (and which contributed to my choice of pagan name) came from times I spent drawing with my Mom’s favorite eccentric aunt, when I was really little. I’ll certainly be honoring Great Aunt Ruby as part of my Samhain ritual this year!

You can also, with a little research, discover something new about your family’s culture of origin. Go beyond the stereotypes of what it means to be of French or Celtic or African descent, perhaps unearthing an old song or folk tradition that you can use in your Samhain celebration. Or dig a bit deeper, and discover the reason *why* a particular custom or tradition was handed down as part of the culture’s lore.

Many of us also honor spiritual ancestors, who may or may not be blood-related. Who are those who went before, whose lives have brought meaning to your own? Women during the Burning Times? The anonymous “conductors” for the Underground Railroad? Native Americans who walked this land centuries ago? Find a way to honor them this Samhain, perhaps leaving an offering in the woods or garden. Find or create a piece of jewelry to wear as a tribute to them, or burn a candle on your altar in their memory, on the days leading up to Samhain.

There are many ways to honor our beloved dead. Samhain is an especially good time to do so, but it’s also important to remember them throughout the Wheel of the Year. Perhaps you could set up an altar or shrine of photographs and special items passed down from past generations. Or simply send them a prayer, song, or mental “thank you” when you think of them. By remembering our ancestors and paying tribute to them in some way, we continue the thread of love and magick woven through the tapestry of our lives, passing it along eventually to those who come after us, and continuing the legacy of our evolving spirituality. Blessed Be!


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