Reflections on Samhain and Mortality

An "Ancestor Gnome" I sewed for Bee - Photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2015
An “Ancestor Gnome” I sewed for Bee – Photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2015

Another Samhain has come and gone in my household and protogrove. Some, like myself, observed it from October 31st-November 1st (sundown to sundown). Many celebrated this weekend, for reasons of convenience or celestial precision. I know of some people who honor it all month long, which is totally fine, as the veil between this world and the other seems to gradually “thicken” and “thin.”  As for myself and my tribe, 2015 Samhain has ended (though we may sense our ancestors from time to time).

I’m always a little sad when Samhain ends, being an adult who has regular conversations with her inner child.  I love the magic, the mystery, and the socially acceptable guising.  I also need, as most do, the emotional release that comes with meditating on and facing mortality.  I had a bit of a health scare at the beginning of October.  Everything turned out well, but it was enough to make me pause and prioritize!  The fact that a high school acquaintance died in his battle with cancer a few months before really added to my sense of how delicate and precious our time is.

Regardless of what we may or may not believe about an afterlife, the truth remains a mystery to the living.  The here and now, and our time in these particular bodies, is such a gift that should not be taken for granted.  Even when so many of us in the polytheist and Pagan communities believe in some sort of continuation after life, we miss our beloved dead.  Personally, I accept the ambiguity of what happens to our energy.  The fact that our physical remains will go back into the cycle of creation and destruction, and that our bodies will mingle and always be together in some way, is profoundly beautiful to me.  I take comfort in that, and I’m sure many in my protogrove do as well, yet we still mourn our dead.

Northern Rivers’ Samhain Bonfire – photo by Annette P.

Northern Rivers Protogrove, ADF, gathered on October 31st at the Kripalu Yoga and Wellness Center to celebrate Samhain.  Despite the biting cold, we had our ritual at their stone circle.  That in itself was an exciting homecoming, and with the added psychic and emotional intensity of Samhain, it meant for a moving ritual.  Many of us were already tearing up as we gave praise offerings to the Ancestors.  When we got to our traditional apple rite, something passed on to us from Muin Mound Grove, some of us actually had to leave the circle for a bit to calm our nerves.  As we passed the apple, a potent symbol for the Otherworld, we named those who had passed since last Samhain.  As we named them, we pushed a clove into the apple.  The group then intoned, “come to the light” to the accompaniment of a chime.  We called the “Young Ancestors” to our firelight to gather with the “Elder Ancestors” who know the ways back to the Otherworld.  Samhain always makes for a long yet intense ritual.

Today I decided to take my household Samhain decorations down.  As you can imagine, there’s always a little sadness as you remove the relics of festivity.  As I packed the skeletons and ghosts away, it felt like the veil closing on the dead. Yet, I reflected, the Ancestors are always there.  I can always call to them beyond the veil, and there’s a chance that they may hear me with the assistance of messenger spirits, strong bonds, or intense emotions.  The spirit world can be a strange thing in that way.  And just as the paper, metal, and wooden skeletons will reappear in my home again, Samhain will also be reborn next year.

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