Today’s post is by Deirdre Pulgram Arthen. Deirdre has been a witch for over 30 years and is the executive director of EarthSpirit.
I spent the day today in the presence of my ancestors – beginning this morning as I raked and prepared the path through the woods to the Ancestor Shrine, lay the fire and collected the tools that I needed. Then this afternoon, as a part of EarthSpirit’s Sacred Lands series, I led a ritual of remembrance and honoring as I have for the past several years. It is a simple ritual and sometimes that is the best.
At mid-afternoon a small group of us walk in silence through the meadow, under the archway of trees and into the woods alongside the stream, which talks and sings as we pass. Dry leaves crunch underfoot but the winterberry is in full display and the moss on the wooden
board we cross over is thick and green. We travel over the hemlock-needled trail until we reach a stone fire circle. Beyond that is the shrine. This whole area is dedicated to those who have gone before us and even at other times of year you can feel their presence in the dark moss, mushrooms and rotting wood. Today the feeling is stronger still.
We have brought a decorated pole from the web ritual at Rites of Spring and some of us set to work planting it in the ground. Two people set the shell spirals from Twilight Covening in their new places and a others light the fire.The ritual is simple, as I said. We gather and open to the natural space around us with words and song and then we sit on the logs around the fire each with a stick to add when we choose to speak. As in a dumb supper without the food, each one of us in turn calls to mind and speaks of an ancestor or loved one. We make an offering to the fire in their honor, the bell rings three times, and we take white cotton cloth to tie as a cloutie on a tree near the Shrine where it will remain until it rots.One call follows another – this person’s mother, that one’s brother, a family dog, ancestors long past, an aunt, a grandmother – all join with us in the web of creation which is made of all we know. We finish with a cup of cider raised in honor of their lives, another song and time for ourselves in the woods there by the stream. Then, as we are ready, we make our own way out of the woods.
Samhain is a season more than a day. As the leaves fall and October slips by, the closeness of the spirit world is tangible and the call to enter in grows stronger. Our ancestors, whether of blood or heart, of spirit or of tradition are part of who we are. This is a good time to reach toward them and remember.