The temperatures are dropping and the wind is gusting. The cold and damp are fitting for the season, they set the mood. There are ghosts walking.
I am at that age where parents die in clusters. This is the way of things, of course, but that doesn’t make it easy. I worry about my own parents as they approach their “end years”. I see that gradual decline isn’t so gradual any more. It’s getting harder for them to keep up, to get by, to get things done.
This year in particular I find myself trying to offer comfort to friends whose loss simply can not be consoled. Grief comes in waves, it takes its own time. Those “stages” are neither sequential nor independent. They can come in any order, repeatedly and sometimes all at once. And I take those phone calls. I listen. I witness. Sometimes that’s enough.
I’m looking for comfort too. I want to escape in a good book. I want a fire in the fireplace. I want a pot of soup on the stove. For my ancestors those things were just part of the days. Now I can go to the grocery store and buy mirepoix, precut and measured. (I didn’t, but I can.) Bone broth is on the shelf in boxes because much of our meat is already removed from the bones. Soup is no longer the ever present cauldron, but a can in the pantry.
Baking is part of that comfort factor as well. A good bread, warm from the oven, and I can feel myself relax into the smell. Pop-up biscuits from the refrigerator case do not elicit the same affect.
There is no time for this kind of comfort in most of our lives. We rush through our days, rush through our meals, rush through our grieving and just “get on”. Perhaps the most important part of this season is to make a point and take some time. In most of the U.S. we have an extra hour coming to us this coming Sunday. How are you going to use it?
Trick or Treat
Halloween on a Monday! It’s been a weekend of ghouls and goblins and I’ve still got a lot to do to be ready for the little ones knocking on the door tonight. Of all the scary things we’ve done in the last week I think the top one was voting.
This has been an election season wrought with emotional ups and downs, no matter who you prefer. We have the option of voting early and have found it’s much easier for Orion and me. It feels like a weight off to have it done, although the election results are still a bit Sword of Damocles. I’ll say it again next week – the day before the actual election – but if you have the opportunity, please exercise your right to VOTE!
Karina threw her first big party in the new house. Halloween Housewarming. (Oh, and incidentally her boyfriend’s birthday). It was a smash. She entertained kids, visited with relatives, partied with old friends and stayed up until the wee hours with the dependable hold outs.
I did my part the day before. We shopped and tidied up decorations and got the food prepared to go. She still has most of my chairs. Of course I put in an appearance at the party as well. It was fun to see all the kids all grown up.
Halloween is a mixed bag because it’s also a high holiday. The honoring on the ancestors happens all year round, but at this time of year it is done formally. Sharing remembrances is a little bittersweet, but it can be very heartwarming as well.
Here are a few posts I’ve written in the past about Samhein celebrations.
In the Twin Cities we are blessed with a wide variety of performance art options. Some of my favorite events are community based, like the May Day Parade. At this end of the seasonal cycle Barebones Productions puts on its Halloween Extravaganza. This is an evening event, outdoors in a park late in the fall in Minnesota. For the 21st annual production Barebones presented Metamorphosoup.
This year the weather has been perfect for this kind of event. Last night when I attended the temps were in the cool, but comfortable 50’s. Much better than some years, but still nice to be bundled up. This year’s presentation seemed shorter than some. There is often a theme or story associated with the production. This year seemed more pageant than play.
The audience entered through the mouth of the great whale and found their seats on hay bales under the trees. Actors/street performers dressed in Halloween visions of carnival characters directed people to seating and kept us engaged. There are 5 performances with a total attendance around 8,000 people (maybe more this year due to the fine weather). We watched the new moon setting over the trees as we waited for full dark, for the audience to settle, for the main show to begin.
Complete with puppets, aerialists, fire spinners, dancers, singers and musicians we watched the cycle of birth and death and rebirth play out before us. This was the story of the cosmic soup, the great cauldron of creation. This was a pageant of evolution and destruction, of limited resources and greed, and the bounty of stone soup. There were moments of profound loss and grief and moments of awe and joy. There was an acknowledgement of ancestors lost and of remembrance.
That description hardly does justice to the wonder that is the Barebones. There were dinosaur puppets, bones perhaps not to scale, but certainly representative of the size and scope of actual dinosaurs. The great wave of water brought the scene to the ocean filled with floating luminescent creatures lighting up the darkness. Fire spinners dances in glorious numbers, circles and forms. Each time they appeared the fires beneath the great cauldron seemed to glow brighter and the cauldron grew bigger and bigger. In the end there were the ancestors, and the stars.
Even after the presentation there is still production happening. This is not just a play, but an event, a community ritual. There is a beautiful Hungry Ghost Altar set up around the tree for people to spend time honoring their ancestors, beloved dead and unknown dead alike. There is paper to leave notes and messages, candles available to light, offerings made with the great tree as witness to all that happens at its feet.
The Jack Brass Band(the Brass Messengers on other nights) played music into the night. The brass band echoing on the wind is reminiscent of a New Orleans style funeral procession, somber on the way in but joyous and celebratory on the way out. Sisters Camelot had hot food available for those who stayed and needed a warm-up. There was also some merchanting, another source of funding for this amazing production.
This is one of my favorite ways to celebrate the season. The bounty of the harvest, the acknowledgement of loss and change and transformation, and the honoring of the ancestors all tied up into a community event. Happy Halloween!
I often start the autumn decorating in August, with the first harvest. Then add and subtract all the way through Thanksgiving. This year though it’s taken me until now to start thinking about Halloween decorating. It’s the neighbors that got me started. All those walks around the block are becoming inspirational.
I was surprised at how few actual Halloween decorations I could find. I suspect several of the things I know I’ve got somewhere are too practical to be tucked away. I know I have a few serving platters and baskets. The gourds and corn may have all been tossed. Over the years they can get a little nasty in the damp basement.
What I did find was my Brujeria. I picked her up in Mazatlan when I was there with Orion for his High School graduation trip. She’s too delicate to ship well. (I’ve been glueing bits back on ever since.) But I loved her attitude. Halloween, Samhein, Dios de los Muertos all come together for me in this little witch.
I’ve always enjoyed the fall. The cooler weather appeals to me. In Minnesota fall is much more dependable a season than spring. Denial of winter is easy as long as the snow doesn’t get too thick on the ground. I’ve trick-or-treated in snow pants and boots, but most of the time those early snows don’t linger.
On the other side of the year it doesn’t seem like spring until something green is poking out from the ground. That doesn’t often happen when there’s still melting snow. In Minnesota spring can last a day or a week, but fall can go on for months September-October-November. Sometimes it feels like fall in August, but it’s still summer at least until Labor Day, regardless of the weather.
It’s a good time of the year for fires in the fireplace, or even a bonfire outdoors. It’s all about being dressed in layers. Sweaters, woolens, deep pockets and hats but mostly sweaters. It’s not unusual to see a sweater with shorts, or a wool coat and shoes – no socks. There are plenty of people here who will hang on to wearing sandals until the snow really flies.
At this time of year it’s easy to be aware of the presence of our ancestors. I think about the fishing and hunting this time of year as a way to gather enough to make it through the winter. I think about my own ancestors wishing for a little more warm to get in the crops and a little more cold to make refrigeration possible. When I pick up sticks in the yard I’m planning kindling for when the woodpile is buried under the snow.
The Brujeria thinks like this at all times, in all seasons. She lives in harmony with the world around her, even when she is at odds with the culture. She gathers her ingredients when the time is right and uses them at her own discretion as the need arises. She feels the changing of the seasons in her bones and readies herself and her clients for whatever she foresees.
This year I’m hoping she’ll help me with that!
With the storm winds blowing and waters surging up the east coast it’s hard to be in the “holiday” spirit. With the elections looming and the mudslinging only getting worse it’s difficult to find the quiet mind for meditation. This is the season of harvest, gratitude and remembrance. Halloween when the ghosts walk and many cultures find themselves honoring their ancestors.
I wonder in this season what kind of ancestors we will be. What legacy will we leave for our descendants? Will they live in the zombie appocolypse because of some biohazard gone awry? Will global warming change the climate so much that they will have mega-storms as part of their daily lives? Will the bees disappear from their monoculture and pesticide laden diet and will our children follow after a generation or two of starvation and illness?
The planet has seen many upheavals in its long life. I’ve been reading the S.M. Stirling change series, which for post civilization literature is actually somewhat hopeful. The motto of one of the surviving enclaves “the 14th century as it SHOULD have been.” Complete with sanitation and plumbing. Or to quote another popular culture phrase, “Life will find a way.” On the bones of trees are already the hints of the new life of spring.
Such is the dilemma of working with the ancestors. Even my Grandparents would have been hard put to imagine life as we experience it today. Generations upon generations worked the land and even if they lived “in town” knew where their food was coming from and how it went from field to table. The idea of spending days inside (house to car to work and back) would have made them wonder about illness and fragility.
It’s good to be cautious about new things, to examine the possible repercussions of new directions. At the same time, if we are to be good ancestors to our descendants it is critical for us to remain open and flexible to possibilities we can hardly imagine. And now I’m round about to Halloween. It is the holiday of celebrating the imagination. Dressing up to become more powerful, or to face our fears. We open our doors to strangers who often don’t even appear to be human. Children costumed as animals, aliens, and nightmares offer a choice, “trick or treat?”
There are many kinds of ancestors with advice and wisdom to help us through the storms of our lives. There are the ancestors of our blood. The legacy of our family. We sort through the good and the bad, learning lessons from both kinds of examples. We choose which of our family traditions to carry forward and which to let fall by the wayside. May we choose wisely.
There are ancestors of the heart. The souls that have touched us in our lives. These are often people who were role models for us. Or perhaps they were just the kind hearted souls that appeared at the time we needed them most. They are our beloved friends and pets who we hold in our memories. Our heart connection makes their own lives a part of our personal stories. May we remember the love shared with these ancestors and may we further the legacy of open hearted love.
There are ancestors of the spirit. These are our heroes. The souls who’s stories inspire us. They are the shining lights that encourage us to dream, to strive, to do better. Let us our fears, make our choices, and move forward towards a legacy of spirit that continues to inspire and enrich those who come after.
Ancestors and Descendants
It’s the end of pretty autumn and the beginning of dead fall. Halloween which is all about dressing up as the thing you either most desire or most fear, and eating candy until you’re sick. Samhein about acknowledging the death of the growing season with the last of the harvest in and the gifts (probably prophetic) of the ancestors. Dia de los Muertos, the Day of the Dead, a great time for a picnic with the relatives both living and passed. A chance to catch up on the news of the year on both sides of the veil. All Saints Day, assuming of course that the Saints are also dead and that they have only positive things to offer.
I find myself starting to plan the annual holiday schedule. What day is Thanksgiving dinner and who’s going to show up? If I plan to spend the night do I get the bedroom or a couch or the floor? Any rum cakes that have been started and will need regular tending. I’ve received the list of ‘gifts I would like’ from my daughter, “just in case anyone asks.” The calendar is filling up already into January.
We lost another member of the family this year. It makes the ancestor part of the holiday a bit bittersweet. I do find myself reminiscing in the season. I no longer have my Grandparents, a niece and a nephew and a handful of very close friends, some of whom have been gone over 30 years. The pets that have come through our lives over the years also check in to my memory around this time.
But life also goes on. My daughter and her boyfriend are negotiating the family holiday exchange for the first time this year. It’s likely that the timing will work in their favor since they both come from families accustomed to making accommodations. But I’m not sure they both will get the time off work they will need to hit everyone’s celebrations. Like the season demonstrates, part of life is learning about giving things up.
So I do a final weeding and bury the ancestor garden under a pile of leaves. I’ll need to decide what to add next year to honor this years passed. I’ll light a candle or two in memory and sit in meditation. Hopefully I’ll get a pat on the shoulder or even a warm embrace by the ghost of one of my loved ones.
For me this is not the holiday of one day. I don’t enjoy a dumb supper sitting in silence while the dead are invited to feast. I am not a vigilant keeper of shrines to my ancestors, so I am not called to tidy them up for the holiday visit. Instead I take long walks in the dry leaves kicking up ghosts and smiles. I talk to the wind, light a fire, pull out a hand made blanket.
I am grateful to the spirits of ancestors past. Those who love me beyond all reason and continue to support me in my life. I am grateful for the lessons you have taught me in your life and in your passing. I am grateful for the love that I continue to carry in my heart.
I am grateful also to my descendants. I hope to also be remembered in love and gratitude. I hope that I have made a mark on one or two lives that made a real difference. I am grateful for the opportunity to pass on the few things I have learned so far in this life.