Samhain on the River is an event hosted by my friends Nels and Judy for many years. This year was the last and I made a point to attend. The high point of the weekend is the burning of an effigy “corn man” or a “wicker man” in ritual. Nels did a piece several years ago about his experiences hosting fire rituals.
The ritual itself is powerful, dramatic and lovely. Sitting with a group of friends drumming and dancing around a HUGE bonfire is a great time. Taking time out to acknowledge and honor the ancestors is especially nice in a year when we’ve had a recent death in the family. However, dramatic and awesome though it may be, the burning isn’t the heart of the weekend for me.
The ritual starts with a casting of the circle, calling in the four directions as guardians and protectors. The ancestors are welcomed and so is the Divine, in many forms. Then there is the feasting. This is a huge pot-luck extravaganza. The ovens are going for two days. There are half a dozen crock pots. The desert table has two levels and probably could use a third. Given all the dietary issues in the group everything is supposed to be marked and labeled – does it have meat? Nuts? Is it gluten-free? Vegan?
When I attend I complicate things. It’s that darned allergy to cinnamon. Most people don’t think it’s a real allergy, or they just don’t hear it, or they haven’t a clue how to read a label down to those tiny ingredients. (Except in red hots, cinnamon is rarely one of the first ingredients listed.) It gets even trickier when all the label says is “natural flavorings and spices.” Most of the time that actually means cinnamon. Who knew? – Well, I do.
There are a few people in this crowd who have watched me react to cinnamon. Who know that my children wash their hands and brush their teeth before they come home if they have a cinnamon roll elsewhere. People who have been to restaurants with me and been asked “Please don’t order the waffles, the cinnamon roll, the warm apple pie.” If the ventilation is good I might manage the room (if they’re not baking right then) but not at the table.
Because of all the trouble, the feast isn’t really the heart of the event for me either. It’s the people. It’s being able to spend time just talking and catching up with folks I only see once or twice a year. It’s the late night conversations about being a leader in the spiritual community and the lessons that come with the job. It’s the laughter when someone pours a glass of wine and makes a joke.
These people remind me that not all our ancestors are ancestors of blood. Many of them are simply ancestors of the heart. I remember this year, my aunt who just passed, but also the friends who I have lost over the years. I miss them all the time and think of them often. But so many of them would have loved sitting in a circle full of drummers and dancers around a really HUGE bonfire.
I have mentioned this event in an earlier post. See Ancestors and Descendants