Honoring the Ancestors at Earthaven
By Melissa River Otter
The end of October and beginning of November is a magical time of year. The season is changing. Our ancestors from cultures around the world believed this was a moment when the Veil between the world of the Unseen and the Seen becomes thin. Many at Earthaven are seeking to incorporate aspects of our old earth-based spiritual traditions into our community holiday events, to return the original significance and power to these times of year.
Every October 31, the Earthaven community gathers to celebrate our annual Samhain ceremony, followed by one of our favorite annual events, the Ancestor Feast. This year, in 2018, is our 11th annual Ancestor Feast.
The community arrives at the Earthaven Council Hall on the afternoon of October 31. We create an altar together with photos and mementos of the deceased from our families and community that we wish to remember. We circle to a drumbeat, around and around the center of the Council Hall and around the altar we have created, spiraling within a circle of broomsticks and the glow of jack-o-lanterns.
SAMHAIN (pronounced “SOW-en”) is the name for the ancient Celtic New Year. Our ancestors around the world, themselves peoples of the lands from which they came, held autumn festivals at the end of the agricultural year, mid-way between Fall Equinox and Winter Solstice, to mark the beginning of the winter season and the time of remembering their Dead.
Most of the names of these peoples and their celebrations at this time of year have been lost to us. We use the name “Samhain” to honor this ancient name remaining to us, thanks to the influx of immigrants of Celtic origin to this country in centuries past, people who were still connected to the land and to their ancient traditions until they were forced to become immigrations due to famine, poverty, and political upheaval.
Samhain was Christianized in Europe as the three-day celebration of All Hallows, All Saints’, and All Souls. All Hallows Eve (or “Evening”) was pronounced as “Halloween” by the people of the British Isles - the Irish, Welch, Scottish, and English - who brought their ancient Samhain celebrati
on to this country by the name of Halloween. These traditions from Europe were combined with Native American and African traditions in the New World to create the rich Day of the Dead celebrations of Latin America.
This is the celebration of the "Death of the Green Year". The life energy of the living world goes down to the roots, the trees feed the soil with their leaves, as the forests go down in a blaze of color. This is the end of the season of the Harvest, and the beginning of the Season of the Ancestors.
We can hear their voices now, through the thinning Veil, and we can hear the voices of the parts of ourselves that are often drowned out in the greener, busier time of year. This celebration is an opportunity to connect with these parts of ourselves, as we, like the natural world, prepare for the winter season.
Each year the Earthaven community creates sacred space, honoring our connection to each other and to all Beings, feeling our connection to the life of the earth and the energy moving through ourselves. We sweep out the old, releasing what we wish to let go of, what must die so that new life can be fed. We then light candles to welcome in the New Year and new season, making our intentions for what we are bringing with us into the Dark Half of the year.
We sit in silent meditation before an altar ablaze with candles that illuminate the images of those that have gone before. Then we circle around dinner, each of us having brought a dish from our ancestral lineage, or a favorite of our families of origin. We give thanks for the abundance of our harvest, and spend the rest of the evening telling stories of our ancestors and the loved ones we have lost, raising our glasses of warm cider in tribute as the names are spoken of those upon whose shoulders we stand.