Way back in time, before Christianity took root in the Celtic lands, Halloween was celebrated as the festival of Samhain. Samhain was an incredibly potent time for our European ancestors. Not only was it the ending and the beginning of the Celtic year. They believed that at this point of transition in the year the veils between the worlds, between the living and the dead were thinnest. (As do many people who celebrate a pagan spiritual path, or the Celtic wheel of the year today). Samhain was the night where the spirits of the deceased could walk amongst us once more.
To our modern mindset, this may seem morbid. However, for our ancient ancestors, this time was a time of celebration. A feast of the dead. A time to honor those who had gone before. At this time in history know who you were and where you came from was culturally significant. Back then people knew who their ancestors. They knew their lineage, they could name them. For example, Welsh people used the word ‘ap’ meaning ‘of’ to connect your name to your lineage e.g “John ap Bernard” John son of Bernard. (The Welsh, in fact, could often be linked through their “surname” to 7 generations “John ap Bernard, ap Peter, ap James, ap william etc etc etc).
A far cry from us.
How far back do you know in your family? Your grandparents ? Maybe if you are lucky your great grandparents?
This connection to our ancestors, to those that came before us who we are connected to by our DNA contains, in my opinion, the gift of Samhain/ Halloween and one of the most important keys to our personal development.
The gift of knowing where you come from.
As the legendary Sir Terry Pratchett so accurately said:
“It is important that we know where we come from, because if you do not know where you come from, then you don’t know where you are, and if you don’t know where you are, you don’t know where you’re going. And if you don’t know where you’re going, you’re probably going wrong.”
Our ancestors, our loved ones who have passed over gave us in our DNA our skills, our personal qualities, our talents and our vulnerabilities, the code that makes us. Our nearest and dearest, taught us lessons in life, whether through actual lessons or the example of their lives. And it is by connecting with both these lessons and our genetic code we can get a better understanding of the root of who we are, which in turn gives us insight into where we are going.
To re vist these teachings at Samhain it is not only a powerful way for us to both reconnect with this understanding of ourselves but also a powerful way to honour the lives of those who have gone before us.
Each year at Samhain I take time to go through the family album. I choose one picture of a deceased relative. Sometimes one I knew, and sometimes one I have only heard stories about. I spend time with Mr. T or friends, or in a circle, sharing stories of their lives, sharing how this person affected my life and looking at what they taught or showed me in or by, their lives. Each time I discover something new. Even if I have chosen the same person a few years in a row. I can highly recommend this process. Especially for the ‘a, haa’ moments of understanding it brings.
Sometimes this process can be a little painful. Of course, we feel sadness that this person is gone. Often it is simply that we cannot thank them for the amazing gifts they gave us. So the other half of my Samhain process is to find a way on that day to celebrate them. So, for example, this Samhain I am celebrating the life of my Grandma, Christian Dean. She loved to make things and inherited from her a copious sewing, knitting and crochet equipment. I have always wanted to crochet but always been scared of trying (I am a bit dyslexic when it comes to making things). However this year with a cup of tea, and a cigarette (My Grandma smoked like a chimney) I am going to start to crochet. It’s a little thing that I think she would have loved to see me do. I am also going to be having a proper English breakfast as I remember the smell in the morning at her house was always full of tea, bacon, and eggs. These little things I know will make me feel closer to her, but instead of making me sad will make me smile (and probably swear with the crocheting!) And in that smile I will be celebrating her life.
There are many ways to connect with your ancestors as Samhain. You can meet up with members of your family to stories of their lives, or tell the stories to the new generations. You can visit their graves, or even visit a burial mound if you want to connect with the generations who came before that you didn’t get the chance to meet. You can bring out pictures of your family, or make a family tree. Or in the Celtic style, you can have a feast of the dead by making a meal with an extra plate at the table, for the person/people you are thinking of, symbolically sharing that meal with them.
However you decide to do this check in with your ancestors this Samhain.
By honoring and remembering them and their lives, you will also be honoring the roots from which you grew.
And by connecting with your roots you will begin to understand, appreciate and value of the person you are today.
And I know from experience that you will find will make your way forward in life a lot easier to see.
Have a beautiful week – Happy Samhain