The Ancestors

The AncestorsHalloween approaches and many of us feel inspired to display pumpkins, think up ours or our kids’ next costumes, and decorate our homes with deadly gruesomes.  If you’re like my household, the kids (well, the younger lot) are ecstatic about the prospect of pillowcases full of candy and relish the opportunity to eat “brains, guts and eyeballs” for breakfast.  Perhaps due to the expression of abundance and the wide-eye glee of embodied sweetness I experienced during my childhood years, or perhaps the fact that I was actually baptised on a full moon at Halloween (the ancestors clearly have a good sense of humour), this festivity has always held a sweet spot in my heart.  However, as my years of parenting amidst the Halloween season amassed, I started to question certain practices, such as handing out pure-toxicity as a treat to unsuspecting youth (sugars is one thing, artificial flavor and coloring, wrapped in single-use plastic or wax paper is quite another).  However, these last few years my questioning has gone deeper, wondering about the passive demonizing of certain spiritual practices such as Paganism, and the simultaneous appropriation of one of their most potent festive seasons- Samhain.  Did you know that Halloween finds its roots in a Pagan tradition?  Did you know that Pagans are actually an assorted collection of indigenous peoples of Europe?  Where in our very politically correct Canadian culture, other then at Halloween, do we permit the practice of hatred and appropriation of indigenous culture?  Clearly no where, as it should be.  However, Halloween and the demonizing, commoditizing and appropriating of Pagan tradition is allowed.  Now, I’m by no means suggesting we should have it out with Halloween, rid ourselves of the costume wearing and abundance celebrating tradition, strip our homes of goblins and ghoulish decorations and empty our hearts of these celebrations.  Definitely not.  If you knock on my door Halloween night (and for basically the whole month leading up to it) you’ll see arms reaching from the crypt, witches flying on broomsticks, and jack-o’-lanterns galore.  But the energy and intention behind these practices are in celebration of an adored festive season, a remembering and reclamation of the spiritual practices of my ancestors, the indigenous Pagans, Gypsies and Celts of Europe.

For instance, in Pagan spirituality it was understood that the veil between this and the otherworld was thinner during Hallows Eve and Samhain. This meant two things: 1. it was a rich opportunity for connecting with the wisdom of the ancestors, to remember them and celebrate the gifts they continuously give their living descendants; and 2. as the veil thinned for ancestral communion, it also thinned for unquieted spiritual beings, ones you likely would not like hanging around your home. To celebrate the ancestors, treats were gifted to children as a way of paying the gifts of life forward, honoring the love-in-action power of our ancestors, and celebrating the newest descendants (the children) as the sweetness of life they are. Some believed children were reincarnated ancestors and thus Samhain was a season for remembering the ancestors and our full circle connection with them. On the other hand, safety measures were engaged to avoid mingling with unsavory spirits. Children and adults wore costumes on Hallows Eve, depicting menacing, otherworldly or gruesome beings as a means of keeping unquieted company at bay. Another protective measure was making your home uninviting and scary, ensuring wandering and lost spirits would not feel drawn or welcome to take up residence in your abode. Understanding the root of these still-current traditions helps us honor them and be empowered by them, instead of mindlessly desecrating them and the indigenous peoples who practiced them.

The witch of course carries the heaviest cultural burden of all. Ralph Metzner (American-German Psychologist), in his book “The Well of Remembrance”, speaks to the etymology of the word witch. He shows its lineal association with the English *wit, *wise, *wisdom, rooting back into the German *weit, *wait, and *wit, and its even further back to it’s Indo-European ancestor of *weid (which carries the slanderous associations we find with the word *weird). A weid woman, a wit woman, a wise woman was a witch- the indigenous European Pagan’s shaman, healer and elder. It wasn’t enough that she and her associates were tortured, burned and hatefully destroyed in the not-so-distant past, but to this day their legacy is haunted by continued mindless demonization of their practices.

Appropriately, we aren’t tolerating hatred towards other indigenous cultures, but why does the buck stop at the treatment of European indigenous people, and especially towards their sacred Samhain customs and their wise elders the Witches?

My hopes is that with mindfulness, awareness and intention Halloween can become an opportunity for collective remembering and celebration of our cultural diversity; and, perhaps it also becomes a personal opportunity for those who descend from indigenous Europeans to remember their ancestors’ traditions and reclaim them. Being of European descent does not imply that we MUST practice our ancestors’ spiritual traditions, but no matter who we are our times call us to live with integrity, and at the very least respect cultural, ethnic, and spiritual diversity.

Peace and Blessings for your Hallows Eve, Samhain and Halloween celebrations.

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