2016 has been a very particular year for Death.
A hundred thousand people die every year, with and without media coverage.
But, well, it's like 2016 has had Death written all over it.
Think closer to you, or whoever you felt close to you.
Last Spring, I was in a room with Death as It took my Grandmother.
A few months later, I experienced the suicide of a pure-hearted friend. He's recently been coming to visit, by the way.
And then there's my grandfather turning 100 years old this Friday.
I wonder how many conversations he has with Death everyday. He must be very convincing, I'm sure.
Actually, before Halloween there was Samhain, the celebration of the end of the harvest season, and the beginning of winter. Halfway between the Fall and the coldest season, it's a festival, a gathering, or a sabbath -depending on which end of the spectrum of the alternative culture you find yourself in. A festival of Darkness, Samhain is seen as a liminal time, when the boundary between this world and the Other World can be crossed more easily.
With All Hallows' Eve falling on a Monday night this year, a friend of mine has decided to hold a Samhain gathering/celebration/ritual, and has nicely invited us to bring along a memory and/or token of the people we still hold dear on the Other Side of the veil. Hardly able to conceal my joy, I decided to dive into some in-depth research about Samhain gatherings, and ways to enjoy a cup of tea with the Dead.
The core of Samhain celebrations lies in beliefs that the souls of the Dead would revisit their homes seeking hospitality. Feasts are held, during the course of which the souls of the Dead are welcomed. Take the few days, or weeks before Samhain, to remember your ancestors. On the night of your Samhain gathering, set a place for them. Get the souls of the Dead excited about coming over by presenting them with the most elaborate, personalized offerings you can think of. Remember though -the Dead may come for a blessing, or may come for a curse.
If you wanna get spooked out, try this late 18th-century Ochertyre ritual. Lay a stone for each of the people present at your Samhain gathering around a bonfire (easy to get one going if you have a small yard and the night skies are clear), and run around it with a torch, or candle. Leave the stones where they are for the night, take a picture of their exact location and position with your smartphone, and in the morning, have a look at them carefully. If any of them is misplaced, or turned over, it's likely to mean that the person for whom the stone was set will not live out the year.
Samhain also happens to make for a perfect time for divination rituals for those gathered at your party. If you want to follow the old traditions, focus the readings on death and/or marriage. Get inspiration for your Samhain gathering with this beautiful 1833 painting entitled Snap-Apple Night, by Daniel Maclise.
So what's up with Samhain making us take our Shadow-side by the hand so easily?
Could it be that our way of revelling in the glory of the Darkness brought upon by mid-fall manifests itself with a yearning to dive inside, and a desire to rekindle with our Darkness within? Perhaps the majestic way Nature has of dying out in autumn brings us to ponder upon the meaning of Death, and more precisely of our own relationship with Death. Samhain is indeed one of the best times of the year for some in-depth communion, and conversation, with the souls of your beloved beyond the veil, and your deities -whoever they are.
Rest assured, here: you don't a fully-adorned altar to get the Dead to come visit. As it is, the truth is that there's not much that is needed for a good, thorough conversation with the Dead. Indeed, when you let go of your mind trying to control your every thought, you will find yourself more and more open to exterior stimuli coming through, as well as your subconscious. This is why the Dead will often come for a visit in dreams. The human mind's reflex and need to control is more passive than active during our sleep, and so the voices of the Dead can squeeze into our psyche more easily.
And then there's That One Time I Was Opening My Curtains. I remember not thinking about much except perhaps the well-being of my plants, and then I heard and saw through my mind's eye my friend who died over the summer. The second I tried understanding what was going on, the vision faded. So I let go of understanding, and he was back, and finished his sentence.
All I'm saying is you don't need much to speak to the Dead. You need only to be open, and willing to let your mind go of control. As they are, ritual objects, incense, crystals, candles and such things are mostly used as tools to focus on, and with, while you're letting go of control and opening yourself to whichever it is you're concentrating your energy on. To look at a candle and its dancing flame brings instant focus, and a quick meditative state. The ever-so-slight intoxicating smell of incense and burning herbs will entice your sense of smell; the crystals, as you grab them, intricately revive your sense of touch; the idols as small statues or pantings and prints make for marvelous works of art for the eye to rediscover every time.
By bringing our senses to focus on these tools, and/or performing any form of ritualistic action, we usually end up being more easily able to concentrate on our intent. And yet as concentration arises from lack of distractions, in the end, the intent always settles itself upon a quieter mind. And with the kind of lives we're leading these days, it does seem like a pretty good idea to generally try and treat ourselves to a quieter mind.
Whatever you believe in, whether you be a full-blown pagan, or just cultivating a slight interest for anything/all things magic, welcoming the Light of the Souls from the Other Side seems to be the way to go this Halloween. Take that Monday night to get together with your favorite friends, and indulge in the mystique that is Samhain. Go all out with an altar of candles, incences, herbs and crystals, or keep it simple with just an extra chair at the table.
Remember your ancestors, and have a toast in their honour with a glass of their favorite wine.
You never know who might be coming to say Hi.
You can even make due with just a cup of tea.