Monday, October 29, 2012

Ancestral Musings

Sandy is blowing, and there is a light rain this morning. We're all waiting for the storm to come ashore. The winds of a hurricane are down right frightening. They sound like a train coming into your house, they roar like the angry T Rex from Jurassic Park and they destroy everything they touch. Object are not just lifted up neatly like you see in a movie. No, objects are seized, shaken and thrown, like a toy by a deranged toddler on crack. They blow apart, shredded by the invisible hand of nature in a fit of rage that cannot be contained by tape, rope or sand bags.

Steve Nelson, an astrologer I like, has said these are cleansing winds, meant to claim what is not needed. I think they are more than cleansing. A cleansing wind will leave the the place, well, clean. Free of detritus and debris, a slate wiped smooth by the hand of God. This is a destroying wind, a power meant to take down the unbidden and unnecessary. The winds of change leave no any leaf unturned. When a power such as Sandy comes through, it will take even the leaves.

And so I use this power to focus my inner eye and ask myself what is changing, what is leaving and what will be here when this passes? This storm arrives on the week of Samhain -- which is also All Souls, Fet Ghede and my birthday. A gateway to the otherside, where the dead live and love, reaching forth for us. I have seen a rise in pagan groups honoring the Ancestors at this time of year. I like the way they are embracing this practice, but I remember a time when Samhain was regarded as the New Year in Wiccan cycles.

I am an initiate in an old Craft trad through my mother and initiator, Dolores Ashcroft-Nowicki. In that trad, I am  called a Walker. I was drawn to that tradition because it was one of the few where the Ancestors were called forth at Samhain. No other Wiccan path was doing Ancestor work 15 years ago. Today, all pagan paths have embraced the Ancestors and this is good. But Ancestors are not just a Samhain gesture. In the Vodou tradition that I am ordained in, Ancestors are a daily prayer, a daily offering, a daily acknowledgement. My morning prayers are all about thanking the Ancestors for their guidance, for my gifts and for my life. I can not help but wonder if the Ancestors are raging forth this year, with a tidal change of some sort. And I fear that the change will herald unprecedented things.

Never doubt the power of the Dead. They reach past the living to infuse everything around us. We honor them with eternal flames (Kennedy, Elvis), monuments and buildings, tours and parties. The most famous dead of all reside in Egypt and even they can't get a moment of peace for all the tourists traipsing through their homes and tombs. The Dead infuse all parts of our lives. They speak to us through music, art and literature.  One of the most popular books in modern times used a Dead King's army to over throw a living one. Even the Bible speaks of Saul commanding the witch of Endor to call up the Dead. King Solomon was not immune to the use of the Dead for his own ends. And despite a rise in Afro-Caribbean religious practice, there are many left handed practitioners who are calling upon the dead for personal power and gain. Where is the balance in all of this? Having found a pathway to the other side, the Dead should be honored for their lives, acknowledged for their experience and left in peace.

I can not help but wonder if the many oddities in life, religious practice and personal sentiment I keep hearing about have anything to do with the unrest of the Ancestors. I know they are feeling the pull of the living and the pace of life speeding up. Surely they sit in Ginen wondering what the hell we are all doing. I can not be the only one who's parents occasionally come through with a slap on the back of my head and the admonition to stop and think about my actions.

And that is my point -- the Ancestors are not a once a year ritual. You can not make up for a life time of ill choices with one rite. I moved away from the Craft because of this reason. I couldn't fathom how a single rite performed once a year would honor the people I had known and loved. And that I would spend the rest of year praising a deity with whom I had to create a personal relationship. I already HAD a personal relationship with my Dead. So why would I acknowledge them once, then flit off to placate a stranger. It didn't work for me. When I came to Vodou and discovered that one had to build an Ancestral foundation, I knew I had come home to the path that spoke to me on a very personal level.
Do people genuinely think you can pull the Ancestors off the shelf at Samhain, offer them a glass of cheap wine and hope they'll leave satisfied for the rest of the year? If so, then people are sadly mistaken. And trust me, the Ancestors are really mad. Its been building for a while, and its coming to a head. I wouldn't want to be in the way when it explodes, either.

The wind is getting stronger. I think I will go walk the dogs before they refuse to go outside. And I will hunker down with my peeps, light a candle and say my prayers. I know they've got my back.

May all your Dead be fed well and true this Samhain week.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Thank you for this beautiful post, as well as all the others. Even though I have never followed a Wiccan or Celtic path, Samhain always made sense to me as the end of the year, and even before I knew how to serve them, I was aware of my dead, and wanted to leave offerings for them.

So this year, I set up my two altars, one for Fete Gede and my ancestors, all in white. And I also set up a Dia de los Muertos altar, with all the laughter and beauty of that ancestral tradition. I'm blessed to live near an ancestral graveyard....I can go and visit my ancestors final resting place this year (and any time!), and leave offerings on their graves. Even the Brijit and Baron grave are literally my ancestors, and I feel a great power and peace in that little cemetery.

This year, I took Nov. 1 off so I can go spend time with them. Of course, like Mambo, I talk my ancestors much of the time, but this time of the year feels special, and I want to thank them for being so much a part of my life. I'll go in the afternoon, leave them flowers, cigarettes, tequila. Light candles for them (but with battery operated candles--have to be safe in an arid landscape!), and thank them for the great gifts they've given me.

And thank you, Mambo!