Happy Halloween!

Today is the rather secular holiday of Halloween, where kids dress up in costumes and eat absurd amounts of candy. We’ll be observing by doing about the same, only going easy on the candy part. My son is going as a ‘skull ninja’ and my daughter found a dragon suit to wear.

There is something lovely, especially for a kid, about getting to walk around in the dark, autumnal weather. The leaves crunch under the feet. The cold (or rain) nips the nose. You get to knock on doors that you might never touch all the other days of the year. And the extra candy is always a sweet treat. Especially if you have a mother like me or mine, who doesn’t let much sugar into the house!

Tonight we’ll observe just like regular Americans, enjoying the holiday for what it is. Tomorrow and Saturday our family will observe this time in our own, more meaningful way.

Here are some past posts I quite like on this time of year. Enjoy!

Samhain Ritual

Kids & Halloween

The Not-So-Dumb Supper

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Holidays and Hinduism

Diwali begins today. Well, in some communities. The major Lakshmi puja is observed the day after the dark moon, on Tuesday. What’s hard for me about observing Hindu holidays is that so many of the details depend on cultural traditions of the Indian subcontinent. Tamils observe slightly differently than Nepalese than the myriad other ethnic and cultural groups. The gods even have different names and sometimes slightly different mythology! While this is really confusing, it’s also liberating. There is no “right” way to observe anything in Hinduism!

I spend a lot of time trying to distill what I think the essence of an observance is all about. Diwali is a time of triumph of light over dark, of gratitude for friends and family, of honoring Lakshmi, who brings wealth, beauty, and abundance. It’s all very appropriate for this season – what with various end of harvest traditions, the approaching Thanksgiving holiday in the US in two weeks, and the various festivals of light in December.

Today begins the five-day observance. In some places it starts with honoring the gods of death and darkness. Yes, the light triumphs over the dark, but the dark is necessary, as any devotee of Kali knows! Today also lines up with Veterans’ Day/Remembrance Day. Tomorrow also the marks the astrological end of the Samhain season, so I think one more observance of the Dead is a fitting thing.

This morning I sat on my cushion, lit my incense, my meditation candle and the candle in my black glass votive for the Ancestors. I offered up words of praise and peace for the Mighty Dead, the Ancestors, and all those who have fallen in war – either as combatants, resisters, or civilian casualties. May their souls find peace. May those of us living find peace in our hearts, minds, souls, in our actions and our words. As the prayer of St Francis says, “Where there is hatred, let me sow peace.”

In an hour I’m heading to yoga. It’s been about two months since I’ve been. Today’s yogic focus is on Kali – how could I miss that?! I will offer up my practice on the mat to Kali, praying that any strength I gain will create more peace within me. I’ll carry that into tomorrow’s Diwali focus: freedom from fear.

Only by letting go of hatred, violence and fear is there room for true abundance.

The Not So Dumb Supper

I don’t know the much about history and tradition of the dumb supper. I’ve been to a few communal suppers and really enjoyed them. A few years ago I decided I’d like to add this to my own family’s traditions. Finding some balance to the commercialized candy-fest of mainstream Halloween and creating a container to discuss death and ancestors with the kids is important to me. This was our third dumb supper – and it certainly wasn’t all that dumb (and by dumb, I mean silent).

My ideal dumb supper is a beautiful meal, containing favorite foods of those we are honoring, laid upon a beautiful table/altar, with a place set for our ancestors, eaten in silence as we meditate on those that have passed and listen for their voices.

What typically happens is the children make a lot of noise, I realize too late that I don’t actually know what any of my ancestors liked to eat, and the dinner is chaos. Just like if we had guests.

Here is what our table looked like this year.

Dumb Supper 2012

From left to right, back: A picture of my friend Tim, who chose to leave this world five years ago, sitting on the Mendenhall Glacier; a picture of my maternal grandmother and namesake; a shot glass of water; some rocks from Alaska and Ireland; a black glass votive from my ancestor altar; a shot glass of wine; a green candle for more light; a picture of Victor and Cora Anderson, founders of the Feri tradition; various decorative gourds.

From left to right, front: A peacock feather; a Dia de los Muertos skull; a piece of peach pie for Cora on a china plate I inherited from my paternal grandmother; a cup of hot buttered tea for Victor in the same china.

Dinner did not go as planned this year. It’s been an emotionally stressful week and I was just not feeling my best. I was planning on making cottage pie with mashed sweet potatoes, but the potatoes never cooked (did I forget to turn on the oven? I still don’t understand what happened). I ended up serving the family a mish mash of various leftovers.

Once the altar was set and everyone dished up at the table, the baby was crying, desperate to eat and go to sleep. I turned off the lights and we said our Holy Mother prayer, invoked our ancestors and Mighty Dead, some by name, inviting them in. We sat, not in silence at all, and ate our meals. We began in chaos, and ended in chaos.

I left the candles burning and the table set with the altar all night long. In the morning my son wanted to eat the pie for breakfast, but Adam said his ‘magician’s eyes’ revealed to him that the pie was not meant to be eaten, that all the nutrition had been eaten up by Cora. My son wanted to know what kind of powerful god Cora was that she could eat pie.

From one fire to another

Last night was Halloween. Did you dress up? Have trick-or-treaters at your door? Halloween (October 31) is the holiday I reserve for the fun, cultural aspects of this particular season. I enjoy the knocks on the door and walking around in the dark. I admit I take a perverse pleasure in getting to peek inside people’s homes. I don’t enjoy the abundance of cheap sugary crap and “sexy” costumes, but much of that can be avoided with a little creativity and diligence.

My kids dressed up as Luigi (from the Mario Brothers game). Son was Firepower Luigi and daughter was regular ol’ Luigi. My husband dressed up as LeBron James. I went as myself: “sexy” theologian. Hey, at least I amuse myself. Hopefully I’ll have some pictures to post later in the week.

Now, with that sugar fest behind us, I can turn to the more meaningful aspects of the season. Today is All Saint’s Day and Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead); tomorrow is All Soul’s Day. Tonight my family will observe our dumb supper. Adam’s grandmother has not passed; in fact, she’s doing better and is doing well in her own home. No new faces will grace our table this year.

This time of year I honor Death and I choose to welcome the Dead into my home. A common refrain is ‘the veils between the world are thin.’ I don’t know if I feel this or have experienced it, but I do feel a shift. Autumn is fully entrenched here in the Pacific North West. Dinner times are dark. I feel the energy shift within me and without.

I’m feeling weary from all the blazing of the fires of summer. My ashes are smoldering and I need time to sit with the embers as the die down, reflect on what has burnt to the ground, and prepare for the cold that comes when that fire goes out. It’s time to light a smaller fire, one that will warm me through winter as I hibernate, gestate – all those good hunkering down metaphors.

This year I have felt the fires acutely. I have been burned, I have blazed, I have seen the fires consuming those around me. Burn, burn it all to the ground, so that we can rise like phoenixes. But I’m tired. Really, profoundly tired. It means I won’t be attending a Feri ritual on Saturday; I just can’t make the 80 minute drive each way. I’m not sure I would have anything to offer. I’m not sure how able I am to connect with the spirit world right now. That disappoints me.

But I feel the fires. I honor that. I’ll sit with that. Maybe I’ll have more to report later and maybe I won’t.

Happy Samhain to all! May your fires be contained and may you find rest and celebration around them.

Samhain Thoughts

Halloween/Samhain approaches. It’s my High Holy Days! But there is so much going on in my world right now that I can barely focus. I’ve missed the last two Maxim Mondays – the week before was the middle of Navratri and yesterday I was attending to family things. I’d like to share some of what’s going on in my world and what I’ve been up to, along with a few thoughts on the season.

First, I was able to meet up with some amazing people on Sunday. I drove to Seattle and met with Christine Hoff Kraemer, new managing editor of the Pagan Portal at Patheos. She was in town visiting friends, but we were able to talk about a new blog that I may be joining over at Patheos. (Don’t worry, My Own Ashram isn’t going anywhere.) We also met with P. Sufenas Virius Lupus, author of the incredibly smart Queer I Stand blog, also at Patheos. It’s a delight for me to meet other kindred spirits.

Ten years ago I smirked with bemused judgment when people told me they had a blog. Now, my life is rich and my social web complex and robust thanks to the many people I’ve met through blogging. I have multiple writing opportunities open before me thanks to the internet. I am grateful and excited.

More opportunities are underway as well, regarding traveling. I’m in discussions with Journeyman Adventures. We’re talking about possible pilgrimages and how we might work together. Who knows? You might be able to follow along on journey to India!

My personal life is also undergoing some commotion. Part of this is brought about by the any-now-day-now dying of my husband’s grandmother. I doubt we’ll be adding her to our dumb supper in honor of our Ancestors and Mighty Dead later this week, but we don’t know.

I read recently (wish I could remember where) that Samhain is the beginning of the long, dark night that marks the beginning of the year. In Jewish tradition, and Celtic ones too, if I remember correctly, the day begins not with the dawn, but with the setting of the sun. The observance of a spiritual, if not calendrical, new year at this time acknowledges the quiet darkness that is necessary before the bright dawn of the day. For me, autumn has always felt full of possibility; this year is clearly no different – I’m getting possibilities by the boat load!

Once the Samhain fires die down, then comes the long dark night to settle in with these new possibilities. New ideas will gestate and simmer before being manifested in the spring. It helps that my environment mimics these shifts too, with bright orange trees and seemingly gold-plated sidewalks that light up the greying, early evenings.

And of course, tomorrow is just plain ol’ Halloween. The kids are going as Mario and Luigi. It will be the first trick-or-treating for both my kids. We have uncarved pumpkins on the porch. I don’t think we’re going to get around to carving them this year. Not all of Samhain can be serious. Thank goodness I’ve got my kids to bring home cheap plastic bats and spiders to remind me of this.

How will you celebrate Halloween? What’s simmering for you right now?

 

Enough already!

Remembrance Day poppy, photo from the Guardian

At his preschool, my son made a poppy to wear for Remembrance Day, the British Equivalent of Veterans Day. He quite liked his poppy and made sure he was very careful with it. He wore his proudly in the middle of his shirt all day long. Until he asked why we wore poppies on this day.

I’m not sure what the preschool told him. I explained that the poppy flower symbolized remembering and today we were remembering the dead that had fought in wars. I explained that while war was a terrible thing, we needed to honor those that had fought for our freedoms. It was a way of honoring the dead of war, as well.

I think he’s a little burnt out on honoring the dead! After several days around Samhain and nearly nightly candle offerings to the Ancestors and Mighty Dead of our household, and now this, I think Son had decided he’d had enough. ‘I don’t want to remember the Dead! I don’t want to remember! I don’t want remember them! I don’t want to wear this poppy!’ he yelled. So we took it off. And then he proceeded to carry it around for the rest of the evening, being very careful with it.

Is any one else feeling worn out from two straight weeks honoring the Ancestors? For those of you with children, how do you talk to your children about the Dead?

———————–

Full moon

In other news, I have been fighting a virus for a couple of weeks now. I think it has morphed into a low-grade ear infection. This has sapped my energy levels. I had hoped to finish up a tarot reading for a friend over the incredible full moon that just passed. I tend to feel less magical on full moons – I prefer the dark moon. But on a clear night with the moon shining bright I can’t help but want to go outside or get up to something. I’m hoping this illness will pass. I don’t feel I have a lot of energy for anything more than reading or breathing meditation. That makes for dull blogging, but there it is.

 

 

What sort of mischief or magic did you get up to during the full moon?

Ancestors

(Part three of three)

The Samhain season is at last over for me. Four straight days! The kids’ party, a ritual, our family dumb supper, and singing for All Souls’ Day at the local Anglican church. While the first and second activities tapped into the spirit of mischief and frolic of the season, and activities two and three capitalized on the ‘thinness of the veils between the worlds’, only items three and four were explicitly about the Ancestors and Mighty Dead, two very important parts of the Samhain season.

The last few years I’ve established a dumb supper as a family tradition. It’s called ‘dumb’ in the older sense of the word: no talking. The idea is to set a place at the table, full plate of food and all, for the Ancestors. We eat by candle light and ideally, after toasting the Dead, we’re silent through the meal. However, with a three-year old, nothing is very silent. For this meal we had Welsh sausages and stwmp naw rhyw, or nine mash, a traditional Welsh mash made up of nine ingredients (potatoes, carrots, peas, leek, salt, pepper, milk, butter, and swede, for which I substituted parsnip).

My Samhain altar, glass of whisky to be added later in the evening, poppy for remembrance

This year was more chaotic than most. My husband was upstairs trying to put the baby to sleep when son came to the table. We talked about the meal and the Ancestors and finally started in so our food wouldn’t get cold. The baby didn’t go down, so later, I sat her on my lap and talked to the people in the pictures on my altar, while husband put our son to bed. I talked to my maternal grandmother and told her about some stuff going on my family and asked for her assistance. I talked to Victor and Cora Anderson, thanking them for all they’d given, and asked for their blessings on my work.

It was rather an underwhelming event, if I’m honest. I find that having children makes everything so unpredictable. Holidays and spiritual practice and all of everything – even this blog – cannot be counted on to be uninterrupted. If my aim is perfectionism I would need to give up right now. Instead, I chose to DO, and roll with what comes up. I’d like all the traditions to be Meaningful and Awesome. Just like I’d like this blog to be more consistent and with better writing! But if I wait for the time to make everything Just So, it’ll never happen. In some ways, this is a blessing I’ve gained since becoming a parent.

The Sun, from the deck I use

After I’d cleaned up dinner I sat in the candlelight and did a tarot reading for myself for the dark half of the year. It gave me some great information. Then I did another reading, this one for a friend.

But back to the Ancestors. The more I practice paganism the more I come to honor my ancestors and my elders in general. As a child I couldn’t wait to be a grandparent. I really loved the idea of grandparents. I think it was because I was so disappointed in my own experience of them. This raises an interesting question: what do you do if you don’t like your ancestors? What if you don’t know them? I try to honor them in attitude, seeking out their positive qualities. But, for example, my paternal grandfather was not a nice man. He was cantankerous and I have no positive memories of him. I do not want him on my ancestor altar, so I leave him off. I can speak of qualities he’s passed down the line that I am grateful for, but I don’t think I need to get cozy with him in the spirit world.

The Mighty Dead refers to those whose memories we honor and whose lives and work are the ancestors in spirit of our lives and work. Honoring them is just as important. Perhaps we can call this group our family of choice, rather than our blood kin. This is why I feel it is important to have Victor and Cora’s picture on my altar.

I’ll be honest, I have mixed feelings about the Ancestors. It comes from my ambivalence around my family, living and dead. It comes from my own peripatetic lifestyle and lack of rootedness. I’m not someone who sees or hears the Dead, so I don’t feel like I have a deep relationship here. In a lot of ways, I’m just going through the motions out of an idea that It Is Good to do this. Although… as I’m typing this, I wonder if it wouldn’t be appropriate to have a picture of my hometown, Juneau, Alaska, on the altar. It’s as much a part of my family and my soul as any person. Hm, that’s an idea.

While singing at the church service last night I thought about how little experience with death I’ve had. I am grateful for that. I also felt the lack of community. When the list of ‘faithful’ who were ‘departed in the Lord’ was read, I knew none of them. It was a long list and the dead prayed for were all from the local Church of Wales community. I felt a bit of an interloper. But my recent ancestors were Christians so I lit candles for them and offered prayers for them, as well as for the dead who had no one to pray for them.

Now the holiday really does feel completed for the year. All the decorations are down. I will continue to honor the Ancestors and Mighty Dead through out my practice. I feel like any relationship, it takes time to develop and I have to learn to listen.