By Travis Sanders
October 31 through November 2nd marks the ancient Celtic harvest of Samhain, more commonly known in modern society as All Hallows Eve, All Saints day and All Souls Day as well as the Hispanic observance of Dia De los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, A time in which it is believed that the veil between the physical world and the world of Spirit is at it’s thinnest (though I would argue the veil is always thin). It is during this time that family members and loved ones that have passed are paid their respects, given offerings, and practices of divination are carried out.
Your ancestor’s blood, sweat and tears are the reason you are alive and breathing today. Whether you knew them or not, you are a part of a chain that has shaped and molded who you are today. Every ancestor has or had life experiences, karma, and teachings that have shaped the next generation after them, contributing to the path you are currently walking. In addition to the genetics of physical looks such as hair color, eye color, height, and health predispositions, we carry the spirit of our ancestors with us, often guiding us, and looking out for us, not only for our spiritual growth, but as part of their own from the Spirit Side of Life.
Because Ancestor veneration is such a huge part of my personal practice I thought it would be the perfect time of year to give you a few ways to honor your own ancestors in this harvest time of year!
- Set up an ancestral altar- On or around the Harvest, set up a table, shelf, or area dedicated to your ancestors. This can include pictures, belongings of the deceased, candles and incense lit in their honor. On my ancestral altar I keep a candle burning for the ancestors I knew and loved, as well as a candle burning for the unknown souls who walked before.
- Leave them offerings- such as incense (frankincense and myrrh are tradition) food, candles, and drink (I always leave a glass of water to refresh their spirit and amplify their energy, as well as coffee in the morning, though many traditional offerings include wine, whisky and rum.) I even give cigars & cigarettes for the smokers.
- Talk to them! – Your ancestors are around you regardless, but want to intercede on your behalf. Spend time at your ancestral altar daily and talk to them. Your evocation doesn’t have to be formal, just talk to them as if they were sitting across from you. Ask them for help. Ask them for guidance, and offer them your prayers.
- Send them your prayers- Pray for the spirit of your ancestors as they prayed for you. Many times our ancestors are still “doing the work” on themselves for their own evolution as souls, so your prayers and healing energy help them. In addition, it helps you too. As they heal so do you. As you heal and do the work on yourself, they heal. It is believed in Native traditions that when healing occurs, it impacts 7 generations back and 7 generations forward. That’s a lot of Karmic lessons you could be resolving for the good of everyone!
- Lastly- listen! The ancestors are more than willing to talk to you and guide you. Remember however that some of the “newer” souls in spirit are still very much attached to their earthly ego, so if grandpa Joe was terrible with money, use discernment if he gives you financial advice. One of the ways many people “listen” to the voices of the ancestors is through tools of divination. This may include scrying, automatic writing, tarot, or even traditional folk-style bone reading. Experiment with these methods and find what works best for you.
At the end of the day there is no wrong way to pay honor and respect to your ancestors. So go with what feels right. The only caution I give is something that a teacher shared with me, and may or may not resonate as true for you. When it comes to your ancestral altar, do not mix your living and your dead. Keep personal pictures or items off your ancestral altar, including things like your own handwriting. However if you like a certain picture of you and aunt sally and want to display it or have a letter you wish to give your ancestors you can always set up a separate altar that is less formal to hold these items.
Holiday Blessings and Happy Harvest Season!