In Irish and Scots Gaelic, Samhain is the name for the month of November. It is a Celtic tradition to honor one’s ancestors during this time. A few years ago I began placing pictures of deceased family members on my altar around Halloween. Now I leave their pictures up until I am ready to decorate for Yule.
At first there were pictures of my husband’s and my grandparents, and his father. My father was the next to join them. And then about eight years later, my mother’s picture took its place beside my father’s. We thought my husband’s mother would be next, but she is new this year, and my husband is making his third appearance. He leads the ancestral host into our hearts to re-kindle memories of the time we walked on earth together.
When I look at my parents’ photographs, I remember the years when I was young and they took care of me, the years when I defined myself in opposition to them, and the years when I took care of them. I look at pictures of grandparents I never knew, and try to imagine their lives. They held my parents’ hands when they were small, and I held my parents’ hands when they were old. My parents link us across the generations.
When I look at my husband’s picture, I recall how we met, our adventures in the red Le Car the summer we were dating, being newlyweds and then up to our eyeballs in work and parenthood, longing for the empty nest that we imagined we would share. But no two people share the same cycle of life. We walk for a time together. Now my children are at my side. I hope that I am creating a tradition and that one day my picture will stand on their Samhain altars.
Lying quiet in yoga class a few days ago, I sensed the press of my husband’s hand on my own. I cherish those moments when I feel him beside me. As we open our awareness, we can sense the spirits of our ancestors present in our lives. They wait for us to open our hearts and let them in. Displaying their pictures in our homes at Samhain, and throughout the month of November, invites them into the world of the living. It unites us across the boundaries of time and space so that we can dance together between the worlds. Our ancestors remind us to love life and reassure us that they wait just on the other side. Love is permeable and crosses easily between life and death entwining generations of souls into the body of the Goddess as she breathes us into and out of life.
I invite you to create your own ancestor altar this year at Samhain and to open your heart to the love of those that wait for you just on the other side.
author Becoming Women of Wisdom