Honoring Our Beloved Dead This Autumn
Ancestor Altar honoring my Nana, Marion Williamson during these autumn weeks in which people all over the world celebrate their Ancestors and Beloved Dead with altars commemorating them, stories and memories shared about them, and Ancestor Feasts.
Photo taken November 4, 2009
Those who are dead are never gone:
they are there in the thickening shadow.
The dead are not under the earth:
they are in the tree that rustles,
they are in the wood that groans,
they are in the water that sleeps,
they are in the hut, they are in the crowd,
the dead are not dead.
by Birago Diop:
In Memory of Our Beloved Dead
My path has crossed those of many friends and teachers who no longer walk the earth plane with me but I will be forever thankful to them for the parts they played in the great drama of my life ~ however large or small it may have been. I also kneel with the deepest gratitude of my heart to my Ancestors, known and loved as well as forever unknown, who have made my life and the life of my child possible!
Would you like to honor your loved ones who have passed away?
Here are some ideas for you:
My favorite way to show this honor is to create an Ancestor altar. Your altar can be anywhere at all that feels right for you. If your dearly departed loved to cook, you might have it in the middle of the kitchen or on a windowsill above the sink. If they loved to garden, you could set up an outdoor shrine on a large stone or in the hollow of a backyard tree.
Wherever you place your altar, you might want to first lay down a piece of fabric that you find pleasing. If you have your Nana's apron, for example, you could use that as your altar cloth! If your Great-Aunt fancied wool from Ireland, you can lay your Irish knit sweater down as the base. Creating altars is so fun! Just follow your intuition...
Once you've got the location and altar cloth laid down, you can begin placing items on it that remind you of them; items that celebrate their lives.
These can be photographs of your Beloved Dead; personal items of theirs that were passed onto you; mementos of times shared with them during life; a bottle of their favorite perfume; Your altar will be a personal and unique creation of love.
Beside my Nana's photograph I place her thimble, some of her crystals and a ring of hers passed onto me by my Mother. Near my Grandfathers picture, I have put a piece of a hand-mirror from his country store in Wisconsin. A friend, last night, brought a hand-carved wooden cane that belonged to her father who passed away last month. She set his picture beside it. Another woman had a pocket watch; another a feather and ink for her father who worked at a newspaper.
Another tradition of the season is setting out an Ancestor Plate on your altar. This is like an offering plate for your deceased loved ones. Our offerings are symbolic ways we can say, "Thank you for all the gifts you've given us." In our family we gather with friends for an Ancestor Feast each year at this time. We cook the favorite foods of our Beloved Dead or something from a family recipe to show respect and honor for the gifts passed down to us through our family lines. A portion of this is shared with our loved ones on the Ancestor Plate. At the end of the night, we often put it outdoors. Will it be there when we awaken?
Everyone brings photos and mementos of their Beloved Dead for the Ancestor Altar and we gather in a circle to talk about the items we brought and to pass photos of our deceased loved ones around as we share stories and memories of them. We share our favorite autumn poems and sing songs of the season. Before you know it, the whole house begins to glow with happy stories, memories and laughter ~ not to mention the Spirits dancing about, and grateful to be remembered, I'm sure!
If you wish to have a quiet and peaceful visit with your deceased loved one, you could visit with them at their graveside or through your memory by going to a place in nature they loved during their life. If your loved one had an affinity with the ocean, you could sit by the seashore on a salty rock, close your eyes and remember them. You could also visit a museum, a restaurant, an old corner store or any place that reminds you of your loved one or special times you have shared with them.
An aunt of mine gathered flowers from my Nana's grave. She had them pressed into beads and strung as a piece of jewelry that will forever honor the memory, and hold the energy of, her Mother; a treasure that can be passed on through the generations.
During this time, it is said that the veils between the living and the dead are so thin that those who have gone on to the Other side can pass through to visit and bring messages of guidance to us, with ease!
Whenever I hear a Carole King song during this time of the year, I know it is my friend Rob who died thirteen years ago this November, speaking through the veils to me. He called me Gypsy, I called him The Breeze. I think of him whenever I smell cinnamon coffee. A stick of this autumn spice on my altar will honor him and the many mornings we drank coffee and talked around the red, 1950's, metal, kitchen table I had when I was 22 years old and swaying in glory to the "Tapestry" album as it spun on my record player was all that mattered.
So, listen to the whispers in the wind, watch for messages on Mack trucks, sweet nothings from the vanity plate of the car that cuts in front of you! Notice what songs pop on the radio, what books or memories jump out of your mind! Notice, too, what dreams you have in the night-time and pay particular attention to what the wee ones in your life say because it is true that children are very open to the Spirit realms and they often see and hear things we may miss at first!
However you choose to celebrate and commemorate your loved ones will be meaningful to you. Honoring them, also celebrates and honors you. It will remind you of your own life; with its' joys and sorrows, journeys and still points and the many thousands of individual moments and memories that have added up to create the story of your own, sweet life.
Light a candle.
I invite you all, now, to take a few moments to remember, honor and thank the loved ones who have passed into the Great Mystery.
Say a prayer.
A prayer that they may guide us and help us to live our lives to the fullest no matter how that fullest looks.
A prayer that they will help us learn from their mistakes and their successes.
A prayer that we be filled with a love that transcends all time and boundaries.
A prayer that we keep our hearts open to giving and receiving love.
A prayer that our personal gifts, our strengths and encouragement, be shared freely with those in need.
And a prayer that we may be the kind of loving presence in our childrens' lives that we will be worthy of having our own picture on the Ancestor altars of our descendants some wild and leaf-strewn magical autumn night one hundred years from now...
We are the ones our children watch and learn from...
And some day, we will all be Ancestors!
May you be remembered well when your time comes!
And may fond memories, happy thoughts, deep laughter and full bellies be yours now and forever more!