Ancestors and Samhain

Whenever I read what people write about ancestors I get a weird feeling inside.  And so this post isn’t going to be your average post about ancestors.  I struggle a lot with it.  I love looking at history and learning about people and times gone by – events and periods.  That I can totally get immersed in.  But when it comes to “honoring our ancestors” I really meet a barrier.  Why?  I’ve pondered for many an hour over it and I honestly don’t have all the answers yet but here are some of my ponderings.


I am part of a very small family.  I never knew my grandfather on my Dad’s side and I met his mum once.  His mum left his life when he was around 21 “leaving her old life behind” and he only reconnected with her in his 50’s I think.  I have seen photos of them and they were very talented people – my paternal; grandmother was a concert pianist and grandfather was an architect who designed many of the famous whitbred pubs in London.  In photos they posed with cigarettes and it looks all very intriguing, but I really don’t know much about them.

On my mum’s side I knew my grandmother for years growing up and honestly we had a fragile relationship – never really had the same values and never really connected – I often felt she deeply disapproved of me and frankly I deeply disapproved of her.  In fact some of her views I found to be quite awful. My Grandad on my mum’s side died when I was young – I remember him being quite a scary man but also fun at times.  In recent years I learned that he wasn’t actually my mum’s biological father who is and will remain unknown.  So perhaps it isn’t strange that I feel I have very little connection with familial ancestors when I had very little connection with my “elders”.

General Ancestors:

I often hear it said that it’s not about recent(ish) generations of family but perhaps more about the ancestors of the land, of the craft (witchcraft) or spiritual path (like druidry or maybe Taoism or for some I guess christianity).  Those known and unknown who came before us.  OK, yes, I like reading about the people involved in the documented history of things but when I think about it, there were always good and bad folks throughout history and ….well…I hestitate to say it but generally humans are a pretty shitty species.  As a species we crave power, we kill and harm others of our own species and eradicate and harm other species.  Who of these people should I be honouring?  Do they not ALL form our ancestors?  and our history?  and there…*sighs* …therein lays the rub for me.  “Honour your ancestors” sounds very much like “respect your elders” of whom I had very little knowledge or respect.

So then we come to Samhain………..

I see beautiful alters being posted on social media, with photos of family and friends gone by, I hear people speaking of “honouring ancestors” in their rituals and writings.  It’s full of love and deep connection to the loved and lost.  And I feel very distanced from it.  And given that it is a beloved tradition across the world through many cultures I am absolutely prepared to accept that this could just be me…. that I am totally missing something – or excluded from something.

I’ve never really celebrated Samhain before but as I am studying a path of Druidry and Paganism I really felt I wanted to take part, that maybe I would experience some new connection to those who are now gone.  I want to feel it – I want to connect.   And here we also arrive at the concept of the “thinning of the veil”.

This year I had two very painful deaths and I feel their loss painfully still.  My best friend died suddenly and one of our dogs died.  I also miss my Dad a lot, who died 13 years ago.  The opportunity to feel anything from any of them I would grasp.  I hear and read a lot about the “Otherworld” and I so want to believe in it because if they in the Otherworld they are not gone.  I want that so badly.  Becasue I don’t want them to be gone.  I want that…..but I do not fully believe it.  Wanting something to be true and believing it are two very different things.

And so as the Samhain period approached I entertained thoughts of how I might celebrate it.  What ritual could I perform and would I feel any connection to those I have lost?  The conflict was within me because I wanted to believe but I didn’t believe.  Also, it felt like grief and in some way then like….unrequited love – I wanted to connect with them but what if they didn’t want to connect with me?  It feels quite needy to want them to visit me in whatever way they would.

As I pondered this I came to the resolution that perhaps it was not about them getting closer to the veil to connect with me but about me getting closer to the veil to connect with them.   About me remembering them, thinking about them, remembering how it felt to be around them and remembering our discussions and time together – maybe THAT was the way I could connect with them.  Maybe THAT was what people meant by honouring them – spending time with them in our minds and in our hearts.

I had spent some time sat at the Alder Grove during the afternoon of 31st October and listened to some of my friend’s favourite music.  As storm Cairan approached I watched the leaves dance along with the music.  I pondered that the leaves were like musical notes and that the seasons were a piece of music that the tree was playing.  It reminded me of Alan Watts – he said “Life is like a piece of music…..”.  Maybe we too…humans….are like musical notes like the leaves.  I recognised the symbolic parallels between life and death and the leaves of the tree.

It would have been my friend’s 51st birthday on 2nd Nov and I had planned to create a fire in the Alder Grove and spend some time there.  Listening to his music and just spending time with him in my mind and heart.  The weather, though had other ideas and in the aftermath of storm Cairan it was just too cold and wet to go there.  I had everything I needed in my witchy shed so it seemed a good plan to move the ritual to there.  I lit some candles and some insense.  I took a piece of sheet music that Alex had written and given me and sat in front of the fire with it.  I brought my awareness to the paper and where his hands would have held it, worked with it and on it – and how my hands were now in the same place.  If time stood still our hands would be holding the same piece of paper.  I listened to Phillip Glass, one of his favourites. And I just sat with him.  I cried and let him know I miss him.  I did toss some herbs onto the fire.  Some Bay leaves, Pine needles, Rosemary, Marigold petals and Poppy seeds.  There was also a little frankinsense in there.

I don’t know if he felt it.  I don’t know if he is somewhere.  I hope he did and is.  I don’t know if my ability to connect and to believe in the Otherworld will change as I meander along my path of spiritual discovery.  I hope it does.




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