Remembrance Sunday 2014

Today in the UK it is Remembrance Sunday, a time to remember those who have died in war for us.It is also 100 years since the first world war began. My great great grandfather Edward was killed in the Battle of the Somme so this is the day I remember him. One day I hope to visit his grave in France. I took part in the remembrance march and service and then lit a candle on my ancestor altar, along with putting a poppy on there. I think it is an important thing for pagans to do.

Remembrance-Day

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Celebrating Samhain

Happy Samhain everyone. Also known as Halloween or All Hallows Eve, this is the festival on which the ancient Celts celebrated the end of the harvest season and the beginning of Winter. It also marks the Celtic new year. For the ancient Irish, days always began at sunset and Samhain (pronounced Sow-en) celebrations would therefore start on the eve of 31st October.

Alfablot at boulder without flash

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

At this time the earth appears to die, laying dormant through the dark cold times ahead. The leaves are changing colour and falling from the trees. The harvest has been collected from the fields and they lie empty. The livestock have been brought down from the pastures, the weak ones have been culled for food and people return to their homes for feasting. Summer is over (Samhain means “Summers end”) and winter begins. The days are getting much shorter and colder, the frosts have begun and animals are busy making final preparations for winter. Traditionally it was believed to be bad luck to harvest anything after this date and therefore any remaining harvest is left as an offering to deities or nature spirits.

For the ancient Celts who split the year into two halves, Samhain marks the transition from the summer half of the year to the winter half, from life to death. They believed that any time or place of transition was sacred. At this time, the veil between this world and the Otherworld was at its thinnest and therefore the spirit world and the human world could interact. Many of the modern practices of Halloween have roots in this belief – whether putting lights in carved pumpkins (originally turnips) to scare off evil spirits or giving out treats to those dressed as devils and ghosts to bribe them not to cause trouble to the family. It was also a time for divination and for honouring the dead, who were thought to return to their homes on this night. Traditionally, it is also a time for protective rites like lighting bonfires, walking the boundaries of your property with fire or making charms of Rowan.

With the revival of Paganism, the practice of ancestor veneration, a practice of the ancient Celts once dead in the western world, has begun to grow in popularity again. As Naturalistic Pantheists, this practice should also be a part of our lives. Samhain is a time of remembrance. It is a time to honour those who have died, whether friends, family or ancestors. It is a time to remember them and to be thankful for the role they have played in influencing our lives. They are not gone, they live on within us through our memories and genes, and within the earth as their atoms are reincarnated into a thousand different creations. Samhain reminds us that one day, we too must die. It is a time take stock of our lives and to meditate on the cycle of life and death, confronting a topic we too often do our best to avoid.

It is traditional to celebrate this festival by eating a large feast of late harvest foods e.g. pumpkins, apples, nuts, root vegetables and barmbrack bread. It is also the traditional time for remembering our ancestors and those we have loved and lost e.g. by visiting their graves and putting fresh flowers there. Personally, I build an altar and put photos and mementos of those I have lost recently on it. This year I have managed to get a few more mementos to add to the altar. I also put up my family tree. On Samhain eve I perform a ritual of remembrance, lighting a candle for each person I am remembering and holding a minutes silence in respect. I am also having a party with friends, decorating the house and eating traditional foods like mashed potato, gingerbread and cabbage.

Samhain and Ritual

Jack-o-lantern

Jack-o-lantern (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

On Thursday it is the great feast of Samhain, the Celtic new year. As I am working through the ADF Dedicant Path course this year, I am again using a ritual from ADF Solitary Druid Fellowship. A Naturalistic Pantheist ritual can be found on my ritual page here. I will be using the following in the “explanation” part of the ADF ritual but this can also be used for the Naturalistic Pantheist one too.

Say: “As I stand here on this celebration of Samhain, the sacred wheel of the year continues to turn. As my ancestors did in times before and my descendants may do in times to come, I honour the old ways. The harvest is in from the fields and they lie empty. The livestock has been brought down from the pastures and the people return to their homes for feasting. The leaves have changed colour and are falling from the trees. All is at an end. Summer is gone, winter is coming, the frosts and cold nights wait on the other side. It is the time of rest, of contemplation, of death. It is the time of liminality and transition as tonight the veil between worlds is thinnest. It is the night of the ancestors, a time to remember, honour and feast to those who have died, our loved ones and all life throughout vast history. They are not gone but live on within me and I will remember them. Just as they have become one with the earth again, so too will I someday. I thank the earth mother for all she has given me this season and for the abundance of the harvest. I celebrate the new year and look forward to winter, a time of sacred darkness, a time to meditate on the cycle of death and rebirth.

Celebrating Samhain

Happy Samhain everyone. Also known as Halloween or All Hallows Eve, this is the festival on which the ancient Celts celebrated the end of the harvest season and the beginning of Winter. It also marks the Celtic new year. For the ancient Irish, days always began at sunset and Samhain (pronouned Sow-een) celebrations would therefore start on the eve of 31st October.

At this time the earth has appeared to die, laying dormant through the dark cold times ahead. The leaves have fallen from the trees and the harvests have been collected from the fields. Summer is over (Samhain means “Summers end”) and winter begins. The days are getting much shorter and colder and animals are busy making final preparations for winter. Traditionally it was believed to be bad luck to harvest anything after this date and therefore any remaining harvest is left as an offering to deities.

Jack-o-lantern

Jack-o-lantern (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For the ancient Celts who split the year into two halves, Samhain marks the transition from the summer half of the year to the winter half, from life to death. They believed that any time or place of transition was sacred. At this time, the veil between this world and the Otherworld was at its thinnest and therefore the spirit world and the human world could interact. Many of the modern practices of Halloween have roots in this belief – whether putting lights in carved pumpkins (originally turnips) to scare off evil spirits or giving out treats to those dressed as devils and ghosts to bribe them not to cause trouble to the family. It was also a time for divination and for honouring the dead.

With the revival of Paganism, the practice of venerating ancestors, a practice of the ancient Celts once dead in the western world, has begun to grow in popularity again. As Naturalistic Pantheists, this practice should also be a part of our lives. Samhain is a time of remembrance. It is a time to honour those who have died, whether friends, family or ancestors. It is a time to remember them and to be thankful for the role they have played in influencing our lives. They are not gone, they live on within us through our memories and genes, and within the earth as their atoms are reincarnated into a thousand different creations. Samhain reminds us that one day, we too must die. It is a time take stock of our lives and to meditate on the cycle of life and death, confronting a topic we too often do our best to avoid. 

It is traditional to celebrate this festival by eating a large feast of late harvest foods e.g. pumpkins, apples, root vegetables and barmbrack bread. It is also the traditional time for remembering our ancestors and those we have loved and lost e.g. by visiting their graves and putting fresh flowers there. Personally, I build an altar and put photos and mementos of those I have lost recently on it. This year I have spent much of the past month researching my family history in order to create a family tree and know more about the ancestors I wish to honour. On Samhain eve I perform a ritual of remembrance, lighting a candle for each person I am remembering and holding a minutes silence in respect. This year that will include both my grandmother and her dog. I am also having a party with friends, decorating the house and eating traditional foods.

Hope you have a wonderful Samhain and a happy Celtic New Year to you,

Ritual and Samhain

Yesterday I added a new page outlining a new sample ritual that Naturalistic Pantheists can choose to use if they wish. There is also a suggested Altar layout. It is an evolving ritual and will change over time. The aim of the ritual is to promote reverence for, awareness of and connection to Nature.

On Wednesday evening Samhain begins. I will do a new post with more detail about that time but I wanted to write this one to explain that bits I add to the ritual I do at sunset on that evening.

When it reaches the “Explanation” section I do the following: –

Say: “I stand here on this celebration of Samhain, the sacred wheel of the year continues to turn and now the dark time begins. As my forebears did, I do now, and so may my descendents do in time to come. Crops have been planted and I have watched them grow. Now the harvest is in from the fields and they lie empty. The leaves have fallen from the trees and the animals are preparing for the winter. All is at an end. Summer is gone, winter is coming, the cold nights wait on the other side. the earth has died and gone dormant. I thank the earth for all it has given me this season and for the abundance of the harvest. I look forward to winter, a time of sacred darkness, of death and dying, a time to meditate on the cycle of death and rebirth.”

Say: “Tonight, on this feast for the dead, I honour those who have died, my ancestors and loved ones. With the gift of remembrance, I remember all of them. They are dead but not forgotten. They live on in me and within those yet to come. Those who are dead are never gone. They have become one with the earth. They are in the elements around me and one day I too will become part of the earth again. I remember all life that has lived and died during the vast history of the earth and remember that death is vital in evolution to allow the new to come forth.”

When it reaches the section for “Workings” I do the following: –

Say: “On this holy night of Samhain, I come to remember and celebrate the lives of those I have known and lost. I drink this cup of remembrance now in their memory.”

Drink from cup of Remembrance.

Say: “For each ancestor I light a candle now in thanksgiving for their lives.”

Light candles for each relative lost this year and any others you wish too, stating each name as you do.

Say: “In the silence I now stand to honour my ancestors.”

Stand in silence for one minute, head bowed.

picture of pumpkin

Honouring our Ancestors

Ancestor Walk 2008

Ancestor Walk 2008 (Photo credit: The City Project)

Two and a half years ago my world was rocked to its core when a friend was tragically killed in a car accident aged only 23. He was a very close friend. Coming to terms with his loss was very difficult and within six months I had lost my Christian faith. As I started to look into alternative spiritualities and practices I across Naturalistic Pantheism, Paganism and Druidry in particular. These philosophies and religions emphasise the importance of honouring our ancestors, those we have loved and lost, and this really appealed to me. Last Samhain, I made an altar and on it I placed pictures of my friend and lit a candle to remember him. It was a good experience and I believe it helped me to accept things a lot more.

Over at Woden’s Wandering Witch today, she writes about the importance of honouring our ancestors too and it’s inspired me to do a post on it. Although I have talked about this before, I feel I had some new things to say.

If we look at most of the ancient religions of the world, and particularly those that honour the earth, they all have a common practice of Ancestor Veneration. Yes, a lot of it is rooted in a belief that their ancestors somehow live on through an immortal soul, but not in every case. In my opinion, venerating ancestors is a way in which humanity has, for many years, remembered those that it has loved and lost and enabled people to come to terms with the reality of death. Honouring our ancestors, whether they be family members, friends or important people who have influenced our lives, is a practice that I think can be of great benefit to us as Naturalistic Pantheists.

How? Firstly, doing something to honour our ancestors help us keep the memory of them alive. While we don’t necessarily forget about the people we have lost, as time progresses and we move on with our lives, we often do not think of them for great periods of time and we lose a connection to them that we once had. By regularly honouring them, we ensure they are remembered…and if we teach the next generation to do the same, then we ensure that we are remembered after our own deaths.

Secondly, it teaches us important life lessons – respect and gratefulness. Honouring our ancestors is a way of acknowledging their influence and impact on our lives and showing gratitude for that fact (yep that includes those you didn’t like too), even though they are no longer around to receive that gratitude. It teaches us respect – for the dead, for the elderly and for other people. We have to take time to focus on others rather than ourselves and to give them a place of honour, and that is a great life lesson to learn.

Thirdly, it grounds us. It reminds us of where we came from and the forces and influences upon our lives. It gives us identity and a sense of connection to the past. It places us within a story and gives our lives meaning and direction.

English: This picture was taken at a Malaysian...

English: This picture was taken at a Malaysian Chinese home. This altar is dedicated to the three Pure Land sages, Avalokitesvara, and Sathya Sai Baba. On the left of the altar is a glass filled with rice. Joss sticks are stuck into it after the ancestors are invited to partake in the offering of food specially prepared for them on the Hungry Ghost festival prayers. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So now we have seen some of the benefits, lets consider who exactly we should be honouring? The simple answer is – anyone we want to. Generally I would suggest that honouring family members and friends who have died is a good place to start. You could add in family members further back in your past that you didn’t ever know. You could add in important people who lived in your area or influenced your culture but who you feel a connection to. Finally, you could add anyone who has influenced and inspired you in life.

Yes, I hear you say, I agree with all that, but get specific, what exactly do I need to do? I have two suggestions here – firstly, do some research and create a family tree as best you can so you can see who your ancestors were and perhaps learn a few interesting family stories about them. Secondly, make an altar, just as millions of people have done throughout the hundreds of thousands of years of human history. Put some pictures of lost relatives on it, and maybe a copy of your family tree. Decorate the altar with a few candles, objects that remind you of people and anything else you want to. You could either have this altar up once a year – on Samhain, perhaps on significant dates, or all the time. Create a ceremony to carry out at the altar. It could be something simple like lighting a candle for a minute or something more elaborate including drinking from a remembrance cup and spending time meditating on memories you have of them or holding a minutes silence. Do whatever you feel helps you.

Just one more thing, I always include a few fossils on my altar. Why? As I said in a previous post on the great story of cosmic evolution, we are the subject of millions of years of evolution going right back to a single common ancestor. All those in our blood line, right back to that first life form that appeared on the earth almost 4 billion years ago, are our ancestors and remembering and honouring them helps to keep that fact alive for us.