Feeding the Dead

Most people love this time of year and I share much of that.  Living in South Central Texas we only have two seasons, with a perhaps two to three weeks in between what we laughingly call spring and fall.  Because the winters are not harsh here, the step into spring feels different from those whose winters are frozen for months on end.  We do experience some relief when our temperatures finally drop a bit in October. Even then those drops are only teasers.  When we do finally get a briskness in the air in the wee, early morning hours of dawn but when the sun rises overhead, any memory of that coolness is forgotten.  This morning at 5:30 am, when I woke, it was 54 degrees. I stepped outside to smell and feel the air, so clean and cool.  And yet, now it is 85 degrees and rising, it once more feels like summer. We don’t have the sudden frosts that turn our trees to vibrant reds, yellows and browns.  Yes, the leaves eventually turn and fall to the ground, but we have no heavy freeze and so our colors are pale compared to those in the North and colder climates.

Many Texans think the emotional feel for our two seasons is backwards, believing that summer, with its blazing sun, is the time to withdraw.  Then in winter, when the weather is mostly mild, that’s the time to come out to play.  This is a reversal of pagan thinking about the seasons in North America.

For me, it isn’t about the heat but more about the light. I used to suffer seasonal effective disorder. I know I am sensitive to how much light I require to maintain healthy emotional health. When I began to embrace, and understand seasonal change and the naturalness of going within during the darker half of the year, anything associated with that disorder vanished.  Finally understanding, I gave myself permission to retreat.  It was such a simple cure.

The ancient Celtic tribes celebrated all life as beginning in the dark. The festival they honored, Samhain (summer’s end), most now celebrate as Halloween. It has ancient origins in the tribal aspects of honoring the ancestors at this time of year. They believed that this liminal time, this period between light and dark, is a time when the Veil Between the Worlds thins and that our ancestors can visit us.  The ancestors were their Honored Dead and they needed their help and support to maintain prosperous and healthy lives.  And so, it was that they honored their ancestors by having a celebration, much like we would throw a party.  They prepared great feasts of food.  They prepared places at the table for them and offered entertainment for their enjoyment.

And so, I too, take time during this change from light to dark, to honor my beloved ancestors. In fact, I honor all beloved ancestors, not just mine.  I remember one year being particularly memorable for me.  A friend of mine and I decided we would take our heaping plates of food for the ancestors, to the local cemetery as an offering.  When we arrived at the cemetery, we found locked gates. Determined to finish this deed, we slid under those big wide gates on our bellies!  We quietly slipped into the dark with our food until we found a location we thought appropriate to leave our offerings. As we left them, we offered words of gratitude and love for the gifts they offered their loved ones, even in death.

And with that we returned to the locked gates to once more slide under and go home. What to our total mortification, there stood two local police officers called to the scene to apprehend reported intruders. Yes, that was us.  We were lucky. We suffered no more than embarrassment.  We explained ourselves, apologized profusely and they let us leave with nothing but a kind lecture! That was one Feast of the Dead I will always remember.

This is also the time of year that I mourn the passing of my closest family.  My mother and only brother both left this world at the end of October.  My father, whose will to live without my mother, left soon after. So, my honoring of ancestors takes on its own personal message. Here is a little poem, I wrote for my ancestors called the Litany of the Bones …

Herein lay the bones of my ancestors
Even as this body grows old and changes with time.

Herein lay the bones of my ancestors
Their bones are my structure, my support and keep me going

Herein lay the bones of my ancestors
While these bones may restrict me, I choose to be flexible

Herein lay the bones of my ancestors
Their bones strengthen me and their strength becomes my own

Herein lay the bones of my ancestors
Their bones are with me still and I bless the gift.

I find it important to take time during this season to honor my ancestors, but also to honor and remember those who worked and challenged the systems of corruption, the systems of patriarchy and oppression. They eased my work in these areas.  I am not challenged with the same struggles my ancestors lived under.  However, the work is not done.  We have new challenges. We have an added complacency and I see many attempts to take those same freedoms away from us, fought for so valiantly by those who came before us.  With extreme right wing action and forced religious views invading government, abortion and birth control being challenged, we cannot, we must not ever forget the work done before us. I know that I must continue to stand firm in my convictions, in my work to fight that complacency and those attacks on what is right and just.  In this season of death, I honor the lives of those feminists, those champions of justice and fairness and ask that they gift us with the courage and conviction they showed in their own struggles. We need the energy they carried more than ever in our work, not for just women’s rights, but for the rights of all to live without oppression from others no matter their gender, sexual identity, race, age, or ready access to wealth and health. Let us “feed” them with our gratitude and grateful hearts.