This is the season for imagination and celebration of ancestors: Halloween; All Saints’ Day; All Souls’ Day; Día de Muertos, Day of the Dead, for those of Mexican heritage; Diwali, a Hindu celebration of lights; and Zhongyuan, a Ghost Festival of traditional Buddhists and Taoists. We take time to think about how our ancestors may have directed our lives. There is significance in creativity and vision whether for survival or for fun; in honor, gratitude for, and discovery of meaning in our ancestors; and in an understanding that accepts dying and death as a part of us.
For many, the world seems to be a tense and unyielding place. We are constantly striving to multi-task, reach goals, and, at all costs, thrive. We are products of our own drive, society’s expectations, and cultural beliefs. Halloween is the perfect time to take a break, unwind, don a costume, and recall earlier spooky stories—maybe imagine what it was like to be an ancestor on this day.
Halloween dates to a seventh century pagan festival, Samhain, meaning summer’s end. This was an ancient Gaelic celebration that honored the end of the harvest. It was also believed to be a time of year when the veil between this world and the spiritual world became thinner. Good and evil spirits were thought to be part of the environment. People wanted to protect their crops and livestock from possible negative influences.
In extending hospitality to the spirits, people offered bonfires, place settings at the family table, food and drink, and costumed visitations to their neighbors. Imagination and the urgency to ward off any evil spirits created opportunities for distractions and socializing. Serious intentions expanded to solidarity, safety, and harmony.
During the ninth century, the Western Christian church moved the observance of Samhain to the day before the Christian celebrations of All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day in the early part of November. For many, this pagan day merged with the holy days to become Halloween; however, many churches continue to witness the annual All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day as separate celebrations.
All Saints’ Day, November 1, celebrates the souls of those loved ones and unknowns who have died during the previous year, along with those exemplary souls who were influential in religious history. Since heaven is a state of mind and we are all connected, it is a good time for us to recall our ancestors and the ways in which they were meaningful to us as well as how they lived their lives. Do some of their traits live on in us?
I think of my Grandma Millie and how she was never too busy to listen or converse with me as if I were the only person in her world. I also heard stories as we planted, weeded, harvested, and canned produce from her garden and made crafts like candy cane tree ornaments. It felt important to be recognized for being helpful and creative. She saw something in me that I didn’t know was there. In reverie, I sometimes imagine what it would have been like to cook with her in a contemporary kitchen with all the amenities—how excited and amazed she would have been. I am grateful for the enduring power of her influence. As a Gran, I look for ways in which to validate my “grands” to follow their hearts. Knowing that everyone has talents, gifts, or important words to offer, we can also honor those souls who were among us yet remain unknown.
November 2, All Souls’ Day, commemorates all souls, living or deceased, regardless of positive or negative circumstances. Let us be grateful for the gifts that each of us represents, for compassion and understanding of any shadow components, and for forgiveness of the humanness in each other. This is unconditional love. Knowing the shadow side of someone and loving that trait into light anyway is the realization of no separation. Benevolence begins with imagination. Loving shadow traits may not be easy, yet it is worth the effort.
Several other celebrations honor ancestors. Mexican Día de Muertos is an annual festivity scheduled for October 31-November 2, where celebrants welcome their beloved ancestors to be with them. The living pray for their deceased family members and friends, wear bright costumes, dance, and prepare special foods. They know that death is a natural part of life and, by facing this reality, they make peace with the inevitability of death. Because of this, they minimize their fear and dread. The 2017 Walt Disney movie, Coco, beautifully and tenderly portrays this remembrance. We can imagine these aspects and sense oneness with all who celebrate their ancestors.
Diwali, meaning “row or series of lights,” is a Hindu Festival that is celebrated throughout the world. It honors new beginnings and the triumph of good over evil and light over dark. A religious observance, the celebration coincides with the Hindu New Year. This five-day Festival of Lights honors fortune, knowledge, light, the New Year, and love between siblings. Lighted candles, fairy lights, and oil lamps are placed inside and outside of homes, in front of public buildings and line streets. Fireworks are abundant. Though not everyone celebrates Diwali, we can use our imagination to feel the meaning of the festival. When we imagine, we use the functionality of our higher brain, and our energy vibration raises the overall vibration of the planet. Goodness increases for everyone.
Zhongyuan, a Chinese Ghost Festival, symbolizes the fall harvest and the rebirth of ancestors or ghosts. It is believed that their earthly families forgot to pay tribute to them after they died and, if they were treated poorly when they returned, great misfortune would descend on the family. Families offered prayers and food. They also burned items made of Joss paper which represented materialism in the afterlife. The more paper that was burned, the better for the ancestors. Lighted, floating lanterns were thought to guide the souls of the forgotten ancestors to the afterlife.
Imagining what it might be like to participate in this festival expands our consciousness. We feel oneness in light. Our connected energies and higher vibrations take us full circle.When we choose to visualize and direct our creativity, honor and discover meaning in our ancestors, and understand the deeper and broader aspects of dying and death, we are in the moment. This is our gift, and, at some point, our legacy.
“We are who we are because they were who they were. It’s wise to know where you come from, who called your name.” ~Maya Angelou
From a higher vantage: Make time to thank your ancestors, regardless of perspective or underlying stories. Offer at least one positive comment for what lives on in you. Without ancestors, who would you be?
©2019 in the thick of things