My wife and I have a Samhain tradion. We hold an annual séance on the weekend leading up to Samhain. We have been doing this for two years. We hope to do it for many more. This isn’t what you might expect. Not some spooky Halloween parlor trick. It is something beautiful. For us, this is our way to honor, and to reconnect with, our ancestors. Simply a time to open up our hearts and minds, invite the ones who love us from the other side, remember them, and listen. The results are always moving, meaningful, and surprising.
Being the Animist (and showing my ADF influence) I begin with an offering to the spirits who, while not being specifically “bad” in and of themselves, could be potentially disruptive during this type of ritual. I give a peace offering (beer) to the Fey, the nature spirits and elementals, and politely ask them to wait outside. There are times when I do honor these types of spirits. Veneration of nature spirits and spirits of the land is the very definition of Animism. I am very thankful to these spirits for helping my garden to grow. I especially give them honor on Beltane, the first of May, and on the Summer Solstice. But not tonight. Tonight is specifically for the Dead.
The temple space (our living room) is prepared with candle light, incense, comfortable chairs, and an altar where guests are encouraged to place photographs or items connected to their ancestors. I begin by banishing and purifying the space. I want to clear the space of distractions, physical, mental, or spiritual. I cast a circle, declaring the space sacred. This is not quite a Wiccan circle. It is not a barrier so much as a filter. A line that only love can cross. No taboos about not breaking the circle. No quarters, no elements are called. Remember, we just asked them to wait outside. Then I purify each participant, usually with sage, and encourage them to clear their own minds. Cleansed, they are brought into the circle.
There are prayers. Each is encouraged to pray to their own God. But we don’t put emphasis on any one deity, the focus here being solely on the ancestors. So, while we keep the focus where it needs to be, we are also calling individually on divine guidance and assistance, and keeping the ritual religiously neutral so that non-Pagan relatives can feel comfortable and benefit from the experience. From here, within this framework, the night is spontaneous, unstructured. Our ancestors, those loved ones on the other side, are invited. We acknowledge our bond to them, through love or through blood. And then we listen. When someone receives a message, they speak. Sometimes, the message brings up memories. These, too, are shared. This goes on for as long as it needs to. It could be thirty minutes, it could be two hours. I’ve noticed it seems to come in waves. One moment the room seems crowded, then quite, then messages are flowing again. We don’t always hear from the person we are wanting or expecting to, but rather from whomever needs to speak to us. These are often simple messages of love. It really isn’t all that different from visiting with them when they were alive. They are the same people they were in life. When it seems appropriate, the circle is open, and the spirits are thanked. Thanked, but not dismissed. This is another area where I differ from Wiccan orthodoxy. It strikes me as rude to give a license to depart to Gods or ancestors as a Ceremonial Magician would a lesser spirit. “I’m done with you, now leave.” I would never talk to my grandmother that way. Some prefer “Go if you must, stay if you will.” I prefer to thank them, and pray for their guidance and support. Perhaps they have more to tell us, and will do so later in dreams. But I do believe in grounding after a ritual with a meal. So, we always end by eating, and including a traditional family recipe.
On Samhain night, I reflect on my ancestors, and on my own mortality. We are born, we live, and we die. We are remembered according to how our lives effected others. That is what our ancestors want. To be remembered, and remembered fondly. Remembered for their kindnesses. And forgiven for any mistakes they had made in life. Remember that it is Love that transcends Death.