Samhain, Halloween, All Saints Day, Día de los Muertos – it is the season when it is believed the veil between the living and the dead becomes thin. It is a time to celebrate and remember those who have come before, the good and the not so good, all of those who have contributed to who we are today.
I first became personally aware of Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) when I moved to Bakersfield. Every year there was a celebration with food and music, shopping, and my favorite, ofrendas, the family altars remembering those who have passed. As a gringa I wondered if I could fully participate in what has become, for me, a blessed celebration. Worried about being politically correct, and sensitivities to cultural appropriation, I thought about how I celebrate my ancestors. First, a brief history of the holiday.
Indigenous people everywhere had and continue to have rituals honoring their ancestors. Samhain is a pagan festival that is centuries old and is still celebrated by Wiccans and Pagans around the world. As Christianity moved around the world, Samhain was appropriated as All Saints Day, celebrating the Catholic Saints. All Hallows Eve became Halloween (with its own origin story). When the Conquistadors arrived in the Americas they brought their Christian celebrations with them, overlaying All Saints Day on a centuries old Aztec ritual and celebration. This, over time, became Día de los Muertos celebrated through much of South America.
At the heart of the Día de los Muertos celebration is the ofrenda. On Saturday, I attended a workshop at a local Pagan/Metaphysical store on “How to build an ancestor altar.” They suggested several points on why it is important to honor our ancestors. First, creating an altar helps us build spiritual connection with those who have come before. Next, it is a beautiful way of honoring and preserving our cultural traditions of how we celebrate our loved ones who have passed. Creating an altar helps us to heal and have closure with those who have left with unfinished business. Our ancestors provide blessings and protection. Finally, they say honoring our ancestors helps to create balance and harmony between the living and the dead.
So this year, rather than carving pumpkins, I am creating my own ofrenda. I started with finding a space that I can dedicate for the week. I selected a cloth to ground the space and am gathering photos and mementos of those I wish to honor. I’ve already pulled a beautiful picture out of a photo album of my father and his father, my grandpa, that I am now looking at. It fills my heart with joy to see these two men together in my home.
From Ernest Holmes: “According to Unity of Mind, thought is everywhere present, and so long as it persists it will remain present. Time, space, and obstructions are unknown to Mind and thought. …If we persist after the body shall have suffered physical death (and we are convinced that we shall) this law must still hold good, for past and present are one and the same in Mind.” The Science Of Mind 352.
I invite you to set aside some time this week to thank your ancestors. We wouldn’t be here without them.
–Sharon Whealy, RScP