“We build on foundations we did not lay. We warm ourselves by fires we did not light. We sit in the shade of trees we did not plant. We drink from wells we did not dig. We profit from persons we did not know. We are ever bound in community.”
–The Rev. Dr. Peter S. Raible
I relish ancestor work, and not only at Samhain; an ancestor offering was my first pagan daily practice, and ancestor work remains a deeply meaningful component of my faith. A year-round ancestor altar sits on a bookshelf in my living room. It includes a variety of keys to remembering ancestors of blood and spirit: photos of my grandparents and great-grandparents, a fossil from a nearby creek, and photos of beloved pets who have passed away.
At Samhain I experience a strong call to the ancestors and to silence. The following is a silent, solitary ritual response to this moment on the Wheel. To do the ritual, you will need three stones, your journal, and a pen. I like to place these items on an altar, with flowers, photos and other reminders of my ancestors, and a candle, but it is not necessary to have an altar. To prepare, memorize the ritual mantras or print them on a notecard to have close at hand. Outdoors or indoors will work, as long as you are in a place of safety and relative privacy.
Begin by settling into a comfortable position, at a time and place where you won’t be interrupted. Allow your body to relax, straighten your spine, and begin to breathe deeply. Notice the breath as it enters your nose and fills your lungs, notice the point at which it pauses, and then observe the breath as it leaves your body. Keep relaxing your muscles and gradually deepening the breath.
When you are ready, shift your focus to the sensation of your physical body in contact with the ground underneath you. Feel gravity’s pull draw you downward, connecting you to the center of the Earth.
Cast a circle, and call in any gods or spirits you wish, if that is part of your practice.
Pick up the first of your three stones. Silently repeat the following mantra five times, or more if necessary, to induce a mild trance state.
I honor the ancestors of body and spirit.
When you have finished repeating the first mantra, exhale deeply and silently add:
I am your continuation, I am you.
Spend a few moments reflecting on your ancestry. What in your ancestry are you ashamed of? What in your ancestry can you claim with pride? Be slow and still, and observe what comes up.
Return your focus to your breathing, and reground, if necessary. Replace the first stone on the altar, and pick up the second. Then silently repeat the following mantra at least five times:
I dwell at the center of being itself.
When you have finished repeating the second mantra, exhale and silently add:
I die and am reborn with each breath.
Spend a few moments in silence, simply following your breath. Be slow and still. Listen. If your attention wanders, gently redirect it to your breathing.
Replace the second stone on the altar, and pick up the third. Silently repeat the following mantra at least five times:
With every breath, I bless the descendants.
When you have finished repeating the third mantra, exhale and silently add:
I am your source. I am you.
What kind of ancestor do you want to be? How do you hope to be remembered? What can you do to support those who are younger, weaker, and/or dependent on you?
Reflect on your meditation in your journal, before the thoughts, feelings, and impressions fade. Write continuously without pausing to edit or interpret.
You may wish to tone or sing to end the ritual. I especially like the Rev. Mary E. Grigolia’s “I Know This Rose Will Open” from the UU Singing the Living Tradition hymnal or Sharon Knight and T. Thorn Coyle’s “Ancestor Chant” from their album Songs for the Waning Year for toning at the end of this ritual. Open the circle, if you chose to cast.
To reground after the ritual, touch the earth or eat. Family recipes or ancestral foods would be especially appropriate, as would local, seasonal foods.