Samhain is the season of essences, of bones and sinews. Therefore, one of the natural tasks of Samhain is attending to our relationship with our ancestors (the bones and sinews that support our lives), sending our spirit questing deep into our roots, feeling the breadth and flexible strength of our branches. For some of us, that may be a warm and nostalgic exercise. We may recollect experiences of learning a particular skill, of sharing confidences, of affirmation and encouragement. For others, our ancestors may be less known – perhaps our elders died before we were born and our nuclear family is all we know of the family tree; or we were adopted or fostered and the ancestral line was interrupted or diverted in some way. (For foster children, there is often no consistency of caregiver…so there is barely an awareness of a present relationship, far less a past one.) For yet others, the familial relationship may be uncomfortable, or unhappy, or painful (even to the point of being toxic). We may have been abandoned physically or emotionally. We may have been abused in any of the myriad ways humans are able to do that to one another.
Nonetheless, paying attention to what has come before – however difficult it may be – is a step toward claiming the fullness of who we are here and now, and preparing ourselves for new growth to come. Sometimes this feels very easy: we know we were or are deeply loved by those who raised us, and we feel strongly supported by those who have gone before. Sometimes it is hard and we lay claim to our ability to survive the curve balls or challenges or disappointments life threw at us. Sometimes we simply need to acknowledge that the negative tapes in our heads come from people who were ‘supposed’ to love us (and may, in fact, have loved us as well as they were able.)
As Samhain strips us down to bare bones, it offers us the opportunity to learn balance and humility – in the sense of neither thinking too little of ourselves, nor too much. This probably means naming, accepting, and then gently untangling the bonds that both positive and negative relationships have had on us so that we can take our unique place in the tapestry of humankind without feeling the need to recreate or out-do a larger-than-life ancestor (however beloved), nor to reject one so fully that we would happily expunge her or him from our genes if that were possible.
Let me just say up front that this is a lot easier to say than to do. We were imprinted with social expectations very early in our life before we had any capacity for abstract thinking, before we could observe and reflect. Well before we could say, “No, I don’t think that works for me.” By the time we are mature enough to do that, those enculturating synapses have fired so many times that we have a 6-lane mental highway leading (for many of us) through duty straight to guilt. (“What do you mean you aren’t going to be a lawyer/doctor/electrician/teacher? Everyone in our family is a lawyer/doctor/minister/
teacher/plumber/farmer.” “Everyone gets married!” “Everyone owns their own house.” “We all are Democrats/Republicans/Independents.”)
So Samhain is a time to honor our ancestors for their life stories. Period. It is not a time to try to relive their lives here and now. It is a chance to honor their wisdom and experience as their wisdom and experience…and allow it to be theirs. Period.
Normally when we think about the wisdom of the past, we think we will benefit from absorbing it into our own lives. Probably not.
I would like to suggest that we think long and hard before we try to appropriate something that belongs to someone else. Yes, yes, I know all about not wanting to reinvent the wheel…but stay with me here. I think we do the world a great disservice when we fail to focus first on the unique calling that is ours. Because there is no one but us to fulfill that very specific calling and, without our piece of the puzzle fully lived, G-d’s shalom commonwealth is going to remain only a hope. The point of honoring the past is to remind ourselves that it is past.
And then there is that enculturation thing. I don’t know about you, but I suspect that I am just possibly re-enacting that pattern with my spouse, my daughter, my son-in-law, my friends, my colleagues. So, not only should I not try to appropriate my ancestors’ lives, I should most emphatically not try to appropriate my children’s or grandchildren’s lives (or my friends’ lives, my colleagues’ lives, my partner’s life) either.
I try to be intentional about noting both the expansive gifts and the restricting wounds I received from my fore-mothers and fore-fathers so that I can practice recognizing the gifts and wounds we are bequeathed and bequeath. (This is easier to notice in someone else than it is in one’s own self – or is this only true for me?) It is worth reflecting on their intentions if I can identify them…because, in many cases, their intentions were every bit as good as mine are when I give someone advice for which I have not been asked. Or when I affirm the behavior of a beloved person when it coincides closely with my (self-perceived) wisdom and dis-affirm it when it doesn’t. Or when I disguise an expectation as praise – thus manipulating someone into doing more of that and not so much of something for which I can summon less enthusiastic approval. I may mean well and intend the very best. But meaning well and doing well are not the same.
So, as we start into this demanding season, I invite you to take some time to ponder your ancestry, genetic and other. Where you can feel gratitude for a blessing modeled, celebrate it. Where you feel anxiety or confusion, question it with a curious and open heart. Where you experience pain or restriction or burden, invite yourself to release it.
May you be blessed to see with your own clear eyes.
May you be blessed to feel with your own real heart.
May you be blessed to know with your own whole spirit.
May you be blessed to proclaim your own honest truth.
May you be blessed to be your own authentic self
now and forever.
Text © 2015, Andrea La Sonde Anastos
Photos © 2009, 2014, 2015, Immram Chara, LLC
NOTE: There are several new fiber art pieces in my Etsy shop including the one above which is a tweaking of ‘Woven Together’ from my 21-Day Art Journey. And some new posts on my Facebook page (Immram Chara). If you have the time, I would be so grateful if you would ‘like’ the page. I am hoping for 100 Likes before Christmas.