As the Wheel of the Year turns and I begin to feel the veil thinning once again, I’m reminded of one way the beloved dead are honored throughout the South. Drive through the countryside, and you’ll likely see church signs announcing “Homecoming and Decoration.” It’s an invitation to those with relatives buried in the church cemetery to spruce up the graves, put flowers on them, and enjoy a potluck meal, sometimes referred to as “dinner on the ground.” Though meals are usually served in a fellowship hall now, that term originated from spreading out picnic blankets and dining on the cemetery grounds.

I’m sure you can see some parallels with our Samhain traditions and Dia de los Muertos. A major difference is that southern churches tend to hold decorations in May rather than October. I find that interesting, since May is also a time when the other side is more accessible. Beltane and Samhain are opposite each other on the Wheel of the Year, and both carry that liminal, otherworldly energy in different ways.

There is something about honoring our roots, even when it’s difficult. In southern families, those roots can be quite gnarled and twisted, like something straight out of a Faulkner novel. Staring down at the graves of a few of my relatives often makes me wonder how we could even be from the same bloodline. Then there are others I hold dearly and closely, and I wonder if I’m making them proud with my earth walk.

I was raised to believe that the dead couldn’t hear us, see us, or have any interaction with us whatsoever. I was told that “heaven wouldn’t be heaven” for our deceased loved ones if they had knowledge of our pain and suffering here. Yet, the very people who expressed those beliefs still pulled weeds from around the graves and adorned them with flowers. They honored the memories of those who had passed over, even if they felt there was no longer a connection.

As a witch, I tend to call on my helpful ancestors from time to time—emphasis on helpful. I don’t believe all of my ancestors wish me well or have any vested interest in my soul’s journey, but there are some who gladly lend their support. I feel them surround me with their love when life gets challenging, and they are the ones I honor at Samhain.  

Unfortunately, I won't have the opportunity to return home to visit their graves this year. I got together with a group of local pagans instead, and we walked the grounds of the town's oldest cemetery. We spent most of the morning there, cleaning up trash and pausing to read memorial inscriptions from the late 1800s. Though I didn't know much about the families who came to this southern Alabama town two hundred years ago, I'm sure they had high hopes and dreams of making a better life. They had sorrows and triumphs of their own, and they created a place that has endured and continues to grow. I blessed them along with my own beloved dead, grateful for my life and my journey thus far on this side of the dirt.

Blessed Be