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One of the reasons I was so deeply attracted to Religio Romana was the attention that is given to the Dead and the Ancestors. In February, the end of the traditional Roman religious year, the month is spent paying our dues to those powers higher than us that perhaps we've neglected either knowingly or unknowingly. This shows up with the observation of the Parentalia and the Feralia within it, both to recognize the Lares, the God/Spirits of our more spiritually-developed Ancestors and Heroes, and the Manes, the Spirits of our Beloved Dead and, in my personal tradition, the Spirits of the Unclaimed Dead.
The month of May, a month of purification and possibly named after the Maiores (Ancestors), also has an ancient festival in it focusing on the Dead. But this time it is not for the Manes, the “good” Dead, those who had been given proper rites in burial and were offered cultus by their families, but the Lemures, the angry, restless Dead.
We've been doing the Ancestor Vigil here for about 20 years and every year it is a little different but the intention is always the same. It is not a Samhain ritual, it is not a celebration of Hallowe'en, it does not glom onto the trendy love of Dia de los Muertes. It is a ritual commemoration of the Recent Dead, the Beloved Long Dead and the Mighty Dead.
We set up a central altar, a candle-lighting station and a place to get more info on Mother Grove Goddess Temple and to leave your food donations for the food pantry. People are invited to place mementos on the altar and there is a place in the ritual where we speak the names of the dead that are closest to us....
Every so often, I offer a workshop or discussion on Ancestor veneration. I hadn't done one in several years, but felt the urge to do it this year. Last night was the chosen evening and we drew in together at Mother Grove's little chapel to talk about the Dead and our Dead.
It was informal--more of a conversation than a class. I started out with some general information about honoring our Beloved Dead through altars or memorial displays. We went on to discuss the layers of the Dead that we may choose to honor--family and friends who have died, all those folks we find on Ancestrydotcom and those intentionally selected heroes and inspirations who have no blood or cultural tie to us but who have inspired us through their story....