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Honoring Our Ancestors

When we lived in Seattle, we hosted a Halloween/Samhain party each year for both pagans and non-pagans. We invited friends of all ages to join us for pumpkin soup, roasted turnips, hot cider, apple bobbing, and seed bread.  The children were gathered for trick-or-treating (real food before the candy), and after we returned and the kids compared (and sometimes traded) loot, we'd begin the real party, starting with the sliced apple to reveal the star, and tales about the history of Samhain.  At this point, non-pagan families who choose not to share in the divination, speaking with the dead, or honoring them, left.  The rest of us joined in quieter work.

Now that we live in a rural town, people are less inclined to make the long drive for a celebration, but there are some traditions we continue.  The kids still trick-or-treat in the neighborhood, and we still come home to do our good work for the holiday. 


Pagans in many parts of the world -- and in this sense I use the term "pagan" to refer to all paths not part of the People of the Book -- have a time for honoring the dead and recognize when the veil is thinnest.  Just as Samhain represents a time when the spirits are easiest to reach and the Northern Hemisphere is ready to enter into the slumber of a new year's winter, festivals such as, Dia de Los Muertos, Obon, and Pitru Paksha share certain traits, most notably honoring our ancestors near to the end of harvest for the year.

While Samhain is but one night (our family also honors specific people on their birthdays), many cultures have celebrated this sacred time from three days to a month, and their practices can inspire those of us who live as non-indigenous residents of the land to find ways that are meaningful to our family members and the loved ones who have passed on. Since the majority of my ancestry originates from Northern Europe, especially Scotland, Holland, and Austria, I often look to Celtic and Germanic holidays to gain my inspiration. 

In our current home, our family still enjoys certain end-of-harvest foods but as the evening grows later, we light candles and begin.

My ancestors have no gravestones to clean or sweep, but some of their ashes remain in my care. We take time to wipe away any dust accumulated on their containers. So too do we sweep away the dust and debris at the front door using a besom (a blessed broom).  On a table dedicated as the holiday altar, we set out their pictures and, much like those who practice Dia de Los Muertos, we add items and sometimes food that remind us of those who have passed on. Those of us still living share our favorite memories, or tell tales to the children about the people they never met.

It brings us closer, reminds us of our roots, and allows us to transition into the sleepy time of the year.

This Samhain, our focus is on my mother (shown in the photo at age nine) who passed in 2012, and whose final blessing left me with a new child to fill our hearts in her absence. On Friday, what is for Catholics All Saints' Day, we welcome a friend who will visit and share in remembrance of those who made us, quite literally, who we are today.

How do you honor your ancestors?  What traditions have you created or continued for your families?  Or if you do not practice such yet, in what ways would such ritual hold meaning for you?

Bright blessings!

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Raven lives in a forest with her two homeschooled children, partner, and several demanding cats. She enjoys performing, cooks a mean burger, and is obsessed with farming, but has yet to adopt a goat. Her publications are listed at


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