As I close my eyes and breathe in the rich scent of Autumn, my mind turns to those I have loved and lost. Those who have traveled on to the Shadow-Lands. Shadowfest, or more commonly known as All Hallows Eve and Samhain, is fast approaching. This is the Season of the Witch, but most importantly, the Season of Spirits. The veil between this world and the Un-Seen (Other-World, Shadow-Lands, Elphame, Summer-Lands, Avalon, Annwn, Elysium Fields, etc.) is thinnest at this time of year. Spirits, human and non-human alike, roam the Earth reaching out to those who are willing and able to acknowledge their existence.
One of the most prominent aspects of Cottage Witchery is the veneration of ones Ancestors and working with Household and Land Spirits (Brownies, Lares, Land Wights etc.). Shrines are lovingly set, offerings of food and drink are given, and interaction between the living and the dead on a daily basis happen within our walls. I speak every day to my now deceased brother. Fiercely protective and loving while alive, I find him equally so in death. I have personal items of my brother, grandparents, both of my dads, and trinkets that represent the Ancestors and Spirits that I did not know in the living realm displayed on my shrine. It is here that I petition the Spirits for aid in magical, healing, and mundane needs. I find that my Ancestors and Household Spirits enjoy the love and devotion I bestow upon them. The more I interact, the more helpful and present they are.
As Samhain approaches, veneration of the Dead among Witches and Pagans is more predominant than at any other time of the year. With the falling of the leaves and the decaying of the Earth, death can be felt more effortlessly. While this is true, the Dead and Spirits can be reached at any time. They are just a prayer away and are very keen to aid those of us in the Realm of the Living. We just have to be willing to open ourselves up to their presence and love. Creating a space for our Ancestors and the Kindly Spirits of the Shadow-Lands is the perfect way to start.
The Ancestor Shrine
Set in the North (Land of Bone and Stone) or the West (The Blessed Isles), the Ancestor Shrine can be one of the main focal points of the Witches home. It is often laid atop the fireplace or hearth but can just as easily be held within a book case or on a small table. Pictures and baubles held dear by our loved ones are lovingly placed on the Shrine. A fresh glass of water is given every morning to “feed” the Spirits and food offerings are given once a week, or on Holy Days and Birthdays. Candles are lit as a daily offering to the Ancestors and Spirits. Charms and Enchanted Waters can be left on the Shrine for our Kindly Spirits to Bless.
Keep in mind that it is not just the Ancestors of Blood that can be honored, but those from history who have inspired you or the Ancestors of Place, those who once lived on the land you now inhabit. A very informative book that gives more understanding of the different Ancestors and Spirits of the Dead is– The Mighty Dead, Communing with the Ancestors of Witchcraft by Christopher Penczak
The Spirit/Shadow Stone
The Spirit/Shadow Stone is an enchanted stone that I use to reach the Shadow-Lands. On it I paint or draw a special glyph/sigil that I created for Spirit work. Any symbol can be used as long as it connects your mind to the Spirit Realm. It is in the Shadow-Lands where I visit my Ancestors and Household Spirits. By holding the Stone within my hands it keeps me connected to both the Realm of the Living and the Realm of the Dead. I also use the Shadow Stone to aid me in any magical working that I wish the Spirits to Bless. By placing the Stone over a charm or within a mojo bag will add power to your spells.
I give weekly offerings of apples and honey to my Beloved Dead. Both are appropriate foods for the dead as are pomegranates and many other foods. On Holy Days and Birthdays I offer more elaborate meals. Food that your loved ones enjoyed while living are the best to serve. The food offerings are left for a full night and are to be disposed of the next morning. There are varying ways of disposal and depending on where one lives some are more appropriate. It is up to you what feels best to do. You may throw it away, bury it, or leave the offering in the wild far from your home. I personally throw it away. I do not want to inadvertently poison or sicken wildlife. Some will disagree with this approach. Again, do what feels right to you. It is not disrespectful to throw the offering away, the Spirits and Ancestors have already absorbed the energy from the offering and have no use for it after that.
Petitioning the Spirits
The writing down of a petition or prayerful need is something that can be done with Ancestor work. After putting my words to paper and marking it with the Spirit/Shadow Sigil, I burn the petition, placing the ashes within a special vessel. Before petitioning the Spirits for help I “warm” the Shrine by lighting many candles and waiting for at least a half hour. This “warming” of the Shrine aids the Spirits and Ancestors in feeding them the energy they need to answer your prayers.
For more information on what Orion Foxwood calls an ash pot and ways to honor your ancestors please read his books The Faery Teachings, The Tree of Enchantment, and The Candle and the Crossroads. I highly recommend all three.
As Shadowfest draws near, and we gather with our loved ones to celebrate, we know that our Dearly Departed are with us as well. Through loving devotion we remember all that they did for us while alive and thank them for what they continue to do for us in the Shadow Realms.
To my family on the Other-Side, I love you…