Celebrating the Old Ways In New Times November 2018
It’s close to the end of the fall season here in Central Ohio, and I have just a tiny bit more garden cleanup to do. I planted the mums and spring bulbs I wanted to, and will probably leave the wood asters to overwinter under our elm tree instead of cutting them back.
The days are shorter already, and we are about to Fall Back, which means it will get dark earlier very soon. It’s already as low as 29 degrees in the night and early mornings before the sun rises, and my arthritis is already ticked off by the cold. Before I know it, it will be snowing, and I‘ll be praying I don’t slip and fall on my round backside while I am walking the dog on the ice. Falling used to be hilarious when I was younger, but now, it hurts, and I know as I get older, it will hurt even more.
My husband is turning 55 this week, and he’s on the last phase of his preventative medical screening he has to do every few years from now on. It’s upsetting him to have to think of everything that could go wrong. We began discussing retirement as well. We will probably do the stereotypical thing and move to Florida instead of staying here in the cold Ohio winters in ten or fifteen years.
My face and body have started to change. I don’t recognize myself anymore when I look in the mirror, and I think I see new wrinkles every week. I do have some gray hair, but it’s all organized into an attractive witch’s lock, so I can’t complain. My husband has a full head of luxuriant silver hair, and I am wondering if he will keep all of it, like his Uncle John, or go bald like some men do. We don’t have the amount of energy we used to years ago. We sleep more, party less, watch what we eat and drink, and don’t go around sick people unless we have to. All of this just means that we are getting older, and truthfully, I don’t like it one bit.
It’s not as glamorous as it is in fantasy paintings of crones and dark grandmotherly goddesses. We are wiser, alright, but our backs, feet, and bodies in general are declining with middle age, and we are well aware that if we get old, well, we will get old!
Having worked in nursing homes, I know what that means. It means like a machine, our bodies will break down, and that isn’t fun. It means a lot of good things too, like finally ending the chase of youth for “Who am I, and where do I belong in this World.” At our age, we have nothing left to prove. I have found peace with myself, and I just don’t care anymore about things that used to drive me absolutely bonkers when I was younger.
In other words, when you get older, a real perk is you might have more worries, but you know what isn’t worth worrying about anymore. You know what things and people are not worth your time. You have learned how to say “No”, and not feel guilty. You know how to tell people off when needs be, and when to keep your mouth shut when it isn’t worth it to stir the pot. Middle age brings a dignity the unbridled strength and desperation to attain every desire of youth does not allow.
Our middle-aged bodies are like the garden in Fall, and moving towards the Winter of our lives means we have to accept we won’t live forever, and already, we have lost some loved ones to death. Countless friends and relatives’ lives are drastically changed by age, having children and grandchildren, and all of the things that happen over the years of having life. We weather these changes together, thankfully, and the sorrows and joys of the years we experience together serve only to make our spiritual harvests all the more glorious.
The reality that we will eventually be parted from everybody we know and love by death is not made any easier by the fact that as Pagans, we believe death is a new beginning. We don’t believe in the finality of a heaven/hell, and we believe we will all someday be reunited either in a new life on this plane, or a special place everybody goes where their beloved ancestors await them. We still grieve the loss of our loved ones, and we still fear the pain of illness or injury that triggers death. We may believe we will go someplace good, but the human animal is wired to fight to survive no matter what, and that instinct cannot be soothed away by religious beliefs.
It’s terrifying to think of losing somebody we love to death. It’s scary to think of our own death, and by the time we are middle-aged, we will have either had some pretty bad health scare of our own, or we will have lost somebody we love to death.
Pagans and Death
As Pagans, we often believe in reincarnation, and some of us believe we find our loved ones in future lives also. We speak to our dead, and don’t find it weird, unnatural, or scary to do so. It’s part of our religion, and considered very natural to speak to our ancestors, and any other spirits we encounter. We build ancestor alters, give the dead gifts, and some of us even feel bad for people who don’t include these practices in their own lives.
Many Samhain observances include gifts for the dead as well as memorial ceremonies, and rituals to honor those who have crossed the veil before us.
I was raised by a woman who sold cemetery property and directed funerals. I used to play outside the cemeteries when I was a kid, and at one cemetery, the groundskeeper was an older gentleman named William. He and I used to go for walks together at the cemetery when I was little. I went into people’s homes with Mom when she did plot and marker sales, and I colored lots of pictures, played with lots of dolls, and spent a lot of time in the cemetery offices, being quiet as a child while Mom was working.
I never once found it scary, creepy, or anything other than normal.
Imagine my surprise to find out how many people think cemeteries are cursed or scary places where monsters carry the living off to gobble them up. I sometimes wonder if these same people are unable to sleep with the lights off in their own houses.
The cemetery, and funeral home offices were always a beautiful place where people come to honor their dead, and to mourn them. Cemeteries are a permanent place where people can visit the last remaining piece of their loved ones- their bodies, and they are a place of focus for communication. There is nothing scary about that at all.
My Granny decorated the graves of her relatives for many years until she couldn’t do it anymore, and one of my Aunts took over that tradition. My Granny is now buried in that cemetery with her relatives, and my Aunt visits the graves.
The focus in our Pagan circles at Samhain is often on group ritual to create a meaningful experience for attendees. Mom would have said that is because the ceremonies, including funerals are NOT for the dead, but for the living. The focus on our connection to our dead is often focused on our relationships with them, the times we had together, and maintaining communication although many of us believe they would have most likely already reincarnated.
The fact that someday we, too will become an ancestor is seldom mentioned, because let’s face it- while we honor our dead, most of us just don’t want to die, and that means we don’t like to think about it.
Part of our Samhain observances seldom mention the wishes of the dead we are remembering and honoring. Sometimes, that is because it is a VERY personal thing you just don’t want to share with a group, and it’s likely to make you much more emotional than something else, but if you think about it, that is a very good way to honor our dead.
I include some history and interesting (to nerds like me, at least) facts in my articles monthly, but this month, I am not going to do that. I also include more structured ritual most months, but I’m not going to do that this time either.
I’ll just tell you there is no right or wrong way to honor your loved ones who have crossed the veil, and his month, instead of writing out a ritual, I have a suggestion. Do something in honor of your loved one they would have wanted, or carry out a wish they had. I can’t tell you what that is. Only you know, and while the veil is thinner, communication can be easier with the dead at Samhain, but you can do your thing your loved one wanted anytime. It doesn’t have to be at Samhain time!
If you want a suggestion for a simple group working, you can each take turns, and light a candle in your loved one’s honor, and tell a story about them before your potluck. Pagans LOVE a potluck, you know! Leaving a plate for the dead can be part of the festivities as well. You can take it a step further, and bring a food to the potluck that was a favorite, or otherwise significant of your loved one who you will be honoring.
Then, outside of the gathering, do something to honor that wish they had. For me, this is something I have already done, and will someday do again.
My mom always wanted me to be Catholic for her. Not going to happen. This Wiccan is devoted, happy in her faith, and not converting to suit anybody.
But Mom also asked me to light a candle for her at a Catholic Church if I ever had a chance to. Included in this article are two pictures of me lighting a candle for her in 2015 in a Mission Church in Arizona. Someday, I will light more candles for her.
The Cycle of Life
One day we, too will cross the veil, and there will be living people who honor us, reach out to us, and miss us every day of the rest of their lives. Each of us has to decide for ourselves how we want to be remembered, and we do that by how we live our lives now. Also, how LONG we are in these bodies are partially dependent upon us, and the daily decisions we make. We can poison our bodies, whittling years off our lives, or we can take care of them, in efforts to be with our loved ones for as long as possible. Beyond living longer, when we are healthy, we feel good, and quality of life is much better.
We can’t control our genetics, and we can’t prevent every tragedy, but we can try to influence things in our favor as much as we can.
Most Pagans today believe in reincarnation in some capacity, even if it’s not belief in The Summerlands, proper. Many of us believe, that after we cross the veil, we continue to communicate with our loved ones we left behind. For some people, the moments our loved one reaches out after they have died is beyond comforting, and sometimes, it is the difference beyond accepting our loved one will always be with us in some capacity, and being unable to accept their death at all.
Each of us who now reach beyond the veil to continue sharing with our loved ones will be an ancestor someday as well. We will remain in one another’s lives, and some of us will reincarnate together!
About the Author:
Saoirse is a recovered Catholic. I was called to the Old Ways at age 11, but I thought I was just fascinated with folklore. At age 19, I was called again, but I thought I was just a history buff, and could not explain the soul yearnings I got when I saw images of the Standing Stones in the Motherland. At age 29, I crossed over into New Age studies, and finally Wicca a couple years later. My name is Saoirse, pronounced like (Sare) and (Shah) Gaelic for freedom. The gods I serve are Odin and Nerthus. I speak with Freyja , Norder, and Thunor as well. The Bawon has been with me since I was a small child, and Rangda has been with me since the days I was still Catholic. I received my 0 and 1 Degree in an Eclectic Wiccan tradition, and my Elder is Lord Shadow. We practice in Columbus, Ohio. I am currently focusing more on my personal growth, and working towards a Second and Third Degree with Shadow. I received a writing degree from Otterbein University back in 2000. I have written arts columns for the s Council in Westerville. I give private tarot readings and can be reached through my Facebook page Tarot with Saoirse. You can, also, join me on my Youtube Channel.