Traditionally, we are told that at this time of year, the veil that separates the spirit world from that of the physical is at its most thin. The next three days are ideal times to meditate on your connection with your beloved dead as well as to ancestors you may never have known, but whose lives, deaths and enduring energies impact who you are today.
Honoring Your Beloved Dead This Season
At this time of year, many celebrate Halloween as well as Dia de los Muertos, Day of the Dead. Both of these holidays (holy-days) traditionally and historically honor ancestors and those we love who have died. While the days have their roots in different parts of the globe and in different cultures, they are both ancient, and center around the acknowledgement that our loved ones are still with us in spirit, reinforcing the importance of remaining connected to our beloveds who have died as well as the impermanence of life, and the persistence of love and connection.
Halloween, All Hallow's Eve, celebrated on October 31, finds its roots in the Celtic pagan tradition. Originally called Samhain (pronounced "Sow-in") the feast day was considered the Celtic New Year. When Christianity took over Britain, the Church incorporated their holidays into the pagan calendar and re-named Samhain All Hallow's Eve, the evening before the Church's Feast of All Saints and All Soul's Day. The people continued to practice their rites though of calling upon the spirits of ancestors, building their bonfires and altars to the dead. They also believed other spirits roamed the earth on this sacred night, and had rituals for warding off the bad spirits including dressing up as spirits themselves to fool the bad spirits into thinking they were one of them. The New Year was celebrated with bonfires, feasting and offerings of food and treats to ward off unwanted trickery from less than benevolent spirits.
Dia de los Muertos finds its origins thousands of years back in a harvest holiday that some believe originated with the Aztecs and later became infused with the Catholicism of the conquistadors. The celebration begins at the end of October and the belief is that at midnight on November 1st, the souls of babies and children who have died return to visit their loved ones. This day is Dia de los Innocentes or Dia de los Angelitos, Day of the Innocents, or Little Angels. The day following, November 2nd, all the other departed come to join the Innocentes and their living family members for the celebrations. Traditionally, burial places are cleaned and tidied and decorated with flowers and candles. Families build elaborate offrenda, altars, to their dead. The most familiar symbols are the brightly decorated sugar skulls, calaveras, and skeletons, calacas, generally dressed and engaging in activities of life, celebrating the sweetness, beauty, joy and brevity of life, the certainty of death and how these are inevitably entwined.
Ways to Connect to Your Beloved Dead
Both these holidays center around fires and candles, thought to light the way for the spirits of the dead.
Build a fire, in a fireplace or a fire pit, or even gaze at candle flames.
Spend time meditating on your beloved dead, using your inner hearing and inner vision to connect with them. Fire is naturally a meditative tool and helps us to relax and move within. This time of year is conducive to accessing sacred, liminal spaces; the thresholds between physical and spiritual. Many bereaved occupy this space often as we move between the world of the living, of which we are still part, and the world of spirit where our loved ones reside. The mesmerizing dance of flames, their changing colors, the warmth and comfort support a meditative process when we wish to purposefully move into these sacred spaces where communication with spirit can more easily occur.
Build An Altar
Archeologists have found evidence of shrines and altars, sacred creations, in virtually all places where humans have lived. Traditionally, shrines are memorials, or monuments, to the dead. People have created shrines for thousands of years and across all cultures.
Altars and shrines are external representations of interior mysteries. They are ways of showing in tangible form what is happening in our hearts and spirits. Creating shrines and altars gives us opportunity to remember, reflect and honor those we love who have died as well as transform pain through the creative act. The creation of a shrine can establish a permanent or a temporary place to which you can return
reflect, meditate, grieve, engage in a personal ritual, remember and honor the one who has died.
~Choose a space: an already existing altar space in your home, a temporary space like a table top or a corner of the room, a shelf or nook. You can use a folding table, a stool. or even a box covered with a cloth. Creating varying heights on the space can add interest and allow different spaces for multiple loved ones. Cover the space with a colorful or richly textured fabric that suits your purposes and aesthetic.
~Collect and display photos of your beloved dead, their favorite objects, things that remind you of them. ephemera, trinkets, jewelry, clothing items, books, etc. For ancestral representation, choose old photos of family members, or if you don't know your ancestors, choose items or symbols of your ethnic or familial origin. If you don't know this, or don't want to include these, you can choose symbols or photos of those you consider spiritual ancestors.
~Place natural items like flowers, shells, stones and crystals, pumpkins or other seasonal items on the altar
~Add candles, their favorite foods or drink, traditional sugar skulls, other traditional items from your heritage, Halloween candies and treats, anything else that appeals to you or reminds you of your loved ones or other ancestors.
Spend time in meditation, prayer or silence at your altar space. Focus on your breath as it moves in and out of your body. You might hold a photo or other object from the altar as you meditate. You might choose to focus your gaze on a candle flame or close your eyes, taking the experience entirely within.
Write a Letter
Spend some time writing a letter to your loved one.You might say things you felt you never had a chance to say when they were here, let them know how you are doing, share about your life, talk about regrets or unfinished business, let them know how much you miss them and love them, ask questions, express yourself in anyway you wish. If it feels like the right thing to do, write back in your beloveds' voices.
You might also imagine that you are an ancestor who has advice to offer you and write a response back to yourself. Take the time to wait for the wisdom to come through in a meditative space, remembering that the veils between the worlds are thinnest over the these next few days.
This activity can be very powerful. You may want to share your experience with a trusted friend or counselor. You can also do any or all of these with a friend or family member, creating your own connecting ritual and sharing with each other afterward your own internal experiences. You might choose to burn your letters in a fire at the end of the evening. You can create your own ritual and connection alone or with others.
Have a Silent Supper
Create your loved ones favorite foods, your own favorite foods or traditional foods from your family, ethnic or ancestral traditions. Let the entire planning and cooking of the meal be a creative ritual. When it is time to serve, allow a space for your beloved dead and place some food as an offering. While eating, do so in silence, focusing on mindful, slow eating. Take the time to engage with all the senses: smell, taste, sight, temperature and texture of the food, the sensations of chewing, swallowing, all while being fully present. Imagine you are dining with your beloveds and your ancestors. Create and take your meal in a meditative state, listening inwardly for any communications. You can make the entire meal, its preparation, presentation, and consumption, the ritual. You might do this in the presence of the altar, or incorporate your altar into your dining space.
Blessed Be and I wish you a peaceful and sacred Halloween and Dia de los Muertos. I hope these suggestions have been helpful and that you find connection with your beloveds this season. Remember if you have any questions or comments, that your replies to these emails come directly to me
Karla Helbert, LPC