This weekend, Chris and I are going away for Samhain to Four Quarters Farm. In college, this was the typical call to us at this time of the year. If you're not familiar with what Samhain is, take a look at this brief primer on Samhain. At the farm, the legacy that we're part of includes the Labyrinth at Four Quarters. This labyrinth is a guide for meditation and has been built by volunteers since 2005. It's not easy work - the granite must be set deep into the ground, and the weather conditions aren't always ideal. But the student group at Penn State that Chris and I met at, Silver Circle, has a long legacy of leading the labyrinth dig twice each year.
Traditionally a time when ancestors are venerated and spoken with, Samhain is a favorite of many Pagans. I think Samhain is really special to us, since we're able to be more socially "out" than other times of the year. It's not during every holiday that our observances so neatly line up with more mainstream (read: acceptable) cultural celebrations. Granted, Halloween barely touches the surface of Pagan practices. It doesn't mean we can't enjoy a reprieve from appearing as secular as possible.
For me, Samhain has always been enjoyable. The problem is, I've never felt truly able to connect on a deep level with Samhain rituals or practices. I participate, I pay respect to those who have passed on, but there's a block for me nonetheless.
What are you to do, when you don't know your ancestors?
Some of you may know this already; my father died when I was seven years old. His mother, my grandmother, died in 1985, four years before I was born. When my father died, there was a falling out between my mother and his father, my grandfather, because she decided to move us away from the town we all lived in. This was a complicated decision, I'm sure. I was too young to truly understand the dynamics of my family, and the issue is that I still don't understand much more than the basic facts, and that my mother needed to leave the house that reminded her of my father. My Grandpa Yukevich died many years later, in 2012. What I do understand is that aside from distant descendants who are still living (and possibly close to me in age, or at least in my generation), the death of these people left my sister and me as the last two Yukevich's we knew of.
The simple solution to this problem, the struggle of not knowing who I came from, would be to ask someone about the ancestors. But I will tell you that this solution is easier said than done. There's never a good time to bring this up to your mother, who lost her husband swiftly and unexpectedly, and is likely still grieving in some way. I don't quite think we ever stop grieving those that we lose. Everyone is different in this regard, but out of respect for her heart, I can't at this time bear to ask her for a history.
So. If I can't talk to anyone (at least just yet), what do I do?
First, I need to stop feeling like it's my fault that I don't know my ancestors. It would be my fault to not learn about them now that I've felt the pull, but it's not anyone's fault that they cannot easily learn from someone who is no longer living. We are only human, and we cannot control these things that make us the most human.
At the farm, I'll be participating in many rituals in many forms. In the Stone Circle there is an Ancestor Table that attendees decorate with tokens of those we wish to remember and honor. I'm not sure if dinner this year is a Dumb Supper, but we will at the very least be feasting with the Dead. A ceremony in the evening will occur in the Stone Circle, and afterwards, we will undoubtedly share stories and reminisce with mead and more at the fireside. I don't know what I'm in store for in the ritual, but I am ready.
A hope of mine is to create space to talk with the ancestors more regularly. I'm imagining that I will consistently make offerings to them in my home, and to speak with them more frequently.
Another move that I'll be making to supplement the knowledge I've accumulated from Ancestry.com is to take a DNA test. While I know many broad details of my family history, and some smaller details as well, there are gaps. I'd like to fill as many gaps as possible.
And of course, there will come a day when I have to ask the questions to those it will hurt the most. I'll get there.
If you're wondering more about Samhain, look at the two links below for more perspective.