Today dawned gray and wet. We took advantage of the clock change, and slept in. Now, to the west the low overcast is raising. The oaks have turned abruptly; the maples have largely dropped their leaves and the breeze moves their bare branches. It is the sort of day that Thomas Hardy celebrated when he wrote of the bleak time.
Tonight we will gather with friends to welcome and honor the Ancestors. It is the beginning of the ceremonial period that has been recast as the Holidays, a time of celebration and danger, for those who came before us draw close, perhaps along with those who are yet to come. In the background lurks cold, and potentially, illness, injury, and hunger.
Our largely urban lifestyles isolate us from the mythic truth of our lives. We no longer come face to face with the deaths of the animals we eat, or the dangers of the harvest. We are largely insulated from the vagaries of the hunt or the growing season, or the presence of the spirits. As a result, we may forget, or ignore, the Powers that shape our lives.
Still, spirits come to us, watching our actions and influencing our decisions, a palpable, if usually invisible, force that shapes our lived experience. I wonder whether our modern religions have evolved to be a barrier between us and them, as though ignorance of their presence would protect us from their desires and hungers even as they also separate us from the knowledge and support of the Ancient Ones.
Recently I’ve been invited to speak to a couple of college classes about shamanism, anthropology, and my experience living between cultures and worlds. Each time, the instructor asked me to lead a short journey, and, as it turned out that most of the students in the class had some experience of shamanic journeying, this seemed easy. Yet, it was not. This time of year the Powers and Ancestors are close, and some of the students’ experiences seemed difficult.
I have thought a great deal about this, and am reminded that our relationships with the spirits, and particularly, the Ancestors may be heavily influenced by childhood experiences. Persons who lived through abuse and/or neglect may be profoundly afraid of those in the spirit world. It is important to remember this as we invite the spirits to come close. Some who passed into the spirit world after causing deep harm may come back, wishing to make amends. Others may try to extend their old influence by retraumatizing those they harmed.
When we gather to remember and honor the spirits, Ancestors, and the Ancient Ones, may we offer solace and healing to those who need it, both the living, and those who have passed into spirit. As we do so, may we hold the space in such a way as to protect the living who may carry the burden of having been harmed.