We stand on the shoulders of our ancestors. African saying.
It is said that around the beginning of November, the veil between the living or the material world and the world of the deaths /gods/saints/spirits or the ‘other world’ is at its thinnest and that on these days, contact with the other world can be most easily accomplished.
The first week of November is when the sun is halfway through its (apparent) course toward the Tropic of Capricorn in the Southern Hemisphere. There the sun ‘arrives’ around December 22. The sun is at that moment the furthest away from the Northern Hemisphere. Early November is on the Wheel of the four directions the moment where we move from the West to the North – actually the beginning of winter. The boundary between West and North is also the boundary of the living and the deaths. The West is the place of the elderly; the North is the place of the deaths and the immaterial existence.
We see that at the beginning of November, the transition from the direction of the West to the direction of the North is central. Hence probably the idea that the veil between the two worlds is paper-thin at this time. At least this applies to the Northern Hemisphere. It is different in the southern hemisphere (sun in the North). And that will be different for countries between the equator and the tropics.
Various myths tell about this, and traditionally different cultures have rituals that have to do with ‘the other side’ in this period. For example, the Celts and Germans celebrated festivals like Samhain these days. Likewise, it’s the time of Halloween, All Saints’ Day (November 1), All Souls’ Day (November 2) and the Dia de Los Muertos (Mexican Day of the Death). All these celebrations have the same theme, namely the commemoration and tribute to the deceased.
The ancient Celts and Teutons celebrated the beginning of winter and the new year around October 31 – the exact date differed by tribe and region. The celebration of Samhain (Celtic New Year) traditionally begins at sunset on October 31 and lasts for three days.
Since – according to the Celts – during this period the division between the world of the deaths and our world is paper-thin, the Celts believed that the deaths are present in our world during Samhain. So it is the best time to commemorate and honour the deceased. The ancestors are welcomed during this festival with fires outside and inside the hearth fires. On Samhain, the table is set again for deceased family members. A plate with a napkin is placed on the altar to welcome the deceased and food is placed on the altar. Food can also be left outside for the deaths.
However, it was not a sad feast but a joyous feast with amusement, entertainment, food, and drink. During Samhain, the life of the ancestors is celebrated, and they become involved with the living. The ancestors are consulted and receive not only food but also gifts. Actually, a very nice way to deal with the deceased, to honour their place and to process their loss.
It is not only a celebration to honour and commemorate the deceased, but a celebration of all spirits and nature spirits. They also show themselves during this period.
Around this period, the harvests is brought in and stored. Some of the cattle are put back into stables and some are slaughtered to add to the food supply needed to get through the winter. The slaughtered flesh was also offered to the Gods, nature spirits and ancestors.
Therefore, Samhain is also a closing harvest, slaughter festival, and thanksgiving to the Gods, nature spirits, and ancestors for the harvest obtained.
Halloween – All Hallow’s Eve, All Saints Evening.
Halloween is associated with the Samhain festival. Irish and Scots who immigrated to the United States and Canada in the 19th century took the Halloween celebration with them. Today it is ‘celebrated’ by almost everyone in the US and Canada and has also been ‘blown’ back to Europe.
All Saints and All Souls
All Saints Day – November 1 – is a Christian holiday. On this day, all saints are commemorated and venerated in the Roman Catholic Church. During All Souls’ Day – on November 2 – all the deceased are commemorated.
At the beginning of November, there was also a ‘holiday’ in the agricultural sector in the Netherlands. That was a day of thanksgiving for the harvest. This took place on the first Wednesday of the month.
Until the beginning of the 7th century, All Saints’ Day fell on May 13. But to gain more acceptance for Christianity among the people, the festival has been moved to November 1. By celebrating the Feast of the Departed Saints on November 1, followed by the All Souls’ Day on November 2, these Christian festivals blended more easily with the original traditions of the people. Moreover, that made it easier for the church to “win souls”.
Dia de Los Muertos
In Mexico and, to a lesser extent, other countries of Central America, the Dia de Los Muertos takes place at the beginning of November. A 3-day festival in which the deaths are commemorated and honoured. This festival has its origins within the Central American Indian peoples.
In many aspects, it resembles Samhain. Here too, it is not a sad event but a joyful celebration. Altars are made for the deceased, on which food, drinks and gifts are placed. Life is celebrated both indoors and outdoors – in the cemetery. There is singing, eating and dancing.
Initially, this festival took place in early August. Under the influence of the Roman Catholic Church, this festival was ‘moved’ to the beginning of November to coincide with the Roman Catholic Remembrance Day.
Early August is an interesting time for Central America. Around June 21, the sun is perpendicular to the Tropic of Cancer in the Northern Hemisphere. For Central America, that is the North. At the beginning of August, the sun is almost perpendicular to Central America. Then the sun moves south again. From the beginning of May to the beginning of August, Central America has the sun in the North. Then the sun shifts south again. Initially, that was the moment of the Dia de Los Muertos.
Systemic Ritual with Ancestors
Overall, the month of November seems to be a suitable month for ancestor rituals and contact with souls. I participate in that by giving an ONLINE workshop series of 5 Saturday afternoons: Systemic Ritual with family themes and ancestors (basic)
This series starts on Saturday afternoon (4 p.m. Dutch time), November 6, 2021 and consists of 5 ONLINE workshops.
For more information and registration, see: /systemic-ritual-with-family-themes-and-ancestors/