The Ancestral Cult of the Dead

Photo by Marla W.

During this time of year, from the ancient pagan holiday of Samhain, now commonly called Halloween, to the celebration of the Wild Hunt and the beginnings of the Yule season in the north, Fall and Winter is a time associated with death.

Obviously, due to the changing of the seasons, such a connection is natural, and its origins can easily be guessed at, as the reaping season begins and harvest time is celebrated along with the shortening of days and the lengthening of the long and cold nights- it is a time of drawing inward, to our own communities and family units- a time for bonfires and feasting on the fruits we have sown earlier in the year, as our plans come into wholeness and produce sustenance.

The bonfire was said to light the pathway for the dead of our families to find their way back to us, to be present there in the shadows at the edges of the firelight, to once again take part in the festivities of their clan and kin.

Like every other holiday, our modern world has sunk its corporate claws deep into any soil it sees profit in, and cheapens it with mass marketing and empty plastic products, turning what was once a meaningful reminder of death and the dead into another vapid celebration of consumerism and mindless intoxication. Pop icons and slutty versions of childhood story characters generally rule the day, with bar and office parties and safe, pre-dusk walks through well policed neighborhoods for the kids to chase a diabetic sugar high have replaced the woodland fire festival and the solemn household remembrance ritual.

Our ancestors deserve better. We owe them our lives, our genetic makeup, and our unique blend of DNA. Bring back the forest revel, the masking rites of old, the mindful intoxication- drunk on the blood of beast and grape, faces covered in order to make ourselves a willing vessel for those spirits of the dead who would wander back to our fires, and breathe the cold fall air with our lungs- who would speak needful words with our tongues and be warmed with whiskey and music.

Use the day, and the season as one in which to truly give honor to them with your actions. Create household traditions with friends and family, or discover your people’s ancient practices, and make them green and living once more. Feel the power descended through them and into you, and dedicate a corner of the house to them, making offerings weekly or daily to keep them in mind, as you would like to be remembered and honored after your death. They are your strength, and you, the head of a spear, the very front droplet at the head of a rushing river of blood!

Only the obtuse or those without any sense of personal pride would confuse this with a call for some kind of ethnic supremacy or hatred. Just as a mother prefers and loves her own children more than other children, but could not be said to “hate” all other children that are not her own- so, too, our natural preference and pride in our own specific and unique ancestral line should be celebrated and given honor.

Use the day to lift heavy, to train savagely, to eat ferociously, to fuck and frenzy…because this day we also remember that they are dead- but we are not!

Hail the victorious dead.