Monday, September 27, 2010

Altars of Acceptance

Someone recently remarked to me that she never saw so much Halloween stuff as she has in Colorado. She thinks that people go crazy over it out here, and she can't imagine any reason why since it is nothing more than a day for kids to get candy.

Of course, there is much more to it than that. although in many people's minds, it has been reduced to nothing more than trick or treating and costume parties, it has very deep metaphysical roots and it heralds an important turning in our lives every year. And that is why people really feel drawn to celebrate it for a month. Right now, this is the last of September and there will be corn mazes, hay mazes and pumpkin patches up through the end of October.

The roots of the holiday go back to ancestral times. All of our ancestral times. As far back as caveman days people have felt that it is important to honor the dead and use special ceremonies to mark their passing, remember their lives, and wish them well on their way to the next world.

Why wouldn't they? Birth and Death are the the two gateways we all have to pass through. Our families and friends are always the ones at these gateways. They help celebrate when we arrive, and they help mourn when we leave.

In modern times, as many people have left folklore and ceremonial ways slip from their grasp, some cultures have retained them powerfully, contributing universal traditions that still resonate and help people heal from their grief while wishing the spirit on to what's next for them.

Denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance were the names that Elizabeth Kubler Ross gave to the Five Stages of Grief. Making an altar for the one who has crossed over is a powerful way to get to acceptance.

Birth, death and rebirth. Our gateways. Our inescapable gateways. The certain markers of our journey. These are the portals we pass through, and we cannot choose otherwise. So our only choice is to recognize the gateway for what it is.

We either make altars then warm ourselves at the bonfires, or we carry more weight than we need to for many years to come.

So this is how it happened. Some people chose to lose their grip on the ancient ways and only remembered to serve refreshments to the mourners and those who come to give solace and bring light through the storytelling and the music and the prayers. Except over the years they forgot to do all the other things and just served refreshments.

The refreshments are a wonderful seasonal taste that reminds us of the sweetness of life, after we have done our rituals.

Whether they are large or small, elaborate or simple, we need to make our altars. We need to honor those who have crossed and send them through the gateway on waves of our good energy. Those who make their altars enjoy their peace better than those who do not. It is at the altar that we find acceptance. It is our time and place to express our grief. It is a far more wise, powerful and ancient root ritual than simply giving candy to kids.

Here today, we can feel the strength and beauty of these ceremonies through the Mexican festivities known as the Day of the Dead. The Celtic equivalent, called Samhain, which gave birth to Halloween, are both celebrated on the same day of the year. Two powerful ancient cultures that have continued to set aside time every year to ritually remember their dead in the same time frame as giving thanks for the harvest, and preceding the time when families and friends are drawn together to celebrate and welcome in the future.

Why should we still pay attention to these holidays? Who does not know someone who has died? Who has had trouble acknowledging their grief, letting go of it and moving onward? We need to release their spirits so that they can move on, and we need to release ourselves so that we can move on.

Although the primary focus is on people we know who have died this year, people sometimes use these same ceremonies to say farewell to an animal who was an important part of their life as well.

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