It’s almost Beltane. It’s almost Halloween. It’s always time for ancestors.
As I wrote last month in Darkness and the spring equinox, I’ve given up on trying to create boundaries when it comes to holidays. Some local Pagans assert it’s Beltane with sarcasm and disdain and not-Halloween (they mean Samhain). I take no more issue with it than celebrating Christmas in the middle of summer. In Australia, we’re living in the upside down and that’s ok with me. Beltane is Beltane, a celebration of spring. Halloween is not Samhain, but that’s where its roots lie, in the ancient Gaelic festival associated with the thining of the veil between this world and the Otherworld. Every year, more and more Australians are celebrating Halloween and the Day of the Dead. It’s always a good time for a celebration. Who am I to judge or argue? I’m going with the flow.
I can’t explain it. They say old habits die hard. Maybe my inside clock is still Nothern Hemisphere-ish. I have been in this incarnation for just 39 years, but only six of those in Australia and my ancestors have always been in the Northern Hemisphere. Six years in Australia isn’t going to undo thousands of years of genetic memory.
My ancestors command reverence all year long. They demand at it at this time of year. Actually, now they act up twice a year: at Samhain in the autumn and at Halloween in the spring. It’s a good deal for them. My birthday is around the corner. For years, I’ve devoted these months to genealogy. Ancestor work is circular. The more you give, the more you receive. People sometimes tell me they don’t know how to begin honouring their ancestors because they don’t know anything about them. Your ancestors know you. You carry them in your blood. Invite them to come in and they’ll come in. They won’t just come in though. They’ll stay a while (like forever). They’re going to want drinks, dinner, maybe a cigar, some music, maybe some of your stuff like that nice perfume you recently purchased for yourself. You know how family is.
That’s the great thing about ancestors. They’re family. You are in this world because of them. You are their legacy. They know all about your troubles because they have been there.
My ancestors were indigenous people who fished, hunted, were highly skilled in agriculture, and worshipped Yúcahu, the god of cassava, and Atabey, the goddess of the moon, fresh waters, and fertility. They built their homes, they loved their children, they revolted against their oppressors.
My ancestors were Spaniards who sailed across the oceans. In the name of the King of Spain and for God, they conquered and spread disease and enslaved. They destroyed a world and built a new one, and they loved their children and revolted against their oppressors.
My ancestors were slaves who were stolen from their ancestral homes in West Africa. They worked and they died and they freed themselves and they preserved their cultures as best they could, hiding Oshun behind La Virgen de la Caridad del Cobre. And they loved their children and subverted their oppressors.
My ancestors were Cuban. They were farmers, teachers, healers, fighters, caretakers, revolutionaries and dissidents, exiles and hustlers. They loved their children and fought their oppressors.
They all knew hunger and illness and fear and loss. They all knew separation. We still know separation. They all knew love and joy and hope, as we do. When I look at the moon, I look at the same moon they did. When I look across the ocean, I feel the same longing they did. When I eat yuca and yellow rice, I am eating the same food they did. When I dance, I dance their rhythms.
It’s Beltane. My body and heart are warmed. The trees blossom and it’s a joy to watch a bird build a nest. It’s Halloween. I buy lollies for trick-or-treaters. It’s not Samhain, but I honour my ancestors anyway.