My mind shifts at this time of year from the thick-blooded heat and lethargy of summer into a fervor of magical practice. In my part of the United States, we tend to have lingering heat even into October and November, but it is tempered by the crispness of evening air. When the darker days come, I feel energized, renewed, and eager to work magic and tap into the current of enchantment which emerges when summer has been left behind. And while the greenery of the floral world retreats, a different kind of stirring seems to happen below the soil. The Dead are waking up.
It seems everyone has a festival of the dead in autumn. Of course, Halloween is probably the dominant cultural paradigm for those of us living in the United States and Canada, but Hispanic folks have Dia de (los) Muertos, people of Asian ancestry have holidays like the Ghost Festival or the Chung Yeung Festival, and Catholics have All Souls’ Day. While some cultures do not seat their ancestral reverences in autumn, so many do that working with the dead during the cooling months comes naturally to a lot of folks, myself included.
Developing an ancestral practice is, in my opinion, important to those practicing spiritual systems centered on land, folklore, history, etc. It creates a sense of family and timelessness, while acknowledging the mortality that binds every living thing together. It keeps tradition alive, while allowing for new growth and understanding as descendants adapt their practices to the era in which they live. In many cases, I’ve heard people explain that they do not work with ancestors because their predecessors would not have approved of their lifestyle, or there might be a history of abuse or harm, or perhaps they simply are not close to their family in general. However, I would argue that honoring the Dead does not necessarily mean honoring blood relatives. That may be the simplest method—and often it proves rewarding even when some family relationships have a history of bitterness in them—but it is not the only method. Why not work with deceased teachers from within your tradition? Or even culture heroes, like Black Hawk in the hoodoo traditions (a teacher-ancestor) or Johnny Appleseed if you happen to be in the Ohio Valley area (a regional/land-based ancestor)? I am not here to tell anyone how to live their spiritual life or which ancestor(s) to work with, but I do want people to understand that the Dead go beyond blood-bonds and share other ties with the living, and they are eager to work with us, especially at this time of year.