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The Ancestor Vigil

We've been doing the Ancestor Vigil here for about 20 years and every year it is a little different but the intention is always the same. It is not a Samhain ritual, it is not a celebration of Hallowe'en, it does not glom onto the trendy love of Dia de los Muertes. It is a ritual commemoration of the Recent Dead, the Beloved Long Dead and the Mighty Dead.

We set up a central altar, a candle-lighting station and a place to get more info on Mother Grove Goddess Temple and to leave your food donations for the food pantry. People are invited to place mementos on the altar and there is a place in the ritual where we speak the names of the dead that are closest to us.

I keep a Samhain list every year and I read that aloud, too.  There is a section of the ritual devoted to victims of religious persecution and a segment there on the European Inquisitions.

It is an interactive ritual--and that's what gives it its longevity, I think.

We chant towards the end and the intention is to rend the veil between the worlds and welcome in the Ancestors. Last year, we had a fiddler up in the balcony of the beautiful parish hall where we do this ritual.  She was fiddling as the names were read and gradually her balcony filled with shadow people--something several attendees remarked on.

This year, a remarkable singer gave us "O, Death"--the first time she'd sung that piece in a public setting. Her voice rang through the rafters of the old place and most of us sat transfixed as the music and the setting took her. And, again, the place filled with the Other Crowd, as Eddie Lenihan might say.

I maintain that the "veil" is so thin these days as to be non-existent, and so attendees went home with their Ancestors in the back seat of the car, chatty, making themselves at home.  When I unpacked everything yesterday at the temple, there they were, hanging around the Ancestor altar, drinking coffee.

And now, you must excuse me. We have the Samhain ritual itself on Friday and I have some turnips to carve. But right now, I have biscuits to bake and fatback to fry up. They get so hungry this time of year, those Ancestors.


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