Where I live in the northern hemisphere, the wheel of the year is turning inexorably toward Samhain, and my thoughts of course turn toward the ancestors and the Blessed Dead.

Like many other ancient cultures, the Minoans held their ancestors in high regard and honored them in their spiritual practice. But they didn't celebrate Samhain. I'm sure many people in ancient Crete did a little something to honor their ancestors on a regular, perhaps daily basis the way I light a candle on my ancestor altar every evening. But their big ancestor celebration happened at harvest time, which in the Mediterranean occurs in the spring. So...not Samhain.

But I don't live in Crete (alas!). I live in the southeastern U.S., where we've just about reached the end of the harvest season. The Minoans sailed all over the place in their nifty ships, so I'm sure they understood that the seasons and the climate vary from place to place, and I expect the Minoan gods have a clue, too. So this is the time of year that I ramp up the ancestor portion of my spiritual practice from that single evening candle-lighting to something a bit bigger.

Interestingly enough, a lot of traditional Samhain practices look very much like the things the Minoans did to honor their ancestors. Case in point: the Dumb Supper. This is a special meal to honor the dead, usually by inviting them to join in. It's called the Dumb Supper because often, it's done in complete silence.

If you look at the image at the top of this post, you'll see what amounts to a Dumb Supper, rendered in clay by an artist from ancient Crete and found in the tholos tomb at Kamilari. The ceramic model appears to have been painted red originally, a color long associated with the dead and the spirits (the blood that binds the generations). Now, I can't say for sure whether or not the Minoans kept silent during these dining rituals, but they most certainly did share food with the honored dead. You can see the ancestors - the spirits - rising up from the Underworld and into the dining shrine where the people have set out a meal.

Dining shrines, complete with adjacent food preparation areas, have been found throughout the ruins of ancient Crete. The temple complex at Phaistos has an especially large dining shrine area, including multiple indoor and outdoor hearths for food preparation. So the Minoans took this stuff seriously.

There's also evidence of feasting, sometimes on a grand scale, that was held in the courtyards of the Minoan tombs. Why would you hold a feast at a tomb unless you're inviting the people who, ahem, "live" there? Exactly.

I don't manage to put on a full-fledged Dumb Supper every year, but I like to share at least one meal, a nice dinner, with the ancestors. I put out a plate for them and serve them a token amount of each food along with a glass of wine. Sometimes I bake a special loaf of bread for the occasion. If someone has passed away recently or a particular ancestor is on my mind, I'll include something special for them: a photo on the altar, a few words to remember them by, a toast. I also tend to set out an empty picture frame; this stands for all the ancestors whose names and faces we don't know.

I like the idea of taking time out to focus on the people who came before me, the ones whose spirit-stream drifts back into the shadows of prehistory. Some say the gods are our ultimate ancestors, so I always invite them as well. Sometimes the meal is a bit somber and serious, especially if there are recent deaths in the family, but there's always a tinge of joy as well. These people led good lives. They prepared the way for us. They are the ones on whose shoulders we stand.

In the name of the bee,

And of the butterfly,

And of the breeze, amen.