Summer has ended and we are about to pass through the gateway of the Autumnal Equinox. In many places the weather is cooling off and the days are starting to get noticeably shorter. The green harvest has given its bounty, and now many plants and flowers are going to seed. Nature is preparing herself for the dark half of the year. It is during this time that our focus begins to shift inward.
In summertime we are firmly rooted in the physical world, a time of festivals, fairs and celebrations of life, from outdoor picnics, trips to the lake and sporting events. As we transition into the dark half of the year, we retreat into our homes, we focus on family, the warmth of our fires both literal and figurative, and nourish ourselves with good food. Like the perennial plants that have given us the last of their blooms, we too retreat into our roots to gather energy and revitalize ourselves for the coming winter.
During the dark half of the year, life goes within; within the ground, within the home, within the self. It is a time of self-evaluation, reflection of the previous year, and conception of new goals and desires for the next. As we sink back into the Earth, like the Sun sinks into the horizon on the night of the Autumnal Equinox; we become like the many goddesses of old who make their yearly journey back into the Underworld.
This is a time of remembrance. Cultures around the world remember and honor their newly deceased loved ones, and the ancestors that have been and always will be there watching over them. These are our roots, like the roots of the plant, and we must return to them to seek nourishment and support for the coming winter. There is not one culture that does not honor their dead in some way, although some perhaps more than others. The customs surrounding death and the observance of the dead tell us much about the living, their worldview and how they interact with the spirit world.
By feeding our roots we feed ourselves and create a strong and vital foundation for generations to come. Sometimes the living become overly concerned with the material world and the events of day-to-day life, but it seems as though there is always at least one person in each family who is a keeper of the dead. The one who remembers their stories and keeps them alive. The aunt who obsessively traces back the lineage of the family keeping list upon list of names. The sister who caringly and religiously tends to the graves of departed parents and grandparents when others have seemed to have forgotten. The son who has formed his life around walking in the footsteps of his father and does everything in his power to honor his memory.
There is no right or wrong way to honor the dead or to recognize our ancestors. They see us lighting the candles on their altars, placing flowers on their graves, and they hear us whispering to them at night. These simple gestures fill them with life keeping them close to us. The love that we give them feeds them, and the continuation of their memory brings them joy and their lives meaning that continues through generations. By honoring their memory and recognizing the impact they had on our lives we pay them the greatest respect. Remembrance is the greatest gift that we can give our dead. Those who were close to us in life never stop loving us, and never stop wanting to help us. Though there is a veil that parts us we are still connected by that eternal bond.