Halloween, Day of the Dead, Samhain, All Saints’ Day, All Souls’ Day – all are titles for the dates between October 31st and November 2nd. The whole month of October leading up to Halloween is a time when the veil is thin, when it is sanctioned to let yourself explore the other side.
My ancestors altar
Most of the year, our culture represses our connection to the other-world. But Halloween is a time for letting ourselves be open to it. We get to wear costumes and pretend. We get to believe (or at least pretend to believe) in the existence of the invisible world.
I was into anything spooky or paranormal growing up (and that hasn’t changed, really). I would stay up late reading The Thing at the Foot of the Bed, a collection of tales of the supernatural, all year round. So, when I was a kid and Halloween finally came, it was my power-time. I got to go full-on into that world beyond the veil – without seeming like a weirdo. I often wished it could always be Halloween.
As an adult, October continued to be my favorite month, until about thirteen years ago. That was the month my mom passed away, in 2002. My grandfather had also died the year before — in October.
My grandfather’s death was expected. He was 81, and he had cancer. For the first time in my life, I got to sit with someone I loved, knowing they were dying. I got to talk to him about what he had meant to me. I got to say goodbye. But my mom’s death the following year was unexpected, and she was very young – 52. I didn’t get closure with her, and there had been a rift between us before her passing. In the hours after finding out myself, I had to be the one to deliver the news of her death to everyone in the family, one excruciating discussion at time – to my brother, her mother (my grandmother), and her brother (my uncle).
When the next October came after my mom’s death, I couldn’t help but re-live all of that. Old grief was unearthed every year. The cold fall air, the October rains, and the shortening of the days brought up memories of sitting at my grandfather’s bedside, or the pain of losing my mother without getting to say goodbye at all. And just as I was starting to heal a bit, a couple years ago my uncle (Mom’s brother) passed away unexpectedly, at only 58. And again, it was in October.
The anniversary of one death can be difficult. But I have three anniversaries, and they are all within the same month.
Each year, I’ve honored the ancestors at this time with my usual ritual: I set up the altar with their pictures, light a candle, and leave an offering. And that has brought me some comfort. Having a clear intention is the first and most important step to creating a ritual. And my intention has always been to honor and remember the dead at All Hallows’ Eve.
But this year, I want to set a different intention. I want to heal this time of year for me, to bring some joy back. To release some of the heaviness. To reconnect to the kid in me who absolutely loved October and Halloween.
Me as a witch, age 4
At the center of my altar, I am placing a picture of me at 4 years old, dressed up as a witch. I’m lighting a candle, and I’m inviting her – 4-year-old me – to return.
The second part of my ritual will be to write two letters — one to my grandfather and one to my mother — and place them on the altar by their pictures.
The ancestors are still there, all around me on the altar, as I know they are in my daily life. But this year, instead of just honoring their memory, I’m asking for their help. I’m asking them to help bring back a part of me that has left.
I have done ritual before, and I’ve seen its power in my life and in the lives of other people. The ritual becomes a path to make the intention real.
What ritual might you perform, at this powerful time when the veil is thin? Is there a deceased loved-one with whom you wish to connect? Is there something you’d like to heal between you? Is there something you’d like to ask your ancestors to help you with? Now is the time. And it’s not just on Halloween, although that is a power day. These weeks around the peak of fall, as we head into the dark half of the year, hold the energy of the thinned veil.
Here is a simple ritual you can perform tonight, or any time during this darkest part of the year between now and Yule (Winter Solstice):
If you have unresolved issues, or are freshly grieving, someone who has passed, write them a letter. Write all the things you’d want to say to them, as if they are sitting in front of you. Place the letter in front of their picture, and light a candle by it. Intend that this person will hear your message.
In the days following your ritual, watch for signs, synchronicities, or dreams related to your loved one. They might have a message for you.