This time of year is a favorite of mine. Despite the obvious lack of autumn where I live, there is still those rare moments where you may catch a whiff of wood fire or a drop of humidity below 80 percent, and I’m reminded why this is a great time in the cycle of seasons.
For Pagans autumn means, among other things, time for our approach to the long, dark nights of winter and lack. In relation to that, we turn our thoughts to those who have, like autumn, passed on before us. As many Pagans know, Samhain is the culmination of that focus: it is not merely “Witch New Year” but a time when we commune with the dead and share in our own way with the spirits that have moved on.
This year, I have a recommendation for this “hallowed” time: have a dinner party for the dead! The nice thing is passed-on loved ones don’t eat much, they don’t get drunk and insult your sister-in-law, and you don’t have to drop obvious hints that it’s time for them to leave your house.
But seriously. Unlike the traditional somber aspects of Halloween, Samhain can be a celebratory rite, and like most celebrations, that usually means food. Lots of food. And there’s more to it than just gorging yourself. Below are some suggestions on hosting your own Dinner of the Dead:
- Make their favorite foods. One way of showing reverence and respect for those who have left us is preparing things that you know they would love. This shows that you are thinking about them and considering what they enjoyed while they were here. The added bonus to this is that you can recreate some of those great recipes that perhaps a grandparent or old family friend used to make; things that you enjoyed as a kid that you haven’t had in a long time. Of course, it probably won’t be as good as the original, but even coming close everyone (living) at your party will appreciate the effort.
- Set them a place at the table. This one may seem a little…Jewish, but making room at the table is another sign that you are considering the contributions that those who have gone on made to your table and the fellowship and love they brought you. Maybe even put them at the “head” of the table. (And don’t put them at the “kids” table–even when we’re gone, we don’t want to get stuck there. Plus it may freak out the kids a little.) And you can just set one place, even if you have multiple loved ones in mind. (They won’t mind sharing.)
- Send them an invitation. Almost no one likes to show up somewhere uninvited, so call them for supper, if you will. Have everyone present go around the table and call out who they’d like to attend. This is just another sign of reverence and respect, and acknowledges to everyone there what those folks meant to you while they were with us.
- Tell some stories. Not ghost stories, although I guess in a sense that’s what they represent. Have people share stories about their passed relations and friends. I recommend these be funny or at least happy times. Nothing pumps up communion with the dead better than recalling some silly moment that you shared with them that they (and the other living guests) would appreciate. Remember, this is a celebration, not a funeral. No eulogies.
- Open the door. While not necessary for afterlife travel, opening a door to the outside when you’re ready to feast is another consideration to those you want to attend. Just don’t leave it open for too long if it’s on October 31st, or you might get trick-or-treaters that want a slice of Aunt Mildred’s lasagna.
- Serve your apple pie with Tarot cards. When it’s time for dessert and coffee, break out the divination tools. Tarot, runes, maybe a pendulum or crystal ball. Never forget that this time traditionally marks the point of the year where the veil between living and dead is thinnest. You might be surprised who you hear from. Maybe even that uncle that never got invited even when he was alive.
These are just a few ideas…I’m sure you can come up with your own. And, honestly, you don’t have to be Pagan to do these things, just have the desire to remember the cherished people that are no longer in your life. Most cultures have some sort of way of honoring their dead, and the benefits you gain from your little Feast of the Departed far outweigh the effort it will take. Taking a moment to reflect on the ones who are gone but gave you so much in life will make you appreciate what you have and who you still have with you. And that, living or dead, is a win-win.