Remembering the never born
As Samhuinn approaches, I think about the dead. I remember various kinds of ancestors at Samhain, and also invite other dead people to my altar, to offer hospitality, conversation, and gifts of food, drink, scent, and colour.
I gather forth ancestors of blood and bone — my literal, genetic ancestors. For me, these include not only my named personal ancestors, but also every life form upstream on the evolutionary river, from homo sapiens sapiens, as well as the stars whose dust made the iron in my blood;
I call on ancestors of spirit and inspiration — those who have strengthened me with their words and actions, especially those who have been forebears in struggles of solidarity and justice, and those from whom I draw artistic, musical and poetic inspiration; ancestors of place — those who shaped the place, either literal or metaphorical, where I live and/or work;
I bring in my Beloved Dead — those whom I have personally known, or are directly personally connected to, who are now dead, usually family members or close friends (including companion animals), and the Mighty Dead — those who have gone before me in the Craft.
The full moon before last, I got up in the wee hours to celebrate as close to the actual moment of the moon’s fullness as possible. I stood on the newly laid patio in the clear moonlight, owls hooting in a nearby scots pine tree, bats gorging on insects overhead. I lit candles and incense, and invoked Guardians and Gods. We hung out together, those Mighty Ones and I, and I fed them oatcakes and honey, and classic, home-mixed daiquiri served in a quaich.
But they wanted more: they wanted a story.
I thought about telling them a story I had been working with and rehearsing for a while: The Golden Bird. But the Guardians had heard me tell it many times before, and besides, Gods and Guardians both wanted something more personal from me than that.
I found myself telling them the story of myself, and my mother, and one of the most important people in my childhood: my very first sibling, who was lost when my mother had a near-fatal miscarriage, when I was eight years old.
At the end of the telling, I gained two things: a Deity group hug, and the knowledge of just how important that often ‘forgotten’ first sibling was, and remains: important enough to be an Ancestor. The impact of their death and non-birth on my life from that point on was massive.
Fundamentally, ancestors are those who make our life possible. They shape our our genes, our bodies, the cultures in which we are socialised, the environments in which we grow up, live, and work. Ancestors are those who shape our lives.
I claim my never-born sibling as an Ancestor, because their death fundamentally shaped my life.
This Samhain, I will be inviting them to come and share the evening with me, as a member of my family of Mighty Dead, Beloved Dead and Ancestors. And I will be holding all those who mourn children who died from miscarriage, stillbirth, or cot death in my heart prayers.