In dedication to all my ancestors, all my spirits and ghosts- I love you forever.
This is a story about people who are dead. You see, my dear, when your loved ones die: your family, friends, your dog or kitty or cockatiel, your horse or goat or fine shiny black duck, your sisters, brothers, cousins, aunties and uncles, mamas, papas, children, babies born and unborn, grandparents, and great great great grandparents—when they pass over their lungs stop inflating. Their hearts stop pumping, the electricity in their brains stops sparking and their blood stops flowing. But their spirit, oh no, their spirit never stops moving. In fact most dead people are happier being free of their bodies; they can zoom around the universe unburdened by heavy flesh and bones.
These spirits become our personal angels, our ancestors, our beloved dead ones who live on the other side of life. They play around in the land of the dead and secure blessings, good fortunes, and sometimes hard beautiful lessons for their living loved ones. The spirits have a whole different kind of life in that land and experience a beautiful vibrant sort of party with more fun than living brains can ever imagine. They sing, they dance, they laugh and pray but they cannot eat or drink. There is no real food over there where they live, no real coffee or tea, no cakes, no pies, no chocolate, no bread. There are a few pomegranate seeds around to snack on, however, that is another story starring the queen of the Underworld, Persephone, and that story is for for another time- and anyway we all know a few pomegranate seeds can’t ever really fill a belly, not even a ghost belly.
Now don't sit around worrying about your dead ones, don't imagine them wandering and wailing on the other side moaning about their empty stomachs. The spirits don't need food, they are just fine without it and definitely don't let the greedy ones convince you otherwise. Even your big-old-great-auntie-on-your-mother's-side who ate a cupcake or four every day in life doesn't need cupcakes to survive now that she is a ghost; she's over there doing great without them.
Despite not needing food, ghosts do remember how it tastes, how it smells. They remember homemade pork and ginger dumplings dipped in soy sauce and black vinegar with some chili infused sesame oil. They can still clearly recall fresh baked bread and melty butter with steam rising off the first hot-out-of the-oven slice or a simmering pot of lentil stew with curry basted roasted lamb on the side. Ancestors do gather when you cook, especially when you serve up their favorite dishes. They flock to hang their ghost noses over your pan and remind you the shrimp scampi needs more garlic, more fresh parsley and an extra dash of lemon, just listen next time. Especially listen to big-old-great-auntie-on-your-mother's-side when you mix up chocolate chocolate chip cupcake batter and whip vanilla and rum flavored buttercream frosting- make a double batch, she whispers.
Luckily for both the living and the dead, we have the magical holidays of Autumn. This once a year spirit extravaganza allows our dead ones to come so close into our everyday lives, so close they almost feel the hot sweet coffee and cream sliding down their ghost throats when they sip. Every year, without fail, Autumn equinox comes around at the end of September and opens a doorway between the living and the dead. At first the door is just open a tiny crack. Each day after the equinox the door opens a little more. The boundaries and distance separating where we breathing people live and those beautiful shinning dead people live get thinner, easier to hear and see through like cheap apartment walls or dirty windows slowly being wiped clean. The sounds and sights of the ancestors bumping and rustling around over there get louder and clearer, moment by moment, until finally building to a full volume crescendo on All Spirits Day, November 1st. We celebrate this day and it's eve each year with candy and witchy mischief. You can bet the dead get a kick out of us dressing up and fooling around in their honor. Each Hallows Eve night and the night after, they are so nearby that they can reach out to touch you, sending goosebump shivers up your arm and down your back. The barriers between worlds become silky veils, barely even separating us from them, falling open in their thinnest gauziest moments.
Of course our family and friend spirits are overjoyed to be so close to us during this time, especially on their feast day, but let's not kid ourselvesAll Spirit's Day Feasta children's talethey are also here for the food. Yes, they love sitting quietly with us, going out dancing with us, carving pumpkins and lighting candles with us... but they really really love All Spirits Day for the snacks. Being so near to the living world allows them one night a year when they are the closest they can get to eating real live people food.
As they are so excited to be here they will gladly just take a bite off your plate but if you really want to tickle them- serve up their own meal. On all Hallows Eve and All Spirits Day take a moment and create a little beautiful space, place their photo or symbol of who they were, light a candle and offer up your food. Put out some tortilla, some steamed rice or dinner rolls, an apple, an orange, a bowl of soup or plate of Shepard’s pie—whatever's handy. Pour a glass of wine or whiskey, a mug of hot cocoa or green tea and don't forget dessert or you know who (great auntie) will whine all year.
Feast your glorious dead, honor your ancestors and tell stories about their lives, speak and write their names. Remind them of your love and your appreciation for all their hard work securing blessings for you from heaven. Cry fresh tears over them and laugh loudly over old jokes about them. Sit peacefully sipping mugwort tea and pulling tarot cards together, burn incense and pray with together. Enjoy this reunion and know of course, that the benevolent ancestors and loving spirits are always with you, with each and every step. Trust that they are behind you for all your breaths in and out from your very first up to your very last until, finally, one day your own lungs too, will stop inflating. Your own fiery feisty heart will stop pumping, your crazy lovely brain will stop its sparking and your ocean of blood will cease flowing. And of course on that day, the beloved dead will be with you closer than they ever have been before. They will shush your worries and sing you gently across to the other side onto brilliant shores. Over there where you too will zoom and zip around the universe, body free and you also will wait for your blessed living family to feed you once a year while remembering you always, always, always.