Happy Samhain! As the darkness falls this Samhain night, our trillions of Ancestors visit us. Who are they? What can they offer you for your struggles today? They can help you anytime during the year – not just now – if you ask.
Our Ancestors touch our lives this Samhain (and every day). For me, one meaningful way they touch our lives is through the Nebra Disk. The Nebra Disk is an ancient, sacred talisman which kept our Ancestors alive around 4,000 years ago, and it was just announced that it will be loaned for display at the British Museum!
A quick note before discussing this news. As we celebrate another sacred Samhain, like last year, we have many opportunities for online Samhain celebrations and rituals, many of them today. The links were given in this post. Also, from The Wonder Naturalistic Pagan Podcast, we have a podcast celebrating Samhain, one on How we are all connected over time (like legos!). The many ways some of us are celebrating was given in this post. Happy Samhain everyone!!
Praying to, and at least venerating, Ancestors is an ancient and powerful spiritual practice – one which stretches across humanity, both in space and time, echoed in culture after culture? There are many reasons. One of the main reasons, again in culture after culture, was the belief that these Ancestors could, and did, control or at least affect, our day to day lives out of their own free will. OK, so I don’t think that’s really true – and yet I venerate – and ask for help from – my Ancestors every day. Why?
For me, my Ancestors are with us, powerfully. With us with every step we take, in our DNA, in our minds, and in nearly every aspect of what makes us ourselves. After all, how else did we become who we are today? Yes, a little of it is our own free will. But so much of it is the influence of our parents (which they learned from their parents, and so on back for millions of years). Plus, the parts we’ve learned from wider society are also from our Ancestors – because just several dozen generations back, our Ancestors include nearly all humans alive, and nearly every idea in human culture today is from them. Our Ancestors can provide a huge toolbox of abilities and strengths, all we need to do is ask. Asking helps our minds anticipate the help, and clarify our intentions and goals. The real and powerful image of our Ancestors can empower us, especially if asked around Samhain.
This works whether we are imagining general Ancestors, picturing their faces and details, or if we have specific tools to call them to mind. Many of us have found ancient artifacts (or replicas of famous ones) work particularly well in connecting us to our Ancestors (Some of these will be in our Naturalistic Pagan gift idea post coming out soon).
For me, one of the most powerful of these is the Nebra Disk. The Nebra Disk is the oldest known documentation of the night sky, and literally kept our Ancestors alive. The disk shows a configuration of the night sky which allowed our Ancestors to continually synchronize the lunar and solar calendars, which showed the correct times to plant crops, keeping starvation at bay. The fact that it’s made of gold (and because it also displays the Solstices) shows that it was not simply a timekeeping tool, but a revered sacred object. The holes along the edges suggest it was attached to something, perhaps a staff or pole. Was is the center of elaborate rituals? I would think so. While we can’t know the details of those rituals thousands of years ago, maybe one day they will be re-lived, with new rituals?
While the Nebra Disk is itself priceless, each of us can have an affordable replica. Mine is on display in my living room, not far from my altar, and it empowers the rituals I use it in, such as this one from the Great Eclipse of 2017. But even with a replica, seeing the real one would be a deeply moving spiritual pilgrimage. That would normally require a trip to Germany, but for a short time, the Nebra Disk is being loaned to the British Museum! For readers in Britain, and others, this may make such a sacred pilgrimage possible! I think that spiritual pilgrimages are an important part of a Naturalistic Paganism, as they are for many spiritual paths. Muslims, in fact, are required to make a pilgrimage to Mecca (The Hajj) at least once in their lives, if possible. While we don’t have hard requirements in Naturalistic Paganism (and no threat of barbaric torture if not followed), I do strongly recommend that all Naturalistic Pagans go on a sacred pilgrimage at least once in their lives, if possible – and more than once, if you choose. My pilgrimage to ancient stone circles was life changing.
But today, we focus on hearing our Ancestors! Here they come – do you hear them?
Starstuff, Contemplating by Jon Cleland Host
We are assemblages of ancient atoms forged in stars – atoms organized by history to the point of consciousness, now able to contemplate this sacred Universe of which we are a tiny, but wondrous, part.
Dr. Jon Cleland Host is a scientist who earned his PhD in materials science at Northwestern University (conducting nanotech research), has spent two decades in the silicon industry, and now leads an analytical lab in the Detroit auto industry (returning to his roots). He holds eight patents and has authored over three dozen internal scientific papers and eleven papers for peer-reviewed scientific journals, including the journal Nature. He has taught classes on biology, math, chemistry, physics and general science at Delta College and Saginaw Valley State University. Jon grew up near Pontiac, and has been building a reality-based spirituality for over 30 years, first as a Catholic and now as a Unitarian Universalist, including collaborating with Michael Dowd and Connie Barlow to spread the awe and wonder of the Great Story of our Universe (see www.thegreatstory.org, and the blog at evolutionarytimes.org). Jon and his wife have four sons, whom they embrace within a Universe-centered, Pagan, family spirituality. He currently moderates facebook and yahoo groups on Naturalistic Paganism.
Heather is a parent and a scientist raising her four children to explore the world through scientific understanding and with spiritual appreciation of the Universe. She has a Master of Science degree in Physics from Michigan State University, a Bachelor of Science degree in Aerospace Engineering from the University of Michigan, and a Bachelor of the Arts degree in English Literature, also from the University of Michigan. She teaches physics as an adjunct instructor at Delta College, runs the Math Mania program at a local elementary school, has worked at Dow Corning as an engineer and at NASA as an intern, and she has led science outreach workshops for K-12 students through joint programs between NASA and the University of Michigan. She is a naturalistic non-theist, whose faith has been shaped by her childhood within the Episcopal Church, her adult membership in the Unitarian Universalist church, and through Buddhist meditation. She has a passion for bringing science and spirituality to everyone in a fun way, both for her own family and for the wider community of the Earth. She is a co-author with Jon Cleland-Host ofElemental Birthdays: How to Bring Science into Every Party.