I decided some time ago to take the three days of All Hallows off work so I could truly immerse myself in the season. The three days would be spent remembering and honouring the spirits of the beloved and mighty dead, ancestors who were and who are yet to be, culminating in a ritual on the 3rd and final day. I make no secret of the fact that I view All Hallows much the same way I view Mother’s day or Valentines day. We should be showing our love for our nearest and dearest all year round, not just on these special days. However, All Hallows brings a shift in the veil which enable an easier flow of communion between this world and the next so with that in mind a little extra is always warranted.
It was an early start to the first day. I took my Mum to Eltham Crematorium where both her parents, my Grandparents as well as her brother, my Uncle were both cremated and had their ashes scattered. The sun was shining; a light gentle breeze blew through the trees which stood gradually shedding their leaves upon the beautiful and well-tended crematorium grounds. Nan and Gran’pop had their ashes scattered beneath a rose bush in plot 23 and we headed there first with our tribute of red roses and rosemary. My Mum and I always pick the thorns off the roses before laying them upon a grave, a sign of love and respect for those we are remembering. The roses were laid down and rosemary leaves scattered all about. We sat on a small wooden bench just across from their rose bed, had a cigarette and spoke of them, wondering if they are together, if they are happy and watching over us.
We meandered slowly, weaving in and out of the many rose beds, each numbered and planted with 7 or so bushes neatly and perfectly pruned for over wintering. We made our way to the chapel of remembrance where Mum wrote a small dedication to her parents in the book and I searched for their names in the vast volumes of books of remembrance.
The little chapel building is understated and humble and despite the immense peace and tranquillity felt within its hexagonal walls the sound of years and years of grief and mourning oozed from the pages of the remembrance books sitting open around the perimeter. The walls themselves seemed to weep for those beloved family and friends listed within the pages and as I felt myself become choked with sadness we left to get a cup of tea.
We sat close to the formal rose garden where my Uncle’s ashes were scattered. The wind was biting cold, despite the brilliant sunshine broken only by the swaying branches of the weeping willow tree. Leaves dropped and floated to the ground, there to decompose and although death and mourning surrounded us, for a time I felt hope, a realisation that Hallowmas isn’t just about death and decay, but the seed of hope hidden dormant within the darkness. Just across the lawn a group of 4 or 5 people were stood in a semi-circle as one of the crematorium staff respectfully scattered the ashes of their kin. I was overcome with the silent waves of emotion coming from each of them. They each laid a small bunch of flowers upon the ashen cross…a small pile of remains. How very small we all are when reduced to dust and ashes. One of the grieving family members held their small bubba in their arms. Its cries seemed to bellow through the grounds breaking the peace. A further shrill reminder that life continues….circles within circles, spirals around spirals. Just as I am the continuation of my parents, their parents and so on, and so on, and so on…
We got back in the car to head home. I handed Mum a tissue and as I looked Mum’s face, her cheeks dampened with tears I really noticed for the first time her wrinkles and aging skin, grey hairs mixed in with blonde, a young 63 granted but to me she has always looked the same beautiful vibrant 30 something year old woman I remember as a small child. One day she would be taken from me and I would be visiting this place to leave roses upon her plot…perhaps with my children. No matter what we, as Witches believe the prospect of a loved one’s death is still occasion to grieve. We aren’t always blessed with 100% conviction of what happens in the hereafter, We can only hope, hold faith that Our Lady will Gather us into Her loving embrace.
Dusty Springfield was playing on the radio “Like a circle in a spiral, like a wheel within a wheel, never ending or beginning on and ever spinning wheel…” How very pertinent for everything I was feeling!
After dropping Mum off I headed to the church of St Peter and St Paul at Seal where my paternal Grandparents had been buried many years before I was even born. Having parked the car I walked the long way round to my Grandparent’s grave. The graves here are old, very few contemporary graves apart from those given special privilege due to their locality and / or loyalty to the church. A few of the older ones clearly hadn’t been visited for many generations, I tidied a few en route, brushing dust from the long forgotten names and tributes…”Loving Husband”, “Beloved Mother” and so on.
As I walked down the east side of the church itself I was struck by the fantastic view over the Weald my Grandparents have. I should be so lucky to be interred in such a beautiful place, overlooking the land they as labourers and farmers worked. All around the tightly packed headstones fairy rings had sprouted all over…such perfect little circles of toadstools. A silver coin was placed in the centre of one I very nearly squished and I continued down to the edge of the churchyard where my grandparents grave lay, unmarked…forgotten.
No one visits here anymore, apart from me and I had to go to great lengths to find out exactly where they were both buried all those years ago. I circled the grave scattering rosemary before picking the thorns from two perfect long stemmed red roses and laying them down over the place I guessed their heads would be. Standing back, propped against the crumbling boundary wall I realised just how hard it is to remember those I never met. I have only two photographs of these grandparents and know so little about them. The same goes of course for those ancestors even further back…the Barnfields’, The Olivers’, The Manns’…so many names in my family tree each person a leaf shed long ago but every single one a part of me.
Being on the way home I stopped off at The Coldrum Longbarrow. Being a Tuesday everyone was at work so I had the place to myself for a couple of hours. The Beech and Ash Trees which surround the site had shed a carpet of yellow and gold over the stones, hiding the wounds and scars of recent vandalism. The place was as it should be, peaceful and welcoming. I placed an offering of mead, bread and fruit within the tomb itself, along with a single rose dedicated to the spirits of place, of tribe and land…fore bearers who founded these British Isles we call Great.
A tiny red breasted Robin came and sat close beside me, erupting with occasional squeaks…the spirits of the place saying thanks perhaps, the Robin after all is such a special and significant little bird.
Back home after a long sit down and pot of tea I refurbished the Hearth Shrine. The Lady, now veiled, sits beside a black candle with three iron keys and a crow’s foot before Her. She appears mysterious and more alluring than ever, dark yet so seductive just like the starry night skies which cloak the dark bare fields of the land. No more the White, Bright Queen, now She over see’s the Hearth as Dark Mistress… Aima…my Stella Maris.
Upstairs the working Altar was also rearranged to reflect the season, the skull takes centre stage with a red candle upon a bed of Yew and Goose feathers. Pictures of the beloved dead surround Him along with family memorabilia, my Grandfathers war medals, my Nan’s Recipe book and ring for example. That night the candles were silently lit, incense burnt and offerings made to feed the wandering souls of the ghostly procession who felt closer now than ever.