Grave Dirt, Ancestor Allies, and Protection in the Night

by Gwen

This evening I did a little Samhain ritual I’ve been doing for years, and it started with a CAYA ritual.  The ritual had involved honoring the ancestors in the leadup to Samhain, or the Festival of Death and Wisdom, and at the end we all went home with one or two wax paper bags of graveyard dirt mixed with shredded newspaper obituaries.  They came with a little placard:

                PRAYER: Ancestors, we honor and remember you.  Bless us and protect us in this new witches’ year.  Blessed Be.

                WORKING: Charge the envelope on your altar until Samhain night.  Then, draw a sigil or symbol in front of your door with the graveyard dirt as you say the prayer.

Instead of a sigil I draw a protective threshold line across each of the ways into my home—front, side, back, and garage door.  The magic is palpable, and strengthens each year I renew the practice.  I’m almost completely out of my original dirt (which lives on or in my altar year-round).  A couple of years ago I replenished my supply, spending a day at a local cemetery giving flowers to and talking with the long-dead, and collecting bits of dirt from the graves of those who consented to be part of this magic for my home.  (If this ritual speaks to you and you decide to gather your own, remember that the offerings and seeking of consent are important! and consider avoiding the more recently dead, whose connections to their particular lives and descendants can be very strong.)

Life gets complicated and hard.  People hurt one another.  People die or move or pull apart.  Sickness, violence, natural disaster, layers of oppressions—all of these losses and pains, great and small, can feel heavier in the season of death and growing dark.  This simple, strong ritual reminds me to stay connected to the living-dying-rebirthing soil (from dust to dust) and to the ancestors who have lived through it all before us, who can hold us when it hurts and look out for us and aid us as we make it better.  The ritual helps me maintain a sturdy sacred shield around the haven of my family hearth, a place we can come home to heal—and can bring guests who need to share in that healing.

I danced over the weekend with my dead grandfather.  When he was eleven years old his roughhousing friends accidentally pushed him out into the path of an oncoming school bus, and it ran over his legs.  I’ve always known this story, but this year I connected especially with the scared eleven-year-old boy who spent three months in the hospital uncertain if he would ever walk again... and learning, slowly and stubbornly, to break through every limitation that his doctors soberly told his parents to expect.  At a different ritual, I looked at the black-and-white faces of my grandmothers and great-grandmothers who, like me, lived with migraines.  They carried on in a time when treatment for the condition was limited and acknowledgement of its seriousness was much less (it’s just a “women’s problem” after all).

Who are your ancestors—blood or affinity—who inspire you and help you get through hard times?  Who can you ask for more help when you need it?  And how might your allies help you protect your own hearth (even if it’s just a rented room or the space around your bed) so you have a safe and healing place to come home to?