It was more than little surreal, standing in a circle with vampires, a pirate, a redneck, a carnival mistress, and all of them so serious. I was about to lead my first public ritual, and I was dressed as a waitress from a tv show. My long blonde hair – a wig – caught my peripheral vision, and it hit me how un-regal I looked at that moment in my shorts and Merlotte’s apron. I’d practiced what I was going to say, had crafted the words as carefully as I could, knowing that I shared a circle with pagans, atheists, Christians, and agnostics. Though most of the circle didn’t know each other, they were all my friends, and we shared a common wish to to acknowledge loved ones from beyond.
GG and I had joked only two weeks before we might be the only ones there, but as the party had drawn closer, more of my friends were asking what the “Ancestor Chair” thing was about and what they would need to do if they participated. The turnout surprised us. And warmed my heart. I learned new things about my friends, about the people they come from and hold dear. About what they miss and how they keep frith with those who have passed.
It’s a strange sort of comfort to think that one day somebody may pin something to a chair and share something about me. Not that I’m looking forward to death; I plan on living to a very ripe old age! Still, the idea someone will remember, will say my name (or at least my relationship to them), and share something about who I was in front of a circle of people who’ve never met me, there is comfort in that. In the public announcement that I made a difference.
The ritual we did was simple. GG covered a chair with black fabric and a few simple decorations that wouldn’t detract from the most important decoration – what people would add. As people arrived, they pinned items to the chair (or set them in the seat), and by the time the ritual started, the chair was colorful and lovely from a diversity of tickets and jewelry, a scarf, a sprig of rosemary, a clock, and much more.
The chair sat at the head of the feast, and we gathered around the table. GG lit a candle in our cauldron where it would be safe to burn notes. I explained again the nature of the ritual. The most important part of the explanation, for me, was that I re-define the word “Ancestor.” At the ancestor chair we certainly celebrate the ancestors of our blood, those who fashioned our bodies and our natures, but we equally celebrate the ancestors of our hearts and minds – those who may or may not be related by blood, but who have become spiritual kin, who nurtured who we are inside and helped us to shape the rough material our ancestors bequeathed unto us.
After that, we went around the circle. I offered that anyone could tell a story (a brief one; we needed to be done before the dinner started and everyone else arrived!) or simply state the name of who they wished to honor and we would move on.
Everyone told a story.
Though some stories were told with tears, everyone seemed to leave the circle with a smile, a sense of peace, and a feeling of kinship with the once-strangers around them. When we were done, the candle stayed lit, and we moved the cauldron to the kitchen so that over the course of the party, anyone who wanted to could burn a note to send it across. Throughout the night we served the chair – and all our ancestors with it – each course along with the rest of the party.
I want to thank my friends for participating, and I hope you got something out of it. I know I loved hearing what everyone had to say. As nervous as we were, GG and I consider our first public ritual a success.