Angeles Arrien, Ph.D. is a cultural anthropologist, award-winning author, educator, and consultant to many organizations and businesses. She lectures and conducts workshops worldwide, bridging cultural anthropology, psychology, and comparative religions. Her work is currently used in medical, academic, and corporate environments. She is the President of the Foundation for Cross-Cultural Education and Research. Her books have been translated into thirteen languages and she has received three honorary doctorate degrees in recognition of her work.
Angeles' books include The Four-Fold Way: Walking the Paths of the Warrior, Teacher, Healer and Visionary; Signs of Life: The Five Universal Shapes and How to Use Them, (Winner of the 1993 Benjamin Franklin Award); and The Second Half of Life: Opening the Eight Gates of Wisdom, (Winner of the 2007 Nautilus Award for Best Book on Aging). Her recent book, Living in Gratitude: A Journey That Will Change Your Life is a Gold Medal Co-Winner of the 2012 Independent Publisher Book Awards (IPPY Award) in the category of Inspiration & Spirituality.
Autumn Splendor: Harvesting What Matters Most and Honoring the Ancestors
by Angeles Arrien
October signals the mid-point of Autumn. Deciduous trees reaching the height of their fall colors, the air is crisp and invigorating, and we now prepare to harvest what we have set in motion earlier in the year.
On the last day of the month, the people of the United States and Latin America respectfully celebrate Halloween and All Saint’s Day or All Soul’s Day, the commemoration of the faithfully departed. In contemporary times, our Halloween ritual is marked by masquerading. We dress our children in costumes and walk from door to door, saying “Trick or Treat”! Give us a treat or we’ll trick you! Or we celebrate by gathering at costume parties, delighting in one another’s clever and outrageous get-ups. In many places in Europe, large puppets mingle with the crowds, in All Saints’ celebrations held in the streets.
Originally, Halloween, to make hallow or holy, was an evening to venerate the unseen world, and honor the souls who have gone before us. While we have largely left this custom behind, it lives on in the images of skeletons and ghosts found everywhere at this time of year. Worldwide, every culture honors its ancestors through ritual at some time during the year. Flowers, candles, greenery, and symbols of beauty are always used in one form or another. Such heartfelt offerings are a natural expression of the gratitude we feel for what we have received from those who have passed on. By making the offering at this time of year on All Soul’s Day, usually the first or second day in November, we ensure our appreciation and recognize that the gifts that we are thankful for today have deep roots in the past.
Cross-culturally, ancestor spirits are defined as family members and friends who are no longer living, but remain important teachers of detachment. This is because they have faced the process of letting go and have experienced the ultimate unknown, death. Indigenous people’s worldwide, believe that this spirits literally stand behind us to support us, with most believing that male ancestor spirits stand behind us on the right side of the body, and the female ancestor spirits stand behind us on the left. They believe these spirits are invested in seeing that the current generation and those to come can fulfill their dreams, life purpose, or manifest and harvest what matters most.
In ancient Europe, harvest festivals–known for example, as Oktoberfest, in Germany–were held, a tradition that has endured to this day. These are occasions when we come together to literally enjoy the fruits of our labors in the fields, orchards, pastures and cities. It is a time of great bounty when we share with others what we have produced; an annual celebration of gratitude. If, in our contemporary life, we are not directly connected to the land and its abundant gifts in such a ways, we still have the opportunity to appreciate the season’s offerings of apples, pears, pumpkins, and other fall crops. Giving gratitude for these nurturing foods and other blessings that we are harvesting in the fall can be our own personal Oktoberfest.
––Excerpts and synthesis from Living in Gratitude, pg 102-3, 187-8
Practices and Reflection
1. How has October revealed the treats or fruits of your labors this year? What have been the tricks or surprises of this year? What are you letting go of, like the fall leaves; and what are you allowing to let be? And, what are you specifically harvesting? What really matters to you at this time? Are you creating a life that matters? These are two primary questions that often come up in the season of harvest.
2. What practices do you have personally, professionally or in your family that honors your ancestors and the loved ones who have gone before you? What are the songs, stories and family rituals that have been passed down through the generations? What new rituals or traditions are you creating for your family to remember and honor the ancestors?
3. The cartoonist Charles Schultz introduced the magical aspect of this season, when he introduced the “Great Pumpkin”. May “The Great Pumpkin” bring you unexpected delights, surprises, and blessings this season.