In April 2020 I participated in an online session exploring grief and presence run by Yelala. Yelala offers earth centred, feminist Jewish spirituality practices. In the session the hosts Kohenet Rachel Rose Reid and Lucy Hopkins shared and explored rituals for funerals and grief when we cannot be there.
During the session I was reminded of the tradition of the ‘Empty Chair’ which comes from the Pagan tradition and is usually used around Samhain (Halloween), the time of honouring our ancestral dead. What follows in this blog post is an offering, for whatever tradition you may be rooted in, a composite of what Rachel and Lucy shared and the concept of the ‘Empty Chair’. The ‘Empty Chair’ refers to the tradition of leaving a chair and a place set at the table at Samhain celebrations.
I have personally reflected the tradition also in Samhain ritual circles, by leaving an empty space in the circle and lighting an extra candle. The idea being that this welcomes our beloved dead to the table or into the circle at a time when we believe the veil between the worlds is thin. That they can come and be part of our celebrations and share in the feasts and ceremonies.
So here is a suggestion for creating a ritual for your beloved dead for this time of year.
Choose a day and a time. Imagine that the person you love is coming to visit, they are coming to your home. How are you going to prepare? Who else might you invite to join you?
Would you clean the house? Might you put flowers on the table and clean towels in the bathroom?
Would you set the table with your favourite wine glasses or your best mugs and a teapot? What food will you share, what was their favourite?
And what about yourself? Best dress or comfy togs? Perhaps you might do your hair and make-up or put on your favourite pair of shoes.
Take the time to prepare yourself and your space, just as you might have done if they were visiting you in life.
So then, once all is ready, it is time to welcome your most honoured guest. Perhaps you light a candle, put out their photograph, write their name or say it out loud.
Pour the tea or the wine, serve their favourite meal or slice of cake. Sit and be in their company. Talk to them. Speak your memories. Speak or sing a blessing upon their name.
Make space for them, make space for your grief, make space to say goodbye.
For what is remembered, lives. We speak their names, so they know they are not forgotten.
© Awen Clement – October 2022 (This blog post is an updated version of one originally written in April 2020)