Samhain and Ancestors Night are two religious observances that have a similar focus – honoring our ancestors and acknowledging the Mighty Dead. Food and drink is set out, photos are dusted off, and altar candles are lit. It’s a night of power, when the veil between the living and the dead is thinnest. Divinations for the new year are performed and festivals are held in honor of the gods. Although Samhain (or Ancestors Night) are not observed by all Pagans, Samhain is perhaps the best-known and most widely celebrated of the modern Pagan holidays.
Who are these ancestors and Mighty Dead we honor? Our ancestors could be blood relatives of ours who have passed on. They may have been good people that we felt close to and loved all of our lives. Or they may have been not-so-good and we remember their lives as cautionary tales. Some Pagans include close friends or members of their coven or religious group who have passed on as their ancestors, saying they are the family they chose to have. The Mighty Dead are those practitioners of our religion who have crossed the Veil, but who still take great interest in those of their lineage. Or they may be relatives who were so kind, loving, and devoted to their family that some part of them stays on our side to continue caring for the family. They watch over us, guide us, and assist us.
Which brings us to a very special place for honoring our ancestors and Mighty Dead year round. The Ancestor Shrine at the Sacred Paths Center. The shrine is simple and beautiful, brought into existence through necessity. Unlike Wisconsin, the Twin Cities has no Pagan cemetery or other public place for us to honor our dead. When Loui Pieper died, that lack was felt even more keenly. Enter Clarke Stone and Volkvhy Sterba, the two who are credited with constructing the actual shrine. They based the idea and the design off of traditional Shinto shrines in Japan. The shrine has been built without any metal pieces in it. Not a single nail or screw has been used, only wooden pegs and glue.