Usually, my posts here are written in an informative style and give information about Wicca as I see it from the perspective of a formally trained Wiccan High Priestess and coven leader. This is a bit different and I hope you will indulge me. This post is about my personal Samhain reflections on mortality, which is a theme very pertinent to this time of year.
This year, at the time when we Wiccans contemplate mortality as an important part of the Life Cycle, I had a personal experience that reminded me very intimately of my own mortality. I contracted strep throat. Now, we live in a time of antibiotics and minute clinics. I'm very grateful for this, because several times in my life, I have actually tried to die of strep. I was a single divorced mom and had no health coverage for myself (had it for my daughter but not for me) and so when I got sick, I didn't just traipse off to the doctor because it was an out-of-pocket expense that took food out of my daughter's mouth. So I would only go when I was at death's door, and literally one time, by the time I got someone to drive me to the ER, I *was* at death's door.
The Sunday night I got taken to the hospital, I had gotten a home remedy from a Victorian health manual that I inherited from my mother. It was written in 1910 by a doctor and it told average folks how to treat illnesses if no doctor were present. Back then, there wasn't Dial-a-Nurse and WebMD. You were out in the country and getting a doctor meant getting on a horse in the cold and travelling miles to fetch the doctor who wanted cash, or at the very least, a few chickens.
So the weekend that I was so sick back in 1998 with a young daughter, I was wandering deliriously around my kitchen wrapped in several scarves and blankets, trying to read this Victorian treatise on treating "putrid sore throat with high fever," which is what they called it before modern microscopes. I couldn't go to Urgent Care because the weekend rate was double the weekday rate to see a doctor and I didn't have it. I mixed up the foul concoction of vinegar, salt, and cayenne pepper and downed that burning stuff, collapsing on the kitchen floor in a haze of sweat and auditory hallucinations. My child came out of her bedroom, and at 5 years old, she took it upon herself to go knock on the neighbor's door and ask her to take us to the hospital. I am still grateful for her fortitude.
Of course, I pulled through fine with the right care, and just like now, was prescribed penicillin, which knocked out the infection in no time. But before the drug did its job, I felt my life force slipping away. I was in and out of reality, seeing things, hearing things, and rambling about who was going to take care of my little girl. I know in my heart that that time, and several other times when I contracted strep throat, I would have died had I lived in an earlier time or in a part of the world where medical attention is not readily available. I thought of how harsh reality must have been for the Victorian people who anxiously read that book trying to save the lives of their desperately ill loved ones. And there's nothing like that to make Samhain meaningful.
On our coven's Samhain altar, we put pictures and mementos of our departed loved ones. We put candles, jewelry, cremains, and poems on it. We also put a mirror and an hour glass there, so when we approach the altar, we see our own face. For we, too, are the ancestors. And as the Veil is parted on Samhain, somewhere in time, it is our memories, our pictures, and our great grandchildren who are there, interacting with unity with the spirits of the past. Of course, our children may not be Wiccan. My daughter is a Theravada Buddhist. But on Samhain, she has told me she will toast me. And I believe her.