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The Ancestors and the ANZACs. A New Zealand Samhain.

Author: Mike Buckley
Posted: May 1st. 2005
Times Viewed: 2,745

To those who don’t know ANZAC stands for Australia New Zealand Army Corp. It was formed during the Great War and for both countries represented a coming of age as nations, with a sense of identity separate from Mother England. At the same time it tied our two nations together, the horrific losses the ANZAC soldiers suffered at ANZAC cove in Gallipoli forged a strong bond between Australia and New Zealand. In every town in this country, (New Zealand) , there is some form of memorial to the ANZAC dead. Later the dead from WWII and other wars have been added but it began with the ANZACS. There are none left in this country, they have all died, either as young men or old and somehow there passing has reinforced their importance on us. Record crowds attend dawn parades every April 25th, more and more thousands of Kiwis and Aussies are going to ANZAC cove or Chunik Bair where their ancestors fought, killed and died now over 90 years ago.

The Gallipoli campaign was ill conceived; ill orchestrated and in the end accomplished nothing but the deaths of over 100, 000 men. During almost the entire campaign the ANZAC forces under British command were pinned down by troops who held superior positions on the cliffs above them.

To me it is a fortunate coincidence that ANZAC day falls so close to the feast of Samhain. Samhain, (pronounced sowen) , or as it is more commonly known Halloween is celebrated in the southern hemisphere around the first of May and is a festival in which we honour the dead and pay homage to our ancestors. To many Pagans, Samhain is a time when we invite the spirits of our dead ancestors to join us, share a meal and bless us. It is about remembering who we are and where we have come from, as well as recognising the great circle of life, that of birth, life, death and rebirth.
We make special recognition of this cycle at this time because the Earth, The Mother, Gaia, Jord, Mother Nature Herself is showing us in shades of gold and red, brown and yellow that it is a time of change for Her too, She is dying, going to sleep until the spring brings Her rebirth. She has given us the means to survive the cold months ahead and for that we also must give thanks. In the dark times ahead it may be easy to lose hope but the sun will come again, She will awaken in the spring and burst forth with new life.

To me ANZAC day is about much the same things, we recognise and honour those people who made huge sacrifices in order that we can enjoy the life we do today. For whatever reason they left their homes and families, it took great courage to go abroad and do what they did under the circumstances they encountered, some dying in the processes others having the courage to come home and try to lead a normal life after witnessing what few of this generation could imagine. It is only right that we honour them.

Though the Pagan community is diverse and follows many paths, not all of which celebrate Samhain, most have beliefs that are true to ideals of Samhain. Recognising the great circle of life, whether you believe in rebirth or and afterlife or a mixture of the two. Honouring your ancestors and elders, the people who put you where you are today and I believe guide your actions even after death. Giving thanks to those who have made sacrifices, especially those who never got to see the benefits of those scarifies but made them anyway in the belief that they were making life better for those who follow them.
This idea of connection through time is not uniquely Pagan nor is it universally Pagan but within my own faith Asatru, it is very strongly felt. Heroes and great deeds are to be sung around the fire, toasted with mead. Many in the Christian world would find this disrespectful. They treat death with sombreness and morbidity, as though they have lost those they love.

Many Pagans know that that is not the case; the dead are never lost to us while we remember them. While we welcome on nights such as Samhain the spirits of our ancestors into our homes and our hearts we are keeping them alive in a very real way. The line of our people stretches back unbroken to the beginning. Each of those people is in you; they have left a part of themselves in you. In remembering them you are in fact finding yourself. In honouring them you honour yourself and all the people who have yet to come on your line.

Asatru have an idea called Haminja, it is similar to fate or luck except that it is passed from one generation to the next. Each generation gets a chance to add to it or take from it. They may add to their and their children’s haminja by maintaining honour, being a good person and true, similarly wrong or cowardly action reduce not only your haminja but that of your lineage. When first I explained this to a Christain friend they were shocked, (generally they are shocked about most things to do with Asatru) , and they considered it a harsh judgement on innocent children. However when I asked how they viewed the parents or children of criminals, we discovered that most of this reaction was political correctness and had no real value as an indicator for their behaviour. People will always be slow to trust the son of a thief, and whether because of the influence of their parents or the way society views them more often than not they turn out to be untrustworthy. Likewise the child of a pillar of the community is often given more leeway in the way their actions are interpreted.

I suggest that the haminja of these families as been enriched not only by the actions of the people at ANZAC cove during the Great War, but also by the generations that followed, that refused to forget, and recognised these men and women for the sacrifices they made. Indeed many who attend these ceremonies, myself included had not one relative at ANZAC cove, yet I honour these dead. For they are not gone, but live in the people all around us.


Mike Buckley

Location: Hamilton, New Zealand

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