Samhain, Ancestor Worship, and the Family Medical Leave Act
Article ID: 10171
Age Group: Adult
Days Up: 2,738
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Author: Ari C.
Posted: October 22nd. 2006
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Last year, at my place of employment, I put in for two days off before Samhain. The coven had planned a Samhain campout and outdoor ritual, with many pending initiations (though I didn't include this on the request slip). For good and valid reasons, my boss rejected my leave request. Our shop employs four people in a highly stressful situation that calls for at least six people and one recently quit. "Understaffed" doesn't begin to describe the situation. I am not resentful (really). I'll figure something out.
Meanwhile, as a purely intellectual exercise, I started to consider ways to challenge the decision.
If I really wanted to push the issue:
There is the obvious fact that I'm requesting time off for a religious event. I am out of the broom closet in all aspects of my life, and my co-workers and employer (a small government agency in Kansas) are well aware that I am a Witch. They may not know the true meaning of "Witch, " but they do know that I am one.
Believe it or not, I don't have any problems there regarding my faith. Since I didn't have to hide the fact, I could make a little noise and probably get the time off based on religion alone. It wouldn't take a detailed explanation of Samhain to convince my boss that this is a major Sabbat and High Holy Day.
But, if that didn't work. . .
There is Paid Personal Leave. I can take time off for 1) funerals for "other than those of immediate family members, " and 2) for serious illnesses of family members (for both items, see below).
Then there is Funeral Leave. Dictionary.com defines 'funeral' as "A ceremony or group of ceremonies held in connection with the burial or cremation of a dead person" (italics mine). This definition works for me; it makes allowances for the in-house air-conditioned funeral service, and the graveside ceremony. And it also allows for additional "ceremonies, " with no time limit. Our employee handbook states: "In the event of a death in a regular employees immediate family, the employee will be given funeral leave, with pay, to make arrangements and/or attend the funeral."
During Samhain, we pay homage to our ancestors, who have usually "passed on." Being the only Pagan in my blood family, phase one of a funeral consists of the internment/cremation, replete with the usual needless peripheral services such as overpriced coffins and short rides in gas-guzzling hearses. In most cases, phase one has taken place far enough in the past that, by itself, it could not qualify for my present circumstances.
But for pagans, and Witches in particular, the "funeral" can consist of multiple, annual ceremonies. Every Samhain we have one. What is Samhain but a funeral "ceremony"? In fact, our funerals never really end. Note the phrase "make arrangements and/or attend." For how long? It doesn't say. We continue to "attend" the funeral (or ceremonies) every year. And I get three days of paid funeral leave.
What if I can't get time off for a "funeral"? Not to worry. I got the FMLA.
The Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 became the 11th amendment to the U.S. Constitution in, well, 1993. On the Federal and State level (see Nevada Department of Human Resources et al. v. Hibbs et al.) ** this act requires reinstatement of an employee who was absent for up to 12 weeks for certain "family value" reasons, such as taking care of a newborn or sick family member. Obviously, the original purpose was to support and encourage "family values" (a Good Thing) and was enacted to help households where the single parent or both parents work, and also to help the rearing and the early development of children. It is designed to "balance the demands of the workplace with the needs of families, to promote the stability and economic security of families, and to promote national interests in preserving family integrity."***
The wording of this amendment, which (incidentally) completely fails to address the world of spirit, is still open to multiple interpretations. Particularly in the light of the Pagan tradition of ancestor-worship.
Family values? No problem. Samhain is a golden opportunity to get acquainted with Aunt Ethel or Uncle Ed, who bought the farm long before I was even born, should they decide to tune in during a Samhain ritual. I can think of no better way of encouraging family cohesiveness. Even my deceased evil stepfather would qualify.
In a social reality torn to shreds by high divorce rates, upwardly mobile and inaccessible youth, and the insane lifestyle many of us are forced to adapt to just to keep financially afloat, this may be the only time we have to commune with our relatives. Or with children we never knew we had (if you are male). It can happen.
What other non-pagan religion can provide such spiritual nurture for the family unit, and still be a potential fount of surprises? If I have learned anything in this lifetime, it is that the Gods have a sense of humor, and seize every opportunity to demonstrate it.
It gets better. The Act states that a "son or daughter means a biological, adopted, or foster child, a stepchild, a legal ward, or a child of a person standing in loco parentis, who is under 18 years of age or 18 years of age or older and incapable of self-care because of a mental or physical disability."
In the "Definitions" section, "child" is not defined at all (but I'm sure it is in some other precedent case. But why spoil the fun?) Why couldn't we define child as a spiritual entity? Despite a grim and officious veneer, a courtroom is often the scene of incredible semantic mischief. That's why lawyers are so good at crossword puzzles. Our "child" can be an Elemental; they're known (at least to us) for their mischievous, childlike behavior. We might also define "child" as: spiritual guides, sylphs, power animals, trolls, gnomes, totems, zephyrs, even salamanders. Non-human beings don't seem to be exempt. Even one's mixed breed cat. . .But I digress.
The "child" would have to be less than eighteen years of age. In most cases I can imagine, this would complicate things. Spirits, and especially Elementals, all tend to be quite old. But with our access to things like alternative dimensions, astral planes and sacred spaces where time ceases to exist, there may yet be a cunning way to circumnavigate this issue.
But what fun we could have if we focused on the phrase "incapable of self-care because of a mental or physical disability." Spirits are the ultimate "physically disabled." They are quite capable of taking care of themselves, but we don't have to tell them that, do we? How would they know otherwise? They probably can't see them anyway.
And if I were to get really blunt and down to earth. . .
The FMLA allows for "care for an immediate family member (spouse, child, or parent -- but or a parent "in-law") with a serious health condition."*** From a non-pagan perspective, death certainly qualifies as "as serious health condition." Find a lawyer to argue that one. But never mind. With enough phone calls you'll find one who will.
My spiritual teachers, physical and non, have taught me that mundane solutions to a problem, when available, should take priority over magickal ones.
Maybe I'll just call in sick.
*From our Employees Handbook
**"A Victory for Families, But Hardly a Panacea: The Supreme Court Holds That the Family and Medical Leave Act Applies to States" by Joanna Grossman
(see http://writ.news.findlaw.com/grossman/20030603.html and
***From The Family Medical Leave Act of 1993. See http://caselaw.lp.findlaw.com/scripts/getcase.pl?court=us and vol=000 and invol=01-1368
Our Employees Handbook
"A Victory for Families, But Hardly a Panacea: The Supreme Court Holds That the Family and Medical Leave Act Applies to States" by Joanna Grossman see http://writ.news.findlaw.com/grossman/20030603.html
From The Family Medical Leave Act of 1993. See http://caselaw.lp.findlaw.com/scripts/getcase.pl?court=us and vol=000 and invol=01-1368
Copyright: Copyright 2005 Mark Shepherd
Location: Tulsa, Oklahoma
Author's Profile: To learn more about Ari C. - Click HERE
Bio: Bio: Mark Shepherd writes fantasy and science fiction, and has collaborated with Mercedes Lackey on the Serrated Edge urban fantasy series. His magickal name is Arianna ab chan Cernunnos (Ari C. for short) and is a co-founder of Pagan Sanctum Recovery, a 12-step substance and behavioral abuse program for pagans, by pagans. He is the high priest of CORE (Coven of Ram and Eagle) , a Welsh Celtic/Faery tradition. He is not a lawyer.
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