Years ago I saw a documentary on Japan featuring the releasing of "spirit boats", brightly lit paper lantern boats, into the local rivers. The entire village would participate and the river was lit with hundreds of these little lights. Each boat was for the spirit of a loved one who had passed away. The ceremony was part remembrance and part showing the spirits how to pass over to the next world.
For some reason that image, and its simple beauty, really struck a chord with me and I decided to adopt the tradition. So on or near Halloween I build a simple, square boat of paper and use a tea candle. I then take the boat or boats to moving water and release it after dark. I always sit and watch the boat as it travels on it's way, and in a few instances had to run along the shore to push it back out into the current when it got stuck.
Usually I have one or two boats but as luck would have it I didn't have any to release since moving to Ontario. Until this year, that is. This year I had three to release. One for Freya, my lovely, little, lady ferret who died. One for Cassie, my fat little space money (i.e. cat), who I had to make the hard decision of putting her down. And the final one was for my Grandmother, who's body gave out long before her spirit did.
PeterC and I invited everyone in our SCA fight group to join us last Sunday to release the spirit boats. Two other did join us and between the four of us we had nine lovely boats on the St Lawrence river. It took a little extra effort to get them into the current without falling in ourselves, but once the there they moved further out quickly.
We sat and watched the boats for a half an hour, sometimes in silence watching them bob along while other times we talked about our dearly departed loved ones. At some point a couple came out onto the wharf and watched in silence with us, until we started to leave. Then they were curious about the lights on the water. We explained the ceremony to them and they seemed to understand and agreed that it was a very lovely way to say goodbye to someone.