Posts Tagged ‘Samhain’

Thistle’s Note: This post is quite different (and longer) than normal. I wrote this essay for a creative nonfiction/memoir writing workshop, but it feels fitting for the upcoming Samhain season. The events of this essay were almost eight years ago.

Solo Hike 

“Be Bear Aware,” the yellow sign cheerfully warned me. 

This is new, I thought to myself. The three-and-a-half mile trail was not new to me; I’d hiked it for years, though it had been a few years since I had done so. The Firetower Trail at Roaring River State Park, a small but well-built park snuggled into a cleave in the Ozark hills, had always been a trail where I figured things out or tested my determination. The park itself was a salve to my soul, but this trail was different.

This new addition, screwed into a cedar tree, made me pause as I was heading on the trail alone. It was a crisp November day, past the fishing and camping season everyone flocked to the park for. The lack of cars in the parking areas suggested I may not run into anyone else on the trail. Alone is what I wanted but not alone with a bear. 

The metal sign bore the image of a genial brown bear with different points of caution in yellow type across its heavy body. 

“Never approach or feed a bear.” Well, duh. 

“Keep your dog on a leash. Keep your children close to you. Make noise as you go.” That sounded well and good, but I really wasn’t feeling up to making noise as I hiked. Quite the opposite, I was here to avoid noise. I did have a whistle in my pack, so I took it out and stuffed it in my back pocket. Better be safe than sorry, I heard my Mom’s voice echo from a memory. 

Shrugging, I headed up the slippery incline that introduced people to the trail. The horseshoe-shaped trail started and ended with steep slopes, the latter an ankle twister loaded with rocks. These features kept a lot of insincere hikers off the trail, especially when shorter and more interesting trails lie in wait. 

Another new thing on the trail with me was a camera. In the past, my Border collie Zoe had always accompanied me, or rather, lead me. The first time on this trail, I wouldn’t have made it up the incline on damp earth if she hadn’t pulled me up in some places. I remember her looking back at me as if to say, Come on! Now, Zoe was 14 years old and stiff whenever she arose, and I doubted she could do the trail plus the mile or so back to the car. Before now, it would have been difficult handling a dog and a camera. 

After making it up the steepest part of the incline, I took it out and kept an eye out for a shot. A few images caught my eye, all pretty typical for me: fungi on logs, rock formations, lichen on the base of trees, and so on. Recent drought, however, had drained the landscape of the moisture and color that made photos pop. After a while, the camera mostly hung from my neck, the strap scratching at my skin.

The trail leveled off for the mile and a half that was flat and easy, though sometimes downed trees across the trail offered some scrambling opportunities. Walking along, having long forgotten about bears, I saw a black post amid the trees just off trail. Getting closer, I could see it was the remains of a tree that had burned, with jarring holes through it. Healthy trees ringed around it, as though surrounding a fallen comrade. Was it victim to a lightning strike or perhaps the park’s termite control? 

I touched it, as if I would be able to sense the cause of its demise. It shouldn’t matter; everything must eventually come to an end, and the healthy trees nearby did not suggest an epidemic. Yet there I stood, feeling like the tree deserved some memorial that no one else would give it. I had brought a chunk of calcite with me to leave somewhere on the trail. I dug it out of the bag and placed it on a curve of charred wood.

Near the base of the trunk was an oval hole like a window to the other side of the tree. I crouched down, peering through as if it would act in place of a hag stone, a stone with a naturally formed hole. Local folklore said if you looked through such a stone, you would see the Otherworld and the fairies that reside there. I saw nothing but more dry leaves. 

Sighing, I stood up and left the tree remains to return to the trail. 

Soon the old fire tower began revealing itself through the trees. You can’t see the whole thing until you get right to it – the trees block it from view. The cold, metal structure, weathered a solid rust, stood tall among the trees, taller than some of them. 

It had been years since I climbed to the top and gazed over the hills and trees of the Ozarks. The steps were constructed of narrow metal bars, and Zoe could never navigate them with her slender paws. Once, I left her tied to the bottom of the tower as I climbed up, but she was a dog who must know where her people are and she whined the entire time. As I had climbed, the thought that something could happen at the bottom before I could get back down there halted my steps about halfway up. The next time, I actually carried Zoe up the steps to the flat platform at the top, only to discover she was as nervous there as she was tied up at the bottom. 

But today I was alone, just me and a camera. I climbed, noting the metal support beams crossing in each section, the sacred geometry supporting the park rangers before they used planes and helicopters to spot fires, I suppose. Rising higher, I could feel the structure wasn’t as rigid as it looked. The breeze caught on the metal bars and made a slight swaying. Reaching the top, I was a bit disappointed. Even ten years ago, I remembered seeing the treed hills and rocky outcroppings, but too many trees had grown tall enough to block most of the view. 

Looking around instead, I noticed how strange it was to be looking eye to eye with many trees, and looking down their trunks instead of up. The perspective was interesting but jarring, and I felt a bit queasy. Lying down in the center of the lookout platform, I closed my eyes until the feeling subsided. When I reopened them, several tree branches created a canopy overhead. Their leaves still had some green mixed with the brown against the clear blue sky they framed. They surrounded and supported me much like the trees around the burned out trunk. Tears came forward in spite of their efforts. The weeks after my mother’s death had been filled with tears, but still more came each day. Alone out in the woods I was free to let them loose while in the presence of the nature that always nurtured my soul – not like shedding them in secret down the shower drain or curled up on the couch while watching a marathon of Hallmark Hall of Fame movies that Mom and I used to watch together. 

I closed my eyes and emptied my lungs into the crisp air. The memory of the top of the fire tower seemed better than the current reality, so I gave up trying to make it something it wasn’t and climbed back down. 

At the base, I turned toward the second half of the trail, feeling drained and dry. The rest of the trail was dry too. A new feeling came over me: I didn’t want to finish this trail today.

I knew if I backtracked, there would be a cut-off trail connected to the top of the Deer Leap Trail that arched over the spring that fed the river. A trail that would have misty damp areas and the sound of a waterfall landing into a bright blue pool at the entrance of a cave. Maybe it was just all the shed tears, but my soul needed the essence of water.

Readjusting the slingpack with day hike essentials, I turned back and retraced my path down the trail. Soon I spotted the white blaze for the connecting trail and turned to it. 

While walking through a shaded spot, I noticed a little flower standing tall despite the autumn leaves, its sunny face toward the light. 

Something about the flower stopped me. 

It looked out of place; a petite white-petaled bloom with a yellow center. It belonged in a summer meadow as a child’s treasure, but here it was in the autumn woods finding light in the deep shadows. The yellow center called my Mom to mind; that was her favorite color and she’d enjoyed any flower that color. As children, we would bring her armfuls of daffodils from a nearby woods that had rows of naturalizing bulbs. As adults, she loved yellow roses, lilies, or daisies. Yellow was the prominent color of the flowers that draped her casket, but she had received their beauty throughout her adult life. 

But this little bloom made me pause. For those who study the Druids, you learn about augury, or reading things from nature as signs or omens of the future. 

A few weeks before Mom passed in September, I had been lost on a trail at a women’s spiritual festival, on an unsought spirit quest. At one point I stopped and tried to calm myself (it was also a very warm September day). As I stopped trying to find my way out, I noticed things around me. About 10 feet ahead was a thistle, a plant I’d always felt aligned to spiritually. On it was a yellow butterfly. As I watched, the butterfly flew off and was soon lost in the bright sunlight. 

In that moment, I knew I was the thistle and my Mom was the butterfly, and that – though we had been thinking her condition could be helped – she would soon be leaving us. The moment was both sad and peaceful, bound together with acceptance. I turned and immediately saw the opening to the path from which I had came. Lined with trees, some vines had grown over it to create an archway. All around this arch flew dozens of dragonflies, their wings glinting in the sunlight. The primary symbolism of these creatures, transformation and transition, was not lost on me. To go back home was to accept this transition. I stepped through the arch, knowing life would never be the same.

Now in a very different woods, seeing this little flower reminded me that even though she was gone, she was like that little yellow center – always a part of me. Always the grounding center of me. Even though the world was looking dead and dry, she was there reminding me that it truly wasn’t dead. Winter would still be ahead, but spring rains would come and bring back the leaves, the grass, and all the yellow flowers. Learning to live without her wouldn’t be fun or easy, but I would get through that too.

Continuing down the trail, I trekked to the wooden platform that overlooked the spring-fed pond where they kept some of the biggest trout in the hatchery that was also part of the park. Nearby were the holding tanks for the majority of the fish, where they were released into the river to gamble their fate: evade the hooks with bait and continue on their journey downstream or fall for the trap. I leaned over the railing to get a clear photo of the layout of the hatchery. A sense of caution slipped over me, as if my mom’s hand were there to hold me back like when I was a child. I took a photo and then moved on. 

The path turned into a wooden stairway winding down the steep hill. Exiting, I turned the opposite direction of the car and walked alongside the pond toward the hatchery tanks. 

There, I spent a few quarters on fish food. Tossing the stinking feed into the stone-edged holding tanks brought a mass of slick bodies to the water’s surface. Brushing the crumbs on my jeans and glancing at the water, I was tempted to dip my hands in to wash away the remaining smell. As I leaned forward, I noticed the sign by the tanks: Keep Hands Out of Water. It seemed cruel. The water looked so fresh and inviting after the dry trail and leaves. My skin felt parched and dusty. Even though it was only in the mid-40s, it felt almost warm after the hike.

The obedient child my mother raised moved back from the edge. Looking down the row of tanks, I saw the river beyond them, beckoning me over. It was free for the taking. You could sit in it and no one would care. I walked to the river’s edge and dipped my hands in. My fingers felt alive as the frigid current swept over them. As the water seeped into the pores, I swept a handful of water up on my face, shocking myself. 

Gasping for a breath, a laugh bubbled up and I threw sprays of water across the rippling water. Looking around, there were still green mosses growing on rocks at the river’s edge and birds calling back and forth in the woods. Squirrels scolded each other from tree limbs. The earth was alive, and she had reminded me that I was too. 

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Two cards were equally insistent this morning, and, frankly, I feel that they compliment each other so I’ve posted both of them. However you honor and celebrate it, may you all feel the blessings of Samhain (or Beltaine for those of you in the Southern Hemisphere)!

ANCESTORS – The love and legacy of our DNA

I walk in their footsteps 
Their wisdom inside me remains
I am unique, yet carry a legacy
Their blood runs in my veins

Whether or not we know our ancestors, we are the product of those who have lived before us, DNA-wise. Externally, we may have the body type of our father, our mother’s eyes, our grandmother’s nose, our great-grandfather’s skin tone.

On the inside, it gets even more interesting. We know now that we can “inherit” the way our body works, blood types, genetic disorders, even propensities for aspects of brain function like introversion, musicality, and mathematics.

Many Pagan paths associated with Halloween believe that we are born perfectly imperfect to be exactly what we are meant to be. What does this mean? It means that the gifts our ancestors left us and the unique synergy of the combination of the physical, mental, and physical that is created within us, sets us up perfectly to achieve our ultimate purpose.

Should the Ancestor card bring itself to your attention, know that you are ready and able to action your birthright of power. You have the support of those who came before you. There may be challenges or struggles but you have everything you need to overcome them. You will prevail!

CAULDRON – Synergy and healing

Where all things come together
Under pressure, flowful synergy
A new thing is created
A crucible of infinity.

A typical depiction of a witch sees her standing over a boiling cauldron slowly stirring the bubbling and mysterious contents. As she stirs the enormous metal over the raw flames, she cackles and incants commands to all the elements, transforming the contents into something magical.

Cauldrons were commonly used in ancient and medieval times for everything from the nightly meal to the making of medicines. This “family crucible” was usually placed within the hearth of the home, making it an essential part of the gathering of family. Much healing and nourishment came from the cauldron.

Should you receive the Cauldron card, it indicates the importance of combining a variety of techniques or elements to get the best result. Do not pull all your eggs in one basket. Refuse to choose just a single rigid pathway when a variety of ways are there to be enjoyed and experienced. You can find your own ways to create something new. The cauldron is a deeply transformational tool – things change once they are put under pressure. Resilience is being cultivated over time and this means that you will be able to withstand any negative pressure much more healthily from the inside out.

The Halloween Oracle by author Stacey Demarco and artist Jimmy Manton

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This isn’t the most glamorous card in the Halloween Oracle deck, but it’s an important one. Understanding that strength is more than physical – and that being strong emotionally is in fact allowing yourself to feel and show you emotions (rather than stifle them). As the veil thins, it is important to be emotionally and spiritually strong if you intend to work with the Otherworld and the spirits in any way.


SKELETON – Strength

On the outside is flesh
On the inside is bone
There is strength in vulnerability
In power we have grown

Halloween is a scary festival. It is meant to frighten. We are meant to feel the release of being pleasantly scared. We trick-or-treat even though we know that someone may surprise us, we watch horror films knowing they will scare us, we even dress as skeletons who have no flesh at all and their bones are there for all to see! In short, we show our vulnerability at Halloween and our strength in facing our fears too.

There is incredible strength in showing vulnerability. It can often be the bravest course of action and the most frightening. More often than not, it is a powerful catalyst for personal growth even though we may not be able to perceive that at the time.

By showing our true selves and displaying some balanced vulnerability, we can seek and receive greater understanding from others. By admitting that we are wrong or that we don’t have the solution when we are expected to, we leave more room to turn things around faster. By asking for help and support rather than acting as martyrs and feeling resentful shows strength and wisdom, not weakness.

Should the Skeleton card bring itself to your attention, dare to show strength and vulnerability if that is what you really feel. Shame, pride, or embarrassment are heft burdens that need not be carried through the darkest of nights.

The Halloween Oracle by author Stacy Demarco and artist Jimmy Manton

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This was the card drawn when we first began the Halloween Oracle in September. It has returned as we proceed through the daytime hours of Samhain, summer’s end. Here, the weather certainly fits that with a drippy 47 degrees (I’m not complaining – I love this weather).

New kitty Cerridwen was feeling lovey and parked on my lap as I drew today’s card. I think she would have preferred the Hearth card for today.

I hope you all have a blessed day and remember the might dead while embracing the mighty living. Blessings!

SKELETON – “Strength”

On the outside is flesh
On the inside is bone
There is strength in vulnerability
In power we have grown

Halloween is a scary festival. It is meant to frighten. We are meant to feel the release of being pleasantly scared. We trick-or-treat even though we know that someone may surprise us, we watch horror films knowing they will scare us, we even dress as skeletons who have no flesh at all and their bones are there for all to see! In short, we show our vulnerability at Halloween and our strength in facing our fears too.

There is incredible strength in showing vulnerability. It can often be the bravest course of action and the most frightening. More often than not, it is a powerful catalyst for person growth even though we may not be able to perceive that at the time.

By showing our true selves and displaying some balanced vulnerability, we can seek and receive greater understanding from others. By admitting that we are wrong or that we don’t have the solution when we are expected to, we leave more room to turn things around faster. By asking for help and support rather than acting as martyrs and feeling resentful shows strength and wisdom, not weakness.

Should the Skeleton card bring itself to your attention, dare to show strength and vulnerability if that is what you really feel. Shame, pride, or embarrassment are heft burdens that need not be carried through the darkest of nights.

The Halloween Oracle by Stacy Demarco, art by Jimmy Manton

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First, Tommy the Porch Cat says Happy Halloween and Blessed Samhain!

I’ve been MIA a lot the past week. The last couple days I got busy early doing stuff around the house and yard, and we’re trying to empty a storage unit. (I’m sure many of you know how hard that is!) Even the Beloved Dead altar, the high schooler’s costume, and pumpkin carving has been a bit last minute, but we did get it done. I’ve had to add three people and two pets to the altar this year, which makes me a little sad though I know we are doing the altar to keep them in our hearts.

In regard to the cards today, I thought the spread was spot on for the holiday!

We have the Graveyard representing unnecessary fear, the main card is Trick or Treat for mischief and play (how appropriate for today!), and finally Dawn for the light after the darkness as we head into the dark season of Samhain. Even though it’s the time to go within and to rest in the darkest part of the year, we still have the light within ourselves and the knowledge of the returning light next spring. There is always hope.

Blessings to you all! Here’s to a fun and safe Halloween and a beautiful and thoughtful Samhain.

TRICK-OR-TREAT – Mischief and play

Stalking and stomping
Eyes shining and begging baskets
Faces and bodies
that are no longer ours
Laughing, skeletons and candy caskets

Trick-or-treating is such a fun thing to do, is it not? Yet, why do we trick-or-treat?

Ancient peoples understood that there were both mischievous and perhaps nasty spirits wandering around at nightfall at Halloween as well as happier, more benevolent spirits. They thought that if they dressed as spirits themselves (or other frightening creatures) then they would not be recognized as human and attacked. The idea of causing a little chaos as one of these “spirits” was part of the imitation (and the enjoyment) of thenight. The practice in medieval Britain was aptly called “souling.”

Today, trick-or-treating is a huge event. We spend much time, money, and effort dressing up as our scariest creatures and this has even extended to dressing up as our favorite celebrities and other pop culture idols. Instead of traditional candy apples and barmbrack, we give out a mind-boggling variety of candy. It matters not – the idea of frightening away death and darkness still stands.

I believe that the modern trick-or-treating also unites communities by introducing our families and friends to those around us in a non-threatening and joyful way. Many of us do not know our neighbors – even those who live next door – and Halloween gives us an excuse not to be so reserved and extend our boundaries.

Should you receive the Trick-or-Treat card in your divination, it may well be a time to examine your own life. You don’t have to be a child to let go and have some playtime and you can extend the fun to others. Sometimes we are afraid to make mistakes and play is one way to alleviate the pressure that we sometimes place on ourselves to get everything perfect every time. Alternatively, it is worth knowing that there is a balance between manipulation and mischief – the former is not pleasant and the other has at its core a sense of irreverent fun.

The Halloween Oracle by Stacey Demarco, art by Jimmy Manton

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Looking for more Samhain-related posts? Here’s some past posts: Honoring the Ancestors, Embracing the Wise Crone, and Herb or Rembrance, Herb of Samhain.  

* * *

Happy Halloween and Blessed Samhain to all of you! It’s been a while since posting something other than the Halloween Oracle Card of the Day (on Facebook), but this time of the year always makes me want to get back to the keyboard.


My Beloved Dead altar for 2016

Of course, I’m not alone and I’read many blog posts and articles about this beautiful season and what we learn from it. We see how others deal with loss, and Heron Michelle from Patheos wrote how we as Pagans should do more than honor and celebrate the dead but also prepare for own death even in practical ways. It’s an excellent and honest article.

I lost my Mom a little over two years ago, and I do know that Michelle’s words ring true as my Mom had taken care of everything for her funeral and burial except her head stone, which she always said she would leave for us kids to pick. When an undiagnosed liver disease finally became known, we had precious little time with her and it was a blessing to not also worry about her medical wishes, funeral expenses and so forth. Planning all of that years ago was a gift my mother may not have even realized she was giving.

However, I my biggest Samhain lesson from losing the most important person in my life is this: Don’t wait to live the life you want.

Mom was one of those who worked hard at underpaid and underappreciated jobs all her life. She raised four kids and showed great resourcefulness in keeping us fed, clothed, and sheltered on a tight budget. Even after retirement, she had to work to make due. With undiagnosed illnesses (for him, it was dementia) affecting their personalities, my mom and stepdad divorced when she was in her late 60s. What little savings they had was split. They had to lower the price of their home to sell it, losing money in the process. Her last year was stressful as her tight budget, her medical issues, and mental confusion combined to make life very difficult, even with three daughters hovering over her.

Mom’s “golden years” had become pretty tarnished. All her life she had planned to travel and relax in retirement – that dream mocked her as she struggled to get by.

Sadly, I see so many people go through this same thing. They focus all their energy on work or professional goals or doing the things they “ought” to do, thinking they can work on their real dreams or just take time for themselves later. So many have their retirement dreams cut short illness. For others, it’s financial surprises that ruin their plans. The fact is that even careful planning can be for naught in some situations. We simply don’t control as much of what happens to us as we think.

It reminds me of a picture I once took where a sign warned about falling rocks, but a log was falling in the background instead. Life is like this: prepare for one thing and something different will happen.


And as I put up my Beloved Dead altar every year, I’m reminded of this lesson.

This is why I don’t work overtime. Yes, I have what many consider a good job, but the fact is that the company really cares more about its bottom line than it does about me. And while it’s a good job, it’s not exactly a dream job. So I’d rather spend my extra time for me or with the ones I love.

This is also why I saved some of the insurance money leftover from Mom’s final expenses to travel to Ireland next year. We have some Irish heritage, so I know my Mom would have approved – but it’s the place I’ve longed to go to for the longest time.

This is why I allow myself the really good chocolate and time to write.

This is why I took up an old hobby that brings me joy.

It’s why I try to focus on smiling and laughing with friends and family rather than getting too involved with things that bring a lot of unneeded stress.

Many Pagans quote the “live in the moment” philosophy and yet are often as bad as the rest of Westerners about taking time for themselves and honoring their real life goals and dreams. We are not immune to the disease of just getting by or wasting time on things that don’t fulfill us.

No matter who we are, the fact is that life is much shorter than what we imagine. Let’s not waste it.



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HO samples 1OK, this is early, but I can’t wait anymore. Normally, I start the daily card pull from the Halloween Oracle in October and go through November. Well, I’ve felt the urge to use these cards much earlier this year, so I’m starting a month early and will go through all three fall months (well, for northern hemisphere folks) with the daily reading.

halloween_oracleAs many of you know from my review post, this deck speaks to me quite a bit. Many of my friends have stated that they felt the veil would thin earlier this year, so perhaps I’m right on target for feeling the need to start earlier. Whatever the reason, I hope you enjoy it. I’ll post about one reading a week here on this blog, but most of them will be posted directly to the blog Facebook page, so please look for them there starting this Thursday, Sept. 1!

Blessings of Avalon!



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Every year in the days before Samhain, I either move or take down my everyday altar and put in its prominent place is the Ancestor Altar, which I call my Altar to the Beloved Dead. It is something I cherish doing and something that is adjusted every year and also reflects what is important to me. Every night for the week before Samhain and week or two after, I take a few minutes to light the candles and remember the Beloved Dead represented there.

2015 alt all Many of us do this and, frankly, ancestor altar building is covered in many places, so never felt the need to do it here.

But every year when either people see my Ancestor Altar in person or on a blog or Facebook photo, I inevitably get someone saying they just don’t know how to go about building their own. They don’t know enough about their family, or they had issues with their family. Or they don’t know where to start. I’ve been told many reasons. Considering how important and sacred this altar is to me, it makes me sad that there are people who want one but don’t feel comfortable building one.

So for those who need a little nudge, here’s a quick and dirty write up of my philosophy on building the ancestor altar.

I will say that I personally do more than ancestors of my blood. As discussed in this essay by Druid author Joanna Van Der Hoeven, I welcome ancestors of blood, of place, and of tradition. There is no way I could limit it to just relatives – there have been too many people that were important to my spiritual development to ignore them just because we do not share physical DNA. We share spiritual DNA, and that’s good enough for me and many other Pagans.

So, even if you don’t know your family, were adopted, or are estranged from family, you can still build this based on the people who have been important to you in one way or another. It could be a spiritual leader or counselor, a family friend, a coworker, or even a pet who has passed on. It could be someone you didn’t know but who inspired you. For example, the last couple years I included the late frame drummer Layne Redmond – her music and research was very inspiring and empowering for many of us women who took up the drum. And the drum has been a big part of my spiritual life.

I start, of course, with a table and tablecloth. This year, I added a box in back under the tablecloth to add more height and dimension the the arrangement. Do what will look good to you. I also have a lot of candles – but you could use some other type of lighting that you prefer.
Let’s take a look at a few of the elements I’ve included this year:

Ancestors of Blood

2015 altar ancestors

At the top, you see three photo frames with my great aunt and uncle, my Mom, and my grandmother when she was young. These are all from my mother’s family. I choose not to include anyone from my father’s family because they are negative, not well-known to me, or not yet deceased. My mother’s family has its flaws, but they weren’t intentionally hurtful and did the best they could.

I personally wouldn’t include anyone whose spirit might not be in your best interest because not only are you honoring ancestors with this altar but also inviting them in, whether you realize it or not.

Ancestors of Place

2015 altar crones

There have been many people in my life totally unrelated to me that have had a powerful impact on my life. Two examples are my first two Crones: Sandy and Bernice (I’ve written about Bernice before and recently reposted it). Bernice was my ex-husband’s great aunt but our friendship opened my eyes in so many ways. Sandy was one of the women who started the Daughters of the Sacred Grail, an Avalonian women’s group that really helped firm up my spiritual foundation.

2015 altar pets
I also include in this group all the positive friends and mentors from life. Some for me include old friends but also includes pets from my life. As an introvert and animal person, my anim
al friends have often been a true source of love and support. I would never leave them off this altar, so I would suggest people not feel limited to just humans.

Ancestors of Tradition

This section is a little more flexible for me. In some sense, I also consider the late Crone Sandy an ancestor of tradition as well as of place. Yes, I knew her in this world, but she also helped lay the groundwork for my spiritual tradition. Some of what I do spiritually is because of her. It could be a leader like the Pope or Dalai Lama. Some may disagree with me, but it might also include something to represent a spirit guide or spirit animal.

After you have found a photo or something to represent anyone who fits these, simply put them together in a way that pleases you. You could add more common altar items that represent the four elements, deities, etc. You could put out little items you think the Beloved Dead would appreciate – I always put out a Snickers and change for my grandmother. You can incorporate other meaningful things to you such as things from nature (like the gourds and bittersweet you see on mine) or whatever inspires you.

And think it’s too late? You have tonight and tomorrow before the calendar Samhain on Nov. 1. And astrological Samhain isn’t until Nov. 8 this year. Plenty of time to remember those who have gone before in however big or small way that you wish.

Bright blessings and wishing you all an inspired and magical Samhain!


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Just this week and next week (for the main part of the Samhain season), I’m pulling a card a day from the Halloween Oracle by Stacey Demarco on Parting the Mists’ Facebook page. Today’s card, appropriately enough for the first one, is the Jack-o-Lantern. If you want me to post each day’s card here too, let me know in the comments.


HO JackOLanternOh Jack! Oh Jack!
Let me carve my protection
Shine your fire outwards
Evil rejection and reflection

Halloween wouldn’t be the same without the carving of pumpkins into scary jack-o’-lanterns. Glowing menacingly from porches, dinner tables, and porches everywhere, Jacks actually have a rich history and a spiritual bent.

The original for a jack-o’-lantern was a will-o’-the-wisp, and old British term. The will-o’-the-wisp was a small bundle of sticks used as a flame or torch. The Irish and those living in the Scottish Highlands all carved winter vegetables – not just pumpkins but also parsnips, carrots, and beets. The time around Samhain (Halloween) was of course when the fae and goblins were said to be roaming wild and so the lanterns were intended to be both scary (scaring off the undesirable) and to light the way in the dark.

Today, carving pumpkin jack-o’-lanterns has become an art in itself and a true icon of Halloween. Intricate designs both scary and funny can be found in almost every home that celebrates the holiday. Both electric light and candles now illuminate the inside of the lanterns.

Know that you are protected and that you are capable of creating the life that you want and that the universe supports you in this should Jack shine his light upon you. Boundaries are important to teach people how to treat us and drawing this card indicates that you may wish to renew the ones you have or to establish new ones.

The Halloween Oracle by Stacey Demarco

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We are just a day away from the start my favorite holiday. I say “start” because for me, it’s not just one day for Halloween and Samhain – it’s many days (sometimes a few weeks) devoted to both the fun festivities and the serious introspection and respect that tumbles all together with Halloween, Samhain, All Saints and All Souls Days, and the Day of the Dead. Early this week, I completed the annual expansion of my small ancestor altar into a loaded table I call the Altar to the Beloved Dead.

halloween_oracleBut I got an earlier start thinking about the spirit of the season this year. In mid-September, I picked up Stacey Demarco’s brand new deck, The Halloween Oracle.

Before telling you my thoughts on the deck, let me admit that I’m not the most skilled of readers. I read oracles and Tarot for myself yet have never read for others, but this deck is making me reconsider that.

The cards are darkly beautiful and sophisticated in style, and they are printed on glossy sturdy paper that will hold up for years.  I find them to be an easy read – I can connect with the image, title, and theme of almost every card without feeling the need to reach for the book. Only a few gave me pause, notably the Zombie card that represents control. A young friend reminded me that Hollywood’s diseased and rabid zombies have altered our perception of these, and that the original zombie is indeed someone who’s life is under the control of another. Problem solved. Throughout the deck, Demarco continues to adhere to the traditional and folkloric aspects of Halloween and other related festivals, which makes it easy for those who have learned about this subject to read from this deck. From barmbrack and cauldrons to ancestors and the Underworld, this deck doesn’t miss much about this season.

While the entire deck is intriguing, a few cards did sing to my soul. Seeing the Winter card and its focus on “the sacredness of pausing” makes me happy. As long-time readers might remember, I have long been someone who encourages folks to find time in the hubbub of the winter holidays for introspection and spiritual rest. And the starkly beautiful image really speaks to me.

HO Samples 2The Hearth and Ancestors cards, each very important thematically to me, are also fantastic expressions. The Hearth’s glowing fire wards off the surrounding darkness as the protective gargoyle looks over those who we imagine gathering round the fire – summing up the combined warmth and protectiveness many of us feel about our homes as well as the energy we put into home and family. Metaphors of family roots, family trees, and DNA are all woven into the Ancestors card that also suggests the action of spiraling upward, which many of us aim to do in our spiritual work.

HO samples 1

Lady de los Muertos proved a pleasant surprise when first thumbing through the deck. It’s nice to see another culture so clearly represented (the Mummy card with the Egyptian pyramids in the background also escapes the western European model). The Death card features the very same Death’s-head moth of Silence of the Lambs fame but finds a more helpful expression here as it faces the Moon, also a representative of an ongoing cycle and transition. The Skull of Flowers (one of four “Skull of” cards) is just beautiful and intrigues me every time I see it.

While some of the 36 cards shine a bit brighter than others, the only real complaint I have about the deck is the accompanying book. And it’s really not so much what she writes as the punctuation. The lack of the Oxford comma is annoying and, in a few cases, confusing. However, there’s a general misplacement of commas throughout the book. As I have been filling in on a daily oracle page with this deck and typing in the book’s entries, I have grumbled more than once while removing some commas and adding others where they are really needed.

And then there is the annoying use of the “whilst” instead of “while,” but that is more common in Britain – if my dictionary can be trusted – and that may also be true in Demarco’s home of Australia. Perhaps that’s just my American bias at work. The shortness of the entries does at times make too short of work of the related folklore and customs, but at least she focuses on these instead of relying on Hollywood’s version.

Fortunately, this deck is so gorgeous and intuitive that it’s likely that many readers will never feel the need to open the book. So if you’re looking to add to your divination collection with a seasonal deck that doesn’t treat Halloween and Samhain like a cartoon, this is an excellent choice. Frankly, I’ll be using it all winter.

Until next time, bright blessings!



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