Posts Tagged ‘Samhain’

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.  

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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.

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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.

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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.

Blessings!

 

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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!

Thistle

 

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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!

Thistle

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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.

Blessings!

JACK-O-LANTERN
“Protection”
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!

Thistle

 

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Many of you probably already know which herb the headline refers to – the wonderful and fragrant rosemary.

But you may be wondering why I’m still talking about Samhain. First, many modern Druids and Pagans do not consider November 1 to be the true date of Samhain and often honor it and (other holy days) on its astrological date, which is Nov. 7. Also, my hearth doesn’t typically approach the holy days as a single day, but more as a season. We see the holy day as simply the marker to adjust to the particular season. So I may delve into Samhain topics – from honoring the dead to introspection – throughout November.

Rosemary is easily my favorite herb. From baking and hair rinses to healing and purification, rosemary is incredibly versatile.

In folklore, rosemary is the herb of remembrance, as Shakespeare points out:

There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance; pray you, love,
remember. And there is pansies, that’s for thoughts.

– from Hamlet, Act 4, Scene 5

Sprigs of the evergreen perennial was often tossed into graves to say that the mourners would not forget the deceased. In ancient Greece, students would wear garlands of the herb while studying because they thought it would help them remember better. In recent years, studies about aromatherapy have indicated rosemary’s chemical properties do improve cognitive performance, which supports this bit of folklore (for more information, check out the studies links in the Sources section).

In regard to Samhain, remembrance is the herbal association that springs to mind. For many years, I have baked Remembrance Cookies, which are simply sugar cookies with fresh chopped rosemary added in and cut in the shape of men and women (like gingerbread man cookie cutters), as a part of celebrating Samhain. The idea is for all present to take a cookie and, while eating it, remember the loved ones they have lost as well as their ancestors. Of course, some of the cookies are left out for the spirits.

Rosemary image courtesy of Morguefile.com

But rosemary also has a long history as a powerful cleansing and purification incense, much like sage and cedar. It can also be used for a purifying bath. This is likely connected to the belief that rosemary protects against evil spirits. Further lore connected to this is that rosemary has been placed over doors and porches to keep those with bad intentions from a home. It is interesting to note that it was supposed to attract elves and likely inspired its folk name, Elf Leaf

During the Dark Ages, the herb was burned to deter the black death. And in WWII hospitals in France, it was burned with juniper berries to kill germs.

This might sound like crazy talk in today’s world, but according to Rodale’s Illustrated Encyclopedia of Herbs, studies have shown rosemary to have antibacterial properties. Also, the oil in the leaves and flowers is officially listed in the U.S. Pharmacopoeia.

Other healing properties, according to the lore, includes use as an astringent, diaphoretic, expectorant, and much more. It has been thought helpful for depression, headaches, and muscle spasms. As an ointment, it was thought to help rheumatism, sores, eczema, and wounds. These, however, have not been confirmed by research (to my knowledge).

It can even help your beauty regimen. A bath with rosemary can stimulate circulation (though take care if using essential oils – it is easy to put in too much), and a hair rinse of rosemary and water is great for brunettes.

Rosemary also has a long history connected to Christian myth. It is believed rosemary will not grow taller than six feet so not to grow taller than Jesus. According to legend, the plant’s flowers changed from white to blue when the Virgin Mary hung her cloak on a rosemary bush when she was escaping from Herod’s soldiers. Yet several spells for prophetic dreams using rosemary wands have a connection to Mary Magdalene instead.

It also has connections to women in general. A quirky bit of lore states that if rosemary grows vigorously in a garden, the woman of the house wears the pants:

Where Rosemary flourished, the woman ruled.

– Folk saying

Other magical associations are love, lust, mental powers, exorcism, sleep, and youth. Indeed, rosemary is part of various spells for engagement, fidelity, happy marriages, love, success, and empowerment. Simpler uses include placing it beneath a pillow to promote a good night’s sleep or beneath the bed it protects the sleeper from harm.

Frankly, I’m just touching on the considerable lore and information about this herb. If your interest is piqued, you can find much more information.

Easy to grow, this herb loves a sunny spot with somewhat alkaline soil (if your soil is acidic, add wood ashes or crushed eggshells to the soil). Seeds are difficult to start, so cuttings are the best choice when adding rosemary to your garden. However, it doesn’t like extremely cold weather, so it may not be hardy in northern climates. It can be grown in containers and brought in during the winter; however, take care not to overwater it – and it would appreciate misting.

If you’ve never considered rosemary in your garden before, I hope you give it a try. No other herb in my yard sees my garden snips more!

Latin name: Rosemarinus officinalis

Folknames: Dew of the Sea, Elf Leaf, Guardrobe, Compass Weed, Incensier, and others

Region: Native to the Mediterranean, Portugal, and northwestern Spain, though it is cultivated widely

Sources:

Rodale’s Illustrated Encyclopedia of Herbs

http://botanical.com/botanical/mgmh/r/rosema17.html

http://www.rsc.org/Education/EiC/issues/2004Nov/Soundbitemolecules.asp

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12690999

The Encyclopedia of 5,000 Spells by Judicka Illes

Hoodoo Herb and Root Magic by Catherine Yronwode

Cunningham’s Encyclopedia of Magical Herbs by Scott Cunningham

 

© 2011 PJ Graham

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“I know of the leafy paths that the witches take,

Who come with their crowns of pearl and their spindles of wool,

And their secret smile, out of the depths of the lake;

I know where a dim moon drifts, where the Danaan kind

Wind and unwind their dances when the light grows cool

On the island lawns, their feet where the pale foam gleams.

No boughs have withered because of the wintry wind;

The boughs have withered because I have told them my dreams.”

 

– from “The Withering of the Boughs” by William Butler Yeats

This quote from Yeats just seems fitting for today.

I’d like to wish everyone blessings on this Halloween night leading into the sacred day of Samhain, the Celtic New Year and time to honor the beloved dead. Of course, I’ve had my Altar to the Beloved Dead up for a couple weeks. While some folks might find it morbid, I find joy and wisdom in honoring those who have been important to me in this life as well as my ancestors from long ago.

I very much take a Day of the Dead approach to my altar. There are pictures or mementos of loved ones, things they would have liked – change and candy for Grandmom; catnip mouse for my old cat Sylvia, and so forth – and elements of the season and final harvest such as mums and gourds. It’s not an overly complicated altar, but the warm memories and life lessons make it larger than life.

Tonight I plan to light the candles on the altar again, make a small batch of Remembrance Cookies (with rosemary for remembrance) to share with the ancestors, and enjoy handing out candy to the few children in the neighborhood. And in a few days, I will join my spiritual sisters in a sacred celebration of the season.

However you celebrate the season, I hope you all have a wonderful Halloween and Samhain!

Thistle

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