Posts Tagged ‘Samhain’

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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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

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


Rodale’s Illustrated Encyclopedia of Herbs

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!


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