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Posts Tagged ‘Samhain’

Rowan tree in Alexandria Bay, NY.  Photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2014.

Rowan tree in Alexandria Bay, NY.   The leaves haven’t really changed, but the berries are bright red!  Photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2014.

This is my favorite time of year, so naturally I’m over the moon when it comes to sharing it with my little one.  It’s hard to enjoy traditions, old or new, with an infant, however. This year is a whole new experience!  She’s able to interact with the world around her, so it’s a great time to introduce her to all things autumn.  Here are some of the things we’ve been doing.  Teaching little ones about the cycle of the year, the sacredness of Nature, and our holidays is as easy as seasonal pie!

Autumn Fun with a One Year Old

    • Take nature walks and look at the trees.  Say hello and even give them hugs.  Point out the different colors.
    • Pick apples, clumps of rowan berries, or acorns, and thank the trees for their bounty. In fact, get in the habit of always saying prayers of thanks with your child.
    • Run through piles of crinkly leaves.  (I’d love to make a labyrinth like these people did!)
    • Show your toddler how dried leaves turn into dust when you crinkle them in your fingers.
    • Visit a local apple cider press.  Learn how apple cider is made (Bee was scared of the noisy machines), or at least smell that intoxicating aroma!  Give your little one a tiny taste of an apple cider donut.  Just a tiny one.
    • Visit your local pumpkin patch and let your tot pick out her own pumpkin.  Show her how varied pumpkins can be.  The warty ones are especially fun to touch!
    • We haven’t done this yet, but my plan is let Bee decorate her own pumpkin via finger painting.  (There are some lovely toddler pumpkin ideas here.)
    • Sing fun songs about the season.  An easy one, which goes to the tune of “10 Little Indians,” goes like this:
      One little, two little, three little pumpkins.
      Four little, five little, six little pumpkins.
      Seven little, eight little, nine little pumpkins.
      Ten little pumpkin pals!
    • Find milkweed seeds and make wishes together when you blow them away.
    • Pick the last of the harvest together.  Let your little one eat a few goodies fresh from the vines.  Bee loves cherry tomatoes.
    • Wave goodbye to the Canada geese as they fly south.
    • Make a Samhain playlist and dance to it together.
    • Last year, I chose what my child was wearing for Samhain.  This year, although Bee can’t exactly articulate what she wants to dress as herself, I decided to make a costume based on something she really loves – cats!  Sure, I could dress her up as a favorite fantasy character, but I would rather she recognize what she’s pretending to be.
    • Read interactive books about the season together.  I just gave her I Love You, Little Pumpkin, and she adores it.  It introduces the idea of dressing up, which is one of the most easily accessible childhood traditions.  She especially likes the little mirror at the end of the book.
    • If you haven’t already, make an ancestral altar.  Visit it often as a family.  If possible, take a trip to a family grave. Pray to the Ancestors together, and make offerings.
    • Make some delicious applesauce and enjoy it together.
    • When you wake up to morning frost, tell your toddler a simple story about An Cailleach.  They may not understand everything, but it builds a foundation.  I simply say, “Oooh, An Cailleach is waking up!  Soon, she’ll bring winter back!”

What are some of your favorite ways to share Autumn and Samhain traditions with your little one?  I can’t wait to add to my list and do even more sophisticated things with Bee next year!

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It arrived! Photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2014.

I’m ashamed to say that I never read the late Adler’s groundbreaking book, Drawing Down the Moon.  The news of her sudden death moved me to order it immediately.  I needed to read it; I needed to honor one of our community’s elders – now ancestors.  I had admired her as a journalist on NPR, now I definitely needed to explore this other side of her.

It arrived today!  I’m very excited to start.  I’m not sure how I will fit it in with my other projects – the various ADF study programs, sewing, crocheting, and managing a protogrove…  but I’m committed to finish it by Samhain.  In fact, I invited my grovies to join me in reading or rereading it with me.  We’ll periodically discuss things that jump out at us on our Facebook group, and have a final discussion towards the end of October.  We’ll then honor her further at our Samhain ritual.

I can’t believe it took me this long…

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On Saturday night, Northern Rivers Protogrove gathered to celebrate Samhain and honor the Ancestors. We decided to have the rite indoors as the rain and cold were quite intense. We are aiming to be more family-friendly and we wanted the little ones to be safe and comfortable.  I used to look down my nose at “fair weather Pagans,” but my tune is changing.  I’m all for communing with Nature in the rain and snow, and there’s definitely a time and place for that, but when you practice a tribal religion, the needs of the many must come first.  Although
I missed the stone circle, we set up a beautiful altar inside the Kripalu Yoga Center.

We called to An Morrigan as the gatekeeper. Photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2013.

We also set up a special shrine for the visiting Ancestors.  Guests brought photographs, skulls, and other mementos.  I happened to see an announcement that this Samhain marked ADF’s 30th year, so I grabbed the copy of Oak Leaves that eulogizes our late founder, Isaac Bonewits.  He’s definitely an ancestor of the heart for many an ADF grove and protogrove!

We made offerings to the Ancestors and made a special temporary shrine for them. Here you see just one of many mementos brought – a photo of ADF’s late founder, Isaac Bonewits. Photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2013.

My friend Tara lead the rite and she did a fantastic job.  She even made some wonderful favors for guests in the form of little skulls painted on stones she gathered from a lake.  This Samhain Northern Rivers Protogrove met another milestone in that we have been having our High Day rituals at the Kripalu Yoga and Wellness Center for an entire year!  It’s been a beautiful partnership and I’m so grateful for their hospitality.  Between the growth in ritual attendees and the outstanding participation and leadership of fellow members, I am so proud of us.  On a personal note, since I wasn’t leading the rite, I took the opportunity to write and memorize an invocation to the Ancestors.  I was told I did a wonderful job, and people were moved by my delivery.  It’s always good to hear!  My favorite part of every Samhain, however, is the spiritual and emotional release that comes with honoring our beloved dead and accepting the beauty and inevitably of death as well as the promise of life’s renewal.

Here’s to a new liturgical year full of new and wonderful developments with Northern Rivers Protogrove!

We paid special reverence to the new Ancestors, those who passed away this year. Using a tradition I learned from Muin Mound Grove, everyone announced the name of a new Ancestor while placing a clove into an apple. We invited them to “come to the light” so that they could join the other Ancestors and cross over to the Otherworld. As always, it was very moving. Photo, Grey Catsidhe, 2013.

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Blessed Samhain!

2013 pumpkins

Carved pumpkins and turnips scare away the negative and light the way for our beloved dead. Photo by Weretoad, 2013.

Photo Oct 31, 5 16 10 PM

Hospitality for the Ancestors and offerings from our meal. Photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2013.

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I keep seeing or hearing people discuss how they feel Samhain and/or  Halloween should be celebrated.  Some say it’s too scary; others that it isn’t scary enough.  Some call for more reverence for the ancestors; others feel the holiday has become too somber in Pagan culture.  Those later folk embrace the carnival nature that secular Halloween has come to embody.  And of course, there are those who turn their nose up at modern Halloween because it’s too disrespectful to the cultures it came from and  too materialistic.

Honestly, I find truth in all of those thoughts.  Here are my thoughts, but know they are merely my thoughts and not my recipe for Samhain goodness that you must follow or else!

Halloween can be too scary.  I remember running out of haunted houses when I was younger and I still dislike most horror films.  And I enjoy more whimsical costumes myself.  Fairies, historical figures, animals…

Halloween, and Samhain especially, can be too watered down.  These traditions originate from the Celts, and it wasn’t just the ancestors who could cross over the veil – it was all of the sidhe realm! Every fairy, goblin, and bump-in-the-night came out.  Not all fairies are nice happy things as some modern folk seem to think.  That said, not all ancestors are nice either!  Nobody wants the unhappy ancestors to visit…  And yet, the belief in these Otherworld denizens fueled many of our traditions.  Some have suggested that carving turnips or pumpkins into faces could scare away nasty boos.  Dressing up in costumes is believed to confuse spirits.  People who value and respect the sprits and the Otherworld should feel a sense of fear about Samhain.  It adds to the fun but, also, it is good practice to be careful.  I know, this time of year, I often look over my shoulder in case the Pooka is about…

There should be more reverence for the ancestors on Samhain.  They are part of the reason for the season, if I may borrow that phrase.  To completely ignore them feels disrespectful to me.  In my belief system, the ancestors come back to visit us and hospitality – towards living and dead – is incredibly important. (At the same time, to only pay them attention on Samhain is equally disrespectful in my point of view).  

Samhain can be too somber, and that can make the holiday almost unbearable for some which is a shame when it’s such a sacred time.  Sarah Lawless found a way to embrace the carnival nature of the day while also honoring the spookiness and the dead.  And it shouldn’t be all sadness, no matter how scary and painful death can be.  Joy and fun are the ways we come to terms with death. We remember the good times.  Pagan rituals that don’t allow anyone to dress up feel backwards to me.  Dr. Jenny Butler recently did an interview on Transceltic and explained many of the fun Samhain traditions, including dressing up in costume on this day. “It is a playful time,” she says, “when it is acceptable to have a subversive appearance, so people can chose to dress as they wish, whether that is as something scary or outlandish.”  Trust me, it’s possible to dress in a costume and still feel the fullness of the event.  Although I agree that some costume choices are much more appropriate for ritual settings than others!  

People have lost touch with Halloween’s roots.  Many probably wouldn’t care because they celebrate the secular holiday, and that is fine and well.  However, many who embrace Paganism in one of its forms can also forget.  It’s a Celtic holiday.  It was a time to honor the Ancestors, light bonfires, and engage with the Otherworld.  We can get lost in the plastic world of imported costume accessories, racist costume stereotypes, and sugar highs without regard to human dignity, Nature Spirits, of the Earth Mother herself.

So what’s a Gaelic polytheist ditzy Druid in modern America to do?

I find harmony in the blend of Halloween and Samhain.  

At least, that’s what I try to do.

Halloween can be too scary.  Clowns, for example, are horribly frightening to me.  I had a negative experience with one as a child and it left an imprint.  However, I can’t try to censor Halloween and tell others not to dress as clowns any more than I can tell someone not to dress as other peoples’ worst nightmares*.  I can’t stomach most horror films because they are too gory.  I do, however, adore a good ghost story.  Halloween should be a little scary.  It’s in its DNA!  As they say in The Nightmare Before Christmas, “life’s no fun without a good scare.”  And it’s true.  Sometimes it reminds us what is so precious about life.  And that’s why it shouldn’t be all scary.  We care tenderly for our beloved dead, for one, and should create a home that is welcoming and warm for them.  Bring out the good table settings!  And if some people would rather dress as fuzzy rabbits or cute princesses – why not?!  Let people have fun on their own terms because, as discussed above, there’s no set costume in Samhain tradition!  Get in touch with your inner bard and let your costume tell the story you want!

I have great reverence for the Ancestors, and I could honestly be a lot better about honoring them all year, but I do try.  Samhain is a special day, though, when it is believed our beloved dead can return to us.  I feel them as the veil thins.  They are in my thoughts, my dreams, and sometimes in the corner of my eye.  It is not depressing to me, but it feels good to know they want to come see me, check on me, and maybe bestow some kind of blessing.  I know I would want to do the same for my loved ones after death.  Why not set out a nice spread and be hospitable about it?  Why not show that respect while having a good time with the living?

And it needn’t be somber.  My experience with ADFers has taught me how to find a good balance between the deep reverence and joviality.  Samhain, more than any other High Day, moves me in a way that is almost ineffable.  It is one of the few rites where I seem to laugh and cry every time.  Even if I haven’t lost someone that year, the sorrow from others impacts me deeply.  Again, it reminds me just how precious life and our time with other loved ones is.  And so we laugh as well because we remember those good times and enjoy new ones with those around us.  To me, you must have both to fully experience Samhain’s mystery.  

Finally, in my household, Samhain is deeply Celtic.  The holiday came from Celtic cultures, Halloween traditions were brought over by Irish immigrants, and those are deeply respected under my roof.  If you should stop by, expect to hear some Irish music playing.  Expect to see carved turnips.  If you come to a Northern River’s ritual on Samhain, expect to see us honoring the ancestors as well as the Tuatha de Dannan.  In my opinion, to have a ritual with any other cultural focus but Celtic (a specific culture or pan if you must), is just nonsensical since the holiday has Celtic roots and, chances are, the other culture you wish to honor already has a holiday with similar traditions.  If you must celebrate using different cultural symbols, why not just research that culture and use the name they would have instead of one originating from Celtic languages?  And although I will be embracing the Celtic traditions to the best of my ability, I’m still a modern American of mixed cultural background.  You will hear modern Halloween songs playing along with the traditional and folk.  You’ll see big orange and white pumpkins along with the turnips.  You’ll see me handing out candy to trick-or-treaters, although, this year, I’m doing my best to give out more eco-friendly varieties**.

But that is just in my sphere of influence!  

If I visit your household or your spiritual circle and find you doing differently than I, I will respect you as a human being.  I understand we aren’t all cut from the same spiritual or cultural cloth.  I know some of us find value and purpose in celebrating differently.  It’s not my place to throw my weight around. Several years ago, I tried to argue with folks who wanted to do a completely Hellenic rite while calling it Samhain and it didn’t end well.  I’ve grown up since then and realize that is not the way to conduct myself.  I may not do things the same way or agree with you, but I would rather work on finding my own harmony with Samhain than insist on how you should find yours.  

On that note, no matter how you celebrate, I hope you are just as excited to celebrate Samhain!  Wishing you a blessed Samhain my lovely readers!

* There is, of course, a time and place for some costumes.  We all have our boundaries and we must respect the wishes of hosts and hostesses.  In other words, if you show up to my home as a clown, I may punch you in the face! :P

** Even if you can’t afford organic candies, at least try to avoid chocolate that isn’t fair-trade.  Human dignity and preserving the world’s biodiversity are worth more to me than an affordable chocolate fix!

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Honoring One of My Irish Ancestors

Some of you may remember that I have an ancestor from Ireland buried right here in Watertown. I try to visit with an offering each Samhain season. This year felt particularly important because of my late grandfather who worked so hard to find and preserve her grave. I now honor both through this tradition.

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What a cute (and kid-friendly!) project!  I can envision folks making a new ghost each Samhain to represent a loved one who has passed away.  It could also be a wonderful way to decorate an ancestral altar in October and November.

DIY Finger-Knit Ghost Garland | Pretty Prudent.

Have fun!

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