Posts Tagged ‘Samhain’

An "Ancestor Gnome" I sewed for Bee - Photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2015

An “Ancestor Gnome” I sewed for Bee – Photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2015

Another Samhain has come and gone in my household and protogrove. Some, like myself, observed it from October 31st-November 1st (sundown to sundown). Many celebrated this weekend, for reasons of convenience or celestial precision. I know of some people who honor it all month long, which is totally fine, as the veil between this world and the other seems to gradually “thicken” and “thin.”  As for myself and my tribe, 2015 Samhain has ended (though we may sense our ancestors from time to time).

I’m always a little sad when Samhain ends, being an adult who has regular conversations with her inner child.  I love the magic, the mystery, and the socially acceptable guising.  I also need, as most do, the emotional release that comes with meditating on and facing mortality.  I had a bit of a health scare at the beginning of October.  Everything turned out well, but it was enough to make me pause and prioritize!  The fact that a high school acquaintance died in his battle with cancer a few months before really added to my sense of how delicate and precious our time is.

Regardless of what we may or may not believe about an afterlife, the truth remains a mystery to the living.  The here and now, and our time in these particular bodies, is such a gift that should not be taken for granted.  Even when so many of us in the polytheist and Pagan communities believe in some sort of continuation after life, we miss our beloved dead.  Personally, I accept the ambiguity of what happens to our energy.  The fact that our physical remains will go back into the cycle of creation and destruction, and that our bodies will mingle and always be together in some way, is profoundly beautiful to me.  I take comfort in that, and I’m sure many in my protogrove do as well, yet we still mourn our dead.

Northern Rivers’ Samhain Bonfire – photo by Annette P.

Northern Rivers Protogrove, ADF, gathered on October 31st at the Kripalu Yoga and Wellness Center to celebrate Samhain.  Despite the biting cold, we had our ritual at their stone circle.  That in itself was an exciting homecoming, and with the added psychic and emotional intensity of Samhain, it meant for a moving ritual.  Many of us were already tearing up as we gave praise offerings to the Ancestors.  When we got to our traditional apple rite, something passed on to us from Muin Mound Grove, some of us actually had to leave the circle for a bit to calm our nerves.  As we passed the apple, a potent symbol for the Otherworld, we named those who had passed since last Samhain.  As we named them, we pushed a clove into the apple.  The group then intoned, “come to the light” to the accompaniment of a chime.  We called the “Young Ancestors” to our firelight to gather with the “Elder Ancestors” who know the ways back to the Otherworld.  Samhain always makes for a long yet intense ritual.

Today I decided to take my household Samhain decorations down.  As you can imagine, there’s always a little sadness as you remove the relics of festivity.  As I packed the skeletons and ghosts away, it felt like the veil closing on the dead. Yet, I reflected, the Ancestors are always there.  I can always call to them beyond the veil, and there’s a chance that they may hear me with the assistance of messenger spirits, strong bonds, or intense emotions.  The spirit world can be a strange thing in that way.  And just as the paper, metal, and wooden skeletons will reappear in my home again, Samhain will also be reborn next year.

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Our 2015 turnip Jack-o-lanterns. Photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2015

In previous years, I’ve posted photos, tutorials, and even lore-based reasons for carving turnips.  It’s become a part of my family Samhain celebration. They are tough veggies to carve, even with strong, well-made spoons as I’ve suggested.

I’m proud to have resurrected the tradition in my own family. I excitedly turn them into protective talismans, warding the home against nasty spirits who may be out and about while the veil is thin.

As I exercised my muscles gouging turnip flesh out, I reflected on how tough the job is. The difficulty is not so great that it discourages me from keeping it. While thinking this, I meditated on the challenges my Irish ancestors faced: poverty, famine, immigrating across the Atlantic, leaving loved ones, and starting over in America. Carving the turnip can be a devotional act, reminding us of the difficulties our Irish ancestors faced.

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My Ancestor shrine, complete with some Samhain ghosts made by Bee and me. Photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2015.

My ancestor shrine, complete with some Samhain ghosts made by Bee and me. Photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2015.

My sister recently lost one of her kitties to old age and disease.  The elderly cat, named “Carmel”, had reached the crazy age of 17 or 18, which is ancient for a cat.  Her hearing was mostly gone, and her eyes were riddled with cataracts.  Her hips and legs were starting to give out on her, and she would randomly fall.  The vet determined she had a lot of issues and was suffering, so my sister made the difficult choice that so many of us who love our furry allies have to face from time to time.

If you look closely at the recent photo of my ancestral shrine, you’ll see a few photos or reminders of furry friends past.  I didn’t have a photo of Carmel, so I just offered some cat food.  I will honor her again at my Samhain ritual.

Some people do not view deceased pets as ancestors, and indeed they do not share our blood… but we can honor ancestors of blood, place, and heart – the later referring to those outside of our families who inspired or guided us.  Yes, our pets are literally nature spirits, but I’ve found that the Three Kindreds are not black and white categories.  For example there are many Gods who take on the appearance of animals or plants.  There are also ancestors who have been deified.  Finally, there are stories in IE myth suggesting that different groups of people can claim plants or animals as ancestors.  While I will never tell someone that they are wrong for not including their dead furry companions in their ancestral workings, it certainly feels appropriate to me.  When Samhain comes, I always invite members of my protogrove to bring mementos of those who have died since the previous Samhain – and I make sure to remind them that representations of fallen pets are welcomed.

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Since giving birth, I’ve looked for ways to introduce and include my daughter in our holidays.  It was all about basic inclusion when she was an infant and one-year-old.  Now that she’s two, she’s better able to interact with her environment, discuss things she enjoys, and make bigger connections.

Bee’s Scribble Pumpkin Face – Photo by Grey Catsidhe 2015

We don’t carve Jack-o-lanterns until a week or so before Samhain, but I love to start decorating for the holiday as soon as October begins. Finally, Bee is old enough to notice that something special is happening and realize that she can help. Bee is working on her coloring skills, which will eventually help her with her writing skills. I want to encourage this as much as possible, and toddlers enjoy novelty. She’s aware of Samhain and Halloween thanks to special episodes of some of her favorite shows, and she knows what pumpkins are. I cut out some pumpkin shapes from orange construction paper and told her to draw faces on them. It was pretty amazing to see her spatially reason where eyes, noses, and mouths should appear.  My husband and I took turns coloring with her. If you do this craft with your toddler, it’s a perfect time to start talking about the lore behind Jack-o-lanterns in preparation for later carving.   In addition to making decoration, we also gave some to loved ones as cards.  I think we may make some skulls to put around the Ancestor shrine next!

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Yes, yes, I can already hear your impatient mutterings, wondering what “The Lion King” is doing on a blog about Celtic spirituality.  Well hold your horses (or zebras).

Earlier in the day, my daughter followed my husband into the garage to “help” him with something.  She emerged carrying my large plush adult Simba.  He’d been in a bag with my other “Lion King” toys, patiently waiting for the right time to come out.  We have limited space in the apartment, after all… Well, I took this as a sign that it was time to initiate her in the mysteries of my childhood. (“It is time,” as Rafiki would say.)  My husband and I grew up loving “The Lion King.”  I spent much of my childhood watching it, reading related books, singing along to the soundtrack, playing with the toys, and acting out various scenes with my friends.  You could say I was obsessed.  I had been eager to share it with my little one and continue the great “Circle of Life.”  I actually got a little emotional as that song played over the opening scene.  My daughter excitedly pointed out each animal, oohing and aahing over the presentation ceremony.  As the movie progressed, I brought out more of my old toys, and she excitedly engaged with them.  She danced to the songs and reacted emotionally to Mufasa’s death – more than I thought a two year old would.

As I watched, it hit me that this movie was probably my first exposure to ancestor veneration and the concept of how interconnected everything is.  Sure, “Bambi” had an equally emotional death scene, but “The Lion King” really went beyond death simply as a fact of life, and infused such spirit into the experience.  Not only are our beloved dead still with us in the natural world, passing through the food chain, but they are in the stars and even in us.  It can seem so obvious, but it’s really rather profound when you look at your reflection and see familiar features from ages past looking back at you.  When Mufasa tells Simba that he forgot who he himself was and, therefore, forgot his father, it’s quite profound.  We like to think of ourselves as individuals, but our actions and morals are something that are passed down to us, that we will pass on ourselves.  We honor our dead by living in a way that they would be proud of, and we hope our children will continue to live in a way that brings the whole family honor.  When I was older and more worldly, the Broadway musical version came out with even more songs to add further depth to the story.  One of the songs explored how intimately connected we are to our Ancestors and all life.  I remember starting to explore ADF Druidism, thinking on my Ancestors, and automatically singing “They Live in You.”  I thought of my grandmother, my great grandmother, and all the people I never met who had shaped my own parents.  They truly are alive in me – genetically and even in my value system.

As Samhain nears, and my daughter grows, it is good to know that an old childhood favorite can be a tool for discussion.  From the “circle of life,” to ancestor veneration, “The Lion King” is a great option for a Druid Movie Night with the little ones.  And hey, the Broadway song is definitely one you could add to your repertoire when giving offerings to your Ancestors.

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My Twitter pal Lady Althaea really inspires me.  Like other Pagans and Witches, much of her work focuses on keeping in touch with the land.  She does a lot of foraging and herbalism, and I feel like I don’t get out as much to explore like I used to.  Her posts on her blog and Twitter enchant me, and often inspire me to just seize the day and get outside.  We recently had a discussion about wood sorrel that reminded me I not only had a recipe for wood sorrel soup I wanted to try, but I had a big clump of it growing in my pea pots.  The pea plants were looking rather spent, so I took it as an opportunity to pull them, add more soil, rake it a bit, and plant more for the fall.  I also pulled up tons of wood sorrel for my soup.  The recipe comes from the book Edible Wild Plants: Wild Foods from Dirt to Plate by John Kallas.  It’s a wonderful introduction into foraging, focusing on the easiest to identify and prepare.  There are numerous photos to help you feel confident in your foraging. Best of all, many of the plants probably grow near your home, perhaps even sharing space with plants you are growing on purpose!

Anyway, I finally made the soup!  Oh, it was excellent.  Very onion-flavored, but the bits of wood sorrel gave it a real tart kick which I liked.  (For what it’s worth, I used potato instead of the thistle root.)

Wood sorrel soup. Photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2015.

Wood sorrel soup. Photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2015.

Other wonderful things are happening in my garden. The tomatoes are starting to ripen, I have some eggplant and even a zucchini on the way. A “surprise pumpkin” is taking shape – you know, the kind that grow out of jack-o-lantern guts!  It makes me excited for Samhain…  One of my favorite signs of August occurred recently – my sunflowers have opened!  I will let them go to seed.  I save some for more planting the following year, but I also use some as offerings over winter.

Photo Aug 13, 6 09 03 PM

Photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2015

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My dragon pumpkin. Photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2014.

I had a wonderful Samhain with loved ones. My husband and I carved pumpkins, with the help of Bee (who enjoyed scooping out seeds and guts). I used some of the insides to make pumpkin orzo for dinner the day of. My sister and niece visited and, since the little ones can walk, we took them trick-or-treating to a few nearby homes in my neighborhood. I don’t think indulging in a few sweets from time to time is a bad thing, so I let Bee nibble some chocolate. We returned to our own home to hand out treats to other children – candy, pretzels, and stickers. I was really happy to share this old tradition with my daughter.

Before dinner, I said a prayer to our Ancestors and made an offering of food to them, placing it on our shrine. We shared stories of the Ancestors and enjoyed each other’s company.

I felt bad that I completely forgot about keeping my flame to Brighid… I was really distracted by entertaining my family and preparing for our Samhain ritual the next day. I did make an offering to Brighid at the ritual, though… It’s always difficult when my flamekeeping shift falls on a High Day.  I haven’t felt any anger from Brighid; she’s pretty forgiving and I do make offerings to her frequently.  I’m trying my best, after all!  I’m sure she’s aware of my resolve to do a better job next time.

The ritual with Northern Rivers went really well. It was cold and even a little rainy, but we went outside and circled a cozy bonfire.  I enjoyed time with my grovies, making new friends, and honoring our Ancestors.  Our bonds grow stronger and stronger!  We’re hoping to work on our bylaws and turn into a fully-fledged grove soon!

Weretoad’s dapper skull jack-o-lantern. Photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2014.

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