Tuesday, 30 October 2007


Although we Pagans and Witches celebrate many festivals throughout the year, Hallowe'en (which most of us call by its old Celtic name of Samhain) is the one that most people know about. Although of course, their concept of witches and what they get up to on Hallowe'en is pretty far removed from ours!
Whilst I enjoy seeing all the Hallowe'en trappings in the shops, carving pumpkin lanterns and handing out sweets to trick-or-treating children, all of that has about as much relevance to the true meaning of Samhain as Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer has to the true meaning of Christmas.
For me, Samhain is about acknowledging our entry into the 'dark' part of the year (don't be spooked, I mean literal darkness, i.e. shorter daylight hours!), a time for introspection and rest.
It is also the festival at which I remember and honour my ancestors and my Beloved Dead - in my tradition we tend to use the term 'ancestors' to mean those who have gone before us, and 'Beloved Dead' to mean those ancestors and loved ones we actually knew from this lifetime who have passed away into death.
Each Samhain I create an altar to my ancestors and Beloved Dead. As well as being decorated in autumn colours, with fallen leaves, probably a carved pumpkin or two and plenty of candles, the altar will have photos of my Beloved Dead; sadly, there are usually more of these each year, but I suppose that's part of life and growing older. I also put out trinkets and mementos I have of them: Grandpa's cuff link box, Granddad's bronze Buddha statuette, Gan's ring, Thomas the cat's collar and name tag. And some years I put out little offerings of their favourite foods for my Beloved Dead - ice cream for my Nanna, a cup of tea for cousin Enid, tuna for my cat Julie. Doing this is part of remembering them, who they were, what they enjoyed in life, the times we shared together. Sometimes there are no treats or mementos - for our son Peter, who was stillborn, I have only an ultrasound photo. Yet the love is still there and he is remembered each year with the others.
The altar becomes a focal point for my ritual, which is usually fairly simple and involves creating sacred space, honouring my ancestors and then inviting in any of my Beloved Dead who would like to be there. Pagans usually say 'the veil between the worlds [of life and death] is thin at Samhain' and so this is thought to be a good time to contact the spirits of the departed. I sit and talk to my loved ones, tell them what is going on, how I miss them, what memories I carry of our times together. This is usually an emotional time, but I find it really helps with the grief process.
I like remembering and honouring my ancestors and Beloved Dead at this time of year. We are, after all, stitches in a tapestry which stretches backwards and forwards through time. It is good to acknowledge our place in the warp and weft, the threads we are part of and those we interlink with, if only for a brief time. Glimpses of the grand over all pattern are simultaneously humbling and inspiring.
And I'll also carve pumpkins, buy sweets for the trick-or-treaters, tell ghost stories by the fire, wear fancy dress for your Hallowe'en party and buy cute little witch ornaments. Because I love Hallowe'en and all its funny-spooky trappings too.
That's who I am and some of the things I enjoy in this life. And if I'm lucky, one day I'll be someone's Beloved Dead, remembered with a place on their altar and an invitation to visit for chocolate and time together at Samhain.

Autumn Senses

Five autumn sights...
The frosted bracken turning the hillside to rust... Dew-highlighted spiderwebs... Drifts of leaves by the outhouses... A store cupboard filled with jam, jelly, chutney & preserves... A fur of frost on the gate in the morning...
Five autumn smells...
Woodsmoke on the breeze... A bowl of fragrant quinces... Jacket potatoes baking in the oven... The resinous odour of stacked firewood... The mustiness of decaying leaves...
Five autumn sounds...
The tawny owl quavering at dusk... The patter of falling leaves... The sounds of the valley muffled by fog... The staccato chopping of firewood... Distant fireworks on Guy Fawkes' Night...
Five autumn tastes...
Homemade apple and cinnamon pie... Porridge with golden syrup for breakfast... A warming bowl of leek & potato soup... Hot buttered toast & cocoa by the fire... The melancholy sweetness of the last autumn raspberries & blackberries...
Five autumn sensations...
The reassuring thickness of a favourite woollen jumper... The crisp juiciness of an apple straight from the tree... A chill in the breeze even on a sunny day... Scratched hands from picking sloes for sloe gin... The soft fur of a warm lap-cat...

Tuesday, 23 October 2007

Edinburgh Photos - and Latest News!

As promised, here are some of the photos I took during our recent trip to Edinburgh.

And, some exciting news! My Mum and Dad have decided they are moving to Wales. They have been talking about moving for some time now, but while they were housesitting for us last week they fell in love with a local property. They have made an offer which has been accepted, and all being well they hope to move in next spring. It's about 30 minutes' drive from us, a lot closer than the 4+ hours (plus negotiation of the dreaded M25) that currently separates us.

I'm very happy that they'll be closer. In my ideal world all my loved ones would live close by. Perhaps I can start a Welsh charm offensive to persuade everyone else that they should really be this side of the Severn...

Monday, 22 October 2007

Self Help

Last week T and I were in Edinburgh. It's a beautiful city (I'll probably post some of my many photos soon) and it was nice to have a bit of a break together - we haven't managed a holiday together this year and I think we're both feeling a bit worn down.

It was brought home to me just how worn down I am on a visit to the Scottish Museum. Normally I love museums, and usually have to be dragged out at closing time. On this day, however, I began to feel quite uncomfortable there after only an hour or so. The discomfort quite rapidly grew into full-blown claustrophobia, and in the end I left, telling myself I would go and get lunch somewhere and return afterwards.

Once settled in a small cafe however, I realised that I didn't want to go back to the Museum. I didn't want to leave that warm and sunny cocoon of a cafe. So I stayed. I ate my sandwich, drank my latte (and then another - and then another), and wrote in my journal. And as I wrote, I realised what the problem was. I am exhausted, and I've been ignoring the exhaustion, not listening to the needs of either my body or soul. I didn't need a day filled with absorbing culture and taking in facts, figures, dates. I needed to sit and doodle with my coloured pens, watch the leaves fall one by one from the plane trees in the square, sip milky coffee. And listen, really listen, to what my body was telling me.

Last year, I underwent my Reclaiming-Feri initiation and also student taught at Avalon Witchcamp for the first time, both huge, intense events for me. This year, I pulled together the British Reclaiming Summer Gathering in about 6 weeks, a feat I still can't believe I managed, and probably one of the most stressful experiences of my life. All the while I have been carrying on as normal, being my usual smiley self and brightly saying, 'Yes, I'm fine!' if anyone has asked.
Now I have to admit: no, actually I'm not fine.

This is hard for me. I'm not good at admitting I can't cope, I'm not good at asking for help. I'm good at soldiering on, putting on a happy face and denying my needs.

That night - the night after the abortive Museum visit - I dreamed I was trying to help a woman who had been knocked down in a hit and run accident. She was almost submerged in mud and I was unsure whether she was in more danger of suffocating from the mud or being further injured if I tried to move her. In the end I went for help.

Now, in waking life, I am also going for help. I'm accepting offers of all kinds of help from friends and family ('Yes, I'd love you to cook dinner!', 'Yes a back-rub would be great!', 'Oh thank you for feeding the chickens for me!'). And I'm helping myself. Listening to what my body wants and providing it - naps, nourishing food, gentle walks, time amongst the trees - and meditating, journalling.

I have come down with a heavy cold, but at the same time I feel better than I have in months. I am helping myself out of the mud and finding that my injuries aren't life threatening after all. Not if I acknowledge they're there and deal with them.