Despite being a July-baby, Autumn has always been my favorite season. Up in the far north, where I grew up, Autumn meant a change in the light. There was a crispness in the air that could sharpen your senses or even cut your skin. As the leaves changed color and began to carpet the ground, naked tree branches altered the view of our reality and shifted familiar landscapes.
I didn’t recognize it then, but I know now: We were beginning to sink into sacred space.
When I enter into scared space for journey or healing work, it looks much the same way. I take my ordinary room and alter the lighting. Off with the overheard lights. Out with the candles. The air becomes electrified with the scent of incense or essential oils– sharpening my senses and anchoring me in the present. Deep breathing, deep listening and calling in ancestral and spiritual support helps shift my view of reality. This reality is always there, always supporting the ordinary reality, but you have to clear away some of the leaves to see it.
Autumn does this for us naturally.
First there’s the ritual of going back to school. New clothes. New gear. New and old friends. Then, as the weather changes, there’s the anticipation of Halloween. Samhain. The Day of the Dead. The excitement of a new school year gives way to the thought and preparation of Fall and the Halloween costumes that come with it. You may even begin decorating your house– altering your ordinary reality a bit, creating sacred temporary space.
What am I afraid of? What needs my attention before winter? How are my Dead?
After an evening of slipping into a different character (or consciousness if you will), or of remembering our Dead and the cycle of life, we move onto the preparations of Thanksgiving. We spend an evening with family and loved ones, remembering that it’s good to be alive and be together (well. mostly). Stories are told. Memories are created. Gratitude is given.
The ancient alchemy of cooking. Pilgrimage.
You know what comes next.
The weather doubles down on our senses: making it colder and brisker. As Christmas approaches we alter our reality again: Christmas lights. Christmas smells. Christmas decor. Our thoughts turn to what we need and want to manifest in our lives: both as holiday gifts and as a reality for the fast-approaching new year. We also begin thinking about how to help others manifest what they need and want in their lives as holiday gifts.
What do I want to attract? What do I want to ask for? What can I help someone else receive?
So much magic is created around the holidays and it’s not by accident. By the time the clock strikes midnight on the New Year, we’ve likely spent three if not four months cultivating sacred space in our homes. Did you realize you were doing this?
This sacred space is the container responsible for holding the magic of the holidays. As adults we often forget to drop in and be present within the container. Children live in the container 24/7. It’s part of the reason they look forward to the holiday season so passionately. They thrive in the sacred space. They don’t miss a moment of magic’s presence and they’re thrilled that the magic is finally being reflected by their outward surroundings and acknowledged by the adults.
This holiday season, be aware of the sacred space you are creating. Put some extra intention in it. Take the opportunity each day to sit in it and be present with the magic. If you have children, delight in their delight and try to remember how the sacred space of the holidays made you feel as a child. Can you reach that place now? As an adult?
If you’re not sure where to begin, my rule of thumb is to incorporate at least one element for each of the senses:
Sight: Add some simple holiday decor and/or dim the lights more often and bring out candles.
Smell: Burn seasonal candles, incense or even keep a pot of bubbling cider or mulled wine on the stove.
Taste: Revel in the seasonal harvest. Go apple picking. Learn a new autumn recipe. Create a favorite food from your childhood holiday memories.
Listen: Play music more often that shifts your consciousness. Turn off the music and the television and listen to the Autumn wind howl. Take a few deep breaths, turn inwards and listen to your ancestors.
Touch: Bring new textures into your wardrobe or home. Wool. Flannel. Cashmere. Comfy and cozy is the language of the season whether it’s a new table runner, new pillow throws or a new skirt.
If you’d like more ideas on bringing intention into creating the sacred space of the holidays, make sure you are signed up for my e-mail updates. Next week I am releasing a seasonal product that will help you do just that.
With love and cider spices,
At the end of August, 2017, I traveled to Oregon to begin a six-month practitioner training in ancestral medicine. A large portion of this training is dedicated to healing and receiving the blessings from our own ancestral lineages– specifically all eight lines from all eight of our great-grandparents. This not only gives us a great deal of practice, but it helps keep the healing modality in integrity: because I will be well with my ancestral lineages before I begin helping you with yours.
As I was healing my mother’s, mother’s, mother’s line I received a beautiful vision:
She shows me the garden built on the bones and ashes of my ancestors and she shows me the sun shining down on this garden. In between the garden and the sun I can see the air particles. A lot of the particles are dirty, ill and full of all sorts of sicknesses. She explains to me that “the ancestors hold up the sun.” She goes on to explain that as we begin to tend to our untended dead, we begin to metaphorically AND literally “clear the air” between the sun and the earth– making the quality of life here on earth be that much richer and healthier and allowing the sun to do it’s job of warming, protecting, nurturing and cleansing the earth with less impediment.
She showed me the sun shining down, free of dirty air particle filters, and nurturing our ancestral gardens. She showed me beautiful, healthy, things growing up out of those beds. Beautiful, healthy children. Beautiful, healthy lives. Beautiful, healthy experiences. Beautiful, healthy emotions. A beautiful, healthy Earth.
She told me that our tears are offerings that can water these ancestral garden beds. Shed your tears for your dead freely. Offer your tears to you ancestors and to the Earth. In lieu of tears, offerings of clean, healthy water are also important.
As we begin to heal our ancestral lineages, we also begin to heal the confusing and negative energies in the world that are behind large controlling thought forms such as patriarchy, racism and misogyny as well as phenomena like climate change and social unrest.
Halloween/Samhain/Day of the Dead is approaching. This time of the year the veil thins and it’s a great opportunity to honor your ancestors, remember your dead and offer them your tears or a generous glass of water. I’ll be suggesting other ways to work with your ancestors as we approach the thinning of the veil and I’ll be offering ancestral healing sessions shortly after the new year. In the meantime, you can learn more about ancestral medicine or find a practitioner here.
If nothing else, for now, remember that The Ancestors Hold Up The Sun, and offer them a little water. Placing a small offering dish of water on your altar or outside and inviting your well ancestors (you don’t want to invite the unwell yet) to partake is a wonderful first step and will go a long way in giving them the energy to keep working in the spiritual world on our behalf.
In love and sacred darkness,
When I was a little girl, I used to look out the window at the mountains surrounding our little valley. I knew the names of each of those mountains. Those mountains held stories. Family stories. I’d look at the tall pine trees standing watch along the ridge lines, outlined against the blue sky background, and I’d imagine those trees were my ancestors. Standing watch over me. Over us. I wished on those trees. Just like my mother did when she was growing up in the same valley, watching and wishing on the same mountains, with the same evergreen centurions.
It was a soul need to hear the mountains whisper the same blessings they had whispered to Okanagan mothers and their babies for eons.
As an Okanagan tribal member who grew up in the Okanagan highlands, I’m one of the few that can claim to have grown up in their ancestral homelands. One of the even fewer indigenous people who can claim so. What with forced removal, reservations, colonization, globalization and the ease of growing up and moving away these days. But I grew up where my mother grew up and where my ancestors were always at least a seasonal presence before that. Way before that. Way before the first European ever even dreamt of putting foot on our shores.
Growing up this way, there was a sense of security and rootedness that I took for granted, as all children take the blessings they were born into for granted. I was restless. Eager to see more of the world. I went to college only two hours away but I got married shortly after graduation and moved halfway across the States. I moved again to Southwest and then to Spain.
All of this moving and seeing the world was fantastic for my wandering soul. I felt free and secure in new environments, rather than scared or uncertain.
After a few years, I divorced my first husband and ran away to Costa Rica to grieve in private and to reclaim my independence. I met a redhead with a wild look in his eye and enjoyed a brief (less than 24 hours) flirtation with him. We exchanged email addresses and a promise to let him know if I was ever back in the country. Two years went by. On another whim, I decided to go back to Costa Rica as a graduation gift to myself for finishing grad school. I emailed the redhead.
For the first time I realized that my soul needed to catch up with my body.
Ten months later I was pregnant with our first child. A year later, we broke ground on our house. Another 10 months later and I was pregnant with our second child.
In July of 2014, I sat on the gorgeous bed that my wild redhead had made with his own hands, trying to nurse our newborn second son. My body was unrecognizable to me after a second pregnancy, a second 60-pound weight gain, and a second emergency c-section. I lived on top of a cold mountain in a tropical country in a beautiful farmhouse on a beautiful farm, but it too was all unrecognizable.
I was panicking.
After 15 years of traveling and wandering the world and of calling 15 different places “home,” I felt desperate to go capital-H Home. To my homelands. But it wasn’t really homesickness. It wasn’t that I was unhappy in Costa Rica or with the redhead (I wasn’t and I’m not).
It was a primal need to see pine trees.
It was a soul need to hear the mountains whisper the same blessings they had whispered to Okanagan mothers and their babies for eons. To see the evergreen centurions standing watch on top of the ridge and to dedicate my sons into their care.
And for the first time, I realized that my soul needed to catch up with my body. My physical body was happy to wander and to put down roots half a world away from it’s homelands. But my soul had yet to anchor into this new earth. I knew I needed room to explore the spiritual wisdom of this new land while still honoring and, more importantly, remembering, the old land.
So I did the only thing I know how to do when it comes to the soul. I did the only thing I could do that let me be in both places at once: I journaled.
And now the same magical journaling process that I developed for myself, can be adapted for your own spiritual nourishment as well.
If you’re in unfamiliar territory, whether it’s motherhood, a new country, a new career or a new stage in life, DIVINA can help tether your soul to your roots while giving you the freedom to explore new horizons.
DIVINA gives you daily space and accountability to record the musings, insights and guidance from your subconscious. Dreams, intuition, synchronicity, divinations, your menstrual or lunar cycle, gratitude, signs, omens, emotions and reflections all have their place in this journal. Over time, you’ll build a compendium of insight that can be invaluable in determining just how the Divine is communicating to you and what your next move should be.
But hurry. It’s only available for a limited time.
Neptune in Pisces until 2027 is THE time to develop your dream practice, and now this fantastic book is out! I love mine! — Mystic Medusa
I love this journal more than cake. — Little Fox Tarot
DIVINA blew the doors off of my 2016– it saved so much of my sanity! — Keva, USA
Happy Holy Days,
WHEN YOU THINK ABOUT the Earth Goddess, you probably think of bunny rabbits, spring fever, green meadows and abundant fertility. While yes, Spring is lovely, feminine and indeed fertile time of the year, Autumn belongs just as much to the Earth Goddess and if you know where to look, you’ll see she’s been here all along.
One of the very best teachers I ever had was my second grade teacher, Mrs. Fletcher. We are still in touch today, nearly 30 years later, and when my first son was born she gave him his very first book. I love this woman. And now, when I look back at our year together when I was just 7-years old, I suspect she might be a little witchy. Which, of course, makes me love her even more.
Viola Swamp– Just look at those leggings!
Mrs. Fletcher taught us how to bake homemade bread. And while the bread was baking in the school’s kitchen, she taught us how to make homemade butter. And boy, did she know how to teach us how to celebrate the seasons. She wrote letters to each of us under the guise of elves who were looking for four-leafed clovers around the start of Spring. The elves were supposedly living in the ceiling above our classroom and each student had a different elf assigned to them as a pen pal for a week. We were encouraged to get outside and look for four leaf cloves to help the elves out. Just before Halloween she read Miss Nelson is Missing! And the next day came to school dressed as Ms. Viola Swamp and stayed in character the entire day! I’m seriously tearing up thinking about this woman and her magic as a teacher.
Mrs. Fletcher read the entire Little House on the Prairie books to us (that’s probably where the homemade bread and butter lesson came in) and then she took all 20+ of us to her house for an overnight field trip. We roasted marshmallows on the wood stove, we looked for fossils on her hillside and watched her husband milk the cows in the morning. Something each and every one of us remembers, it was even brought up at our 10-year high school reunion in 2010, is that that overnight slumber party was the first and only time we ever saw Mrs. Fletcher with her hair down. To this day, she still wears her hair in her signature bun, but on that night in 1987, her hair was down. It was impossibly long, past her waist, and she was wearing an old fashioned long white nightgown. She was beautiful. Magical. And although we knew we were completely loved by her (and we loved her in return), she was also still Mysterious. She was, and remains, my kind of woman.
I want you to understand that our ancestors are not just our blood. Our ancestors are people who were influential in our lives. Our ancestors are mentors and teachers we admire and emulate, even if we never met them in life or in person. Mrs. Fletcher is most definitely my ancestor and I am one lucky woman to be able to say so.
Pomona, Roman Goddess of orchards and one of many goddesses whom we can thank for the tradition of bobbing for apples
Bobbing for Apples and the Goddess
I tell you all of this because I cannot think of Autumn without thinking of Mrs. Fletcher. Blame it on my impressionable age when she was my second grade teacher, or blame it on her extraordinary teaching methods. It’s probably a bit of both. Anyhow, that Autumn in 1989 she took us on a field trip to an apple orchard and later she cut an apple in half, around the middle, and showed us that when you cut an apple like that, it made a star. This blew my mind and only proved to me that she was magic.
Today, I invite you to cut an apple in half, around the middle, and see the pentacle for yourself. The pentacle is an ancient symbol of Earth, which is still represent in suit of pentacles in tarot, and is a powerful sign of protection. It is also the sacred symbol of the Celtic death goddess, Morgan, and many others, I’m sure. The apple is also a an ancient symbol of, and gift from, the Goddess. Cultures all over the world are ripe with stories about goddesses and apples. Apples of life, apples of death. Although the Bible only mentions that Eve gave Adam a “fruit” we all know it was an apple. Why? How do we know that?
Because this wisdom is in our bones.
The Thinning of the Veil and Divination
Because the veil between the worlds is thinner now, it is thought to be an ideal time to do divination. You are closer to your ancestors, and they to you, and so it’s thought that any divination you will do around this time of year will be more accurate.
All of the traditions we have discussed this week: Halloween, Day of the Dead, Samhain, All Soul’s Day, were/are a way to honor the season of death while hoping for (and asking for) a return of the season of life. Remember, it’s only in very recent human history that surviving the winter is all but guaranteed. Even in the time of our grandmothers, and certainly our great-grandmothers, winter was a time of uncertainty. The only certainty was that some of the people with whom you were feasting and celebrating the harvest, would be dead before spring. Including yourself. Illness. Cold. Starvation. Exposure. It was coming. So dance. Eat up. Honor your ancestors because you might be seeing them soon (among other reasons), revel and keep your eyes and spirits on the promises of Spring.
One of the best things to look forward to in spring, besides the return of warm weather and abundant food, was fertility. We as humans are obsessed with becoming ancestors, while we are conscious of it or not. So much of the divination that took place in Autumn centered around predicting marriages and other fertility-based endeavours for the Spring.
There is a tradition on Halloween to bob for apples. You fill a large bucket with water, fill it with apples (which bob, or float, on the water) and participants take turns trying to grab an apple with only their mouths– hands are tied behind their backs. It’s easier said than done. An alternative on this game involves hanging apples from various lengths of string and trying to bite into the swinging apple with your hands tied behind your back. Today, the first person to bite into an apple wins. However, historically, the apples would be discreetly marked by every unmarried and eligible young woman. Unmarried and eligible men would bob for the apples and the apple they picked foretold a possible marriage, to the girl who marked the apple, in the spring. Alternatively, young folk would bob an apple and then carefully peel it in one long strand and then throw the apple peel over their shoulders. The fallen apple peel would then be examined to see what letter or letters it was in the shape of and possible love matches would be narrowed down according to the first letter of their names and the letter(s) the apple peels were in the shape of. Girls would also cut an apple in half, to reveal the pentacle, and then sleep with it under their pillow and expect to dream about their future husband.
Tomorrow, finally find out what’s up with black cats, witches and other symbols of the Dark Goddess.
Have fun storming the castle!
YESTERDAY WE TALKED ABOUT the Celtic pagan and Druidic origins of Halloween and the day before that I resurrected an old post on Dreaming with the Dead: Contacting Departed Loved Ones Through Dreams.
Today, I’d like to talk about Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead. It is a Latin (Mexico, Portugal, Spain, Italy) holiday that has become very visible and popular with non-latinos over the last few years.
Day of the Dead is actually celebrated on November 2 and Day of the Little Angels (Dia de los Angelitos) is celebrated on November 1. It is believed that the gates of heaven open up at sunset on October 31 and all of the spirits of children who have died come back to be close to their family until sunset on November 1. At sunset on November 1, the children spirits go back to heaven and the adult spirits come to hang out until sunset on November 2. Yes, this time halfway between the vernal equinox and the winter solstice is believed to be a sacred time when death is so close to life to cultures all over the world. In the case of Latin America, however, ancient Aztecs and other pre-Columbian civilizations used to honor their dead for what today would be considered the entire month of August (obviously, the ancients of the Americas did not know what “August” was). The Spanish conquistadors came in and merged some of their own rituals for honoring the dead with the indigenous rituals of Latin America and put it all on the official Catholic holiday of All Saint’s Day. It was a sort of “All conquered nations will now move their ancestor worship to these two days so that we can monitor and control it . . . or else,” move.
Now, with Day of the Dead, instead of trying to trick or scare goblins, demons and ghosts away, participants instead spend many weeks building ofrendas, or altars with offerings, to their ancestors and departed loved ones. They also spent/spend a lot of time and money creating and curating sweet treats, sweet breads, sodas, water, alcohol and other favorites to put on the altars to offer their departed loved ones. All of this is done in bright colors and in good spirits because a celebration of death is also a celebration of life. All of the sweets and photos and bright colors on the ofrendas are meant to beckon ancestors/departed loved ones to return for a day. The food and beverages are needed by the spirits to give them the strength (and motivation) to travel and hang out for a bit– it’s not easy to be a spirit in a physical plane. On November 2, families will often meet in cemeteries to have a picnic and clean or wash gravestones as well.
How to Celebrate Day of the Dead Without Being an Asshole
Yet it’s the bright, yet macabre, decor, the fun and the themed sweets that have caught the attention of the masses. In the last several years it has become popular to dress as a sugar skull or Catrina for Halloween. It’s become common to have Day of the Dead themed parties and decor. I’m not Latina but I will remind you that the Day of the Dead is sacred. While I don’t see anything wrong with thoughtfully and respectfully engaging in your own Day of the Dead-inspired rituals, I would caution you against dressing up as a sugar skull or a Catrina for Halloween and then getting shit faced. That’s not exactly respectful and I sure as hell don’t want to piss off any spirits . . . or living communities.
If you appreciate the aesthetic of Day of the Dead, then by all means, buy some paraphernalia and then take the time and effort to actually use it the way it is intended: create an altar with photos and memorabilia from your departed loved ones. Add sugar skulls, sweet bread, Catrina dolls and bright colors. Add candles and marigolds. Express gratitude, say prayers and invite your loved ones to return for a night. Go to the cemetery, alone or with as many family members as you can muster, and clean up the gravesites of your ancestors. Take a picnic and set aside the first serving of food for your ancestors. (DON’T eat the offered food later. When you are done, ask a tree for permission to leave the food at its base. If you feel the food is appropriate to leave as an offering to the little critters of the area, you could do that. Or throw it away. But don’t eat it. It’s energetically dead and kind of gross.)
Happy ancestors and family spirits are believed to bring good luck and blessings for the next year– and I believe it! No spirit is as interested in your well-being and quality of life as an ancestor spirit is. No spirit can help or protect you like an ancestor spirit. The least you can do is throw a party for them one night. And if you have kids, get them to participate! I can only imagine what my life would be like, what my spiritual life would look like, if I had grown up in a culture where ghosts were welcomed and death was celebrated with all of the colors, indulgences and revelry of life.
Tomorrow we’ll take a closer look at some of the symbols and traditions of this time of year, you won’t want to miss it!
P.S. I’ve recently enjoyed resurrecting old newspaper articles I wrote when I was a young reporter in Iowa and Illinois (2005-2006). I guess I’ve always had a thing for ancestors and the dead.
About Day of the Dead:
Families Honor the Dead
Day of the Dead Keeps Memories Alive
Celebrating the Dead: [Museum] sets Altars on Display for Annual Day of the Dead Ceremony
Honoring the Present and Honoring the Dead:
How to Memorialize Your Pets (don’t forget to include them in your Day of the Dead celebrations!)
He Enjoys Spending a Day with His Son
It’s the last week of October, you know what that means: Happy Halloween!
I personally love uncovering the origins of everyday or commonplace rituals and traditions and Halloween is a particular favorite of mine because it also has its origins in honoring the dead and the ancestors, which (witch?), if you’ve looked around my website lately, is kind of my jam.
In the case of Halloween, we actually have to talk about the history of Samhain (Sow-en) and All Saint’s Day, which are both predecessors to Halloween as we know it today.
Samhain is an ancient Celtic/British/Druidic feast day that marked the turn of harvest and the day when summer met winter, or life met death. Taking place from sunset October 31 to sunset November 1, or there abouts, Samhain is almost exactly halfway between the vernal equinox and the winter solstice. As the life of summer gives over to the death of winter, it is believed that the veil between the worlds was/is thinner as well: just as the death of the land is near, the dead are near. This also makes it easier to communicate with the dead, with fairies and with other spirits at this time of year. As such, feasts were held in which departed loved ones were encouraged to attend (similar to Mexico’s Day of the Dead, which we will discuss later this week), rituals and divination for the new year ahead were also performed at this time– in fact, many scholars believe that Samhain may have actually been the ancient Celtic New Year.
Children would dress up as ghosts or as the dead and go door-to-door, reciting versus or poetry in exchange for food, wine and other supplies to get through the winter– this was called “guising,” does it sound familiar? The fun and merriment had many purposes: to drive away ghouls and other negative Nancy’s rising from the dead, to honor the dying Sun god, to laugh in the face of the approaching cold winter and it’s threat of scarcity (hence, giving treats away), and to likewise boost morale before the cold scarcity of winter hit (which also sounds like another Fall holiday: Thanksgiving.)
In the 8th century, Pope Gregory III tried to distract the pagan Celtics from their traditions by naming November 1 All Saints Day, or a day to celebrate, wait for it. . . all saints. Known and unknown. The new name was accepted but many of the traditional practices were kept up.
Fast forward another couple of centuries and we have the pilgrims, actually Puritans, trying to conquer The New World in the name of God and all of the debauchery and revelry of All Saint’s Day was forgotten in what is now The United States . . . but oh what a sweet comeback it made (see what I did there?).
Okay, so All Saint’s Day was actually originally called All Hallowed’s Day, which is medieval speak for “the day for all who are holy.” So if November 1 was All Hallowed’s Day, that made October 31 (and remember, Samhain spans from sunset to sunset October 31- November 1) . . . All Hallowed’s Eve. Which eventually was shortened to Halloween.
Today’s multi-billion dollar holiday actually owes it’s legacy to the Irish potato famine of the 1800’s. Thousands of Irish immigrants landed in the U.S. to escape the famine and they brought their traditions and folklore with them. (On that note, tell me you have read Neil Gaiman’s American Gods? Do it!.)
Often limited in resources in their new adopted land, or wary of causing a scene, or living in crowded city conditions, the Irish immigrants whittled down their traditional Samhain bonfires and instead put candles in carved pumpkins and other vegetables. The jack o’lantern was born. Its purpose? To sit on your doorstep and scare away any evil spirits that are roaming on All Hallow’s Eve– or the night of Samhain. The glow of the orange pumpkin in the dark of night is also, quite obviously, how Halloween got her signature orange and black colors.
Instead of the whole community dressing up as demons and ghosts and the dead, it became a primary activity for children, who instead of going door-to-door “guising” for food, wine and even coins in exchange for a song, a poem or a lyric, now go door-to-door singing one song: “trick-or-treat!”
So. That’s how Halloween got it’s start. Don’t forget to take a moment next Monday, to honor the time when life meets death and summer meets winter. Eat a little something extra indulgent to laugh in the face of winter. Later this week we will also be talking about ways to honor your ancestors and/or to work with the thinning of the veil at this time of year. Stay tuned!
Trick or Treat!