The owls returned this morning. Two owls bantering back and forth outside our bedroom window in the early morning hours. If you know me quite well, or if you have read my memoir (The Making of a Medicine Woman; the Memoirs of Bird Woman), then you know that that is quite fateful for us. My spirit animals only arrive when there is a profound shift in our life occurring or about to occur. Our moves, my shop closing, and many other events were heralded by my guardian messenger. I smiled and pulled the covers up closer as my half feral kitten licked my hair as a sign of love. I felt in that moment profoundly grateful.
It is Samhain.
Pronounced sow-wen, Samhain is the last agricultural holiday of the year. Tomorrow is New Year in the old ways. Samhain is the third harvest festival and one that is near and dear to many souls across many continents over many thousands of years. From those celebrating Day of the Dead to those Scottish farmers lighting candles in their cottages, this time of year is bittersweet and filled with love and great memories.
The sky grows dark earlier now and the harvest is in. The air grows colder and the fireplace is lit. The veil is quite thin and the things you think are coincidental are not. Our ancestors, our beloveds, our friends and family that crossed over this year make their way visiting. Cupboard doors creak and electronics have a mind of their own. But it is not a scary time. It is a time of comfort and remembrance, and most of all, gratitude.
For those lives that have touched us over the years and the people and animals that walk our journey with us for a time, we are grateful. So tonight, put out a few chairs around the fire for the weary souls and light a candle in the west window so they can find their way. Know that in your life, you are not alone. There are spirits and messengers and an entire universe opening and closing doors, sending hope, arranging meetings, and helping you maneuver this lovely path called life. So put out some old photographs, light a few candles, pour a glass of wine, take a deep breath, and know that all is well.
My daughter, Shyanne, is the queen of Halloween. She drives an old, lifted Jeep Cherokee with a life sized skeleton named Victor in the front seat all year. When Shyanne invited me to her Halloween day with my other daughter and granddaughter, I didn’t hesitate (never turn down opportunities to be with loved ones). I hopped in the car with my witch hat and headed to the eastern plains.
Now there is nothing quite like the sound of a five year old’s bent-over, belly laugh. And that is what I was met with. “You look like a unicorn!” Maryjane wailed, a twinkle in her eye. “I am a witch!” I declared. “Looks like a unicorn to me.”
There were crafts laid out, and snacks galore, spooky music met me when I entered through the door. I got straight to work, for this Grammie has a role. I make the best Halloween hamburgers (veggie burgers) this side of the veil. I sneaked the bits of cheese from cutting out eyes and mouths to my scary granddog.
Witch’s brew was put on, just like when the children were small. Ah, it does not seem like it was that long ago at all. A jug of apple juice or cider, a handful of brown sugar, a good sprinkling of pumpkin pie spice and let that begin to simmer then serve.
Shyanne put on a spread of easy treats, crackers and chips and cookies. We decorated warm sugar cookies with edible watercolors and sprinkles.
We made puppets out of tongue depressors glued to construction paper cutouts that we glued googly eyes to. Shyanne had carefully pre-cut Frankenstein heads, pumpkins, bats, and ghosts out. We painted and glued and sprinkled our way into the Halloween spirit. I did notice that is hard to get into the spirit when no children are present. This was a welcome party for me.
“The neighbors are going to wonder what is going on,” Emily said, as Maryjane and I danced to Disney songs and howled loudly like werewolves.
Pumpkins were carved, and we danced, and sang. Halloween parties can be impromptu and easy. For any age, for us older children regress rather quickly in the sight of sugar cookies and glue sticks. I hope you find a few ideas to incorporate into your own spooky Halloween day!
I walked to the mailbox and found inside a letter. It was from my dear friend, Pat, who sent us a Halloween greeting. I love her poems and wanted to share it with you!
It’s Halloween! It’s Halloween!
The moon is full and bright
and we shall see what can’t be seen
on any other night.
Skeletons and ghosts and ghouls
Grinning goblins fighting duels
Werewolves rising from their tombs
Witches on their magic brooms.
In masks and gowns
We haunt the streets
and knock on doors
for trick or treats.
Tonight we are
the King and Queen
for oh tonight
Tonight we will light a fire in the wood stove and add a few chairs for wandering souls. Make a warm meal and pour a pumpkin beer. We will fill a bowl with chocolates for the neighborhood ghouls. And enjoy Halloween in our new home.
Wishing you all a fun filled Halloween, a sweet Samhain, and a happy New Year.
Long before the church said it was evil and before Hollywood and candy companies made a fortune, a simple holiday took place on October 31st. The third and final harvest festival and the eve of the new year called Samhain (pronounced Sow-en).
The hard work of farming, hunting, and filling the larder was through as the winds changed, the sun went to bed earlier and earlier, and dark settled upon the land. It was an inevitable time for introspection, remembering those that had passed on throughout the year, and reminiscing around the table with mead and friends. A million miles from the Celtic homes, the Day of the Dead was being celebrated in Mexico.
There was a time when everyone was attuned to the spiritual energies around us. It was nothing weird or scary, it just was. October 31st is when the veil between the worlds is thinnest. Our deceased loved ones can always hear us but at this time of year, sometimes, they can reach us and they can certainly hear us better.
For children, sugar rushes and the perfect costume steal the holiday. I wanted Maryjane to know what the real holiday was all about. I simplified the ceremony so that my four year old granddaughter could understand. Of course children innately know these things. I had her draw pictures of the people or animals she wanted to talk to. She wrote adorable letters instead. One to Anakan the snake, one to Grandma Kat, and one to Grant, her mom’s boyfriend’s brother who died a few years ago in a car accident.
We decorated the alter (the wood stove) with a beautiful nest we had found, a feather, and a butterfly that has passed away on my porch. Her letters and a bell were really all we needed.
She chose a candle and so did I. I chose pink for love and she did the same. We thought of our people that we loved and missed (for me; Nancy, Kat, Great-Grandma, my Uncles…) and lit the candles. We looked at pictures. She sat in her little chair and read the letters to them and listened.
By incorporating the original spiritual belief systems and the nature based holidays, children learn connection to all things and great empathy. Children naturally understand. Giving them a basis to work with as they get older to celebrate and remember will help them create their own traditions. It helps children learn to deal with grief and I know Kat, Anikan, and Grant enjoyed hearing that little voice.
The tiny palm-sized kitten that we brought home not even a day after being born is doing wonderful. He is three months old now, feisty as can be, and ridiculously cuddly. We dropper fed him every two hours and he was a little slower to figure out how to eat, drink out of a saucer, or to use litter, but the other cats have different roles in his care and he’s figuring it all out. The two younger have become his playmates, and the older two are there to cuddle him and smack him if he starts getting out of hand. Merlin is very social after traipsing around everywhere in my shirt for six weeks. These days he is just home with the other cats keeping it safe and happy.
It’s almost Halloween. At the shelter that I worked at many moons ago we did not adopt out black cats during the month of October for their own safety. In both shelters I worked at, black cats were adopted much less than other colors. Many people are still wary of black cats.
All cats throughout history have been known to be powerful protection. I have a lot of students and clients come to my house and shop. I always watch my three cats at the shop and my five cats at home to see if I can trust someone.
The cats tell me if someone is outside as they stare in unison intently out the window. If there is a storm coming, cats will tell you. When someone broke into our car, my large black cat kept pawing me awake. When I wouldn’t budge he went in to the kitchen and disturbed dishes to make a racket then returned to my side in bed meowing and nudging me. In the middle ages cats almost became extinct. The mass killings of cats created an epidemic of infected mice and rats and the Plague ravaged the country. Cats could have saved them a lot sooner.
People can get ridiculous when they are fearful. In the 1500’s if cats were congregating in an area it was thought that they were having a meeting whilst plotting more killings of humans through their magic. Meanwhile women who were healers- herbalists and midwives and wise women- were being killed as witches. The cats that they kept for companionship (being a healer is lonely work) and to keep mice out of the dried herbs and ingredients were used to prove the woman was a witch. The color black is used for protection. So black cats and black clothing are/were common among magical folks.
But cats don’t just protect us against rats and strangers, they sense energies, spirits, and changes that we may not be attuned to. They protect against negative energies/entities. That is why they make such a fine Familiar for modern witches. Witches are probably not what you think, they are men and women who spend their lives trying to raise positivity and light in this world by lighting candles to pray for good, by setting intentions and manifesting, by helping guide others through uncertainties, and by using the traditional healing arts to make real changes. A cat will stand by while one lights candles and raises positive energy. A cat will dispel negative energy and will always be a loyal companion.
During this time of Samhain, when the veil is thinnest, you may think you hear laughter or talking from someone who has passed over. Odd happenings are common right now, and deceased grandmas and old friends are just popping by to say hello. Your cat will make sure everyone is on the up and up.
I have had a cat my entire life. From my first beloved cat of my own, Serina, who slept above the heads of my children in their cribs, her arms around their heads to keep them safe, to the wild kitten stalking my feet right now, my life is all the richer from having cats.
I am intrigued by history. Fascinated by it. I learn from it and am entertained by it and live by it. So many modernized things were not for the best, in my humble opinion. Of course with my long flowing skirts and aprons I, myself, look as if I skipped out of another time period. There is so much to be learned from the history of our people and so many lovely things that if added to our life would make it all the more sweet, meaningful, magical. Samhain is one of them.
Now I do not consider myself wiccan or pagan. If I were to put my spirituality in a box, I am Catholic. A Catholic married to a Jew. We raised our children in a Christian church and they are now oddly Atheist. One of my best friends is Catholic married to a Buddhist who used to be, along with his parents (also our dear friends) Mormon. Our family and friends are all different races and religions and in the end we are all connected to one source. I am fascinated by the similarities in religions and histories across the world.
If you are like me and had most of your family come over to America in the 1700’s you will find that you are missing customs that would have been brought over. I am a bit saddened that we have zero cultural ties left. Most of my DNA will lead back to a strong Celtic heritage mixed in with some Dutch, Yeopim and Cherokee Indian, and Black French, but what they used to celebrate has been lost. So we create our own customs.
Samhain (pronounced Saw-win) dates back long before the Christian festivities (and the Hollywood made festivities too) and was an agrarian holiday. Now that we are homesteaders we understand these holidays so much more. Homesteading has become our lifestyle, our day in day out, our entire life is marked by nature and the seasonal shifts all around us. Instead of a smart phone, the changes in the natural world around us make our schedules.
Samhain is the end of the calendar season. The beginning of rest. The livestock were humanely butchered, the pantries were full, the fields were empty and the weather kept farmers indoors more. The folks that died over the past year were now mourned. Agrarians kept so busy during the late spring and summer that once things slowed down things really started to sink in. That is the case with us as well. And if we were all honest it is not just losing folks to death that bothers us, it’s any regrets we feel too. My friends and animals are in a better place, I know this. I am heading their same direction. It is the natural cycle of things. Not a new phenomenon for things to die. But I feel bad that I didn’t return Rollie’s phone call. That I nitpicked everything with Nancy so much during our time together pursuing our Farmgirl business, that we didn’t achieve her dream of a large farm to table dinner, partially because of my attitude. I feel bad that there are two more young widows out there who lost husbands. That I didn’t hold Loretta when she was dying. That I was so frustrated with my old dog. That I chose to put to sleep (so feel as if I murdered) my beloved cat. These things start to settle in as I spend more time on the homestead with less to do. If I knew they were going to die….or that I was responsible….these things set heavy on the soul.
Samhain was a time to light the bonfires as protection from evil spirits, the veil was thin between October 31st and November 1st and you could talk to your lost loved ones and perhaps they could communicate with you as well. It was a time of contemplation and respect.
In our modern world we do not take time to contemplate anything. The crafts and chores that were done that created a methodic rhythm have been replaced with fast shortcuts, things that do it for us, and no time to actually think. If we could take some time to work out our sorrows and talk to those that left, we could free up our hearts and minds and allow more joyful living to take place.
I will spend Halloween day with Emily and Maryjane trick-or-treating at a local mall then in the evening I will light candles. I will commemorate and talk to and say goodbye to those I have lost. My animals are our roommates, farm mates here. They are my people. Their loss, even the farm animals, is just as sorrowful to me as losing an old friend. They are included in my festivities. I will set some extra plates and invite them all to dinner along with Doug (who is thankfully still with the living) and give thanks for my life and ask that my friends and animals that left say a prayer for me, forgive me, and that they be at peace. I will be thankful for the harvest, all those still here, my own life, and for the year ahead.