Samhain Celebrations – Feasting and Communing with the Ancestors

I’ve been busy this last week updating and sending off the Samhain module which is part of the Wise Woman Training Course.  danusirishherbgarden.com/wise-woman-training/  I am delighted that so many are engaging with this course which goes around the Wheel of the Year.  I have always enjoyed Samhain.  As a child the possibility of magic and mystery and the potential opportunity to see a ghost made me look forward to Hallowe’en – as I knew it then.  Now, as an adult my understanding has changed and I celebrate Samhain, the Celtic New Year.  Samhain is SO much more than the nonsensical Hollywood version which is really, just another attempt to denigrate women – “evil witches and hags”; whilst at the same time trying to separate us from Nature and from our Dead.  The terrible fear around death at this moment, all over the western world, is because we have lost our connection to the Dead and we have forgotten that the soul is immortal.  To many people today, death seems to be THE END, something to fear.  Whereas, if we celebrate Samhain instead of Hallowe’en,  (with all its commercial, nasty plastic and diabetes-inducing sweets),  we feel comforted to know that those we loved are still with us even if they are elsewhere.  We can sense, through our intentional celebrations that they are close by.

The traditional celebrations include saving a place at the table for the Ancestors to join in the main meal.  I set an extra place and put out food as if a corporeal person was there and then after the meal I offer that plate to the Nature Spirits.  The meal is conducted in silence so that if our ancestors want to speak to us, we are more able to hear them.  It is also traditional to leave whiskey and tobacco at the fireside should the Ancestors want to sit by the fire once we are in bed.  These little acts give us the chance to do something again for our loved ones and to let them know that they are alive in our hearts and minds.  Perhaps if we sit by the fire quietly we will sense their presence and feel comforted.

This year, as always, I will create an altar that celebrates Samhain.  This altar will represent the New Year, the Ancestors and Seed Fall . ( danusirishherbgarden.com/2017/11/Have a look at this older blog post) I will include photographs of my Ancestors and perhaps some items of sentimental value that connect me to them.  In the evening, with the beginning of the new day, we will begin our feast.  We often start with a root vegetable soup – carrots, parsnips, turnip, onions and potato.  The sweetness of the root vegetables makes us feel a little brighter now that the nights are getting dark earlier.  The feast always includes Colcannon, one of my favourite dishes and we have so much kale growing it would be a shame not to use it.

 

This year I have made something for the first time, which I will be putting on my Colcannon and my veggie sausages – Hawthorn Berry Ketchup.  

This has been made from the last of the harvest.  Going out to collect or forage the last of the summer and autumn fruits reminds us again that life is cyclical and that there is life in death.

That actually, there nothing to fear.  I added some late Blackberries to my ketchup and here is how I made it.

I rinsed the fruit and removed the stalks from the Hawthorn berries with a fork

I then placed all the berries into a pan with some water and Apple Cider Vinegar – organic of course  –  brought to the boil and simmered for half an hour or so until the berries had split.

The next step was to strain the liquid through a sieve into a clean pan, pressing the fruit through too.  Quite a laborious job.

I then added some sugar and spices to the mixture, brought it back to the boil and simmered until it had thickened.  Then I poured it into a sterilised bottle and labelled it.

 

I made up my recipe by amalgamating about three others so here it is – adjust it as you will.

1lb/500g Hawthorn berries and some Blackberries, 300ml ACV, 300ml water, 1 small onion finely chopped, 175g (-250g) of brown sugar, (I used about 200g) Salt, Fresh Black Pepper and spices – I used Chilli Flakes, Cumin, Coriander seeds crushed, and pinches of Sage, Thyme and Rosemary.  Herbs that I grow myself in my garden and that called to be a part of this.

At the feast, we will also enjoy an Apple Pie and a traditional cake –  the fruit Breac.

The fruits and the vegetables  of the Samhain Feast connect us with the harvests and lead us to remember how much abundance we receive from Mother Earth. Samhain is also known as Seed Fall as so many plants are going to seed with the promise of more abundance to come later in this New Year.  As the winter progresses we can feel nourished by Mother Earth and feel safe to go within, to assess how we did this last year and to make our plans and set our goals for the coming year.  As there is little to be done out on the land, we can now take the time to commune with our ancestors and to heed their wisdom.  The Grandmothers and Wise Woman of our past communities marked the seasons, acknowledged Mother Earth  and shared the wisdom of the Ancestors.  This female power has scared the patriarchy for centuries if not millenia and thus those wise women and grandmothers have been reduced to “wicked witches” and hags who consort with hobgoblins and demons.  This is a ploy to make us fear the dark,the Ancestors and Mother Earth.  We are told to stay in and shut the doors when we should be out dancing under the moonlight!  Here in Connemara  it is very stormy – you can feel all that elemental energy!!  It is so rejuvenating and awakens our wild, natural selves.  Will you go out and dance under this Samhain Full Moon?

 

 

 

Danu’s Irish Herb Garden – Winter is Coming

Look at the snow on the mountains!  Last week, before Samhain, there was a hint of what might be to come, in terms of winter weather, so I am busy preparing  cold and cough remedies from the herbs I have harvested this year.

Coltsfoot

Coltsfoot leaf is one I always make sure to have enough of because it is one of the best respiratory herbs there is.  He, Coltsfoot,  is a vital part of the herbal formula I make for my husband to relieve his asthma as Coltsfoot reduces spasm, soothes mucous membranes and is an excellent expectorant.  I refer to herbs as he or she, depending on whether their energy seems to be feminine or masculine to me.   They are after all, sentient beings, wise beings and I feel dis-respectful referring to them as “it”.  As Robin Wall Kimmerer  argues, if we objectify a plant as an “it”, then that plant (or tree or animal) can be easily disposed of, destroyed or harmed.  If we see all living things as beings, as he or she, then we are less likely to abuse them.    Plants can be he or she, they don’t necessarily have a fixed gender.  For me Coltsfoot is male.

Elder on the other hand is female – for me.  She provides us with flowers for upper respiratory problems – colds in the head for example – and berries for the lower respiratory problems in the lungs.  I have made Elder Flower tea and Elder Berry tincture to restore health if we should be afflicted with any winter sniffles and coughs.

Elder Flower

Plantain is another herb that grows wild here in Connemara and young plants are still popping up through the gravel.  She is another expectorant herb, relieving the lungs of thick phlegm and soothing hard coughs.

Plantain

If you haven’t already prepared your winter apothecary and you don’t feel like going out foraging in the cold, wet weather, take a look along your kitchen shelves.  Almost all of our culinary herbs have volatile oils which are anti-microbial, anti-viral and/or anti-biotic.  Thyme is my particular favourite and go-to herb at the first sneeze or even before.  I find it suits me and mine more effectively than Echinacea.  This is, I think, because it grows right here in my garden.  As with food, the shorter distance from the ground to the table the better.

Thyme

I grow lots of Thyme and I also grow Rosemary and Sage.  Sage is especially beneficial for sore throats.  If you have these herbs in your kitchen and you feel that something is coming on you, brew up a cup of tea.  I promise that there is nothing more soothing and nurturing than a cup of Thyme tea when you feel that you are coming down with something.

If you visit my You Tube Channel, Danu’s Irish Herb Garden, you will see me making Garlic Oil and you will find out how that can be used to prevent colds and ‘flu.  My next video will be another winter health remedy so please feel free to subscribe so that you don’t miss it.

St. John’s Wort

St. John’s Wort is another valuable herb to consider during the winter.  Like the other herbs so far mentioned, he is anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory and anti-viral.  He can also relieve aches and pains and is a great ally for those who suffer from S.A.D (seasonal affective disorder) bringing light and hope during the dark days of winter.  I make a tincture and an oil, which is great for a lovely massage after working out doors.

I am hosting a workshop – Plant Wisdom for Winter Well-being – on 24 November.  Have a look at the Workshops page for more details.

If you have a favourite herbal remedy please let me know by using the comments box below.

Blessings of good health to all!

An Bhean Feasa – Herbs, Herbs and Herb Walk

Herbs such as this beautiful Chamomile are almost finished for the year.  I noticed one or two flower heads still shining away in the herb garden but unfortunately, some of my Chamomile plants were burned badly by the salt wind after Storm Ali.

This Calendula is more fortunate, being in the poly tunnel and may flower all winter – it has in the past.  What I mean by that is that new flowers will grow as each flower head dies off and makes seed.  Calendula is very good at self seeding so it seems as if it grows all the time.  Just as well as now that I am a Mamo, or grandmother, I can use the flowers to make a lovely, gentle nappy cream, or bum balm for my grandson.

I dried lots of herbs throughout the summer and many are still in their paper bags waiting to be processed into teas, soaps, bath time products and shampoos as well as being prepared for use in the kitchen.

 

Some are still hanging in the kitchen, (and some seeds were hung up today) and others, picked recently, are still on drying racks.

I am actually feeling a little overwhelmed because of the sheer abundance of herbs I have to work with.  Not really a complaint though because it is surprising how quickly they go. Once they are processed there will be more room in the house.  I will be so glad when my herb shed is completed.  I am enjoying calling it the HERb Shed!!

Some of the herbs I grow are used in incense, smudge sticks or amulets and aid the metaphysical body, improve spiritual energy and improve sleep and dreaming.  My favourite herbs for energy work are Mugwort or Artemesia and Vervain, which is one of the favourite herbs of the druids bringing five blessings with it. The five blessings are  Love, Peace, Health, Wealth and Wisdom. In Ireland Vervain is used in place of White Sage which is a plant associated with the Native Americans and has been so over-exploited that it is danger of disappearing.  It makes much more sense for me to use an indigenous plant that I can grow myself and that has connections back to the ancient past of Ireland.

Vervain of course, can also be used in magical rites – keep it in mind with Samhain just around the corner.

I have been invited to lead a Herb Walk on Sunday 14th October during the Connemara Green Festival which is held in Letterfrack.  There are not many flowering herbs around at the moment but it will still be a pleasure to point out plants that are actually healing herbs, that people would have always viewed as weeds.  If you should happen to be in Connemara, check out the Green Festival and  come along on the herb walk – tea and biscuits afterwards!

Samhain – Summer’s End, Seed Fall

 

Happy Samhain Greetings! 

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It is Summer’s End, the leaves have fallen from some of the trees and they are looking stark and bare.  Other trees are changing their colours and brightening up the bleak landscape, adding yellows and oranges to the palette.

 

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One of the many Hawthorn trees on my road reveals its beautiful feminine wind-shaped glory after leaf fall.

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All around me, here in Connemara, is evidence of Summer’s End.  The bracken has turned brown and the heather has lost all colour.

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Fruit has come and gone.  The Rowan berries were the first to arrive and depart but a Cotoneaster has lots of berries to offer the birds as does a Guelder Rose.

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Our apples are long since eaten but there are still blackberries in the hedgerows.  According to legend they cannot be eaten now because the devil would have spat on them on Samhain Eve.  Small animals will make use of them I hope.

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I love the way the blackberry leaves turn pink adding another colour to the Autumn palette here in Connemara.  It is welcome as we do not have many trees.

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At Samhain we are in the north west of the wheel, a place or time of patterns and spirals. It is the Celtic New Year so it is a good time to meditate on what we have harvested in the past year.  What are the results of our actions?  What negative patterns have we repeated or become trapped in?

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Can we spiral into a better place for the coming year?  Samhain is also known as seed fall and so, metaphorically, we can think about which “seeds” we want to fall and grow for ourselves in the coming year.  Do we want to harvest peace and compassion, tolerance and forgiveness?  Do we want things to continue as they are, a world gone crazy and people totally disconnected from  our Mother Earth?

Here in Connemara I can see the turning of the Wheel of the Year by observing the changes in the hedgerows, in the plant life; from watching the birds prepare for migration, by enjoying the colours and fruits of Autumn. There is an atmosphere of change, a shifting. The sea and sky seem to merge in a different way emphasising that change is coming.  All of these observations and feelings give a sense of peace, a knowing that life continues to spiral on and so there is an opportunity to reconnect.

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According to Celtic belief, a place or time on the cusp of another is a potent and powerful opportunity for change.  The veil between worlds is thin and we can cross to meet with our ancestors and they can come to meet with us.  In times gone by it was traditional to set an extra place at the table to welcome to the Samhain feast, the loved ones who had passed over.  It is also a time of magic because at this cusp we can meet with the spirits of plants and of the Earth.  It is my belief that these spirits are there, like angels, waiting for us to sense them and ask for their guidance.

For me, the goddess who resides in the north west on the Wheel of the Year, is The Morrigan.  She is thought to be a goddess of death and we can see life dying or hibernating, ( a temporary death), in preparation for the winter cold.  She is also a goddess of fertility and the land which to me, is synonomous with the seeds lying in the ground during the cold winter, ready to germinate in spring.

As a goddess of the battlefield, she did not fight but cleared the battlefield of the dead. Her song after a battle was,

“Peace mounts to the heavens, The heavens descend to earth,                                                          Earth lies under the heavens, Everyone is strong…..”

Above all, she is about change and clearing up the “battlefield” of life.  She can clear away our mess and our fear, our mistakes and foolishness and make all fresh and clean again.  The Morrigan is not to be feared, she is to be welcomed with much respect.

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Call on The Morrigan to clear your life of whatever no longer serves you and look forward, with bright blessings to a New Year with the changes you want to see.

Leave a comment about how you connect to Mother Earth at Samhain.

 

If you would like to know more about our Celtic Goddesses and the Wheel of the Year, sign up for the Wise Woman Training.