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?

 

 

 

Medicine and Magic in the May Garden

 

I love the month of May – the whole country becomes lush and green and seems to me to be full of magical promise. Every time I turn around there is a new plant to discover, a new flower blossoming, a new leaf just opened on a young tree.

Some people might say that it is a terrible year for weeds as the heat and the soft rain have really encouraged vigorous growth but lets not forget that many of those weeds are medicinal and magical.

Horsetail – Equisetum arvense is a wonderful urinary herb and is very beneficial to the body in other ways.  He also has many uses in the garden itself; in a compost tea, as a spray for blight and as a spray for rose fungus, so don’t get too het up about finding him in your garden.  Be grateful and put him to use – that is why he is there.  Horsetail can be used in fertility spells which is not surprising when you see how prolific Horsetail is!

Red Clover – Trifolium pratense – looks so sweet and pretty, actually she really does taste sweet.  Try the flowers in a salad.  You can also use this little herb for coughs and skin complaints as well as part of a detox formula.  As for the garden, she fixes nitrogen into the soil so all your other plants benefit from having her there.  Use Red Clover in a spell for Love, Success and Abundance.

Here is Cramp Bark – Viburnum opulus, also known as Guelder Rose, can be seen in many a hedge row and like other trees she is dressing up in her flowers.  Later in the year she will produce bright red berries.  Although she can be used for muscle tension and cramps anywhere in the body, she is in particular a herb for women.  Always take the bark from a branch or a twig and NEVER from the trunk.

Elder – Sambucus nigra – is a tree that just keeps giving!!!  She shares her bark, leaves, flowers and berries!  The flowers and berries are especially prized for relieving upper and lower respiratory problems.  Elder is said to be ” …a veritable medicine chest…” as she can help with almost every physical complaint in some way.  Not only that, she has the magic of being the Crone Tree, a wise tree with much to teach us.  She is the fierce Mother who will do away with harmful negativity and protect us from all harm.

All of the plants mentioned so far are magical,  of course, simply by being who they are and by the way they share their healing attributes with us.

Here is Marshmallow – Althaea officinalis  looking beautifully lush and green before flowering.  You can see just how soft and velvety the leaves are.  I collect the leaves once the flowers have appeared as they make a very soothing medicine for chest problems during winter.

 

This is a real magical plant. Foxglove – Digitalis purpurea – was grown from some wild seed and I have planted several plants around my garden.  I saved seed last year too and now I have about thirty or more little seedlings sitting in the green house.  I would not personally use this as a medicine although it has been used traditionally for heart complaints.  I use it to honour the faeries and the Spirits of Place, the spirits of this land that I am guardian of.  This is one of their plants and I want them to feel at home here.  I am so glad it is in flower this month as May is such a month of faery activity.  As for the magic of this plant, I use the fallen petals to make a magical summer incense with and include it in my Summer Solstice celebrations.

What list of May plants and May magic would be complete without Hawthorn?

 

Hawthorn – Cratagus oxyacantha – is so associated with the month of May that her blooms are often called May Flower and Hawthorn often represents the Maypole.  Hawthorn is a herb for the heart, helping with blood-pressure issues and reducing cholesterol as well as toning the heart muscle and the cardiovascular system.

Hawthorn is a Bealtaine plant, representing youth, fertility and conception; falling in love and starting a new generation.  I think that her association with the heart is very interesting because if there is one plant, one flower, that can help open your heart to the Beauty of Nature, then it has to be Hawthorn.

Last weekend I attended a herb conference and all of the international visitors and speakers commented on how stunning they thought the Hawthorn in the hedgerows looked.  One speaker, who had travelled all the way from the Amazon, was astounded by Hawthorn’s beauty and her message to us. They were all touched deeply by the beauty of this lovely hedgerow plant.  Don’t you think that is magic?  That one of our magical trees can affect people to such an extent?

Hawthorn is of course, a magical plant.  Here in Ireland she is a faery plant and even today people still believe that it would be unlucky to cut down or interfere with a lone Hawthorn tree.

Isn’t she graceful? Each lone Hawthorn is said to hold the spirit of a faery, one of the Sidh and they are often found at Holy Wells in Ireland.

The time is here now for us to acknowledge that plants are not only sentient beings and have a lot to teach us; they are also wiser than us.  It is easy to build relationships with plants and during this month of May, when our hearts are touched by the Beauty of Nature, go out into your garden, park, hedgerow, cemetery or any wild place and start building relationships.  Our planet, our amazing Mother needs us to do this, wants us to do this and the plants are waiting for us to do this.

Let me know how you communicate with plants and if you need a little help to get started, have a look at the Weed Handbook Volume 2.  Maybe consider the Wise Woman Training which will soon be available in digital format.

May Blessings of love and fruitfulness to everyone!

 

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.

“Plant Wisdom and The Goddess – Wise Woman Training”

One of my missions in life is to spread the word about the wisdom and healing power of plants.  I want everyone to know how beneficial plants are when we are feeling unwell or out of sorts; if we have the ‘flu or we are feeling anxious.  There is a plant remedy for every ailment and upset.

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As 80% of humanity uses plant medicine as their primary source of health care and as more Westerners return to herbal medicine, the healing power of plants is well known.  Not so many people know about the wisdom of plants.  Few know how the plants can be our allies in life and how they help us to connect on a deeply spiritual level with the Goddess, our Mother.

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The plants were Her first children and as our elders they are ready to bring us on a magical journey to remind us that we too are part of nature.

So, back to my mission….to share other aspects of plant healing.  I now feel that it is time for me to offer a course of Wise Woman training.

“Plant Wisdom and The Goddess – Wise Woman Training”

is a one year course from Samhain to Samhain during which time we will travel the Celtic Wheel of the Year meeting with our plant allies and with the Goddess in her various forms.  We will celebrate the eight fire festivals, weaving myth and reality in this world and in other worlds, rekindling a love for and a relationship with our land and with the Earth.

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We will recall our Celtic heritage through folklore, story and music, remembering how our ancestors respected the Goddess and we will come to understand that everything is alive and filled with spirit.  We will spend time in Nature here in Connemara, walking the land, wandering the sea shore and observing the plants. The land in Connemara is imbued with an unseen presence that can be felt when walking with gratitude for the Beauty of Nature.

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We will craft our various magical tools, (beginning with our Crane Bag), at each of the fire  festivals and you will learn how to journey with the Drum and with Dance.   We will practise ritual and ceremony and you will learn how to make an altar, how to work with gifts from Nature as you prepare for a Vision Quest that will take place at the end of the course.

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At every step, the plants will be with us, forging our reconnection to Mother Earth.  As we journey with the plants to the Goddess we will undergo personal transformation, remembering that Love is all there is.

If you feel that this training is calling to you, please feel free to contact me for any further information or to ask any questions that you may have.  If you know this course is for you, go to the Workshops Page where you can sign up for it.