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?

 

 

 

An Ode to Autumn

 

 

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness, Close bosom friend of the maturing sun,

 

I can still remember John Keat’s poem To Autumn even though I was in school when I last read it.  It stayed with me, I think, because Autumn has always been one of my favourite seasons. I was born on the Autumn Equinox and naturally, whenever it was my birthday it felt as if it was a new year – which it was in a personal way.  With school starting just before my birthday – a new school year, (and then I became a teacher so had the same experience through work),  Autumn has always felt exciting and rejuvenating.  The smell of Autumn is so distinctive as well and smells go deep, deep down into memory, into the oldest part of the brain.  I can remember smoke from gardens as people tidied them up and burned leaves and whatever.  The smell of the frost in the morning also added an air of anticipation.  The difference in the light,  the sense of change,  of stepping over some invisible threshold, has always piqued my imagination making me look forward to whatever is coming next.

 

This year is a BIG birthday! So big I can hardly believe I have spent so many decades on this planet.  I look back at all the years of loving Mother Earth and feel very grateful that I found my way home to her.  Growing up without a garden I never imagined that one day I would be growing trees and flowers, fruits, herbs and vegetables; that I would be saving seed and doing my best to create a little paradise, yet here I am!

The Autumn Equinox represents the second harvest, the fruit harvest, and this year in particular, I am contemplating all I have harvested in my life and what seeds I intend to sow in the years coming.  With talk of a serious recession, I am intending to sow many food seeds in 2021  because I think it is a good idea to be a little more self-sufficient.  I also plan to sow metaphorical “seeds” for the things I want to see grow in the world.

 

After all the freshness of spring and early summer with their busy-ness and thrust to action; then the heat of summer proper, there is something relaxing about Autumn.  The work is done – almost, (it’s never really done in a garden), and the sun is visibly “maturing” as the year ages.  Even though some plants are dying back, there are still the joys to be had from collecting blackberries and harvesting apples from our trees.  The last of the courgettes have just been discovered under a mass of leaves and there are still potatoes, kale, cabbage, leeks and chard to harvest as well as some herbs .  Lots of flowers have gone to seed; Foxglove, Mullein, Rose Campion for example, although Evening Primrose is still holding its own and Fuschia is still spilling its ruby-red dancing flowers. The roses are also still going strong and I have been pleasantly surprised this year by some flowers that have just emerged.  I am not sure what they are – some kind of bedding plants that were just leaves when I bought them.  I was disappointed during the summer that they had not flowered and now, suddenly, boom!! – lots of bright pinks and purples.

 

Thinking of red, there are Hawthorn berries too.  More abundance to be collected and dried for medicine.

It is during Autumn when I really feel and appreciate the abundance of Mother Nature.  I feel a sense of fulfilment looking at my jars of chutneys and relishes;  my dried herbs for medicinal teas and bottles and jars of medicines all supplied by Mother Nature.

 

There are also lots of Nasturtiums still flowering, adding their own colours to the Autumn palette.  I collect them for making Nasturtium Vinegar.

After a month of infusing, this vinegar will be ready to treat sinus problems and head colds.  It can also be used as a prophylactic as it is full of Vitamin C,  just take a spoonful each day if you are prone to head colds or blocked sinuses. Soon it will be time to make  Fire Cider Vinegar and once that happens I will know we are on our way into winter.  In the meantime, I continue with the harvest and start to make soups and tasty veggie casseroles and stews.

I really love this time of year as there is so much of everything which feeds the body and the soul.

Which season do you prefer?

 

Lovely Lughnasadh – Enjoying Abundance

Lughnasadh  is a seasonal event derived from the funerary celebrations, games of skill and  animal trading that the sun god Lugh devised to commemorate his foster mother Tailtu..  She was an ancient Earth or Mother Goddess who had decided to clear the land of rocks and boulders so that the people of ancient Ireland could grow their crops.  The hard work that ensued wore out poor Tailtu and she died of exhaustion.  Each Lughnasadh we remember Tailtu’s hard work as we enjoy the first harvest.

Here in Ireland  agricultural shows take place during August and there are  horse shows up and down the country.  Connemara is famous for the Connemara Pony Show which attracts visitors from all over the world who come to seee the finest of our regional ponies who are renowned for their intelligence and gentle manner. Many of the other types of summer festivals taking place around the country are the legacy of Lugh’s original games.

Clifden Pony Show

 

For me, this time of year is especially beautiful.  The colours of the flowers in the meadows and hedgerows are so particularly bright, they seem to be saying “..look at me, I’m here for you..” and there are lots of medicinal plants to harvest.

 

 

           Purple Loosestrife

 

Agrimony

 

So many flowers are really making their colours shine out and the air is perfumed  with the scent of both trees and flowers.

 

                                           Wild Carrot

 

I have been collecting the “weeds” from my garden and from the polytunnel and so far I have made medicine – teas and tinctures – from Meadowsweet, Nettle, Agrimony, Coltsfoot, Dandelion, Lemon Balm, Artemesia, Rosebay Willow Herb and more.  If you would like to know more about “weeds”and their healing powers, you can purchase my two books, The Weed Handbook Volume 1” and “The Weed Handbook Volume 2” from this web site.
It is such a relief, as summer draws to a close, knowing that I am well stocked up with herbal teas and tinctures, salves and lotions.  Fruit is in the freezer to bring some sweet delights during the dark days and other vegetables are being harvested and dried or blanched and frozen.  I could have had more but I have been busy with other demands lately.  However, despite those demands, I must return to my garden and finish harvesting and preparing my beds for their rest during winter.  This means hoeing and clearing and adding sea weed which will rot down and release lots of much needed minerals.
To celebrate the season of Lughnasadh it is a good thing to practice gratitude.  One thing I like to do is write down all the lovely things that  I am grateful to Mother Nature for – all those beautiful flowers and trees, warm, long, sunny days and the freedom to be able to enjoy them.  If you can break bread with friends, do it consciously with thanks.  I remember Tailtu’s great gift to us all.

Blessings of Lughnasadh to everyone.

Lughnasadh -When Paradise is a Garden

I explained on one of my earier blogs that I had grown up in the north east of England, in an industrial town, in a house like this one.

stockton house

The “garden” at the front  was paved over and I grew up yearning for plants, for the countryside and to make a connection to Nature.

Now, I am very fortunate and so grateful that I have a garden to call my own.  At this time of year, harvest time, or Lughnasadh, the garden is vibrant with colour.

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Here are a couple of apple trees in our tiny orchard.  Such a thrill to be growing apples to eat.  There is something truly magical about apples – no wonder they are associated with the Goddess.

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The vegetable beds are full of kale, onions, squash, salad leaves and Brussel sprouts.

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Parsley gone to seed

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Chamomile ready for harvest

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Flowers!

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Borage!

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Calendula

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Such great bounty to be had at Lughnasadh. Some flowers have passed the peak of their beauty but there are others just reaching theirs.  Seeds are ready for collection and with the autumn light everything seems golden.

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Lughnasadh is Irish for August and marks the beginning of Autumn.  It is a cross quarter day on the Wheel of the Year and is a time dedicated to Lugh the Sun God.

Lugh

He was a Shining Warrior and a Master of All Crafts. In the past, Lughnasadh was celebrated with communal games, crafts, races and feats of strength and in giving thanks to Lugh the Sun God for the abundance of the harvest.

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The garden at  Lughnasadh is also a wonderful place to celebrate, not only the harvest but also all the things that make life wonderful; our loved ones, the security of our homes, our health, the things that make us happy and fulfilled.  It is a good practice to stop for a moment and just think of all we have, of all that we have “harvested”.  I also like to encourage people to think of all the things that they have mastered in life, whether it be playing an instrument, being good at art or at practical crafts, being a good listener, gardening, teaching, being a kind friend.  We are all masters at many things but tend to dismiss our talents through a misguided false modesty.

In my spiritual journey I associate the goddess Airmid with Lughnasadh.  She is the Irish Goddess of Herbalism and with so many herbs in abundance at this time it seems fitting to think of her too.

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Happy Lughnasadh everyone, may the bounty in your life ever increase.