November nature table

Our November nature table / family altar is less colourful than earlier in Autumn (see also this and this post). The oranges, bronzes, and rich reds mostly give way to plainer, darker, more sombre hues, although I find that a little sparkle somewhere (like in the spider-webs on this cloth) doesn’t go amiss. I usually prefer altar cloths of natural fabrics, but at Samhain I make an exception and dig this one out to remind me of the association of spiders with Autumn, with weaving magic, and with the idea of interconnectedness: the webs in our lives of community, of the various aspects of our inner and outer selves, of collective consciousness. Sparkle reminds me of frost, and November is usually the month in which it arrives to where I live. I’m also feeling drawn to bowls, particularly empty ones: symbols for winter where the womb of the crone goddess is empty and barren.IMG_3404

To represent air, I’ve offered a little bowl of black copal; it’s colour and scent seem to me appropriate to this time of the year and to the crone aspect of the goddess. Our offering for Earth here is a little piece of cinnamon bun from a batch made by my husband. He doesn’t bake a lot and this kind of recipe was quite a new thing for him to do. To me this was reminiscent of Samhain being the beginning of a new year, a new cycle and new aspirations. IMG_3410

My mother-in-law spontaneously made this pine-needle angel on a walk in the woods that our family recently enjoyed together. I love it, particularly how the inspiration just came to her to tie a couple of knots to form arms and….voila!IMG_3407

The sweet chestnuts are awaiting a roasting attempt… but I can be quite the champion procrastinator with attempting something new that has strong Fail Potential.IMG_3406

The spoon lives on our nature table. It’s the first of three spoons that my husband has carved, the second being a ladle and the third – carved this Samhain – being around dessert-spoon sized. This one, although so beautiful, wasn’t carved optimally so we only use it decoratively: it reminds me of the idea of process and improvement. The different stages of the cycle of the year (and of the moon) that we see in nature prompt us to consider these stages in the cycles of our inner worlds: our projects, our self-development and other inner journeys. This is particularly relevant at this point in the year where the sleeping Earth calls us to attend to those inner journeys and our psycho-spiritual selves.IMG_3415

The seed-heads below and nasturtium seeds (picture below this) remind me of the “seeds” (ie. things that we have learnt and gained) that we take forwards to replant and nourish us in the new year. The fairy toadstools, the owl and the witch are, to me, symbols of magic and wisdom pertinent to this time of the year.IMG_3420IMG_3418

On our picture wire still hangs a few Autumnal pictures: a couple of the apple and pumpkin harvest that we are still enjoying, a couple reminding us of the falling/fallen leaves that still surround us and our shoes. Another picture, if a lantern procession, reminds me of the light-related festivals of Diwali, Martinmas and Advent that fall in November. The central picture – in the misty greys of typical November weather – is of an old tin mine engine house in my native Cornwall; a reminder of the concept of ancestry honoured and celebrated at Samhain.IMG_3423

Bright blessings in these often-gloomy days!  )O(

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A new season

One morning last week brought the first hint of frost to my part of Bristol. Just a teasingly light touch of it on some of the roofs of the streets that surround mine. Winter’s first little stroke, at the end of a grey and chillier week, where more leaves seem to be gracing the ground than the trees now. Autumn’s crispness is turning to a wintery sogginess – in those leaves and in the air. The soil is heavily soggy, clinging to our boots. Damp clings to my coat and condensation to my windows in the mornings. We adjust our routine to factor in putting on more clothes when leaving the house, to get laundry off the line earlier, to draw the curtains before dinner and to spending less time in the garden. We eat more soup. I write in my journal more.

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I also feel a shift in my own season, entering the third trimester of my pregnancy round about now. The changes to my body tell me that it’s time to sit a little differently, to sleep and eat a little differently, to adjust how I move and how I lift. To make time to be pregnant – for yoga, for breath work, for just sitting talking to the baby and gently poking my bump whilst it pokes me back. To slow my pace. It’s easy to try to fight this, expecting the same of ourselves whatever the “season” our lives our in (for example, when we’re ill, when we’re menstruating, when we’ve just had a baby, when we’re menopausal). Those around us – and wider society – may perpetuate this disconnection and the lack of opportunity to honour these fluctuations and these rhythms. There’s pressure to just put on a brave face, dose up with painkillers and carry on with all your normal jobs and tasks.

I’m trying to listen to what these new seasons are calling me to do.

Samhain soup

We set aside Sunday (1st November) as our family Samhain day. I’d baked a cake beforehand (discovering that carob and blackberries go really deliciously together!), and I’d made some soup. Samhain soup. The idea had come from The Radical Homemaker blog, where a recent post described how she makes an annual Samhain Stew. The broth is made from bones from the various animals they raise on their farm, plus some other ingredients that they grow, and the family remember with gratitude the animals that they’ve raised, as well as their broader harvest – and their ancestors.

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The idea wasn’t one that I would use directly: as a vegetarian, I’m not comfortable with the idea of a living creature having been killed for my consumption but respect that others – such as my husband – do feel comfortable with that idea and so make a different choice. Our garden isn’t large enough to produce much food from plants or animals, but we grow a little, so a home-grown pumpkin and some herbs picked and dried in the summer went into our soup (which you can see garnished with one of our rampant nasturtiums!). Joining them in the pot were a couple of tomatoes and a pepper from a close friend’s greenhouse’s harvest, plus a couple of things from our vegbox, a couple from other independent shops that we frequent and a couple of things bought in the supermarket. For me this symbolised celebration of the harvest from the land – be it land I tend, land I know or land I don’t but am very grateful for. It reminded is of the year’s story from planning (“I want to grow pumpkins, Mama!”), to planting, to watching them grow, to harvesting to consuming. It celebrated our family’s efforts, those of a friend who is a big and special part of my life, and the efforts of those who work for the companies that we buy food from. At this point in our life where it’s not possible for us to be as self-sufficient as we one day hope to be, we are blessed to have the convenience of those businesses.

The soup did us several meals, including one shared with another very treasured lovely friend, and the evening meal of our Samhain day. This one was eaten outdoors around a bonfire and with our Jack o’lantern, following a beautiful walk near the Mendips which began in golden sunshine lighting up all those glowing Autumn leaves, then later turned to quite Avalonian wintry mists: pretty symbolic of Samhain’s calling us towards winter. It looked as though there had been frost there the previous night: something I often take as a cue for when to celebrate Samhain, rather than adhering to a specific date. (Although frosts do tend to arrive a little later here in the city). We put a spare chair and bowl with ours by the fire for the souls of loved ones who have passed on, speaking a little about them, and about the tired Earth being almost ready to tuck herself in for her winter sleep. We took our corn dolls from the nature table, told them any regrets or disappointments that from the year that we wished them to take into the fire to be burned up, and then my son took delight in throwing them in.

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We’ll continue our goodbye to the year – our Samhain-tide – for another few days until just before the dark moon (the lunar phase that I correspond to this point in the solar cycle) and until it really feels like winter is arriving.