Sacred space

It’s been a while since I have been in this space. More than half a year. Late spring, plus summer and autumn have all passed on a spinning plate that wobbles somewhat precariously on some of my fingers whilst my other fingers attempt to weave the myriad threads of Day-To-Day Life, and my mind is scattered in a hundred places. And my ears try to attend to quite a few voices.

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Now we are sliding into winter where I live. Samhain-tide, I call this: the time from October’s Vanishing Moon (the waning crescent – the last quarter) to that of November. This winter seems to have come early with that chilly, biting kind of wind that makes you squint and chaps your hands as it dances around you like a playful toddler who wants to have fun but hasn’t quite learnt that teeth and nails hurt people! Samhain-tide is a sacred, liminal time where I say goodbye to the year – and with it the dreams I didn’t fulfil, the mistakes I made and hard memories that I’d like to bury. I picture them mushing into a sludge along with all the fallen leaves then sinking down into the earth, their secrets becoming the lessons that will nourish the seeds that grow next year. I look forward to that renewal.

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It’s a sacred time, these death-throes, and I find it’s easy to be tempted to skip over it and start focusing on the festive season, to start all the planning and making and buying and counting down. The shops lure us to do this from so early on. I find it sad not to give this time it’s own space, that we turn away from whatever song it has to sing – even if it’s not the prettiest song, and is often whispered.

I wonder if a parallel could be drawn between our society’s skipping-over of the year’s dying, and how we don’t talk about – or we make taboo – old-age and death of us as people.

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So I’ve tried to resist the festive magazines and refuse to eat a mince pie yet, until I’ve finished my Samhain-ing. I’ve been connecting with the slowness of this time, enjoying the invitation of the dark afternoons to cosy up and light candles, savouring the remains of Autumn’s beauty. (Like the revelation I had this week of how I prefer the deep red of the hawthorn and rowan berries now to their more scarlet hue earlier on). Protecting space as sacred can be hard though – whether that space is

  • a period of time in the calendar,
  • the “space” amidst all life’s to-do lists for self-care and spiritual practice,
  • personal space when your loved ones need endless hugs,
  • emotional space from those who are wearing you down a little,
  • physical space (say, protecting the nature table from being dismantled by the now-mobile baby!),
  • geographical space such as the land and water that those at Standing Rock are trying so very hard to protect,
  • mental space,
  • creative space.
  • And online space to come here and tell you all about it.

But I guess doing so is part of what makes it sacred.

Welcome back. Happy winter  ♥ ♥

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(

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.

Tired King Sun and the Queen of the Night

My son has been asking why it’s dark earlier now. He’s just turned four and questions about how everything works spill out of him everyday. I love these conversations (except for when I’m trying to parallel park) and try to balance educating him with not overloading him with information beyond his grasp. I strive to honour his thirst for the scientific, as well as to feed his imaginative capabilities; small children seem part of another, more magical, world and I don’t want to yank him out of it too abruptly.

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To answer him, I talk about how King Sun gets tired earlier now after shining so brightly and hotly through the summer. So he’s going to bed earlier and earlier and enjoys a deeper sleep. In the morning, he lies in gradually later and later. This is how he rests and builds up his strength for the hard work of next year. Whilst King Sun sleeps, the Queen of the Night comes and spreads her dark cloak over the sky. She has stars sewn on the inside, and the edges are all different colours: those that we often see whilst she is arriving and King Sun is setting. This is her favourite part of the year, so she rocks up earlier each evening, and she stays longer. She quietly takes care of everything whilst the land – and most people – sleep, and she carries with her a basket of dreams that she gives out each night.

 

As my son grows older, such a story will undoubtedly become woven – and elements replaced – with more science and factual detail. Yet on those evenings when I step outside now, I feel the comfort of that dark cloak: even though it brings chilliness, I find a sense of comfort in feeling a mother or grandmother figure watching over the sleeping world I identify with that mother, that being the current phase of my life (one where I do quite a bit of taking care of others, comforting, being awake at night… and orchestrating bedtime). I feel too the excitement of anticipating the gifts of her dream basket. In these feelings, I am finding and knowing both the mother and child aspects of myself. To me, this Queen of the Night is the peer of part(s) of me and the parent/grandparent of others. As such she brings friendship, comfort, abundant love and wisdom. I hope that these lengthening nights will find me open to her.

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Maiden, Mother and Crone painting by Wendy Andrews: http://www.paintingdreams.co.uk/

Towards winter, and stoking fires

Obviously, the days are less bright and more cold now. Night comes sooner, leaves later and has a depth that echoes the secrets of many souls. Ours, our ancestors, the land. Although where I live is unlikely to get a frost yet, I feel frost linger on the fringes of each morning, waiting for when the land is finally too tired to fight it back anymore. Then it will pounce, victorious, and tell us “now it has ended. Now the time for growth and for harvest is over. What isn’t done must be left; goodbyes must be said to it. Take my icy hand and I will show you the rich rest and magical dreaming of winter”.

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From last winter, near the Forest of Dean.

If I’m outside in the evenings now, I smell the odd wood-stove. (With a little envy, I confess; all of us in this house have a wish for a wood-burner of our own). Of course the lighting of these fires holds a practical home-heating purpose. For me it’s also symbolic of bringing flame inward; the warmth and glow of the sun and the land is weakened now, so we ignite an indoor fire – we kind of substitute the sun with these flames. Recently I learnt that the connection of dragons with the two equinoxes – and with Michaelmas and St Georges Day in the Christian calendar – is because the dragons’ fire is the symbol of the warmth of the sun and the earth. At the Autumn Equinox, the dragons retreat underground for their winter rest, taking their fire with them (ie: we enter the dark half of the year). At the spring equinox they return, bringing back their fire as well (ie: the warmer earth, longer days and stronger sun).

With both the dragons and the wood-stoves, there’s symbolism not only for stoking the fires in our homes but for tending our own inner hearths too: for using this time of year to shine the light inside ourselves and do some self-development, spiritual development and/or some magical work or journeying. To nourish our own inner light.

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And for the year’s finale: the nasturtiums

IMG_3314Amidst all the withering, drying, releasing and decaying as the year starts to shut up shop… Amidst Mother Earth rubbing her tired eyes and putting up her aching legs… Amidst the thoughts of approaching winter…

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… the nasturtiums are still having a riot!

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They’ve had a party an a half in our garden this year, these merry show-offs. Some were sown, some probably self-seeded from last year. They’re not looking ready to hang up their glad rags and go to bed yet though, oh no thank you.

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I’ve tucked up few of their seeds up to sleep until next year…

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…but really these jewels are still busy jazzing up the garden, as well as brightening – and peppering – up my dinner.

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This dazzling finale reminds me that the show’s so not over yet: the year’s not completely done. There’s still more to see and relish before the curtain falls. Before I gather up what I need to take to embrace the dark, dream-laden night, I have to ask: “what have I still not quite finished – what have I not quite fulfilled and offered and been – yet this year?”.

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Releasing and gathering

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As the Autumn Equinox approaches, that day of equilibrium before the day’s dark minutes outweigh light, balance is a theme I reflect upon. I wrote the other day about the theme of letting go at this time of year; a call that I take from the trees and the hedges and the land. In counterpoint, I hear also the call to gather, called to me from the earth and from the worms who bury inside it as they gather the year’s leaves and other debris. I hear this call from the animals and birds who gather berries and nuts to feed them through the winter. I hear it from my ancestors who would also be gathering and preserving food from the land at this time. And gathering seeds; preparation for next year’s food. Continuation of the spiral.

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This balance of releasing and gathering, letting go and storing, holds beautiful and necessary harmony for me. Death is needed for birth and rebirth, emptiness creates space that is full of potential. Those busy worms break down that debris to feed the soil that will feed us next year.

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This year,  pumpkin seeds will probably be the only ones we’ll harvest from our garden. Happily, the year has been rich in many others; lessons about my strengths and weaknesses (and limitations), lessons about why some of these are so, lessons about our garden, about things we desire more of or less of in my life – that we want to release or gather. There’s been new friendships that I hope will blossom, the awesome and unique personality of our son that blossoms more and more into its own, the little “seed” growing inside my belly into a whole new person, skills and interests of ours that are blooming too. Like many food growers record their seeds sown, their successes and not-so’s, and seeds gathered for next year in a gardening journal, I record these personal harvests in order to remember and to learn about my growth. Continuation of the spiral.

I wish you peace and joy in any Equinox preparations of your own, and in your own gathering of your precious seeds. xx

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