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  ♥ ♥

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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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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Everyday letting go

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The year is letting go of itself. The last stragglers of summer’s party are wearily leaving, the exit music plays to fading applause. Nuts, leaves, fruits, berries, crops are all shed. “Go on,” the trees and hedges say, “have them, enjoy: they’re right for you. My work with them is done”.

When we let go of possessions we do longer need/can use to the charity shop or recycling centre, I feel that sense of “have them. My work with them is done”.

When we truly sacrifice something that we know someone needs more – the seat on the bus for the elderly lady even though we are tired, the flapjack that we bought ourselves as a treat that we know might be the homeless person’s only food today – our hearts again echo the trees’ “Go on, enjoy”.

When I let go of the some of the minutes that I check some social media sites, knowing my tendency to use them to procrastinate over pursuits that might stretch me creatively and intellectually, I’m more fulfilled by doing so.

The lessons of letting go came to me early this year, during summer. Part the reason that our garden currently resembles such a jungle is because I had to let it go to instead take care of my body through pregnancy tiredness and bad nausea, still taking care of my three-year old son.

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Indeed, as this boy grows more into his ability to make choices and decisions of his own, I surrender some of mine. This week, as we made this shaker from dried kernels from last year’s again-unsuccessful sweetcorn plants (we’ve now let go of the hope to grow sweetcorn here: we just don’t have the space for the block planting that they need), I held my tongue when he requested a different colour of beads to what I thought would look most attractive. I held it again when he preferred the sound of several walnut shells in the jar and I thought that less sounded nicer. Such things challenge my inner control freak; I form an image (or see it on Pinterest!) of what something “should” be like. But I’m learning to let go of the rigidity in that “should” and let things flow – particularly to gift my son the space he needs to learn, to grow and to create.

When I recently undid a knitting project where the yarn just wasn’t right for the style of garment, I had to shelve a little pride – and resentment of the time I’d put in. Yet I revelled in that feeling of relief that comes when you relinquish the stress of trying to force something to work that isn’t. When those nuts, berries and apples just get too heavy for their branches.

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A couple of years ago,we scavenged a beautiful wooden chest rom a kerbside. It needed TLC and restoration then… and now needs some more after being stored in our not-very-watertight bike shed. (Ironically, my husband hasn’t been able to store his bike there because of the space the chest took up). Time has prevented us (and will continue to do so) from giving it the repair it needs. It would make a beautiful coffee table with storage and rustic character besides, but the reality is that our home is too small and needs that floor space for the trainset-building, jigsaw-completing, rough-housing and other play that is necessary to our day-to-day family life.

Temptation had long whispered: “but it’s so beautiful! And it was free! Keep it! Keep it!”. Yet our hearts knew to let it go. Within hours of advertising it, a man with more time – and a rustic cottage without young children – had come for it, delighted and thankful. We felt a little sadness as his car drove off, the chest tied on top and our son waving goodbye to it, but our hearts were saying “Go on, have it, enjoy. It’s right for you. Our work – rescuing it from going in a skip 2 years ago, and storing it until an owner that will do it justice was scouring Freecycle – is done”.

October

…is orange. Orange are the crisp leaves that drop and drape themselves over the dampening soil. Orange is the sunlight that the afternoon reflects off them. Orange are the ripe pumpkins, the hearty dishes that they make and, of course, the Jack-o-lanterns. Orange is the candlelight glowing boldly through their carvings. Orange, too. glow our windows each dusk. Orange are the flames of the fires now needed in the evenings, the nasturtiums flowers, the pyracantha berries, the hue picked out on a nutshell in the right light. Orange reminds me of spices that aid digestion as the weather cool. October is orange to me. A warm, cheery  (but in a mellow and not boisterous way) orange. Warmth and cheer for the dark months ahead, wisdom in that mellow-ness, guiding me forward.

Bright blessings for your October.  ♥Mo

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Harvest Goddess card by Wendy Andrew, squirrel postcard by Marjan van Zeyl.

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