The end of the harvest

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Autumn is in full, deep-hued glory and Samhain is very close: the end of nature’s year. As a winter soul, a wool obsessive, introvert, candle-appreciator, hearth-craver and hot chocolate enthusiast who likes wearing slippers and hats, this time of year gives me a tingle through my veins that brings my heart out in smiles. An end means that a beginning will follow – this will be nature’s New Year when life and the green of the land is renewed. But first there is the in-between time of winter, where the earth slows down and rests – and calls us to do the same.

To rest from the hard work of the harvest. We harvest so many things in our lives: projects that we work on, courses of study that we undertake, books that we read, goals that we strive towards, transitions in our lives like a moving home or a new pregnancy. And of course many of us do harvest from the land and from our gardens. I think that people often do not realise how many gardens they tend and nurture.

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I have harvested a lot of learning this year, a lot of it related to a medical journey that we have been one with one of my children. I am yet to harvest the conclusion to some big decisions I have been having to weigh up. But it feels like my harvest basket is one filled with useful and nourishing skills, support and knowledge to take forwards. I hold these to my heart in deep gratitude and feel a sense of a cycle completing, ready to cast the seeds from its harvest into the myriad fields ahead.

Nature’s year is closing now, the harvest – of this phase at least – nearly in. I feel excited about where those seeds might land, and about just how they might grow. ♡

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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.

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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November

November is a faded – and fading – image in my mind. Like one of your grandparents’ childhood photos. The light is fading, the calendar year is fading, the temperature is fading and most of the leaves are usually off the trees and starting to rot into the ground. People often describe November as grey, bleak, damp, miserable; rarely anything flattering. It always seems a short month to me and I wonder if really it’s just outshone by its neighbouring months of Orange October and festive December.

WInter starts for me in November, around the vanishing (last quarter) moon, or when nature gives me enough signs to welcome the season in. My favourite season. I learned yesterday that the Anglo-Saxons believed 7th November to be the official start of winter; although where I live hasn’t yet had a frost, this week has certainly felt winter’s kiss.

I’m sure some would argue a case for November glowing rather than fading. A-glow with the bonfire flames on Guy Fawkes Night, the lantern processions at Martinmas, the lights in the windows of homes in the long nights (and dreary days!), and the twinkling Christmas lights in shops windows. In my head, these glows and twinkles create a kind of blurriness around and behind them. Rather than the lights, it’s that fading, blurred image of the background that is what I remember in November. ♥IMG_2546

Samhain

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Harvest Home is what I’ve called this Autumn. Every day. for pretty much the whole season. I’ve just yearned to be at home. Sewing, tinkering about with the arrangement of the house, clearing out, cooking, playing with my son and sewing some more. I’ve just wanted to be at home. I certainly have been out plenty; beckoned by outings to parks and woods, shopping to do, friends to see and my son’s social diary of groups and playdates to facilitate. But my favourite thing has been being at home.

My heart, mind and soul have needed a little care and nurture these last few months. My physical semi-retreat inside these red bricks has probably been symbolic of a retreat inside myself to ask some questions, revisit some memories and say some goodbyes and some thank you’s – soul-to-soul. The rattle of my sewing machine has proved quite an effective tool for journeying to some deep places!

And now, at Samhain, the end of the harvest season, I feel like I really have harvested and brought it home for nourishment and sharing through the dark months ahead. I tend to celebrate the cross-quarter festivals as a tide (why should Yule should be the only festival extended to a tide?! Time to re-write the rules!) I start Samhain-tide today, when a majority of people celebrate Halloween or a similar festival. I mark it to around the time of the first frosts or of November’s last-quarter moon – whichever feels right. I intend for it to be a time of reflection on what I’ve learned, of spiritual work, of journeying and divination, of listening to trees and the whispers on the wind and of remembering with thanks and reverence those who have walked in this world before me.  I feel this as the time of the Hag Goddess. dressed in her dark cloak of mystery. Like most old women, she has much wisdom to share. I hope to have the grace to open myself to receiving it.

I wish you a blessed and insightful Samhain-tide too.  ♥Mo

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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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