Tag: Halloween

Oct 30

A Celebration of Samhain

My first introduction to Samhain (pronounced SAH-win or SOW-in) came through, of all things, a Danzig song called Soul on Fire.  This, despite the Celtic blood flowing through my veins. I can’t quote the song (copyright laws), but if you’re so inclined, you can check out the lyrics or give the song itself a listen. (Yup, it’s a little dark.) For what it’s worth, back when I listened to Glenn Danzig’s music (including the Misfits–who I still kind of ♥), I had burgundy-colored hair and wore Doc Martens with baby doll dresses. Altogether, a sign of the times (or at least of my times) in the nineties.

My introduction to Samhain might have occurred in a dark sort of context, but the ancient Celtic celebration was about a different kind of darkness. The Celts recognized two seasons: summer and winter; Samhain marked the turn from summer’s light and warmth to the chill and darkness of winter.

Ruins, Ireland. Image via Unsplash/PublicDomainPictures

Samhain was, for the Celts, the beginning of a new year. It was honored accordingly, with celebrations and feasts. Monuments also captured the sunrise on Samhain, which was situated halfway between the autumnal equinox and winter solstice. Since the ancient Celts counted nights, rather than days, the celebration of Samhain traditionally began at sundown on October 31st and carried into November 1st.

Image via Unsplash/freestocks.org

Samhain not only shares a date with Halloween, but many of its traditions also live on in the modern-day holiday. Likewise, it bears a strong resemblance to the Mexican Dia de los Muertos.

It was believed that the veil thinned between the living and the dead during Samhain, a time when plants died back and animals retreated to their dens. Spirits would walk the earth, visiting loved ones or, in the case of evil spirits, spreading harm. People refrained from going out at night, or would go out only in disguise, hoping to conceal their identity from darker energies. They might place a candle in a window to welcome back loved ones who had passed, or carve a face into a turnip (the precursor to today’s jack-o-lantern) to ward off negative spirits. The dearly departed were invited to attend the feasts of Samhain, while offerings were left for nature spirits, in hopes of receiving blessings in return.

Image via wikicommons, unable to find original attribution

Samhain was (and is) a celebration of contrasts.

People lit communal bonfires (*originally called bonefires, with bones from feasts added as offerings), to bring light even as the sun began its fading. The gathering of crops and slaughtering of livestock meant sustaining human life over the long winter. Plants were dying, but seeds could be sown in the yet-unfrozen ground. Dormant fields would be fed with the remains of unharvested crops and with the ashes of bonfires. It was a waning time, a time of rest in preparation for future growth.

Image via Unsplash/StockSnap

There’s no denying that Samhain is a time of great transition. Like the ancient Celts, modern humans can use it as an opportunity to look behind us–even as we prepare to turn forward.

Samhain can help us remember and honor lost loved ones; it  can help us reflect upon our hard work and remind us to reap what we have sown. This is a time when we can reaffirm bonds among family and friends as life draws in from outdoors. It can help us lay the groundwork for creative pursuits and other activities.

Samhain marks a time for us to rest and recharge. We can plant the seeds of future growth, and prepare for those first steps that will lead us to a wide open run, come spring.

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Sources and recommended reading:

http://www.newgrange.com/samhain.htm

https://wicca.com/celtic/akasha/samhainlore.htm

https://www.circlesanctuary.org/index.php/celebrating-the-seasons/celebrating-samhain

 

Oct 27

Feel the Chill…

Maybe you won’t get the chills from these ghost stories, but I will tell you I’m presenting them as factually as I possibly can. Whether they’re based on some otherworldly occurrence or just some strange coincidence is up to you to decide…

As I mentioned in my last post, my family and I live in a house where things sometimes do go bump in the night (or day). Doors have opened on their own a handful of times–twice right in front of our eyes. We hear weird sounds occasionally: footsteps, drawers and cabinets opening, door handles being turned, various knocks and bangs. Other things have happened, as well…among these occurrences, a shadow in the shape of a man was apparently once seen walking across my kitchen. I didn’t witness it, so I’ll leave the details up to your imagination.

Image via pixabay/SuperHerftigGeneral

I know how weird this all sounds. I’d have a hard time believing any of it myself if I hadn’t been witnessing (some of) it for years. Seriously, I have a hard time believing it despite my witnessing. My point being: I remain skeptical about all of this, but it’s not easy at times.

I’ll start off with a couple of borrowed ghost stories…

Here’s a brief one that was passed down through my family. Apparently, my great-grandfather chose to stay in a boarding home one night while traveling. When he came downstairs the next morning, the woman who operated the home asked how he’d slept. “Not very well,” he said, “the poor guy in the next room paced and moaned all night long. Someone really ought to check on him.” Imagine his surprise when the woman revealed that not only had the room beside my grandfather’s been unoccupied, but a man had died in there some time before.

Image via Unsplash/Jesse Bowser

Another story was told to me by my mother, as experienced by a friend of hers. The woman in the story was alone in her house one cold, winter night. Her husband was out of town, so she decided to retire to bed early, taking her cat upstairs with her. The steps leading to her bedroom were accessed via the living room, so she supposed closing the living room’s three pocket doors would direct heat up to the second floor.  Yet, these pocket doors hadn’t been used since they’d moved into the home. They put up a struggle, but the woman managed to drag them closed. The effort seemed worth the promise of warmth.

Soon after settling in for a quiet night upstairs, the woman was shocked to hear a strange noise coming from the lower floor.  The cat heard it, too, and reacted in fear, arching its back while its hair stood on end. The strange sound stopped and began again–and then again. The woman realized what she was hearing. The heavy living room doors were slowly being forced back into their wall pockets, one after the other.

The woman immediately telephoned her brother, believing an intruder might be in the house. She asked him to wait on the phone while she crept down the stairs and confirmed that the doors had, in fact, been opened.  The police were called. They arrived and searched the entire house, reporting that there were no signs of forced entry and every door and window remained locked.

It seemed there would be no explanation for the events of that evening, until the couple researched the history of their home. They discovered it had been used as a hospital during the Revolutionary War.  The living room would have been the center of medical activity and the pocket doors must have been kept open, out of necessity.  Though these doors never again moved on their own, voices and other inexplicable sounds were occasionally heard within the home.  The couple accepted such things as part of their life there, but the cat required some convincing. After the pocket doors opened themselves, he refused to leave the bedroom for a full two weeks.

Image via Unsplash/Erik Müller

My third and final story came out of my own childhood.

I grew up in an area that had seen action during the Revolutionary War. While visiting a friend, I went on a tour of her very old home and its grounds. She pointed out an area of her property in which two soldiers were said to have been buried and, later, showed me a grave marker that had been pressed into the foundation of her home. She and her family had done a rubbing on the marker in order to read its details, and my friend shared the name they’d found on the grave. I was overwhelmed by its utter familiarity. Though I said I knew the name, my friend insisted I couldn’t: the girl had died at age 12 and was most likely a servant; her name wouldn’t have been recorded in any history book. Though I still felt certain about the name’s familiarity, I waited until I got home to bring up the topic again. After sharing the story and name with my mother, she reacted strangely. “I’m not sure,” she said, “but I think, when you were little, you had an imaginary friend with that name.”

Well, I don’t claim to see dead people, but it’s fun to imagine I might have played with one for a while as a kid. Eh, I’m sure stranger things have happened.

Image via pixabay/pedrofigueras

I love hearing ghost stories, so if any of you have one or two or a whole bunch you’d like to share, I’m all ears (and goosebumps)!

Happy Almost-Halloween! Hope your weekend is wicked fun!

Oct 29

Embracing Our Inner Witchiness

Have you checked the date lately? Seems like as good a time as any to show our inner witchiness some love.

Sound sketchy? Hear me out…pretty please?

I’m not talking about anything dark. I’m also not talking about spells or potions, nor am I trying to convert anyone to the religion of Wicca. (I’m not a Wiccan, either, in case you were wondering.) Nope, I’m talking about gifts–the natural, inner abilities we too often neglect or flat-out ignore.

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Image via pixabay/Jo-B

Concerning these gifts of ours… I’m addressing mostly females here, but hey, you males might have them, too. If not, just stand back and watch. We welcome your awe. I touched on these gifts in my previous witch posts, Which Witch and (Please Don’t) Burn The Witch, but today it’s time to expound:

Intuition – This is a big one, but it may also be the most neglected. We should learn to trust that little inner voice, the one that “knows” things, instinctively, without having to apply reason. I didn’t think much of my own intuition when I was younger, but over the years, I’ve learned to appreciate and trust it.pixabay-nvodicka

Image via pixabay/nvodicka

I don’t have a very good example of when I’ve tuned in to my intuition, because it too often comes in little, minor bursts; however, I’ll occasionally see something–just a flash of image–before it happens. For instance, I learned the hard way that if I “see” myself dropping a plate of food onto someone’s carpet, I’d really better tighten my grip on that plate. I believe this is intuition at work, not some otherworldly premonition. My subconscious mind is probably sending me a signal that my plate is unbalanced or my grasp is too loose. Honestly, learning to listen to my intuition has stopped me from falling down the stairs more than once. (I *may* be a bit of a klutz.) So, open that beautiful mind of yours and take heed; your intuition might help you avoid some of life’s bumps and bruises.

Healing – Along with a natural inclination toward nurturing, we (women, especially) tend to possess healing tendencies. Historically, women were often healers, especially in poorer or rural areas, where people went to the local wisewoman for treatment or asked a midwife to help deliver their baby. I’m not saying we should replace sound medical advice with gut feelings, but we ought to pay attention when we suspect that we or a loved one are not well. (I’ve been right about this more than once, as I’m sure have many others.)

Personally, my intuition and healing tendencies work together. For instance, there have been times when I’ve had to treat my children for minor ailments (e.g. a blocked tear duct). I’d been following the treatment suggested by our pediatrician (massaging the corner of the baby’s eye), but without much success–until the moment when I “knew” I’d corrected the problem. Maybe I’d slightly altered my approach and my subconscious mind had taken note. I don’t know why I “knew,” but it was the knowing that was important–the listening to it, the trusting it and, later, the discovering that I’d been right in my knowing.

Encourage this part of yourself. Listen to your own body and the bodies of your loved ones–turns out they have quite a bit to say.

pixabay-stux

Image via pixabay/stux

Connection to nature – This one, I’d guess, goes back to the hunter/gatherer life of our prehistoric ancestors. While men went off to hunt, women were left to tend the children and animals, harvest wild foods and prepare meals. As part of this, they probably gathered medicinal herbs and other plants, which helped maintain or improve their loved ones’ health.

We are connected to nature in many ways, even by our place in it as mammals. Similarly, we are bonded to the heavens. Like the ebb and flow of the ocean tides, the cycles of women’s bodies are strongly connected to the moon.

Creativity – Tell me, who in nature is better at creating than its females? As mammals, women give birth to living, wonderful beings, and then continue to sustain their lives, solely, for months.

unsplash-juan-galafa

Image via Unsplash/Juan Galafa

Trust in your creative essence and let it lead you where it wants to go. The ways in which people can express their creativity are as numerable as the numbers of people themselves. No two write the same story (we hope), nor do they paint a scene in an identical way or sing with twin voices. Creativity is not limited to the fine arts, of course. Anything you do that comes from the creative force inside you, counts. So, go for it. Sew sweaters for your chickens, paint herb names on rocks, glue succulents onto your fingernails (have you seen this one?), but allow that part of you to grow. (The creativity, I mean. I have no idea if the succulents will keep growing–maybe they’re just miniature plant-art martyrs.)

Sensuality – Don’t confuse this one with sexuality (although they obviously can work well together). I’m talking about using your senses–really using them, as they were intended. Go touch and taste and smell and hear and see the world–experience it as fully as you can.

I was pretty good at exploring through my senses, until I had kids. Then, I could hardly perceive anything that wasn’t them. They’re getting more independent, so even though they are still and always will be the center of my life, I can sense beyond them, now. I’m practicing this, until it becomes a habit.

If you’re not already a sensory expert, give it a try. Let your senses speak to you. Not only will they enrich your life, they will also feed your creativity. You’ll be amazed by all that has gone unnoticed, right in front of your face.

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(Unable to locate attribution information)

Independence – The more we rely on ourselves, the more empowered we become. It’s a wonderful spiral of strength, one which feeds itself. Even taking small steps toward honing our unique abilities will help build our self-awareness. Trust in who you are, who you’ve been from Day One. You’re “you” at the core, and if you allow your inner self to be heard and recognized, it will spread into every corner of your existence. Authentic living. That’s what this is.

Emotional Intelligence – Going back again to our ancestral inheritance, women have been the traditional center of the family–the base, the caretakers. As such, we’ve developed our emotional intelligence throughout generations. We are good at reading people, at understanding when their words and body language don’t jibe. I hear a lot of people tossing the word “empath” around, but I haven’t yet determined my opinion on it–maybe it’s real or maybe it’s just acute emotional intelligence, plus a strong awareness of others. Regardless, I fully believe we can pick up on a lot when we remain aware and combine this with a willingness to understand others’ perspectives.

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(Unable to locate attribution information)

Spirituality – For me, spirituality is not tied to any one religion. I’ll probably speak more on this in another post, but personally, I experience my spirituality through communing with nature and by expressing gratitude–for my family, for all the people I cherish in my life. Spirituality is personal; it’s whatever grounds you, brings you back to a center of awareness and gratitude. It’s there–inside you–already, but it sometimes gets lost under all the things we’re told to think and ways we’re taught to believe. In quieter moments of your life, give a listen. You might discover the sound of your own spiritual voice.

Well, I think that about sums it up. Are we witches now? Nope, but I think, if we give it a chance, our inner witchiness might gain some power. I fully believe it can foster its own kind of magic in our lives.

pixabay-darksouls1

Image via pixabay/darksouls1

Oct 17

Which Witch?

Can I make a confession? I kinda sorta love witches. In fact, I’ve loved them ever since I was a kid.

Which kind, you might ask? (I hope you do ask, so my title makes sense.)

Whether you’ve asked or not, I’ll answer. Not the evil kind. I’m not really a fan of Disney’s animated Maleficent or the evil witch in Snow White; I don’t prefer the ones in Roald Dahl’s The Witches, either (though I do love Dahl’s writing). The White Witch in C. S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and Harry Potter’s Bellatrix Lestrange are both equally magnificent and repulsive. I wouldn’t want to know either one personally. Oh, and the Wicked Witch of the West and her flying monkeys? Forget about it.

wicked-witch

You know who this looks like, don’t you?

I like some dark stuff, but not that dark.

So, which kind of witch do I enjoy? The cool kind, of course. The powerful and independent kind, even the mystical and spooky kind. (Nah, Glinda the Good Witch of the South, with her cotton-candy sweetness, isn’t really my type, either.)

Pop culture has some pretty awesome ones: there’s Willow from Buffy The Vampire Slayer and the ones I adored in childhood, Samantha from Bewitched  and Dorrie the little witch, from the series of books by Patricia Coombs. The witches from the Harry Potter series truly are some of the best: Hermione and the ever-awesome Professor McGonagall, to name the best of the best.

Yet, I had to go back to the late 1800s to find some witches who, in a single image, embody what I’m trying to express. Thank you for your glorious creations, John William Waterhouse. I’ve chosen three of his beautiful paintings to help capture what I love most about witches.

The first, and the one which most closely represents my meaning, The Magic Circle (1886).  john_william_waterhouse_-_magic_circle

John William Waterhouse [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
PD-1923– published before 1923 and public domain in the US.

I mean, really, check her out.

There’s some darkness in this painting: the woman is alone in the middle of a barren landscape, working her magic under the scrutiny of a flock of ravens. If you’ll notice, though, inside the circle where the woman is, there is fire and light and beauty–she, herself, is beautiful, as are the flowers growing near her. The woman is connected with the earth physically through her bare feet and the moon through the sickle she holds; she is associated with nature and warmth and creation. Yes, I think Waterhouse must have kinda sorta loved witches, too.

Here’s another, Circe Offering the Cup to Ulysses (1891): Circe, by John William Waterhouse

John William Waterhouse [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
PD-1923– published before 1923 and public domain in the US.

Who’s the star now, buddy?

So, who is the VIP in this painting? Circe, the witch? Or Ulysses, the guy we see reflected in the mirror, bending into a bow? That’s right, it sure isn’t Ulysses. (He looks kind of inconsequential for an epic hero, don’t you think?) Just look at Circe’s body language. She’s peering down on us (and Ulysses) from high up on her throne-ish seat, emanating regalness in her form and beauty. Time to drink up, hero boy.

My final share is another of the mythological Circe, Circe Invidiosa (1892):

Circe Invidiosa, by John William Waterhouse

John William Waterhouse [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
PD-1923– published before 1923 and public domain in the US.

Can you say, “Intense?”

In this one, Circe is standing above (or on) her rival, the beautiful nymph, Scylla, whom she’s already turned into a grotesque sea monster with her baptism of poison. Here, we have the witch as femme fatale. Maybe not the most flattering depiction of female power, but enough to make you pause and take heed.

Waterhouse clearly loved the power of a woman in her state of independence. So do I. Though I am not always strong and my independence has certainly lessened some over the years (which is another topic entirely), I love it whenever I feel capable and self-sufficient. In some ways, I am and have always been a free spirit. Yet, I don’t believe any of this does anything to detract from myself as a woman or as a mother and wife.

As Helen Reddy said, “I am woman, hear me roar.”

pixababy Cupoheld

Image via pixabay/Cupoheld

Come on, ladies, let me hear it!

To me, Waterhouse captures how witches should be represented: attuned to their own strength and female powers (their intelligence and intuition, their ability to give birth and nourish life, their embracing of their sensuality and sexuality, their strong ties to nature, and so on). To me, witches can and should revel in their independence and uniqueness.

Waterhouse’s subjects claim their spots in the limelight, nudging aside the males who normally dominate their stories (Circe from Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, Ophelia from Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Echo from the myth of Narcissus, Medea from the myth of Jason and the Golden Fleece, etc.). These heroines are full of life; they lose nothing in claiming their innate power. Some men might shrink before such blatant femininity, but Waterhouse doesn’t. Yay, Waterhouse!

Thankfully, he’s not the only man who can appreciate female strength. My husband, for example, seems perfectly fine with my mine, whenever it shows itself. Also, just recently, I read a writer friend’s blog post, in which he discussed witches and helped inspire me to go ahead with this and related posts.

Since Walker said it so much better than I can paraphrase, I’ll quote him directly.

“Witches: Given the origins of the “witch” concept in western culture—fear of female power and independence—it surprises me that this remains such a common fiction menace. Maybe it’s been stripped of its cultural origins—the witch in Blair Witch is little more than a faceless supernatural threat. Fortunately, the “witch” concept is also used to denote positive female empowerment, as in Buffy the Vampire Slayer and countless others.” – Walker McKnight, It’s Hard to Build a Monster

So, yes, I love witches and I love the power of women, in general. After all, we each have our own sort of magic, don’t we? As I said in my last post, fall is utterly witchy. As such, it seems like a perfect time to reclaim our inner witchiness.

pixabay 27707

Image via pixabay/27707

Of course I can drive a stick!

How do you feel about witches? What about how they’ve been represented throughout the ages? Since I love witches so much, I know I won’t be able to limit myself to one post on them. Hope you’ll come back for more!