Join me on a journey to rediscover ancient traditions, seasonal living and wellbeing practices. A theme for each season. Winter: resting, Spring: planting, Summer: abundance and Autumn: harvesting. We will explore them literally and metaphorically.
You may want to get yourself a note pad, as at times there will be journaling prompts. It's good to put pen to paper but if tapping away at your keyboard or making notes on your phone is more suited to you go with that. There are no rules.
I will post in line with the Celtic seasonal calendar (approx every 6 weeks) but there will be no link to the previous post. I want to avoid people feeling that they 'have to catch up'. So if you miss a season or two just start right from where you are.
If you enjoy my scribbles, please share them with those you think would like them too.
Begins the evening of 31 October and ends at sunset on 1 November. A festival in the Celtic calendar, the name originates from the Gaelic word for November and marks the year end and a time of new beginnings.
It used to be the time of the third and final harvest, a last opportunity to preserve food to last through the winter months. Cattle was brought in from the pastures and those that had been fattened over the summer would be slaughtered, salted and/or spiced.
Traditionally there would be a bone-fire (bonfire) where the remains of the slaughtered livestock would be burnt. Each family in the community would light a torch from the fire and light their own hearths. In the 19th century, the custom of making Jack-O’-Lanterns made from turnips began and flames from the bone-fire would also be used to light them.
It was still in our recent past that families or groups within the community kept pigs and fed them up until the first slaughter on 11th November, Martinmas. The meat would then be preserved and sausages made with the remnants. Like Samhain to the Celts, Martinmas was an important date in the agricultural calendar and marked the beginning of winter. At what was traditionally called the Feast of St Martin, an ox was slaughtered and distributed to the poor, to whom St Martin was the patron Saint.
Samhain was also the time that the veil between the living and the spirit realm was thought to be at its thinnest. It was a time for reflection and to honour one’s ancestors. This ancient custom is still practiced in other cultures, such as ‘The Day of the Dead’ in Mexico. Rather than a sad moment, or a time to be fearful, it is a celebration of the lives of those that have gone before us.
The negative connotations of spirits coming to haunt us stem from the Christian celebration, the Feast of All Saints or All Saints Day. Originally this celebration was held annually on 13th May to mark the deaths of all the Christian martyrs at the hands of the Romans. In the 8th century Pope Gregory moved it to the 1 November, where it coincided with the celebration of Samhain. All Hallows Eve became Halloween, the night when spirits roam the Earth before being banished back to hell by the Saints at daybreak.
Referring back to the bone-fire. In the UK we don’t generally light bonfires at Halloween, as this tradition has transferred to Guy Fawkes Night on 5 November, to commemorate the failed plot to assassinate King James I. Observance of the day was passed into law in January 1606 and everyone was required to attend a service of thanksgiving in church. It became a focus of anti-catholic sentiment and people began to burn effigies. The Act was repealed in 1859 but the tradition of having a bonfire on this night has continued.
- If you wish to honour those who have recently passed, take time to recall happy memories and the blessings that loved ones have left you with.
- If you wish to honour your ancestors, be mindful that whatever has happened in the past, even the negative, has brought you to this point, physically, spiritually and emotionally. Remember, ancestral trauma comes hand in hand with ancestral wisdom. Acknowledge past hurts and negative patterns but be open to new learnings and nurture that which is positive.
- Difficult emotions may arise, so be compassionate with yourself.
- Consider your own path in life. What do you want your legacy to be?
- What do you want for yourself in the year ahead? What is your heart’s desire?
- If you are outgrowing old ways and feel it is time to move forward, bring to mind what is currently happening in nature…The old year is dying. The trees are letting go of the leaves that they no longer need. They are falling to the ground, were they will decay and give nutrients to the earth. The trees’ roots draw on those nutrients to bring forth new life that will emerge in spring.
- Light a fire and recall blessings from the past year.
- This is considered a time for lost things to be found. See what turns up in your life.
Activities for November
- If you make Jack-O’-Lanterns and don’t end up using your pumpkin flesh, leave it out for the wildlife.
- Consider your current smells of the season, before the scents of wood smoke and the sulphur of fireworks arrive.
- Stargaze. Orion the Hunter is dominating the sky. This would have been a significant constellation in the past, as hunting is a skill that would have been important for survival through the winter.
- Plant spring bulbs. This is the perfect time to get tulips in the ground.
- Bring nature indoors. Pumpkins, gourds, dried seeds and nuts, mossy branches and fallen leaves make lovely decorations.
- Stir-up Sunday, 28 November, the traditional day to make your Christmas pudding. It should have 13 ingredients to represent Jesus and his disciples. Stirred from East to West to represent the journey of the Magi. Each member of the family should stir it and make a wish. Finally silver charms should be added to the mix to represent luck, wealth and love.
- Look out for paper whites (narcissi) and forced hyacinths to have indoors. They should flower around the winter solstice when light begins to return.
Take the opportunity to undertake another series of weekly photos. Is there a perceptible shift in imagery with regard to your environment and routine compared to when we first entered the first harvest at Lammas in August?
If you are new here: take daily snapshots of your life for a week. Aim for a photo am & pm each day. Not stylised (unless that’s your cup of tea) but a simple capture of what you are doing at a given moment, it will give you time to pause. Put the am & pm photo together as a diptych, I use the layout app from instagram.
Out and About
It is tempting to stay indoors when winds with a chill signal that winter will soon be here. But wrap up warm and venture out.
The sun is low in the sky and its light has a golden hue because it has had to travel further through the atmosphere to reach us.
Nights lengthen and turn colder. It is now that there are increased chances of frost, mist and fog.
Less light in the day means the ground becomes cold of an evening, meaning usually invisible vapour droplets in the air become visible, creating mist and fog. The moon is high, bright and white.
Spindle bush berries ripen, their pink and orange vibrancy a feast for the eyes, as do wild roses. You may still see Chrysanthemums in bloom.
Look out for the ubiquitous trio: evergreen mistletoe which is more visible amongst the bare branches; holly berries which seem to appear from nowhere as they turn red; ivy whose blossom will now be fading.
Last of the harvest and windfall fruit is a feast for many creatures, including blackbirds and thrushes who prefer to feed from the ground. You may notice an influx of blackbirds as our native ones are joined by their foreign cousins.
Robins have a strong association with Christmas. They are actually around all year round but become bolder as the temperature drops making their presence known in the hope of humans pottering in the garden being a food source.
If you put out a feeder robins will soon be joined by great tits, blue tits, finches and sparrows. And possibly a cheeky squirrel or two who will be delighted to find such a convenient food source.
If you are lucky enough to live near a starling roost, look out for the spectacular murmurations at dusk. If not still look up to see skeins of geese flying overhead. Also keep an eye out for mallard ducks which we often take for granted.
In the Garden
- Clear away dead foliage.
- Plant bare root fruit bushes and trees whilst the ground is still holding some summer warmth, to allow them to establish over the winter.
- Plant rhubarb.
- Prune bushes and hedges before the weather turns too cold but leave space as a habitat for wildlife.
- Clear away dead plants.
- Brush up leaves into a pile somewhere sheltered as a hibernation space for hedgehogs and dormice.
- Dig over beds and lay compost to fill the soil with nutrients for spring.
Acorns: chopped and roasted, can be used as a substitute to almonds.
Beech nuts: use as pine nuts, can be roasted or eaten raw.
Blackberries: as they are getting past their best, now is the time to pop them into puddings and use in cooking.
Bullace: use as would damsons; crumbles, jam, preserves and fruit liquors.
Chestnuts: roast or boil, then puree. Score a cross in them to stop them exploding.
Chickweed: sauté or pop into a winter salad.
Damsons: crumbles, jam, preserves and fruit liquors.
Elderberries: puddings, jellies and pontack sauce.
Gages: puddings and jam.
Gooseberry: puddings, jams and cook into savoury dishes.
Hawthorn: jelly to go with cheeses and pork products or make a jam with crab apples.
Hazelnuts: raw or roasted.
Juniper berries: crush and pop into casseroles or use as a garnish in gin.
Medlar: when belted (half rotten) the flesh can be eaten as is or bake the fruit whole.
Mushrooms: ensure you identify fungi correctly.
Rosehip: containing x20 more vitamin c than oranges. Make into a syrup for flavouring, cordial, jelly and jam. Or make a liqueur with gin/vodka.
Rowanberries: jelly to go with game and lamb.
Sea beet: blanch as spinach.
Sloe: jelly, sloe gin or flavoured vinegar.
Walnuts: raw, roasted or pickled.
What’s in Season
At their best: apples, beetroots, Brussel sprouts, cabbages, carrots, cauliflowers, celeriac, celery, chard, chicory, damsons, endive, figs, gages, gooseberries, Jerusalem artichoke, juniper berries, kale, leeks, marrows, medlars, mushrooms, loganberries, onions, parsnips, pears, plums, potatoes, pumpkins, salsify, shallots, sloes, spinach, squashes, swedes, sweet potatoes, turnips, quince.
Hunting season provides: duck, goose, grouse, guinea fowl, hare, partridge, pheasant, pigeon, rabbit and venison.
Autumn, Amy Lowell
All day I have watched the purple vine leaves
Fall into the water.
And now in the moonlight they still fall,
But each leaf is fringed with silver.
Next scribble: Winter Solstice, 21 December.
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Each session will be posted on a Sunday (starting 7 November) but drop in at any point during the week that is convenient for you.