Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Samhain: A Time to Remember My Fallen Leaves

October has always been my favorite month, my most loved time of year, and Samhain my favorite of the sabbats. Perhaps it is because I am an October baby. Yet I think it is more so because of the month itself, the mystery of this turn of the wheel, all of the beauty amongst all the decay, and a time to remember my fallen leaves.

Mother Earth, weak and tired from the weight of ripened fruits and vegetables and branches of abundant leaves and flowers, is lightening her load, sending leaves from the trees in a flourish of gold, yellow, orange and red. The sun is warm yet the breezes are cool and crisp and the rich earthy scents of wood smoke and decaying leaves linger on the currents. Hearty and sweet aromas of beef stews, candied apples, and cinnamon waft from kitchen windows and transport me back to autumns of yesteryear. Patios, porches, doorsteps and yards are adorned in symbols of the final harvest like hay bales, cornstalks, gourds, pumpkins, and the jeweled colors of chrysanthemums, breathtaking against the skeletal remains of summer gardens. Everywhere there is magic, an electrical charge of power rippling around me. The veil is thinning. Sometimes I think I can see it, a dark violet shimmer and wave in the night sky behind the stars, like a curtain on the stage of the universe. At times, I feel it, a gentle tug at my soul, nudging me to fly free into the dark. Samhain is near.

I spend most of October with death and decay as I put my garden to rest for the winter. The once bursting garden beds are now full of withered and brown branches, dried seedpods, and spent blossoms. I layer them with fallen autumn leaves, burying them to be reborn in spring. In whispers, I thank each plant for their beauty and abundance as I cover them for another year and wish them a safe and peaceful slumber through the ice, snow and harsh winter winds. I harvest the last of the herbs, bringing them indoors for drying, my kitchen becoming a fragrant final resting place for hanging bunches of herbs and a reminder of the life that was, just a short time ago, growing all around me. Most of my summer visitors have flown south for the winter. Those that remain find shelter in bird houses, wood piles, and mounds of twigs and fallen leaves. After all my plants and shrubs are safely laid to rest for the year and my feathered and furried friends have settled in for the dark time of the year, I leave gifts of thanks to the spirits of nature, to Mother Earth, and to the flora and fauna throughout the garden.

Indoors, I prepare my home to welcome the dead, my beloved dead, my fallen leaves. In and around the usual autumn and Samhain d├ęcor upon my altar, I place a garland of autumn leaves and to it I pin the pictures of the family and friends, the people and pets, who slipped beyond the veil. The pictures have become too recent, no longer the faded sepia or black and white photos of great-grandparents or grandparents but the colorful images of parents, cousins, aunts, uncles and childhood friends, bringing tears to my eyes and a heart-wrenching sob to my throat as I place them on the altar, hardly believing that they are no longer only a phone call away. I spend many moments just staring at their faces smiling out at me from among the brightly colored autumn leaves, speaking to them, hoping for a reply, sometimes imagining that they wave back at me like the photographs in the Harry Potter movies. Perhaps it is my old Catholic upbringing but I leave the pictures there through November 2nd, All Souls Day. There are some people in those pictures who would appreciate that.

Samhain arrives and I let the magic of the day take over. The pumpkins are carved with jagged smiles and triangular eyes and noses and then lit. The soul cakes are made and set aside for later in the evening. I cleanse and bless the house and gardens, clearing the way for those people in the pictures to drop by for a bit, even if it is for a minute. The dining room table is set for the Ancestor Feast, the traditional meal my mother used to make at Halloween – beef stew, biscuits, and a sweet treat, usually an apple crisp. As always, there is one empty seat at the table with a full place setting for whoever wishes to slip back through the veil and join us. Family and friends gather around the table and stories are told, laughter is heard, and tears are shed through dinner. We remember all of those moments captured in the colorful pictures on the altar and many more moments frozen in time in our memories. Yes, they are here at the table, laughing with us, crying with us, missing us like we miss them. As dinner is cleared away, I quietly mourn the fact that my son is “too old” to trick-or-treat now and page through my mental photo album of every Halloween costume he wore through the years.

As the night winds down, I head outside to my patio to light the Samhain fire pit into which are thrown bunches of dried herbs from my garden and slips of paper on which are written the things I wish to leave behind me now. I mourn what once was and embrace what will be. I celebrate who I was (because we all change with each turn of the wheel) and lay the old me to rest. I rededicate myself to my ever-twisting Pagan path and welcome the new me. I sit under the night sky and the parted veil and talk to my fallen leaves, sharing with them just as I would if they were still just that phone call away. The fire dies down to glowing embers, the ashes of which I will scatter in the garden, and I head indoors for another piece of apple crisp and some spiced apple wine in a spot close to my altar. The Jack O’Lantern smiles down at me from there as I look down the road a bit, with tarot cards or runes, at what may lie ahead.

Yet, where there is death there is also life. I look around at all those who gather at the Ancestor Feast table and see my beloved dead in their faces, their habits, and their mannerisms, hear them in their voices and their laughter, and feel them pulsing in my veins. Many of them are present in the image I see in my mirror each day. I stroll around my garden and see the leaves mulching down to nourish the life that will grow in spring. The seed pods of this year’s plants will become next year’s plants. The costumes my son once wore may someday be worn again by his children. Parts of me fall way like the autumn leaves so that I may continue to grow. The wheel turns, the leaves fall, and life goes on.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

The Magic of Wildwood Days

Long before I was a village wise woman, long before I was a witch, a Master Gardener, or a wife or mom, I was a beach bum. From the age of 8 months until my late teens, I spent every summer, all summer, at the Jersey shore in Wildwood Crest, New Jersey. This came at the privilege of being the daughter of a teacher and a stay-at-home mom and having a longtime family summer residence. With Memorial Day just passing and with the fast-approaching end of the school year and Summer Solstice, I have been traveling down memory lane often, longing for those Wildwood days again. (Before I continue, I must ask you, my reader, to please excuse me should my writing take on a stream-of-consciousness style. Wildwood does that to me sometimes.)

It started the Friday morning before Memorial Day on my way to work. As I got to the Wawa for my morning coffee, there were the cars loaded up with bags, beach chairs, boogie boards, and smiling people wearing sunglasses, sun hats and flip-flops, all ready for the long summer-opening weekend at the beach. Completely jealous, I muttered under my breath, "Bastards!" and threw open the store door. And the flood of memories began, in snap shots and slow motion film in my head.

Packing up the car at an unheard of 4:00 in the morning, Locking up our little row home for the summer and checking the door what seemed like a million times before leaving. My parents, me and my then only younger sister piling into the small yellow Toyota Corolla and getting on the road before the sun rose on the eastern horizon. Traveling exactly at or under the speed limit, back roads only because my dad could never tolerate the main highways to the shore. My mother passing orange slices to me and my sister in the back seat and lighting my dad's pipe for him because he had to concentrate on the road. Giggling with my sister as quietly as we could so as not to distract Dad. More orange slices from Mom to keep us quiet. Stopping along the way, several times, so my mom could pick some reeds and wildflowers from back bay marshes or so my dad could could check out an odd gravestone jutting out at the roadside where my mom would place a wildflower. Oh what a strange trip it always was and a very long one at that!

We would arrive at the family seaside residence somewhere in the mid-morning. Oh that old beautiful house! It was built by my paternal great-grandfather and other relatives, I believe, in the 1920's. Six bedrooms, one and a half baths. A huge side lot full of plants and mimosa trees. Open front porch, screened back porch. Small laundry room. Outside shower. An old wooden garage that, as I recall, only housed cars in the event of a tropical storm or hurricane and served mainly as my dad's study during the summer as well as containing all the beach gear, the bikes, and the garden tools. And there we would stay, from the last day of school until Labor Day. Hours upon hours on the beach, playing in the sand, splashing around in the ocean, eating bologna sandwiches and sipping warm iced tea from a thermos. Nights either on the porches or under the mimosa trees in the yard or taking long walks along the bay to see the boats go out for night fishing and to watch the sun go down over Sunset Lake. Rainy days were spent at the library or in Cape May, going from antique store to book store to the lighthouse at the Point.

Weekends were most always a full house. On Fridays, my great Aunt Elanor and Great uncle Salvie, would arrive for the weekend, car packed with bags from what they called the American Store (in today's lingo - the Acme). My sis and I would  help haul the bags inside where we would unload the canned tomatoes, olive oil, paper goods and meats from the butcher. Uncle Salvie would take us to the fish market to get the flounder for the Friday evening meal (because in those days you could not eat meat in Fridays if you were Catholic which they all were). Then, later in the day, my great Aunt would arrive on the express bus from Philadelphia, She always had treats - jellied fruit slices and chocolates - for me and my sister, We'd shove what we could into our mouths before anyone noticed and help her get bags settled in her room. Friends of my parents would drop by. Eleanor and Salvie's son, and my dad's cousin, Fran, often came. It was a weekend of fun, family and good food. There were afternoon gin and tonics on the porches for the adults before dinner while my sis and I played in the yard after the beach.

And this went on, day in, day out, week after week, until Labor Day. It was life at the shore. Okay, it wasn't all good. There was arguing, there were frustrations, there was chaos sometimes. But we were at the shore. The sand, the sea, the sun, the salt air. Ah, yes, the shore! Confession: I cry every time Bruce sings that line, " 'Coz down the shore everything's all right".

Years later, when my parents divorced, job situations changed, and my great aunts and uncles passed away, the house passed, by way of screwed up last wills and testaments, to Fran and that was the end of those idyllic summers in Wildwood Crest. Although my dad's mom, who died when he was 5, was once part owner of the house, a portion of ownership never passed into my dad's hands. He still went to the house though, spending about six weeks every summer with his new wife. By then I was dating my later-to-be husband and he and I would pack up the car every Friday night after work and speed down the Atlantic City Expressway and the Garden State Parkway in a 1980 V8 Ford Thunderbird, taking an amazing 70 minutes even in all that weekend traffic to get there, spend the weekend sitting on the beach and frolicking in the ocean, only to race back to the city in crazy traffic on Sunday evenings. My husband proposed to me at Sunset Lake. My son went there for the first few years of his life, every weekend of the summer. Life got in the way, life changed, circumstances changed, and we stopped going.

That house in the Crest was my dad's peace and solace. It was the place he went every summer of his life from birth to the year before he died. It was the last place he saw his mother alive. It was where he met my mom, where he met my stepmom. It was part of his very being, part of his life. It was his life. The night my dad passed away, I knew where he wanted to be, where he needed to go. As he took his last breaths, I told him to go there, that his mother waited for him there. And that is where I know he is now, spending every second of eternity at the Jersey Shore in Wildwood Crest. That house is his Summerland.

I haven't been in Wildwood for a while now. It's just a bit too hard for me still. I'll get there eventually. But, when I want to feel like my old beach bum self, like I did over the Memorial Day weekend, I just put on some suntan lotion so the scent of coconut, sand and salt envelops me, throw on my tankini under my favorite broken-in denim jeans or capris with a tank top and my oldest pair of flip-flops so I feel like I am at the beach, sip a gin and tonic outside on the patio pretending that I am under a mimosa tree or on that front porch, close my eyes, and imagine I hear the roar of the ocean, the boat horns sounding on departure, and the call of the gulls in the distance. I am transported back to the magic of those Wildwood days.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Light Rekindled

It is Imbolc eve. My altar is ready, full of candles to light the way through the day and night tomorrow, a couple pots full of soil awaiting the planting of seeds, and all the needed items for magic and ritual. I had all sorts of plans for tonight and tomorrow. But something happened today. Something that shook me to my core, changed me forever, and, in a strange way, brought the meaning of Imbolc to the forefront of my mind.

Today, someone very near and exquisitely dear to my heart, a wee someone, a child, became ill. I will not/cannot tell the full story here for the privacy of the people involved. The child was fine this morning except for a runny nose, a bit of a cough, and a slight fever. At some point today though, the wee one's fever spiked and caused a febrile seizure. Being so close to the family and their home, the little one's mother, scared out of her mind, ran the child to me for help. Now in retrospect, I am amazed at how calm I remained. I placed the call to 911, got the mother calmed down, and gathered all the needed items for the trip to the hospital. Everything happened very fast. After poking, prodding, x-rays, some fever reducers, and some tender loving care, the wee one is now fine, tucked safe and sound in bed, and fever-free. Blessed Be!

Yes, children get sick. Yes, some of them may experience a febrile seizure. Yes, a mother going through this with their child is scared beyond rational thought by something like this. But, I am sure you are asking, how did this affect me so strongly? I have never witnessed a child having a seizure. The sight of this small helpless being's body in the grip of a seizure is frightening beyond imagination. The fact that their eyes roll back is terrifying. Even more frightening is that it takes some time for the brain to, for lack of a better word, reset after an event like that. So, after the seizure was over and the little one cried uncontrollably for a while, every single person in that little exam room who had an attachment to that child was sort of holding their breath to see how she would bounce back from it. When she looked at me finally and said my name through tears, my whole heart and soul leapt within me. The light in her eyes, in her body and in her spirit was rekindled and it took all the strength I had in me to keep from falling into my usual post-stress reaction of crying. I saved that until I knew mother and baby were home with all the needed items and I got back into my own home. Then I went upstairs to my bathroom, shut the door, sat on the cold tile floor, and commenced sobbing.

As I sat there crying and blowing my nose, my mind kept switching from the sight of that child having the seizure to a snapshot of those big brown beautiful eyes with the light rekindled in them. Light rekindled. Light rekindled. It repeated in my head with each time my brain snapped from each picture and back again, like the old childhood Viewmaster toy. Picture to picture. Snap! Snap! Light rekindled. Light rekindled. It was then that I remembered that it was Imbolc eve (because that went completely out of mind at the beginning of this whole ordeal) and my tears stopped.

The child is fine, will continue to be fine. Spring will be here soon. Tomorrow the light of rebirth and regeneration is rekindled deep in the earth and soon the world will be full of the sights and sounds of renewed life, like the light returning to that wee one's eyes today and the sound of that little sweet voice saying my name. The grip of winter is slowly loosening, like the grip of that seizure slowly letting go of that child. I breathed a sigh of relief, thanked the Goddess several times, dried my tears, got up off the floor, and, finally composed, headed back downstairs to the kitchen where I caught my own child, my almost grown up son, in a huge and extra tight hug.

Now here I am, watching the snow fall outside my window and feeling the warmth of relief in my heart and soul. Light is rekindled, for that child, for the mother, for all of us who love that child, for the earth. Blessed Be!

Friday, January 16, 2015

With a Little Help From My Friends

On Sunday, I fell. It was a nasty fall, in a public place, a store, and was one of the most embarrassing moments of my life. As shoppers and clerks rushed to my aid, I blew them off with brisk replies of "I'm okay. Really, I'm fine." But I wasn't. I knew I wasn't fine or okay. There was an awful pain in my ribs on the left side and a burning throbbing pain in my right shin. I went about shopping, realizing that with each passing minute it was becoming more difficult to take a deep breath and that, when I attempted to breathe deeply, the pain gripped my chest. By the time I got home about an hour later, I was in bad shape. In my line of typing medical reports, I would note that my pain was "10 out of 10 on a visual analog scale". Also, being in the medical business, I knew this subjective complaint translates to "head to the ER".

There I sat in the emergency room for two hours, waiting to be seen, with a sea of flu patients around me. My husband kept making me laugh, the kind of laugh that required a lot of lung and chest movement, Not good! But it lifted my spirits and made me tune out the illness and injuries around me. After a quick exam, a few x-rays, a pain pill and some more hysterically witty comments from my hubby, the doctor came in and told me that, "although fractures could not be visualized on the x-rays as rib fractures so often are not", he was convinced that I had fractured a rib or two but had not punctured a lung. The shin was "no biggie" and just needed some cleaning up and a few ice applications. I was sent home with a prescription for pain meds and instructions to rest, apply ice frequently, and an apparatus to exercise my lungs so pneumonia would not set in.

Back home I went and, as news of my injury got around either through me, the hubby or other family and friends, offers of help, prayers, meals, you name it, started coming in. The house phone rang all evening. My cell phone buzzed with text messages every few minutes, and my Facebook page filled with well wishes and intentions of healing energy coming my way. I was so touched by the outpouring of love and positive energy being sent to me. And with all of that, I settled into healing and recovery.

By Tuesday, I was in a complete fog from the pain killers. I could not move off the sofa, could not speak right, and could not focus on anything. To be completely candid, I was stoned off my ass! I had never reacted to pain meds like this before! As I lay there, trying not to move too fast for fear of hurting my ribs or making myself dizzy, I realized that the reaction I was having was probably my body's way of saying, "Okay, Woman! That's enough! You don't need this crap anymore! Get back to nature!" No more pain killers for me! I started a regimen of a tea for respiratory health, slathering on a mixture of arnica gel and Biofreeze, healing meditations, eating calcium-rich foods, and gently pushing myself to move more, to breathe deeper.

Wednesday I awoke with less pain. I could cough, yawn, sneeze, and laugh without that sharp pain shooting through my chest. I set about my day slowly, carefully. I smudged the house with sage, ridding it of the negative, icky energies of illness and pain and replacing it with the white and blue lights of healing. I played with my store of herbs at the kitchen table, mixing up a bath soak of epsom salts, dead sea salts, essential oils, and some lavender buds, as well as an herbal bath soak of healing and relaxing flowers and herbs. I refreshed the vases in my home with fresh pine branches cut from our Yule tree. I tended to my houseplants, picking out dead leaves and dried up flowers, gently talking to each one of them. At the end of the day, I realized that all of these actions, all of these herbs and plants, had helped to make me feel even better.

On Thursday, I was up at four in the morning, restless, unable to sleep, my mind racing through all sorts of thoughts, from finances to herbal blends for teas to upcoming obligations and back to finances. I got out of bed and struck out on another day of recovery. Being cooped up in the house for the past four days had created this restlessness. I was sure of it. So, I got outside, pushed myself to walk to the local convenience store three blocks away and back. It was cold and slow-going, painful at times and easy at others, but I did it, taking in deep achy breaths of fresh air, filling my lungs with the crisp scent of winter, letting the low-lying sun shine what beams it could upon my face. I strolled along in my best grippy sneakers, chest bundled from the chills of January, taking slow deliberate steps, conscious of every crack in the sidewalk, menacing patch of ice, and sneaky branch in my path. But I did it. I came home to a restful day of watching old movies, reading up on soap-making, paging through gardening catalogs, and chatting online with Facebook and Master Gardener friends, all still offering help, love and, what else, plants to cheer me up! More tea, more arnica gel and Biofreeze, more healthy foods, and a handful of different vitamins and supplements were had throughout the day. By bedtime, I was exhausted and had a really hard time finding a comfortable sleeping position (which for the past few nights since my fall had been propped up with pillows, nearly seated!) but I finally found it and, somewhat snuggled up with my hubby, I fell into a deep, sound, dreamless sleep.

Now here I am today, still a bit sore and stiff but definitely on the mend. I took another walk this morning, this time with a bit more pep in my step. Today is a day of studying and preparation. I am reading up on some more soap-making hints and ideas, making lists of ingredients and techniques. I have another notebook open to a blank page to be filled with incense blends to create. My Book of Shadows is nearby for reference and inspiration. I'll spend the coming weekend making soaps, mixing up incenses for the year, and crafting a few other herbal products. A load of laundry awaits folding and the bird feeders call to be filled again but I am waiting for the hubby to come home from work to help with those chores. Yes, I am beginning to feel much like myself again.

Through all of this, I have discovered the depth and diversity of my friends. They are not only human beings, those people in and around my life, my family, people I have known for years or those whom I have never met face-to-face. My friends are many more! They are the plants in my life - my houseplants, the herbs I grew, harvested and stored, and the botanical sources for my healing. They are my books, those that bring me comfort, knowledge, and new worlds. They are the elements - the warmth of the sun's fire, the breath of fresh air, the healing waters in which I soak, earth's botanical bounty, and the spirit of love and caring that surrounds me. All of these people and things are my friends. Without them and their help, I don't think I would be healing so quickly. I am truly blessed!

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Sacred Spaces

"My next house will have an office!" I yelled from my spot at the kitchen table where I tapped away at the keys of my laptop as my son and husband talked right behind my chair, getting themselves drinks and snacks, as I desperately tried to find the right words for what I wanted to say next in an article.

This has been par for the course here in my house for, oh, maybe a year. I abandoned my old work space, a desk in my dining room but a very peaceful spot, when I got the lap top. My desktop just was not working well for me anymore but is the "storage" space for all of my family's cyber-life. It holds years of pictures, old but maybe eventually needed e-mails, some of my writing, several school reports, and a library of music, none of which, may I add, has been accessed in a very long time. I used to love writing the day away at my desk, surrounded by my bookcases of magical books, my altar a few steps away, with candles lit and emanating positive and creative energies. So there sat my desk, the old desktop and all of that energy in my dining room, unused and untapped, until Sunday night.

The full moon rose that night, although the clouds obscured it from full view, and I set about my usual January full moon ritual, working to bring renewed creativity for my writing, financial recovery after the holidays, and good energy for the second half of the school year for my son. As I created the sacred space for my ritual, something began to nag at my brain. I kept hearing the words "sacred space" echoing in my head, calling to me. asking me to look at it more closely. It dawned on me about half way through my magical workings. Sacred space is everywhere, all around me, within me and without, wherever I am and whatever I do.

Sacred space, for me, is so much more than just a circle cast for magic, that place in between worlds, in between time. It is a feeling generated by a place, by a time, by an action. It is that feeling of peace, acceptance, safety and love I get when I walk through the door of my home at the end of a long day. I am home. It is that leap of joy my spirit does when I am in the garden, planting, sitting, strolling or harvesting. I am one with Mother Earth. It is there when I am curled up with a good book on the sofa, all sense of my own world drifting away as I enter another world. I am living a different life. Sacred space is created when I draw that hot bath and slip into the lavender-scented water to soothe my aching bones on a cold night. I am at peace. It is there when I cook a meal, adding a dash of this or spoonful of that to the simmering pot on the stove, for my family. I am brewing up love. It is there when I am wrapped in my husband's arms. I am one with him. It is around me when I am writing, deep in thought and typing away at the keys. I am in my mind. Sacred space is there around me at all times. I am.

My sacred spaces have just been a bit cluttered, a little frustrating, and a little less energetic lately. They needed some tweaking, some fine-tuning, and some clearing. Last night, I asked my husband to clear off the desktop monitor, speakers, and mouse. After he did that, I dusted, straightened up, and smudged the room. I placed a few crystals and a jar with two feathers - a crow's and a hawk's - on my desk, to help the creative energies to flow. My sacred writing space is now back up and running smoothly. Ahhh, that feels so much better! Soon the holiday decorations will be down and away, which will restore the balance of my home's energies and will make things around here feel less cluttered. Slowly but surely, my husband is working his way through the basement, organizing, repurposing, recycling, or trashing, section by section, shelf by shelf. Just knowing how much stuff is in the basement throws off the sacred space of my house for me! We are back to healthy eating and exercising after all the sweets and carb-loaded foods that were synonymous with the holiday season. That will make the sacred space that is my body feel less bloated, less achy, and more energetic. I have started making herbal products, like teas, facial toners, aftershaves and bath salts, as a test run for a possible future home business. This has allowed me to continue working with the herbs from my garden in these colder darker days of winter, restoring my connection with the earth until spring arrives. I am back to a decent schedule of writing obligations, creating a sacred space of my time too.

So sacred space is more than a circle cast for magic. It is there always, just waiting to be cleaned up a bit to feel sacred and empowered again. Make this month about clearing up all of your sacred spaces, whether it be your home, your office, your body, your mind or your spirit. All of it can use a good cleaning out, a smudging and a little attention. It's made everything around me feel sacred again!

Happy New Year and blessings!