Saturday, October 31, 2009

Happy Halloween

The candy is by the door, I've donned my "traditional" witch look, (which I know upsets a lot of modern day witches, but I think it's rather whimsical and fun), I've got everything ready for circle tonight, the bread has been baked for offerings, my ancestor altar is decorated and ready for ceremony, I've made time to do a tarot reading and it's the perfect autumn day: blustery, dry and not too chilly. So what's left? Only the fun of Halloween and the joy and excitement of Samhain.

A very blessed, joyous and safe Samhain to all!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Magick Lore

At one time it was believed that the skull was where the soul was carried in one’s body, that it was capable of possessing very powerful magical properties and thus was a hotbed of supernatural power. Light a skull-shaped candle on Halloween when you do spell work or circle ritual.

Necromancers use skull-shaped candles in their rituals to summon the dead. Anise essential oil is used to anoint candles used in spells to conjure spirits, while orris oil is a known protection against accidentally conjuring evil spirits. Ancient lore states that lavender oil can be used to give a witch the power to see ghosts.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Cabbage Lore

For those who don't like to eat cabbage for Halloween (see recipe below) or at any other time for that matter, here's a bit of lore for you instead.

Did you know that cabbage stalks were once used by early Christians to divine whether or not they were going to go to heaven or hell when they died? A person would be blindfolded, sent into a cabbage patch and would then pull up a stalk at random. The stalk was then carefully examined. If it was clean and light-colored, it was said the person was sure to go to heaven. But if it was darkened by frost and rot, that person was going to burn in hell for all eternity.

In England, it was believed that if an unmarried woman went into a cabbage garden at midnight on Halloween and cut a stalk of cabbage, she would see an apparition of her future husband. If she saw nothing, she was destined to die a spinster. It was likewise for single men as well.

Personally, I prefer to eat my cabbage indoors on a cold Halloween night rather than stumbling blindfolded through a dark and chilly garden hoping for a bright future!

Monday, October 26, 2009


The traditional Irish food for Halloween is a potato dish known as colcannon. While it was eaten all year round by the poor due to its few ingredients, low cost to make and its ability to fill the belly quite nicely, it was considered special on Halloween as the cook would hide small trinkets within the dish. Traditionally it was a ring, a coin, a thimble and a tiny porcelain doll. The ring was said to signify marriage for the lucky recipient of that prize, the coin was said to foretell wealth, the unfortunate thimble bachelorhood or spinsterhood, and the little doll meant that that person would be the first in the group to have children. In modern times coins alone are hidden within the dish and it's believed to bring good luck for the coming year to those who find one (or more) in their serving. Colcannon also contains cabbage and butter, but many other ingredients can be added to it as well: milk, cream, bacon or ham, and garlic. Like the traditional Christmas pudding with its hidden prizes still served in England, cook up a batch of colcannon, add a few (safe!) lucky charms to it, and enjoy it with your guests after your Samhain rituals are over.

The traditional recipe called for an alarming amount of butter, and as most of us no longer live in sod huts, and with our modern central heating, we really don't need to pile on an excess layer of fat to see us through the colder months till spring. As such, I've reduced the fat content substantially and by browning the onions in a healthy oil (rather than adding them raw as in the original recipe), have maintained a nice hearty flavor in this dish without using multiple cups of butter. Feel free to add to it whatever your hungry heart desires!

Colcannon serves approximately 10 as a generous side dish

six or seven good-sized potatoes (approximately 4 1/2 - 5 pounds), peeled and coarsely chopped
one medium head of green cabbage, chopped or shredded (not too finely)
one medium onion, chopped
3/4 cup milk (approximate)
2-3 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
freshly ground black pepper to taste
one pound bacon cooked and cooled or ham cooked the previous day and chopped into small pieces (optional)

Peel the potatoes, coarsely chop them and put them in a medium pot. Cover with water and bring to a boil, cooking until just tender, but not mushy. Drain and mash. Add butter and milk to potatoes and mash until well blended. Adjust the milk so potatoes are neither too wet nor too dry. In a small skillet, place chopped onion in olive oil and saute over low flame until lightly golden in color, adding a bit more olive oil if necessary to keep from sticking. Add to mashed potatoes and pepper to taste. Steam the chopped cabbage just until color darkens slightly. Cabbage should be cooked, but not be mushy. Drain and add to potatoes, mixing thoroughly. An additional pat of butter can be added to each serving in an indentation made on the top of each.

And if you've added any prizes, please eat with care so as not to break any teeth! Enjoy!

Samhain "prize lore" information came in part from The Pagan Book of Halloween by Gerina Dunwich.
Additional information courtesy of Wikipedia.
Photo courtesy of teenytinyturkey on flickr.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Bread and Baking Lore

So, should you bake bread (or cookies) on Halloween or not? One old wives' tale says you should never bake bread on this sabbat, for if you do you will have nothing but bad luck and misery for the next twelve months. This one lonely bit of lore doesn't seem to be as popular as the belief that baking bread and other treats in honor of Samhain is not only favorable for the living, but also for all those loved ones who have passed before us.

In the Middle Ages on All Soul's Day, “Soul Cakes” were baked, which traditionally were little buns with currants and spices in them. They were eaten by Christians to honor those who had died within the last twelve months and were considered as important as hot cross buns were on Good Friday. They are believed to be directly derived from the ancient pagan custom of baking bread from the grain of the last harvest specifically to be eaten on Samhain, making this another pagan ritual adapted for the new Christian church.

Also, in early England was begun the custom of baking "saumas," or soul mass breads, which were then given away to bring good luck. It was important that a few loaves be kept uneaten in each household until the next All Soul’s Day as a charm against an early death befalling anyone who lived under that roof.

In Belgium, it was a custom on Halloween for children to stand beside little shrines they built in front of their homes and sell “cakes for the dead” which were always small white cakes or cookies. The buyer of the baked goods would eat one for each spirit of a loved one that had passed. It was believed that the more cakes you ate, the greater the blessings that would be received by your loved ones who in turn would bestow those blessings back onto the living.

Personally, I love to bake on Samhain: bread, cakes and especially whimsical cookies in the shape of everything Halloween and spooky. And for the record, it's never brought me any noticeable bad luck yet!

Many thanks to Gerina Dunwich and The Pagan Book of Halloween.
Photo courtesy of chelseyanne55 on flickr.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Indian Summer or Not?

You learn something new every day and today I learned something that I thought I knew, but have clearly been completely wrong about for most of my life. Having always thought that Indian Summer meant a few hot days in late September or maybe early October, I was surprised to find out that this is actually St. Luke's Little Summer which occurs in the days around October 18th and that these days were so named in order to give more attention to the saint's feast day as early Christians were spending far more time celebrating St. John's Day on June 24 and Michaelmas on September 29 and devoting too little time to poor St. Luke. True Indian Summer occurs only between November 11 and November 20, which I find absolutely amazing. But regardless, given that I live in New England (and it already snowed here yesterday for most of the afternoon), there usually isn't very much Little or Indian Summer to speak of here.

The early snow yesterday has me wondering just how severe this winter is going to be and for those who also prefer to consult nature over the five o'clock weatherman's predictions, here are a few things to watch for, courtesy of our Native American ancestors, to tell you if the upcoming winter is going to be a cold one.

Geese will be seen to fly at much higher altitudes
Oak trees will bear an excess of acorns
Chipmunks will be in abundance
Lakes and rivers will freeze later than usual
Onion skins will be thicker than usual at harvest
You'll see squirrels gathering a much larger supply of nuts
Woodpeckers will appear earlier than they do before a warmer winter
Corn husks will also be thicker and stronger at harvest as well

Friday, October 16, 2009

Candle Superstitions

Many people around the world think it's extremely unlucky to look at their reflection in a mirror by candlelight on Halloween night (although oddly enough, there's an old witch's ritual of making a wish by candlelight while gazing into a mirror on Halloween night). It was believed that gazing into a mirror lit only by candle(s) -especially a red or black candle- would summon the devil.

A burning candle placed within a carved pumpkin keeps evil spirits and demons away, especially on Samhain night when they are most active walking the earth. This is the basis of the tradition of lighting jack o' lanterns, which began in Ireland with the carving of gourds which were then used as lanterns to not only light a traveler's way, but to keep them safe from the things that go bump in the night.

For good luck burn black and orange candles on Halloween as these are the traditional colors of this sabbat and their color vibrations are at their highest on this day. Always burn new candles on Samhain for this will bring you good luck. And never burn your Samhain candles at any other time of the year as this will bring you bad luck.

If a candle should go out by itself on Halloween, by either wind, breath or an unknown force, it’s believed to be a sign that a ghostly spirit has arrived, so look lively!

Scrying into a candle flame on Halloween night is a good way to divine the future and to receive clairvoyant visions and messages. Or burn a white candle on Halloween, pour the melted wax from it into a cauldron full of cold water and divine the future by reading the patterns formed by the hardened wax floating in the water. There doesn't seem to be any literature on how to read this candle wax, unlike say, tea leaves, so it's up to you to divine the signs!

Burn a new orange candle at the Witching Hour of Midnight on Halloween and let it burn till the sun rises on the morning of November 1st and you will have very good luck, but be sure to burn it safely in a sink or bathtub if you aren't planning to stay up until the sun rises.

Photo courtesy of Me the Wanderer on flickr.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Decorating for Samhain

With Samhain just over two weeks away, I've been busy decorating for the New Year's celebration. I'm not big on lots of gaudy hoo-haws strung everywhere, but I did buy several lengthy strands of fairy lights in a vibrant orange and a soft purple. The only trouble is, I wanted them for indoors and I've yet to figure out where to string them. I've tried a few places, and even spent some time wrapping two strands together so the orange and purple could play off one another and they looked lovely all lit up, but I still hated them where I had put them and so after all that fussing, I ended up taking them back down anyways. For now, all those sweet lights are sitting in large snarled piles on my dining room table, looking rather forlorn.

I also bought a strand of tiny jack o' lanterns that light up and that I put on the mantel over the main fireplace in our house, letting them meander where they chose. And with a few of the little pumpkins hanging whimsically off the face of the mantel and with some small sized real pumpkins and a few little skulls, I'm pleased with the way they look. Thank goodness, as it would have been really depressing if I couldn't make anything work to my liking.

I use my sideboard in the dining room for my ancestor altar and today I pulled from my cellar the boxes labeled "Samhain" and began going through the items that I traditionally place on my shrine to those I love- and those I never knew but am bound to by blood- who have passed. Crows, skulls, large paper flowers I made years ago to replace the live flowers traditional to "Day of the Dead" celebrations and which are unattainable in New England at this time of year, candles, items that were personal to some of the people whose photos grace my altar, and more. I usually start to set it up about a week or so before Samhain and take it down on November 2. In the last days leading up to the sabbat I'll add fruit, vegetables and vegetation fresh-cut from the wild.

For me the act of going downstairs, pulling from my cellar the cartons where I store all my Samhain items during the year, bringing them up into the house proper and opening them is much like opening gifts on Christmas morning. I always get a small thrill when I see all these beloved things that have shared with me the passing of the seasons and likewise so many loved ones, and who in their own inanimate way have marked the years I have spent in the Craft. This is my favorite sabbat of the year and I can't wait until it's October 31.

Even if I never find a spot for those damn fairy lights!

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Hawthorn Samhain Lore

Never sleep or rest on the ground beneath the boughs of a hawthorn tree on Halloween as it's believed that evil spirits and mischievous faeries who are roaming the earth that night hide within the branches of hawthorn trees and cast unpleasant spells on those who innocently stop to rest beneath them.

"Faerie Hawthorne" photograph by the brilliant Giles C. Watson on flickr. Check out his work, I promise you won't be disappointed!

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Days of the Week Correspondences

As someone who is really anal in all things, I like to do my spellwork on the day of the week, and within the phase of the moon, that is most conducive to the spell coming quickly and powerfully to fruition. But there are always those times when a spell or raised energy is needed in a more timely manner and it just won't do to sit around and wait for the proper day or moon phase to come around and at those times I work when I need to, despite what my inner perfectionist is whispering in my ear. Still, when I can, I try to work within the hours, days, months and planets that are most powerful for my needs. And I'm endlessly fascinated by how potent this time sensitive power actually is. Pay attention to what happens to you on any given day of the week, and what wishes you've had that have manifested themselves and generally it's pretty much when the planets say it should. As an added boost to your spellwork, choose your colors and herbs wisely too. For many this is old hat, but for some it's new information, and for me, it's just fun to ponder the power!

Planetary influence: the Sun
Colors: yellow and gold
Herbs and spices: cinnamon and orange peel
Work magick on Sunday for money, prosperity, success, energy, life force, the divine power of the God, blessings, new projects and to heal those issues related to the aforementioned.

Planetary influence: the Moon
Colors: white and silver
Herbs and spices: lemon rind and wintergreen
Work magick on Monday to bring about conception, any issues to do with mothers and motherhood, the divine power of the Goddess, home and family issues, clairvoyance, women's mysteries, medicine, dreams, the sea and any and all emotional work.

Planetary influence: Mars
Colors: red and black
Herbs and spices: allspice and chili pepper
Work magick on Tuesday to enhance your passion for fighting personal causes, courage, politics, competitions, rituals involving men, self assertion, defense, war, problem solving, and any and all protective or aggressive magick.

Planetary influence: Mercury
Colors: orange and purple
Herbs and spices: dill and celery seed
Work magick on Wednesday for good communication, travel, creativity, speed, all things related to studying, learning and teaching, divination and predictions, celibacy, self improvement, and to improve good luck.

Planetary influence: Jupiter
Colors: green and royal blue
Herbs and spices: sage and nutmeg
Work magick on Thursday for prosperity, abundance, leadership, healing, wealth/poverty/monetary and legal issues, luck, expansion, fortune, and material possessions.

Planetary influence: Venus
Colors: pink and aqua green
Herbs and spices: thyme and sugar
Work magick on Friday to draw or send love, heal relationships, romance, beauty, fertility, incense making, the arts, partnerships, pleasure, entertainment and all rituals involving women.

Planetary influence: Saturn
Colors: black or deep purple
Herbs and spices: Most of the spices associated with Saturn are poisonous, but for banishing spells you can use garlic or onion, fresh or dried
Work magick on Saturday to enhance boundaries, protective magick, restrictions, eliminating debt, finding a job, reincarnation and death, purging of pests, funerals and wills, the elderly, and all banishing and binding spells.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Ivy Leaf Lore

In England, ivy has been used for centuries to divine the future. To foretell if a member of your family is going to die within the next twelve months, write the name of each family member on a leaf of ivy and on Halloween night place the leaves in a bowl of water and go to bed. In the morning, check the leaves: if one is shriveled up, has turned black or dark, or if there is the shape of a coffin marked on any of the leaves, this is believed to be an omen of death for the person whose name is written on that leaf. A leaf with black spots portends sickness, red spots a violent death for that unlucky family member. These events, however, can all be reversed if a wise man with knowledge of protective incantations can be found to magickally help you.

Want to induce dreams of your future love? Place ten ivy leaves beneath your pillow before you go to bed on Halloween night.

Ivy is sacred to Bacchus and Osiris and is said to offer protection against all forms of evil. It's long been used in the art and practice of divination and is ritually paired with holly. It aids in fertility, brings good luck and ensures fidelity. Ivy is a powerful witch's tool, even when it isn't Halloween.

Thanks to The Pagan Book of Halloween by Gerina Dunwich and In Worship of Trees by George Knowles

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Full Harvest Moon

Tonight's moon, that which falls closest to Mabon and the autumnal equinox, was named as such because it's frequently bright enough to work by, thus allowing farmers to continue their harvesting even after the sun goes down. Crops now ready for gathering are the last corn of the season, squashes and wild rice (which I have to admit I'm not such a big fan of!).

Due to the seasonal tilt of the earth at this time of year, the Harvest Moon often looks more colorful and unique than any other full moon during the year. I love to look up and see my beloved moon sporting shades of golden red or orange. Not only is it beautiful to look at on its own, but it's in perfect keeping with all the colors the earth is wearing at this time of year and to me it lends an even more fall feel to this season.

Sometimes this moon is known as the Hunter's Moon, but that isn't completely accurate. The Harvest Moon is always the moon closest to the equinox, but only up until October 13 and no later. If the full moon falls later than that, it's then called the Full Hunter's Moon, which is always the moon after the Harvest Moon. Today's moon is also known as the Kindly Moon, the Blackberry Moon, and courtesy of the Sioux Nation, The Moon When Quilling and Beading is Done. The neo-pagan name for this moon is the Blood Moon.

If you're out tonight Drawing Down the Moon or even just taking a moment to enjoy the crisp night air, be sure to first bathe yourself in the beauty of autumn's splendor above your head and enjoy one of the most beautiful moon's of the lunar year.


Friday, October 2, 2009

Natural Herbal Remedies

I've been struggling with a bout of chest congestion and a runny nose for several weeks now. My doctor says sinus allergies have caused a mild case of bronchitis (how generous of them!) and to help with the unpleasant symptoms, such as the complete inability to breathe at times, I should take an over-the-counter allergy medicine. While I would never knock anyone else for making the choice to do this, it just isn't my thing. If I can use herbs to help with any benign (and really unpleasant) symptoms, then I'll always do that rather than take drugs.

So given the fact that it is that time of year when folks get sick with change of season allergies and we're about to lurch headlong into the heart of the cold and flu season, herbal cures and remedies just might be the thing most needed right now. So if you aren't feeling well enough to get to the store, most of these remedies can be found in your kitchen right now. And most or all of these ingredients can be combined together for some even more potent medicine.

Cinnamon is an anti-microbial and cinnamon oil can be used in a steam bath to open the lungs and nasal passages. Keep in mind to not put the oil directly onto your skin so as not to burn yourself with it. Make yourself some cinnamon toast with ground cinnamon sprinkled on it, or a tea made with a cinnamon stick in hot water with added honey drizzled into it.

Eucalyptus and Peppermint are excellent for relieving respiratory distress and opening clogged lungs and bronchial passages. Either can be used as a nasal steam bath with a few drops of the essential oil placed in a large bowl of steaming water and then inhaled. Also, either the crushed leaves of the plant, or a few drops of the essential oil from it, can be mixed with a bit of olive oil and warmed to make a soothing rub for the chest (take care with what you're wearing though so as not to stain it with the oil!).

Lemon is an antibacterial that also helps to flush the lymphatic system. A soothing tea made with hot water and fresh squeezed lemon juice is a great cure for a sore throat and the hot liquid will loosen clogged sinuses.

Onions. Onions contain many volatile oils all of which make for very effective medicine. An onion can act as an expectorant that breaks up mucus and phlegm, as an anti-microbial that has been proven to kill streptococci bacteria, ease asthma attacks and relax bronchial spasms, and can stop a simple cough as well. To ease sinus congestion you can do something as simple as cut a fresh onion and breathe in the vapor from it or eat a sliced raw onion to ease your throat pain. But for those who prefer their onions cooked, here's a few more suggestions. To clear lung congestion, fry an onion in olive oil and sprinkle with cayenne or curry powder. No cayenne or curry? Fry up a couple of onions by themselves and they'll work almost as well alone. Onions are a great expectorant without any added bells and whistles. To make a tasty cough suppressant, grate an onion and mix with honey to taste, fry in a bit of olive oil and eat.

Oregano is wonderful for relieving a fever, a cold or the flu. Keep in mind though to not put any oregano essential oil on your face directly without it being mixed in a fatty oil as it can burn you, believe it or not. This is an herb that in oil form is considered "hot" and will heat up and tingle in no time at all. To be safe, make a rub with some crushed leaves or a small amount of essential oil placed in a warm olive oil solution and have someone rub it onto your upper back to relieve muscle pain and lung congestion. And obviously it goes without saying that the herb itself it can be eaten in a delicious recipe too!

Sage has been used for centuries to treat upper respiratory troubles, such as coughs, colds and fevers. It can be eaten in a dish prepared with it or an infusion made from the leaves and stems can be used as a mouthwash. Gargle with it to cure sore throats and coughs.

Thyme is a natural anti-microbial and expectorant that heals throat, lung and stomach infections, as well as urinary tract issues. If you have a sore throat or chest congestion, make a tea using fresh thyme leaves in place of tea leaves. Gargle with it to heal your throat and drink it to loosen phlegm and heal your lungs. When the volatile oil in thyme reaches your bladder and kidneys, it will heal any condition there as well. Thyme can also be used in a steam bath to loosen your sinuses and bronchial passages. Simply take a small muslin bag of fresh thyme or use several drops of pure thyme oil and place in a bowl of steaming water. Drape a towel over your head and steam your nasal passages to clear them. All varieties contain the same active ingredient, thymol, so choose whatever type you prefer.

It obviously goes without saying that if you are really sick or think you may have an infection, you should please see your doctor right away. While I may use herbs in my daily life, I would never shun proper medical attention when I needed it. Even the Wise Women of old knew when something was beyond their knowledge and it was time to call the village physician!

Thursday, October 1, 2009


I don't believe there's a more spiritual way to welcome the month of October than this.

O hushed October morning mild,
Thy leaves have ripened to the
fall; Tomorrow's wind, if it be wild,
Should waste them all.
The crows above the forest call;
Tomorrow they may form and go.
O hushed October morning mild,
Begin the hours of this day slow,
Make the day seem to us less brief.
Hearts not averse to being beguiled,
Beguile us in the way you know.
Release one leaf at break of day;
At noon release another leaf;
One from our trees, one far away.
Retard the sun with gentle mist;
Enchant the land with amethyst.
Slow, slow!
For the grapes' sake, if they were all,
Whose leaves already are burnt with frost,
Whose clustered fruit must else be lost—
For the grapes' sake along the wall.

Robert Frost, 1913

Photo courtesy of b3nut on flickr.