Friday, October 29, 2010

The Season of the Witch

That was my favorite song by Donovan, way way back in the day, and this is, again, my favorite time of year.  What I love most is the way it marks the changing seasons, the turning of the wheel of the year.  Van Morrison's on the stereo right now, singing "I want to see you at the Celtic New Year, " which as you may know is exactly what I'm talking about. The Celtic New Year, or Samhain, the last of the harvest festivals, the time when the veil between the worlds of the living and dead is at its thinnest, is the origin of what we call Halloween.
I feel my own Irishness strongly in autumn and winter, and this little watercolor pencil sketch pays tribute to my ancestors as well as the season, with the celtic knots along the side.  The crone in various guises - called Hecate, the Morrigan, the Caillech Bheur, Baba Yaga, and many other names - is the deity most associated with Halloween/Samhain and here she stands in front of a bonfire that lights up the night sky reaching out to bless the fruits of the season, represented by (of course) a pumpkin.

Unfortunately, our pumpkins didn't do well this year so, like the rest of the winter squashes we use, they'll come from the farmers' market. Next spring I'll be sure to plant them on Good Friday, which will be later than usual, on April 22. (Easter comes on the first Sunday following the first full moon after the Spring Equinox). Planting pumpkins on Good Friday is supposed to guarantee that later, as jack-o-lanterns, they'll be successful at keeping away evil things.  (I also recently read that planting white icicle radishes with pumpkins - and presumably other squashes - helps to keep away the dreaded squash vine borer, which got some of our zucchini this year.)

Though most people acknowledge Halloween's celtic beginnings, in other parts of the world this time of year has also traditionally been reserved for important festivals, in the northern hemisphere, as I mentioned above, it's the last harvest festival.  In Mexico and here in the southwestern U.S., the Day of the Dead, El Dia de los Muertos, marks a celebration of the lives of those we love(d) who have gone before us.  I wrote about that last October and posted pictures of my own ofrenda or altar to the ancestors.  At this time the dead can return to visit us - many people make them welcome by setting a place for them at the table or otherwise remembering them in a party atmosphere.  One lovely custom I recently read about involves strewing the path to the door with marigold petals to show them the way and invite them in, since marigolds are sacred to the dead.

I made this little pendant from a picture on a lotería board (lotería is a game often described as Mexican bingo, though it's more colorful and, I think, more fun, as well as a good way to practice or learn  Spanish - kids love it).  I drilled a hole through the top of a domino from side to side, then painted the plain side of the domino with Mod Podge, affixed the picture, coated the picture and the front and sides of the domino generously with Mod Podge again and glued on tiny beads around the edge of the picture and on the eyes of the calavera or skull. The Mod Podge acts as both glue and sealer.  Then I just strung it on a black leather cord and knotted it to hang at the desired length.  There's no need to bother doing anything at all with the spotted side of the domino.

When I was a child my friends and I roamed our small town without supervision (after a certain age, about 8 or so, I think) feeling totally safe, at least from other humans.  Some grownups passed out homemade cookies or popcorn balls or apples, and no one gave a thought to the idea anyone might use those treats to harm us.  In fact, those were the most popular houses, since the women were all good cooks! Mrs. Ford, for example, a retired teacher who lived on our block, invited everyone in for cocoa and cookies and parents reminded us to be sure to stop at her house (and to say thank you). It makes me sad to think about how things have changed, how so many of us don't know our neighbors, how we have to worry about someone giving children "treats" that might harm them.  Tomorrow night we'll give out factory-sealed candies to the kids who come to our door and hope they enjoy them as much as we did the candied apples and cookies of the past.  My enjoyment at seeing the kids come to the door in their costumes hasn't changed - even the ones some people think are too big to still be trick-or-treating. I think if a high schooler can access her or his inner little kid for that one night, it's wonderful.  We have to be adult for a long time!

The dangers to animals on Halloween are unfortunately real, so I hope everyone remembers to keep their pets indoors on Halloween night for their own safety, especially cats, and especially black cats like Angelo, above.  But I just learned a while ago that in the British Isles, black cats are thought to bring good luck! It's when a white cat crosses your path that you want to worry!

Here are a few bits of Halloween lore, just for fun:
* Eat an apple before going to bed on Halloween night to ensure good health during the coming year, and eat a slice from each of 3 apples for good luck.
* 9 hazelnuts strung together into an amulet and hung in the house on Halloween will attract good luck and protect against evil and negativity.
* Always burn new candles at Halloween, but don't burn Halloween candles at any other time of the year, or you risk bad luck.  Guess that means throwing away the Halloween candles after blowing them out - sounds like time for tea lights.
* This one's really important: if you hear footsteps behind you on Halloween night, don't turn around to see who it is. It may be the Grim Reaper himself, and if you look him in the eye, you hasten your own demise!

Above all, have fun on this most ancient of holidays, and try to capture a little of its magic.


  1. very interesting post! i love your painting the colors are gorgeous...and what you did with the domino!Wow:)
    have a great day.

  2. Thanks! I'm trying to find time to get back to the dominos - have more ideas than time to bring them to fruition, it seems ;-)