Samhain is Come

By my reckoning, the three-day festival of Samhain began last night at sundown. Today is the first full day of this holy time.


last year’s main altar at the Ancestor Vigil


We did a solemn, deep vigil for the dead on Monday evening and will do a proper Samhain ritual tomorrow night. There are other community celebrations, too, and lots of private ones of various sorts.  I’m fortunate with the two public rituals because one is solemn so the other can be lighter, with dance and song.  I’m planning to lead a spiral dance and am thinking we’ll start the evening with a drum circle.  (We’ll be at the Appalachia School of Holistic Herbalism at 2 Westwood, off Haywood Rd. in west Asheville, starting at 7.)

My private commemorations include visiting the cemeteries where the bones and ashes of my people rest.  I’m going to at least one of them today–the one South.  I am thinking that next week, I’ll visit my great-grandmother’s people in Haywood county. We found the cemetery when we were there for a funeral earlier this year and I’d like photos of the stones in that one. I’m sure it is a well-tended one–it looked beautiful from the front gates.

I may also go out to the Ballard cemetery.  They are a different branch of the family–we are connected back abut 6 generations, as I recall.  It is a lonely place in the northern part of the county but dear in its own way.  Visiting Cousins seems another good way to honor the season.

When my daughter was little, we would find the prettiest tree in the neighborhood and build a small cairn of rocks underneath it. I found it yesterday but now I only place one stone underneath–said daughter being old enough now to find her own tree in her own corner of the vasty world.

And today I fast during the daylight hours. I do this to honor my Ancestors who were hungry and to stand i solidarity to those who suffered and died during the cultural genocide we call An Gorta Mor. The Irish part of my family immigrated before the Great Hunger but I no doubt have the same sort of Cousin-Ancestors who were in Ireland at the time.

Later in the afternoon, I will join other women to shoot arrows at pumpkins– doesn’t that sound delightful?  And perfect for my redneck self.

Tonight will be a quiet supper–much welcome after a long and hungry day.  And when we drink to the Old Ones and honor them as “absent friends”, I will turn my thoughts to the coming of winter and the turning of the Great Wheel to a new agricultural season.

It is a busy time, the lingering days of Samhaintide.

In the Cool of the Evening

I went to that paradise of capitalism Merrimon Avenue today. I took some books to Accent on Books (yes, “Staubs and Ditchwater” is back in stock)  and went to the post office to mail some away. As I left the parking lot of the p.o., I noticed something flitting past the windshield. 

Snow. It was tiny crumbs of snow and they gamboled this way and that as I waited at the traffic light.

Now, it is not unusual to have a taste of cold and snow this early in the season here in the southern Highlands. But after several gentle winter seasons, I can barely help seeing this as a sign of things to come. There was also a dead crow in the middle of the busy roadway. Poor thing.  And unusual–how often do I see a dead crow anywhere, much less in the center of Merrimon Ave.?

Now, the wind is up and the furnace is on (I give thanks for a full fuel tank and a functioning furnace). But my thoughts are turning inward, picking through the words there that are ready to be jiggled around and made into something.  It does seem like alchemy to me sometimes–there are those words in there and then I get an itch to write and suddenly all those words are arranging themselves onto a screen or a page of my cheap notebook.

The wind is bringing change, as it always does. The crumbly bits of leftover thoughts get swept out of our brains–if we’ll allow it–and there is room then for new considerations, deeper textures of both ideas and feelings.  The sun set early, I think, chilly in the clouds and the cold wind. The night has come, pushing evening away, desperate for time with us, to sit outside the door and hope for a glimpse of the life inside.

She will be happiest when the lights are turned out here, too, and we are tucked into our warm beds, blessed by a late-night cup of ginger tea, a water bottle for our feet and a cat who will choose–as he always does–to sleep in the geographic center of the bed.

The cool of the evening gives way to the settled homesteading of night.


night at Camp Rockmont

Days of Bright Wild Leaves

Lake Eden

Lake Eden


Western North Carolina is a land of summer camps, many of them church-owned or church-related.  When Summer bids the land here a fond farewell, these camps are used for all sorts of intriguing programs.

This past week and weekend, I was at this big camp with over a thousand other women for the Southeast Wise Woman Herbal Conference. I’ve been fortunate to attend this conference for a number of years and began as a classroom moderator and teacher-helper and for the last three years have been a teacher myself.

These clear days in the company of women are as close as I come to a vacation.  I sleep in a long room with a dozen other women, in clunky bunkbeds with noisy plastic mattresses.  The lodge has a kitchen and a big fireplace and there are comfy couches in the great room.  I don’t have to cook and the food is pretty good, and I know some of the teachers and some of the attendees every year.

I taught three classes this year–Appalachian Cove Healing, Rites of Passage and Finding Your Own Myth.  We had a good time at each class and I got some very nice comments on the material.

So, I’m back in Samhainland now and have a fat calendar of the next few weeks so that I don’t forget to do something that needs to be done.

Samhain is a busy time here in the southern highlands. I’m grateful for my mini-vacation at the herb conference and the deep sense of grounding and belonging that it always brings me.

and then…brussels sprouts

We’re clearing the gardens out–pulling up the ragged bean plants, clearing away the bitten- up cucumbers and stubbornly keeping the okra up a little bit longer.

I sowed seed for braising greens and mesclun last week and those have germinated and are almost ready for thinning.

And yesterday…o, dear…yesterday I went to a local hardware store and bought pansies and brussels sprouts.  I filled all the little gate containers with orange pansies and then found places for most of the sprouts plants. Only a few more to shoehorn in.

Remind me again–what season is it?  And with any luck we’ll get a bit of rain tomorrow.

Is There More to Tell About Samhain? Probably.



This whole Ancestor veneration thing…we European-Americans are still re-membering and re-creating what we do and when we do it. We may know much of our family trees but we still aren’t quite sure how far to take this “Ancestors are the Reason for the Season” stuff.

I was in the grocery store last night and started eyeing some of the things I will need when I go out to the cemeteries later this month.  Coconut cake was on sale and I probably should have gotten one for my mother’s grave but I am taking a chance that I’ll be able to make a small one from scratch.

I’ll make some green beans and chicken for my grandmother and pour her second husband (my step-grandfather but the only grandfather I ever knew) a big shot of Ancient Ancient Age.  My great grandparents on that side will also get beans and chicken, as well as some strong coffee.

When I head out to the cemetery that holds the bones of my mother’s father’s people, I’ll be a little more generic.  I didn’t know any of them personally, or even through family lore.  So, I’ll bring them cornbread with butter and honey and leave small cubes of that on their many graves.

I’ll go visit my father’s father and mother at the cemetery near Enka Lake and I’ll bring them chicken and beans and corn bread. I remember visiting there when my father was still alive and it was always a little shocking to see his name (actually his father’s) on the grey stone.  I didn’t know my grandfather but did spend some time with my grandmother but not enough to know much about her.

I wonder what my daughter will leave for me? A Guinness probably and maybe some buttery pound cake.

How about you?  How will your Descendants feed you when you become an Ancestor?