Sunday, October 30, 2011

Snowy Spirituality

On Friday night, poor sis was exhausted from a long and arduous week at work. Still, she found time to make jack'o'lanterns with the children. The kids used dry erase markers to create their designs and then she did the actual cutting part (good thing, too... those were the hugest pumpkins I've seen in ages and there's no way the kids could have carved through them!). The results were beautiful, as you can see in this picture of the boy twin gazing at the candle inside his.

For those who see this as a purely secular holiday, I guess I almost feel sorry for you. Don't get me wrong - I love the dressing up, the tromping around, the candy and the decorations. All that is a wonderful and amazing and magical thing all on its own. Yet there's a deeper sense to this time of year. It's a time of sudden changes, of death, of endings (and new beginnings!). The themes are serious ones. Even though  our children aren't burdened with the horrors of concerns of starving over the winter, they feel the sanctity and holiness of the end of October, too.

And right around the corner, a sudden change arose - an unseasonably early snow storm, one which has apparently knocked out power to thousands of people throughout our area. We're lucky. Not only were we prepared (generator, plenty of easy to prepare meals, extra blankets, sub-zero rated sleeping bags, etc.), we also didn't lose power at all. It's warm (if you can call 62F 'warm') and cozy in our house, and it smells of bacon and baking. There are cookies ready to eat, tons of hot chocolate in the cupboard, and cornmeal muffins waiting to be baked later today.

I see these simple preparations as being religious duties, in a sense. Hellenes often talk about the Delphic Maxims, and the way in which they guide our lives. Preparing for winter storms (even this early in the season) is a part of that. When we set aside food from the summer and autumn, we are showing we are responsible stewards of ourselves, our children, our livestock, and our homes.

Honor the hearth/Hestia is one of the Maxims, and by setting food by, whether by freezing, canning, drying, salting, or some other method is an application of honoring the hearth which warms us and the goddess who oversees our daily lives.

Exercise prudence tells us to be careful of our food stores. After all, a bad storm or flood can either clear out grocery stores or make it impossible to get to them. When we take out a jar of our own honey or home-made jam, we are able to reap the rewards of that prudence and spread it on toast.

Then there is use what you have, a sensible piece of advice at any time, but especially so in our current economic climate. Learn ways to save what you have (black walnuts? acorns? free apples from a neighbor's tree?) and then learn how to use them when your other food items are low. We have a dearth of apples at the moment and I am busily making apple muffins, apple spice cake, apple crisp (well, okay sis made that one lol) and lots of other things. Soon, though, I'll have to wrap each apple carefully in newspaper and set them in a dark place to keep. With luck they'll still be good in a month or two, and we'll be able to keep eating the crisp tastiness of them when all that's in the stores are mealy ones from far away.

Blessings on all, and may the snow that falls into your life be beautiful!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Woo Hoo!

I'm a guest blogger over at Charmed I'm Sure, and if you want to read my post, you can [do so here]. Yay! She writes about witchy, housewifery type things in a humorous, down to earth fashion. I've been reading her blog for about 4 months now, and find myself alternating between nodding knowingly and chuckling over my morning coffee. Enjoy!

Monday, October 24, 2011

The view from my window.

We don't always think about how the view from our windows affects our lives. After all, they're generally just seen as vehicles for letting in sunlight, and for those who are green in their daily habits, also a source of passive solar heat. Yet that view, what we see when we walk over to the window (a habit many of us are not engaging in!) can really affect our day.

The above is the view from my bedroom window. Every morning when I open the curtain beside my bed (on the back side of the house), this is what I see. Since arriving here I have been taking time almost every morning to look out that window (and the front one) to actually SEE where I am. It's been quite the revelation.

I don't know how many times I walked past the windows in our Hinsdale home. Although I did look out my bedroom window often enough, I don't think I actually SAW out it very often. I looked to see if the cars were in the driveway, if the dogs had messed on the pavement, if the children were doing something I needed to stop, and other things. Windows were just things to look through, or sometimes stare aimlessly out of. 

Here in our new home, windows have become a joy. I look out and I see the autumn leaves piling up against the massive stone wall that marks the border of our small piece of land. I watch the chipmunks scurrying back and forth, hiding their nuts for the winter (and we do have the cutest Chip'n'Dale style 'munks, I must say!). I observe the lay of the land, the movement of the land wights, the wind in the tree branches, and the sun and moon in the sky above the forest. My window has become a portal to self-discovery as well as outer discovery.

Yesterday, with the help of the children, I removed the last of the (poorly installed) dog fencing that the previous owners had installed. We can now walk freely out the back of our home, among the crisp, crunchy leaves and the natural stone altars and fallen-tree shrines. Come spring, I'll be installing some actual shrines of a more formal type, but for this winter I will be using the natural ones provided to me by the land herself. I see these as gifts for me, and feel a real pull to use them and enjoy them. 

I admit, I am looking forward to seeing what the next season brings. Those woods are so ALIVE that seeing them covered in snow is going to be exciting. Will there be deer? I hope so! Perhaps bunnies? That'd be nice too. I think I shall put bird feeders back there, as well, so that we can truly enjoy the wildlife in our area. 

For the first time in months, I feel as if I can plan for the future. For the first time in perhaps years, I feel free and happy. Even the early days back in the Hinsdale house were filled with so many stressors, the joy was muted. I had gotten used to seeing everything in shades of grey, with only a few bright points here and there. Now, the freedom of the new house, the plans for the new garden and orchard, the wonderful room that I love so much (and that reminds me of sleeping in the loft of the Little House in the Big Woods!)... all of it equals nights of restful sleep and days of exhausting yet satisfying work. 

Today, I look out the front window and I see a mowed lawn (yesterday was a great day for mowing) and bushes that have been trimmed back. Today we'll move many of our long-term storage things into the basement in preparation for picking up more bins and boxes tomorrow to sort through and take care of. The house is no longer just a building or shelter, but has become a home. I am thrilled!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Spirit of Land

Out behind our house there is a forest. It isn't particularly large, being only 25 acres or so. It's owned by people up the street, who have a small entrance with their house, which then opens onto the forest behind them. As near as I can tell, that 25 acres is pretty much untouched, and has been for quite a number of years. It occasionally hosts kids running through it (as evidenced by the occasional candy wrapper I've seen), but I don't know of any buildings or structures beyond those created by the land itself.

When I look out my kitchen window, I look out onto this "backyard" we have. Our land goes a mere ten paces or so past the back of our house, being long rather than square or wide, and beyond an old stone wall lies the forest. In the mornings, I enjoy sitting and drinking my coffee, watching the several chipmunks playing there. They scamper up and down a few trees close by, and I can observe them quite closely without disturbing them. I find it very calming. Mornings are sunny back there, bright and warm and full.

By afternoon, the light has faded. It's not dark, per se, but it is somewhat shady. The forest is quieter, and there's less activity. It is as if everything takes a pause before the children return from school. The shadows are very long, and there are many darkened places when I look from my kitchen perch.

Evening comes fast to the forest. The afternoon's shade rapidly turns into darkness. By the time I have dinner on the table, it's pitch black out there. Nothing to see... except...

Tonight it was starting to rain, and I was in the process of curing some new cast iron cookware when it decided to smoke abominably. I had to open the windows in the kitchen, despite the autumn chill, to let the smoke out. I found myself sitting on my perch again, examining the forest from a completely different viewpoint. After a few moments of listening to the rain through reflecting windows, I got up and turned off all the lights in the room.

I carefully felt my way back to my spot, and curled up with my arms on the window sill. With all the interior lights off, I could finally SEE into the darkness, which wasn't really completely dark after all. The moon is full, and its light stained the sky. I could see the black outline of treetops against its glow. Before me, directly in front of me in fact, was the hollowed out stump of an old tree. It looked as if the tree had fallen rather than been cut, just judging by the look of it, but I hadn't gotten close enough to it to really examine it. Now, I found myself staring at this silhouette and noticing there were ... lights.

They weren't really lights, of course, but spots of numinous energy. They were like eyes, almost, and I felt as if I were being watched in return. I got the sense of an interested curiosity toward me, as if the forest inhabitants hadn't had anyone around before who could sense them. What a thrill, to be so close, separated only by a thin screen! I knew that if I went outside, the moment would be lost. Instead, I stayed sitting, perching, watching, feeling, sensing, drinking in the sensations of curiosity, interest, even love of a sort (although not the type of love we think of).

The children began moving around in the house about that time, and the sensations drifted off. Things were too noisy and full of youthful exuberance to allow that shy, quiet presence to stay. I felt invited, though, and welcomed. I felt joy, too, and an expansiveness that has eluded me for a long time.

Tomorrow, I will go out back and make a small altar or shrine in the hollow stump. I'll leave some barley, some fresh water, perhaps some milk or wine. I might leave some flowers, too, as there are still roses blooming in our front yard, tiny though they might be. I will say thank you to the spirits that graced me with their presence, and let them know that their attention was appreciated and desired. Sometime soon, I will introduce that spot to the children, too. I remember how excited they were to make offerings to the river nymphs at our last house, and this is a similar place, though not quite the same. These are earthy spirits rather than watery ones, I believe, and there is a whole different FEEL to them.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011


We're coming up on a Jewish holiday called Sukkot, a time when the Jews build little outdoor huts and spend much of their time in them rather than in their permanent houses. It is meant to remind them of the trials and impermanent lives of their forefathers. While I do not build a sukkah nor do I celebrate Sukkot, I have enjoyed reading about the Days of Awe and Rosh Hashanah and other holy days leading up to this week long celebration. I feel a camaraderie with the holiday and its temporary shelters.

At this time of year, in the autumn, I love to watch the leaves turn red and gold and orange and rusty brown. I love the scrunching sound when I walk through them, and the crisp sensation of them under my feet. I cherish the crisp, fall air, and the scents of fallen leaves, cut grass, and upturned gardens being prepared for the coming winter. It's a time of plenty, as the last harvests out of our gardens comes in, and we begin to see pumpkins and mums on people's doorsteps. I need a sweater most days, though there's the occasional afternoon that temperatures soar into the high 70s, and nights that range from well below freezing up into the 60s. It's a time of change.

Sukkot seems to celebrate that change. Autumn is not a time of standing still, and it has nothing to do with permanence. It is a moving season; even the leaves are moving as they fall from the trees and blanket the chilling earth. The creation of an outdoor worship space just for this time of year calls to me, speaks to me because it reflects the very seasons of God (Goddess, the Holy and Divine Ones, the All, and the Many). The abundance around you is evident through half walls, and the tumbling leaves decorate your table as they find their way through the corn stalk roof above.

I suppose I see the beauty of the leaves, the chilly air, the sights and smells of autumn, as the visible and tangible blessings sent to us by the Many. I feel Their embrace when I cuddle up at night with my warm, heavy blankets tucked tight around me. I sense their presence in every lit candle, in every long-sleeved shirt, in every child climbing into my bed at 3am for warmth and companionship.

This truly is a time of Divinity.