Last Harvest/Samhain/Hallowe'en is almost upon us again. The veil thins, and even my fairly impenetrable head seems to be poked by the gods, the odd spirit, and the ancestors. This weekend was due to be my Annual Hallowe'en Bash for the Witchlets, their friends and our family. It always throws me into a tailspin because everything has to be clean, decorated, cooked from scratch and on a budget. Every couple of years a spanner gets thrown into the works - normally in the shape of someone getting sick. Mostly it's been me, but over the years we've had a dose of the noro-virus (Witchlet One) and various stages of man-flu (The Hubster). This year, both Witchlets have gone down with both a sickness bug and a bloody awful snot-monster of a head cold. I gave up on the party idea yesterday, knowing full well that even if they were miraculously recovered by this morning, I still wouldn't have enough hours left to do what I needed to.
This has given me a bit of breathing space to organise a family Last Harvest celebration. With the Witchlets off school, I've been able to go through some family pictures and tell stories about people they will only see in photographs. They've watched, pale and wan, from the sofa as I string up decorations, telling me what bits they like best. And they've appropriated two plastic skulls to cuddle up with while watching The Nightmare Before Christmas. I've had time to spend on the sofa with them, having cuddles Witchlet One normally eschews but craves when he's poorly. We've printed off the Pooka Pages and read the stories. Downloaded freebie children's Hallowe'en stories on the Kindle.
Of course, there is unlikely to be time to visit the cemetary before Hallowe'en, but I'm pretty certain I can squeeze in a visit the first week in November. And if this bug buggers off, the Witchlets are off to their Grandmother's on Monday and I'll get a chance to visit the Old Man of the woods - I have mead for him this year, and decent bird seed for his beloved feathered inhabitants.
This year is the first year I've set up a distinct ancestor altar. The death of my Grandfather in September has made this essential. On it I have a photograph of Nana and Grandad on their wedding day, along with the photos of the pets that have passed from my life through the years. A copy of the poem I wrote out in calligraphy for my Great-Aunt's funeral. My Nana's Swiss Cottage music box. My Grandad's ashtray. Tail feathers from my budgie. I don't have any special ritual for them; I'm just hanging out there for a few minutes daily going through memories before I call them home for Last Harvest with incense, wine, millet, cat biscuits, soul cakes and a bloody decent cigar (that last one is for Grandad, he didn't smoke for the last twenty odd years of his life, but when I was little, he and Dad used to have a decent cigar or two on Christmas Day after lunch - I smell cigars, and I'm back to being an excitable eight-year old opening presents and squealing with delight!)
We won't be having a dumb supper at Last Harvest - hell, the Witchlets can't keep quiet for longer than ten seconds - but we will be having a dinner with some of the vegetables from this year's harvest, a bottle of wild cherry mead, apple crumble with our neighbour's apples, and we're going to tell the Witchlets stories of their ancestors. The time their Great-great Uncle Roy put their Nana's tortoise up a tree and convinced her it had climbed up there. How their Great-great-great Nana lived in a thatched cottage that burned down, and that Grandad was one of the fireman that rescued her. How their Gramps planted by the moon, swore at seed potatoes to make them produce more shoots, tipped his hat and wished solitary magpies "Good Day!", and had eyes the very same colour as Witchlet One. Lots of stories, ones that I must write down before they slip away and are forgotten. Hopefully, my ancestors will join us and whisper long forgotten incidents in my ears as I tell the stories.
This year, Witchlet Two will definitely help me make Soul Cakes, some of which we will leave in the hiding places of the garden and local wild places where she knows the Fae live. We will start making bird-seed fat balls with vegetable suet to hang in our pair of Elder trees, and I will pour Elderberry wine on their roots to welcome the return of Mother Elder with her bitter wind and icy shawl.
Divination will be done by candlelight at midnight, offerings will be made to Papa, Hekate, Hermes for clarity and guidance. (Yeah, I know, good luck with getting anything less than awkwardly cryptic out of THEM.)
Protection powder of home-grown ground garlic, cayenne pepper, ashes from our summer fires, graveyard dirt from Papa's grave, my own blood and rose thorns will be sprinkled along our boundaries to keep out the nasties.
Protection amulets of red thread, rowan twigs and berries, sacrificed aloe babies will be hung over doorways.
And once that is done, I really have to knuckle down and sort out this effing shadow work that I keep putting off.
Note: Soul Cake recipes are regional. Here's one I always make, and another I haven't tried yet. And this is an interesting bit of background on Soul Cakes I stumbled across - on a Catholic website no less!