What is Imbolc?

What is Imbolc? I want you to imagine a time long, long ago.  Before electricity, before the invention of canning (1809, France).  Go back further, 1,000 years.  Perhaps another 1,000 years.  It is winter, you huddle around the fire in your home, the walls made of timber, the roof is thatch. You are running low on fuel to burn.  If the snow becomes too thick, your roof may collapse. A stray spark could burn everything to the ground. You live in Northern Europe or the British Isles in a single room home with your husband, your children, your pregnant sister, her spouse, and her children.  Your parents and in-laws may live there as well.  Should fire swallow your home or your roof collapse, it is likely that your family will die from the cold.  

Tiny footprints in the snow. Photo by Anna Loscotoff, 2021.

You aren’t the only ones surviving in this room, the animals that keep you alive live with you over the winter.  They are family and must survive the winter with you. If they were to die, you would be left without the cycle of food and life come spring.  It is too cold and requires too much energy to leave the animals out in their barns.  You would have to push through the ice and wind to feed them, and they may die from the elements.  With them in your home, you can feed them and care for them and they add to the warmth.

Within your home, you also have the food which must make it through winter. Some of it is beginning to rot, the mice who have made this their winter home nibble on what they can find.  Your foods are salted and fermented, dried, and sometimes stored in the freezing weather outside. There is nothing fresh, other than occasional meat or fish when the weather is forgiving, and the land provides. When the ground has thawed, it will take time for the seeds you have saved from last year to grow.

You boil snow water over the fire with the last of the dried herbs for tea.  There is still rationed mead or beer or wine to help you push through the last winds of winter.

The sun comes out on a snowy day. Photo by Anna Loscotoff, 2021.

But the bellies of the sheep are growing fat.   They are short-day breeders, which means that their tides flow with the shortening of the days in the fall.  Sheep naturally breed in late September and October and have a 5 month gestation, bringing the birth of the first lambs in-between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox.  

One of your ewes is in labor, and you watch as she births a new member of your extended family.  With the tiny lamb comes fresh milk.  This milk is the first fresh food you and your children have had since harvest and more lambs are on their way.  Your sister too is preparing for labor; this baby is a child of the Beltane fires which brings birth near the beginning of February.  It is a common time for birth, yet precarious as the winter is still very cold with high infant and maternal mortality.

As the lambs are born, your family now celebrates the small light at the end of a still long tunnel.  You now have milk, and from the milk comes butter and cheese.  

The walking mandala as the snow melts and grass begins to grow at the base of the stones. Photo by Anna Loscotoff, 2021.

This is Imbolc, also called Oimelc, Imbolg, and the Feast of St. Brigid.  It is the minor Sabbat which falls midway between the Winter Solstice and the Vernal Equinox.  It is celebrated on February 1 and is the predecessor of Candlemas on February 2nd, an example of Christianity using the traditional pagan holiday’s to convert the ancestors.

The first milk told the ancestors that the grass was beginning to grow under the snow.  The animals could return to the fields and their barns, allowing you to clean the stagnant smell from your home (the origins of spring cleaning, quite different than today’s interpretation).  There was hope in site as the bulbs began to show their tips.  

New grass growing beneath the snow. Photo by Anna Loscotoff, 2021.

In today’s culture, we are very removed from the hardships of nature.  We still live at it’s mercy, but it is not a part of our continued survival.  For the Celtic people, Imbolc was the promise of spring. It represented cleansing, renewal and birth. 

Imbolc is also known as the Feast of St. Brigid.  Brigid is most closely associated with Ireland, but she is also of great importance in Scotland, Wales, and Western Europe.  She is the Goddess of the Eternal Flame and the Sacred Well, protecting home from the destruction of fire and protecting women in childbirth.  Some stories say that she was three sisters, all named Brigid.  One was the Goddess of the Hearth Fire, the second was the Goddess of the Forge Fire, the third was the Goddess of the Creative and Transforming Fire.  Together they were forged into the Triple Goddess, a single Brigid.  

Brigid is a Goddess of fire and transformation. Photo by Anna Loscotoff, 2021.

Brigid is about transformation, just like Imbolc.  She is of such great importance in Celtic mythology, that when Christianity came to Ireland, she could not be forgotten or pushed aside or dismissed a myth; she became St. Brigid.  She was no longer a Goddess, but the midwife to Mary as she birthed Jesus.  She was also known as Jesus’s foster mother.  This allowed her to keep her power and connection to childbirth.  It is said that she healed lepers using water from her well and blessed Jesus with 3 drops of water (Goddess of the Sacred Well).  Within her Christian story, she was born on February 1st, Candlemas Eve.  Some say she was born at dawn in a pillar of fire, keeping her connection to flame and transformation.  Christianizing the Pagan beliefs made it easier to convert to Christianity.  When Irish and Scottish servants went to the Caribbean, her story went with them and she was adopted into the Voodoo religion as Madame Brigitte.

Brigid embodies survival, just as those who honor her have survived the hardship of winter. She has transformed from Goddess to Saint and back to Goddess.  

Photo by Anna Loscotoff, 2021.

Celebrating Imbolc

Consider what life was like for the Celtic people and what this celebration meant for them.  It meant survival.  In our lives today, dependent on electricity, warm in our homes, with markets and delivery, we are not limited by nature.  We do not need to bring agricultural animals into our homes to survive into the next year.  Few of us live in Northwestern Europe, and many of us struggle to understand what that life was like.  Living in California most of my life, snow was a unique and special experience. Extended bitter cold was a rarity.

Due to this, Imbolc is often forgotten or not celebrated as much as the other Sabbats.  We don’t connect with this one the way we do with Samhain (Halloween) or Yule (Christmas). This one is the in-between as we look forward to the spring equinox (Easter).

Yet we can look at the intention of this sabbat and how important it was to the ancestors.  Spring was still distant, but the signs for it were coming.  Travel was difficult, community was limited.  For this reason, Imbolc is a more private, family focused celebration.  It is reflective and personal.

Ways to celebrate Imbolc are in paying attention to nature.  Go for a walk and look for the first signs of green.  Create new plans.  Clean.  (You may not be sweeping out the manure of your sheep, but there is probably clutter that has accumulated over the winter months). Plant a seed, whether that means physically, emotionally, or spiritually.  In planting seeds, think of the care that it needs to nurture the seed past the beginning stages of growth.  This goes for that project you’ve been wanting to start or the relationship you are wanting to grow.

New plants are starting to grow as we see the light of spring nearing. Photo by Anna Loscotoff, 2021.

Recipes and Projects

As Imbolc celebrates the first milk and the hope of surviving winter, this is an opportunity to follow in the traditions of the Celts and make butter, simple cheeses, yogurt (which ancestrally would have been clabbered milk) and simple breads . Instead of copying established recipes, I’ve linked several here for you to try.

How to Make Homemade Butter

Homemade Yogurt Cheese

How to Make Buttermilk

Irish Soda Bread Recipe

Imbolc also celebrates Brigid, or St. Brigid’s Feast. Creating Brigit’s cross is a simple craft that can be done with natural grasses or even pipe cleaners. In creating Brigid’s cross, I gathered dried grasses from the field and soaked them overnight in snow that has survived from our last storm. You don’t need to use snow, but as a way of honoring the tradition from winter to spring, it’s a nice option if you have it. Brigid’s crosses are traditionally hung over windows or doors to protect the home and family members from fire, evil, and hunger. Some traditions believe in putting the cross out on Imbolc Eve to receive Brigid’s blessings, others burn the old cross on Imbolc and create a new one each year.

Here is an example of making Brigid’s cross using pipe cleaners.

Links

Mythical Ireland – Myths and Legends, Brigid Bright Goddess of Gael

Imbolc/Candlemas Ideas

Ancestral Fermentation – Clabbered Raw Milk

Mason Jar or Mixer Homemade Butter

Spruce Eats – Homemade Yogurt Cheese

Kitchn – Making Buttermilk from Plain Milk

Grandma’s Irish Soda Bread

How to Make a St. Brigid’s Cross

Colorful Crafts – How to Make a Brigid Doll (Candlemas Straw Doll Tutorial)

A bit about me – My most important blog

Books

Brigid’s Cloak by Helen Cann, a picture book

Imbolc: Brigid’s Feast, a picture book

Tending Brigid’s Flame: Awaken to the Celtic Goddess of Hearth, Temple and Forge

Brigid: History, Mystery, and Magick of the Celtic Goddess

Pagan Portals – Brigid: Meeting the Celtic Goddess of Poetry, Forge, and Healing Well

Imbolc: Rituals, Recipes & Lore for Brigid’s Day

The Full Wolf Moon

A wolf original drawing in blues and white with bright yellow eyes. A moon sit over the wolf's head. Original drawing by Anna Loscotoff, 2021.
We are never alone
We are all wolves
Howling to the same moon.

 - Atticus -

The January full moon, the Full Wolf Moon, reaches it’s peak on January 28th at 11:18 am (pacific standard time), but the nights of January 27th and 28th will appear full and round, weather allowing.  The Algonquin tribes called this first full moon of winter The Wolf Moon due to the packs of wolves which howled outside their villages during the freezing cold with snow deep on the ground. 

One of my favorite sites for looking at moon names is through the Western Washington University.  There is such diversity and beauty in the moon names of the Native American tribes.  The Omaha tribe of the Central Plains, Nebraska, call this moon the “moon when snow drifts into tipis”.  The Passamaquoddy of the Northeastern US call it the “whirling wind moon”.  The Arapaho of the Great Plains call it “when snow blows like spirits in the wind”.  Other names include the cold moon, the stay inside moon, the hard moon, and the big cold.

Digital drawing by Blu on Instagram at blu.s_drawing.s
My daughter’s interpretation of January’s Full Cold Moon. You can find more of her art on Instagram at blu.s_drawing.s

Ritual for the Full Wolf Moon

Doing a ritual, any ritual, during the full moon doesn’t mean that you are worshiping the full moon.  It doesn’t make you a Pagan, or any other religion.  Stopping and spending time with the full moon is more about making time for yourself with nature.  It is an external calendar that reminds us to check in with ourselves, to ask where we are in the here and now, where we are going, what we want in our lives, and what we are ready to let go of.  Historically, woman’s cycles synced with each others’ and with the tides of the moon; with fertile days responding to the full moon and the bleeding time with the dark of the moon.  Women would gather at the dark of the moon, when their energy was the lowest, and share wisdom and stories.  When you spend time with and reconnect with these cycles, you reconnect with your ancestral wisdom. 

Generally, I think of the new moon as a time of growing ideas; your dreams grow with the filling of the moon. The full moon is a time of letting go, releasing and letting go as the moon wanes.  However, on the first moon of the year, the Wolf Moon, ask yourself what you want to work towards this year.  It’s not a resolution, but rather, what would you like to put your energy towards.

Some rituals for this first moon of the year may include spending time writing in a journal, exploring what you are letting go of from 2020 and what you wish to grow in 2021.  Another idea is to create a vision board of images, drawings, and words that you wish to bring with you into this year.  Let go of what is no longer serving you.  You can write the things you wish to let go of on bay leaves or slips of paper and burn them in a fireplace, bonfire, or fire pit. Imagine the things you are letting go of disappearing with the smoke.  This is your ritual, whatever you choose to do, make it yours.  A lovely article on how to create your own ritual can be found here.

A wolf original drawing in blues and white with bright yellow eyes. A moon sit over the wolf's head. Original drawing by Anna Loscotoff, 2021.
The Wolf Moon, by Anna Loscotoff, 2021
Wolves, A Poem

The moon is full and the pack is howling. 
They’re on the hunt and the leader’s growling. 
They look so graceful in the night
As if they were getting ready for flight.

 In the den the pups are playing
Some are romping and some are laying.
 In the wild they look so free,
 I feel like wolves are a part of me.

 They flee so fast
like a flash of light,
 They look so bright
In the moonlight.

 The pack does well,
They bring back meat,
All of the pups get enough to eat.
 As long as there are wolves living in the wood
All is well and all is good.

- Sophia McMurray- 
-age 9-
(This poem is dedicated to Eve.
 The wolf that the author adopted from Wolf Haven.)

Links

Nasa, the Full Wolf Moon

Western Washington University – Native American Moons

Significance of the Wolf Moon

Why You Should Try a Full Moon Ritual

January: Full Wolf Moon Ritual

How to Create Your Own Full Moon Ritual

Wolves, A Poem

My Most Important Blog – About Me

More of Blu’s art on Instagram

The Full Cold Moon

Native Americans named the moons to track the passage of time. The Full Cold moon, or “tsothohrha” (time of cold), comes from the Mohawk tribe (the most easterly tribe of the Iroquois Confederacy, southeastern Canada and northern New York). This is the final moon of the year and the one in which we have finally moved into the coldest weather patterns. Other names for this moon include “rvfo-rakko”, big winter (the Creek Tribes of Georgia), “wahi mua”, evergreen moon (the Comanche Tribes of the Southern Plains), her winter houses moon (the Wishram, the Columbia River of Washington and Oregon), and my personal favorite, “ik’ohbu yachunne”, sun has traveled home to rest (the Zuni Tribes of New Mexico).

My daughter’s art, she reminds me of an Evergreen Goddess, the Full Cold, or Full Evergreen Moon. @blu.s_drawing.s on Instagram.

The “sun traveling home to rest moon” refers to solstice, which generally falls on December 20th or the 21st. The Mohican called this moon The Long Night Moon because of how it sits closest to winter solstice; with the nights at their longest, the days at their shortest, and the moon sitting high and long in the cold sky.

The Full Cold Moon hits it’s peak tonight, December 29th, at 7:28 pm (Pacific).

The Full Cold Moon, one night before her peak, December 28, 2020.
 Winter Moon

 Brightly the moon like a jewel is beaming,
 White in the east, o'er a lone landscape gleaming,
 Over the meadows and over the snow, 
 Glimmering, shimmering, silvery glow.
 Low in the east, when the gloaming is ending,
 Slowly this white winter moon is ascending, 
 Looming so large and appearing so nigh,
 Satellite framed by a star-spangled sky.
 High in the sky, with soft radiance teeming,
 Nigh to the time when men, women, are dreaming,
 Weird is her splendor on valley and hill,
 Cold is her gleam upon river and rill.  
 Brightly the moon like a heel is shining,
 White in the west she is slowly declining;
 Beautiful Moon!  Which beams gorgeous and grand
 Over the homes of our own Native Land.
 
-Charles Nevers Holmes-

Links

Native American Moon Names – Western Washington University

Yule and the Solstice – Welcoming the Return of the Light

The Cold Moon – Old Farmer’s Almanac

Winter Moon Poem

Blu.s_drawing.s

Yule and the Solstice – Welcoming the Return of the Light

My daughter lays with Yule lights, 2007

Our ancestors lived in a world where the sun and moon phases were their clocks, their rhythms, and their guides to the seasons.  In the spring, they planted.  During the summer and fall, they harvested.  As the days became darker and the last bits of harvest was collected, our ancestors gathered wood and hunted, made candles to move through the dark of winter.  They hoped that they had prepared enough, stored enough.  By going to bed early and rising late, they were able to use less of their candles and oils and wood.  The ate food that could be stored, such as gourds and grains and meat.  Our ancestors hibernated as the animals did, telling stories around the fires and connecting to the natural cycles of the inner clock of the earth.

Welcoming the return of the sun.

The first day of Yule, celebrated on the day of the winter solstice (Monday, Dec 21, 2020 at 2:02am Pacific), is a celebration of the returning of the sun.  In a time where we were earth centric and it was thought that the sun moved around the earth, our ancestors watched the horizon line and waited for it to reach it’s southernmost journey.  At that point, the sun appeared to stand still with a shallow arc along the southern horizon.  The translation, Sol (Sun) and Sisto (to stop or stand still) speaks to what our early families saw; the sun standing still as it reached it’s solstice peak.  After solstice, the sun appeared to start his northern journey once again.

The term Winter Solstice and Midwinter mean the same thing, the astrological aspect of our earth at her furthest tilt from the sun, and thus the returning of the light.  The term Yule responds to the religious ceremonies  and spiritual practices around Winter Solstice. 

Welcoming the return of the light, children run through the light tunnel at Fresno’s Chaffee Zoo, 2012.

Yule lasts for 12 days and is often connected with the 12 days of Epiphany (which start with Christmas) or the 12 Sacred Nights.  In times past, before the Gregorian calendar used today (1582 AD) and the Julian calendar (45 BC), people used a lunar calendar.  The lunar month, or lunation, is approximately 29.5 days long creating a lunar year of approximately 354 days.  The solar calendar based on the movement of the earth around the sun is 365 days.  This created a difference each year of 11 to 12 days between the lunar and the solar calendar.  With the solstice generally falling around December 20th or 21st, there were 12 days until the New Year of the solar calendar.  (Yule traditionally ends with a large feast on the 12th day, which corresponds to New Year’s Eve parties.) These 12 days each responded to a month of the coming year and were thought to foretell the year to come, specifically through dreams. When counted from Christmas, these 12 days end at Epiphany.  

Saturn and Jupiter come together, just 2 nights from their closest conjunction in 800 years. The sun has set far to the south, with only 30 hours until Solstice.

Why are the Pagan traditions and Christian traditions so closely linked?  We understand that the old traditions were deeply ingrained in the people who’s lives revolved around the wheel of the year.  When Christianity took root, it was difficult to pull our ancestors out of their traditions and so religious leaders absorbed the festivals of the Pagans into the religious holy days.  A beautiful example of this is that pre-Christian Romans celebrated the birth of Mithras on the Winter Solstice.  Mithras was the sun god, and his birth on the solstice meant the return of his light to the people of Earth.  In the 4th Century, the Church of Rome changed the birth of the SUN to the birth of the SON, the Christian Jesus who would bring light to the world.  It is believed that the historical Jesus was born in the spring, but as the pagans already celebrated at solstice, the birth of Jesus as the return of the light symbolically celebrated our lives being reborn with the sun/son.

Gifts were traditionally given to the Gods and Goddesses at midwinter to curry favor, stop famine, and improve the weather.  Rewards and incentives were given to children on St. Nicholas day (December 6th in Europe).  Good little children were given candy and small gifts in their shoes and socks, when bad children were given sticks and stones and coal.  Gifts were also given as charms and talisman to travelers in hopes that their journeys were safe. 

For a beautiful article on the Nordic celebrations for each of the 12 days of Yule, check out this article by Sam Silver.  

A visit to Disney, December 2013, the lights honor the storms and Goddesses of Winter.

The Tradition of the Yule Log

The Yule log was generally a piece of Oak, however Ash was thought to bring insight and luck.  The home was cleaned and the the largest log that could fit in the hearth was drug home.  It was carved and shaped until it could be placed in the fireplace.  The family then decorated the log with carvings, often in the shape of the Celtic mother crone, known as Cailleach.  She was the embodiment of cold, death, and the coming of the end of the year.  Other carvings included runic symbols, writing, and important sigils.  The log was covered in greenery, ale, mead and whisky and then lit on solstice eve.  It was good luck to light it on the first attempt using a piece of last years log as kindling. Once lit, it was watched through the night, with stories told, wishes made, and toasts and celebration.  It was considered a good omen if it burned until morning.  By burning the log, winter was replaced by heat and light and celebrated the rebirth of the sun. 

You can follow this tradition by anointing your own Yule log with oils, specifically the oils of evergreen trees.  Concentrate on giving thanks for protection from the cold and for a good Yule or upcoming year.  Carve your own sacred symbols, use a wood burner, or simply write on the surface of your log.  Prayers and wishes can be tied to your Yule log with colored ribbons or cotton string, preferably in the colors of Yule. (Red, prosperity and passion.  Evergreen, magic and the return of life.  White, purity and light.  Gold, the return of the sun, the gifts of the Magi.). Light your log with ceremony, whether that be within your own hearth or a fire pit in your yard.  Imagine your prayers going up with the smoke to your guardians, angels, and ancestors.  If you have a live Christmas/Yule tree in your home, save a portion of the trunk for next year’s yule log.  

Choosing a Yule tree with my daughter, 2006.

An alternate tradition to the Yule log is the Yule candle.  Light a gold or yellow pillar candle in the center of the table to welcome the return of the sun. Give each individual a white pillar candle to carve into and have them carve their prayers and symbols and wishes directly into the wax.  Place the white Yule candles around the sun candle and allow them to burn down or light daily through the 12 days of Yule, burning down to the base on the final day of Yule.  

Do you have any Yule, Solstice, Christmas, or holiday traditions that are particularly important to you?

Solstice Blessings and a Happy Yule.

Wandering the evergreens, looking for a tree, 2007.

Links

The Christmas Star: Who’s Ready for the Great Saturn and Jupiter Conjunction of 2020 – NYTimes

12 Nights of Yule by Sam Silver – Nordic Wiccan

Yule – Day of Winter Solstice – National Day Calendar

The 12 Days of Yuletide, A History – Valerie Biel

Lunar Calendar – Wiki

Earth’s Axis – NASA

Winter Solstice: The sun stands still on Saturday (2013) – Space.com

December 25th: Birthday of Mithras, the Sun God

Magical Colors of the Yule Season – Learn Religions

New here? More about me…

Books

Yule: Rituals, Recipes & Lore for the Winter Solstice

Llewellyn’s Little Book of Yule

The Old Magic of Christmas: Yuletide Traditions for the Darkest Days of the Year

The Return of the Light: Twelve Tales from Around the World for the Winter Solstice

The Legend of the Icelandic Yule Lads

Gifts under the Yule tree, 2020.

The Full Beaver Moon and Penumbral Eclipse

Drawing of the Beaver moon, a brown beaver swimming with a branch through a pond, but the pond is also the moon. Art by Anna Loscotoff, 2020

Castor Canadensis

Safely back in the lodge

Living room you share

A lunch of bark

Golden sharp teeth peeling it skillfully

From the young branch

Before grinding it between your molars

Later that now naked limb will be carefully

Added in to the new structure

Your beaver family has begun work on

Andrea Schwenke Wyile

As I sat outside this Thanksgiving, keeping social distance while still enjoying a small gathering of family, I watched as the V formation of geese flew overhead, honking as they make their way south on their winter migration. The geese remind us of the transition of seasons, always having their own clocks, their own maps, oftentimes using the light of the moon to guide them on their way.  

November’s moon is called the Full Beaver moon.  The beaver is settling down, not for hibernation, but storing food for a long winter within their lodges.  Lack of food in winter, as well as frozen lakes and ponds, force the beaver to prepare.  Their pelts are also at their thickest and most luxurious, making this time of year optimal for hunters.  

November’s full moon is also called the Geese Going Moon (as we watch them fly over in their formations), the Frost Moon, the Freezing Moon, and sometimes the Digging (or Scratching) Moon, as animals are scratching through the fallen leaves, trying to find the last bits of growth before winter.  

The moon will hit her fullest at 1:30 in the AM on the morning of November 30th.  Watch for her the night of November 29th, as she will be on the cusp of her peak.

Not living in an area with beaver, but connecting so deeply with birds, I think Geese Going Moon resonates with me the most deeply. Which of the moon names do you relate to?

Two sounds of Autumn are unmistakable…

The hurrying rustle of crisp leaves

Blown along the street…

By a gusty wind

And the gabble of a flock

Of migrating geese.

– Hal Borland – 

A moon nearing the full rises behind the red leaves of a fall tree.  Photo by Anna Loscotoff, Nov 2020
The moon, near the full, rises behind the changing colors of a tree in Autumn. Photo by Anna Loscotoff, 2020

The Penumbral Lunar Eclipse

Penumbral Lunar Eclipse’s are not what we imagine when we hear the word eclipse, their isn’t the dramatic disappearance of the moon, the way we often think of a full solar eclipse.  The moon doesn’t change to deep red, the way it will in a total lunar eclipse.  What you will see, however, is what appears to be a slight shadow on the upper rim of the moon.  There may be a slight change in color, depending on weather, from grey to brown or even a yellow hue.  

The penumbral eclipse will last for just over 4 hours on the morning of November 30th, however the best time to see it is within a 40 minute window, from around 1:24 am (PST) until 2:04 am, with the peak of eclipse falling around 1:44 in the am.

If you stay up to watch the eclipse, I’d love to know what it looked like for you.  We’re you able to see earth’s shadow? What colors did you see?

Links

About the American Beaver

Busy beavers plan ahead for long cold winter

Castor Canadensis Poem

How do geese know to fly south for the winter?

Lunar eclipses: What are they & when is the next one?

Look for November’s Full Beaver Moon

A Beaver Full Moon lunar eclipse occurs Monday. Here’s what to expect

November’s Beaver Full Moon 2020: See a lunar eclipse and a near-minimoon

If you are new here, my most important blog

Ritual of the Full Moon

I think of the full moon as a time of letting go.  As the moon loses her roundness, so we release the things that no longer serve us.  

  • Think about the things that are no longer serving you, the things that are hurting you, the things you no longer need in your life.
  • Write the things you wish to let go on small slips of paper or bay leaves.
  • Using a fire safe bowl in a fire safe space, a fire pit, a fireplace, burn these things that you wish to release.  
  • Watch the flame, thinking about these weights being released from you. 
  • When the fire has been extinguished, your thoughts burned, reground with a bit of chocolate, or in honor of the Harvest Moon, hot cider, cinnamon, or tree nuts. 

What is Samhain?

Two shapes move through the dark, silhouetted by a light in the distance. They carry a lantern. Photo by Anna Loscotoff.

Samhain (pronounced SOW-in in Irish and SAH-win in Oxford English) is the final spoke in the Wheel of the Year, a marker of the beginning of Winter.  You may have heard it called, “The Witches’ New Year” as it is the start of a new cycle; honoring ancestors, the end of harvest, and preparing to go inward with winter to start over again. It is believed that the veil between the living world and the spirit world thins at the end of Autumn, allowing our ancestors, spirits, and faeries to cross over.  

For the ancient pagans, Samhain revolved around a fire festival in which the family fire was left to die while the grazing animals were gathered from their fields and the final bits of the harvest were collected.  The community then congregated while a Druid priest relit the central fire using friction of a wheel and spindle.  Food was left at the edges of the land for wandering spirits and the Fae.  At the end of the ceremony, families relit their home fires, bonfires, and torches with the sacred fire. Bonfires and torches were burned at the edges of the fields to celebrate the end of harvest and direct their energy to turning inward- survival through winter. It was believed that their ancestors would come and visit at this time, along with other energies beyond the veil, both bad and good. By dressing as animals or other frightening beasts, individuals were protected from faeries, and later, witches. 

A woman leads the way, carting 6 lighted torches, with the orange silhouettes of other's following her.  Photo by Anna Loscotoff, 2012.
A reenactment of the story of Harvest, Hoe’s Down at Full Belly Farms, October, 2012, Guinda, Ca.

In the middle ages, boys would light torches from the communal fire and run them to the edges of their land in an effort to protect it from supernatural harm.  Those who went out on Samhain carried carved turnips on strings with glowing pieces of coal inside.  These were called jack-o’-lanterns, named after a Christian legend of a blacksmith named Old Jack, who was so evil, neither heaven nor hell would allow him entrance. He was said to roam the road on Halloween night with nowhere to go, a turnip lamp lighting his way.  Carrying a jack-o’-lantern protected those who carried them from being kidnapped or harmed by that which came through the veil.

The torches and jack-o’-lantern were used to keep witches away,  but they were also used as guides for ancestors who had crossed the veil to commune with their families.  To let the fire burn down on Samhain night meant an ancestor may not be able to find their way home.

The lit up face of a jack-o'-lantern at night.  It has many sharp teeth and cat-like eyes.  Photo by Anna Loscotoff.
A jack-o’-lantern at night, guiding our way in the darkness and scaring away evil.

In the 5th century, as Christianity moved through Europe, Pope Boniface attempted to change the pagan tradition of honoring the dead to honoring saints and martyrs.  The celebration date was moved to May 13th, hoping the non-Christians would forget their pagan holiday.  The fire festival continued.  In the 9th century, Pope Gregory moved the holiday back, hoping to again pull the pagans from their festivals.  Instead of overlapping with Samhain, the church chose November 1st as All Saints’ Day, and later, Nov 2nd as All Souls’ Day. In time, Samhain began to be called All Hallows’ Eve, or the evening before Hallows’ Day (Saints’ Day).

When the Irish settled in America, they brought their traditions around Samhain and Halloween with them.  Turnips were not yet common in the new world and so pumpkins, being available, replaced turnip lanterns. All Hallows’ Eve during early America revolved around parties and games for children with an opportunity at courtship for those unmarried.  Non-Irish neighbors joined in the celebrations and took the traditions on as their own. By the 1920’s, pranking, mischief and violence took over Halloween.  The tradition of giving candy eventually took over (into the 1950’s)  as a successful alternative to reducing damage and easing the fear that had settled around the date.  

A skeleton ornament rides a bike with many textures in the background. In honor of the Day of the Dead. Photo by Anna Loscotoff.
On an October trip to San Antonio, TX, the city celebrated Dia De Las Muertos, the Day of the Dead. Photo by Anna Loscotoff.

Rituals for Samhain

Prepare A Path for you Ancestors

Many cultures today believe that their ancestors will visit on All Hallows’ Eve.  They clean their homes, prepare family meals, and line their walkway with lights; guiding their ancestors to the door.  You can follow in this tradition through the lighting of jack-o’-lanterns and lining you walkway with decorated paper bags lit from inside with LED tea lights.

Create an Altar for your Ancestor

Create a space to make your ancestors feel welcome.  Put out pictures of them or trinkets from their lives.  Write them letters or write down your memories of them.  This can be as simple as a mason jar with a few memories inside, to something much more complex.  You can also honor a group of ancestors, using family crests, slips of paper with family names, tartan patterns, anything that symbolizes the family line.

Create a “Dumb” Supper Setting

A dumb supper leaves space to feed your ancestors, the word dumb meaning silence.  This can be as simple as leaving a bit of food out on a plate over night for your ancestors, to a full dinner in which the living family members toast to the departed.  Traditionally, a white tablecloth was used and a bit of wine was spilled with each toast onto the cloth as an offering.  At least one seat should remain empty, more if possible.  The family eats in silence and observes what happens around them, watching for slight changes; a breeze, a moth, a noise, to signify a family member’s presence. 

Our Own Tradition – The Lighting of the Candles 

Every year since my daughter was little, after trick-or-treating, we light white candles.  We set them up in a base of rice or grain or sand. We each take turns lighting a candle and saying the name of a loved one that has passed. This is not limited to humans, we also light candles for our pets.  We allow the candles to burn down naturally through the evening.

A girl stands, her face lit by many white candles honoring her ancestors. Photo by Anna Loscotoff.
On Samhain, we light white candles in honor of our ancestors. We say their name as we light the candle and think of them. We allow the candles to burn down on their own.

Books

My favorite book about Samhain; Samhain: Rituals, Recipes & Lore for Halloween (Llewellyn’s Sabbat Essentials)

Llewellyn’s 2021 Sabbats Almanac: Samhain 2020 to Mabon 

Links

My favorite white candles for burning on Samhain

A Sinister History of Halloween Pranks

A Feast with the Dead: How to Hold a Pagan Dumb Supper for Samhain

The Pagan Dumb Supper: What It is and How to Host One

The Origins of the Word Halloween

Hoe’s Down at Fully Belly Farm (where many of these photos were taken)

My Most Important Blog and a Bit About Me

Candles burn down, almost burning out. Photo by Anna Loscotoff.
After lighting candles for our ancestors, we let them burn down on their own, until they extinguish themselves.

The Hunter’s Blue Moon

Original mandala drawing of a woman, Artemis, standing in front of a full yellow moon. She has long red hair and pulls an arrow to her bow. Art by Anna Loscotoff.

The way she shines as she peeks over the mountain to the East.  A pine silhouetted. Her light fills the sky.  The huntress with her bow moves slowly, silently, as she prepares the hunt for winter.

This October, we are given two full moons.  The first, The Harvest Moon, reached peak on October 1st.  The second arrives on Halloween.  This moon, the Hunter’s Moon, will reach it’s peak at 7:49 (pacific) in the A.M, giving us two nights of very full moon rises. Because the Hunter’s Moon is the second in October, it is also a “Blue Moon”.  This is the first Halloween full moon for all US time zones since 1944.

As the Harvest Moon gives us extra light to harvest, the Hunter’s Moon gives light to the Hunters, preparing their store  for winter.  Harvesting opened the fields and allowed hunters to see the animals which came to graze on the remnants of the harvest.  It also allowed light to see the predators; the coyotes and foxes and wolves. The Hunter’s Moon has been know as “The Blood Moon”, whether from the blood of animals or the turning of the seasons, as the leaves become red. 

There is some mixing of information this year, as 2020 brings us 13 moons.  Traditionally, the Harvest Moon falls in September. If you search many sites, that is exactly what you will see. However, both the Harvest Moon and the Hunter’s moon are based upon the date of the Autumn Equinox.  

A mandala full moon, drawn on black paper in blue and white.  Original art by Anna Loscotoff.
The blue moon, shown in a drawing on black paper with colored pencils. Original art by Anna Loscotoff, © 2020

Traditionally, the Harvest Moon is the full moon which is nearest to the equinox.  The equinox this year fell on September 22nd with the September moon reaching it’s peak on September 2nd.  The following moon reached her peak on October 1st, giving her the designation of “The Harvest Moon”.  The moon following Harvest is always “The Hunter’s Moon”.  Because of the way the calendar fell, the September full moon this year was titled “The Corn Moon”. 

The Hunter Moon is also the farthest moon from the earth this year. The moon has an oval orbit around the earth which brings it closer (a supermoon) and farther (a minimoon). Despite being further, it will not seem smaller.  And even though it is called “A Blue Moon”, it will not be blue. 

A Prayer to Artemis

Goddess of the Hunt, the Wilderness, The Moon, Wild Animals, and Chastity

Artemis, huntress of the moon, make my aim true.

Give me goals to seek and the constant determination to achieve them.

Grant me communion with nature, allow me to live surrounded by plants and animals

that I can grow, protect and nurture.

Allow me the strength and wisdom to be my own mistress,

not defined by the expectations of others.

And sustain my sexuality to be as yours — wild and free as nature itself.

Ritual of the Full Moon

I think of the full moon as a time of letting go.  As the moon loses her roundness, so we release the things that no longer serve us.  

  • Think about the things that are no longer serving you, the things that are hurting you, the things you no longer need in your life.
  • Write the things you wish to let go on small slips of paper or bay leaves.
  • Using a fire safe bowl in a fire safe space, a fire pit, a fireplace, burn these things that you wish to release.  
  • Watch the flame, thinking about these weights being released from you. 
  • When the fire has been extinguished, your thoughts burned, reground with a bit of chocolate, or in honor of the Harvest Moon, hot cider, cinnamon, or tree nuts. 

Links

A list of Hunting Dieties

About Artemis

Farmer’s Almanac Full Moon’s of October 2020

My most important blog; My Creative Muse

My Creative Muse and the Afterlife

Mandalla drawing of my creative muse with a white mandala background and rainbow color shape. Her arms are outstretched and she wears a rainbow crescent crown on her head. Drawing by Anna Loscotoff.

In January of 2008, I took my first Artist Way class in Sacramento, California.  Artist Way is about making space for your creativity, identifying your critical inner voice, and clearing out the congested wounds that have gotten in your creative way.  During one of our classes, we were asked to meditate on our Creative Muses and draw them.  I closed my eyes and without a second of thought, she stood in front of me.  She consumed my vision with flaming light, radiant. She wore a crescent crown, her arms outstretched, a rounded base.  This vision of her filled every ounce of my conscience.  

A symbolic shape of a woman is drawn in rainbow chalk pastels.  Her arms are outstretched, she has a round belly, she wears a crown of the sickle moon. Drawing by Anna Loscotoff, 2008.
Drawing in chalk pastels of a vision of my Muse, January 2008, Sacramento. We were asked to meditate on our creative muses and this image came immediately to my closed eyes.

The image was new to me.  As time has passed and technology grows, I see hints of her on the internet through the Triple Goddess and her horned consort.  I see the other Lunar Deities and how the image of the crescent crown has been used over time.  But for me, in that time and place, the crescent moon sitting on the head of my Muse was new. 

In 2011, I tattoo’d her shape onto my left wrist.  Her tattoo was a reminder; she is always present with me and creativity is a part of who I am.  I chose my left arm because the left is often seen as our spiritual, creative, and feminine side with the right side being rooted in the here and now, our masculine, logical side.  I signed my art with her shape, honoring my muse.

A new tattoo in the shape of a symbolic woman with arms outstretched, a round body, and sickle moon crown.
In 2011 I got a tattoo of my Muse on my left wrist. She stands in the shape that I saw her in 2008.


In the spring of 2013, we left Sacramento, moving to the dry Tehachapi Mountains.  I left behind a very dear friend, Susan.   A woman who was constantly reminding and supporting the divine feminine within me; reminding me of who I was and who I could be. Just after Christmas of that year, she called me.  Her friend was dying and she wondered if she could come and visit. 

Susan’s friend was Signe.  Signe was blind, and Susan, an avid hiker and outdoors woman, would take Signe with her.  She would guide her through the trees, up paths, and gave Signe an opportunity to see the world through Susan’s eyes. Susan instinctively felt that Signe could not pass with her in town, and if she came to visit me, Signe would be able to transition.

Signe passed the first night and, in her honor, Susan asked if we could go hiking.  As we drove up the mountain, Susan’s brother called.  He told her, “Signe can see every color of the rainbow now.”

We arrived at Mountain Park, a camping and hiking area just above Tehachapi with beautiful pines.  We stepped out of the car and began to climb. Two baby trees caught Susan’s attention and she pulled out her digital camera and took a photo.  She stopped, looked at me, and said, “Look at this!”

There in her photo, in the upper right corner, was a glorious rainbow burst of light.  It wasn’t at all like the shape you get from the sun, with circular orbs.  This was quite different. My daughter, 8 at the time, asked to see.  Immediately she stated, “Mommy, it’s your tattoo.”  And she was right.  The shape of my tattoo had appeared in Susan’s photo and she was every color of the rainbow, just as Susan’s brother had said not 15 minutes earlier.

A orb, every color of the rainbow, which appeared in a digital photograph. The shape of the orb mimics the shape of a woman with a round bottom and crown on her head.
A glimpse of the Afterlife. The first photo taken after the passing of Signe, this orb appeared in the upper corner of the picture, mimicking the tattoo of my Muse and containing every color of the rainbow, symbolic to the woman who passed.

We knew in that moment that Signe was with us.  We knew Signe could now see every color of the rainbow in this new space. I also understood that what I had seen in 2008 was real, not something my mind created in the moment.  The figure of the Goddess on my wrist wasn’t a figment, but rather a form that exists outside of our human bodies. 

When I find myself doubting or fearful as to what comes next, I return to Mountain Park and my time with Susan.  I return to Signe’s message of existence after our earthly death.  I return to my Muse, the form that appeared to me when I asked for her support and guidance. I am comforted that there is more.  I am comforted knowing we have glimpsed the Afterlife.

A drawing of my Creative Muse using every color of the rainbow on black paper. Drawing by Anna Loscotoff.
A drawing of my Creative Muse on black paper in every color of the rainbow.

Thank you to Susan, for allowing me to share her part of this story and for being such a powerful and beautiful influence in my life.

My Dear Readers, what gifts have you been given that allow you faith in an Afterlife? Have you seen, felt, or heard something that you hold on to? Do you have an interpretation different than mine? Are there books that have influenced you? You can send me a message here or comment below.

Links:

Lunar Deities

The Faces of the Goddess

Cernunnus, the Horned God of Celtic Mythology

Books:

Maiden, Mother, Crone: The Myth and Reality of the Triple Goddess

By Oak, Ash, & Thorn: Modern Celtic Shamanism

The Mists of Avalon (my all-time favorite fiction about the Triple Goddess)

The Harvest Moon

A mandala of the Harvest Moon. Crops in reds, greens, and yellows grow in front of the moon. Original Mandala by Anna Loscotoff.

Tonight we welcome the full moon, the Harvest Moon, the moon closest to the autumn Equinox.  The moon will rise along the eastern horizon just after sunset, bringing extra light to the sky, traditionally allowing farmers extra time to harvest their crops as the weather began to turn cold.  

October brings us a rare two full moons, the next falling on Halloween.  A full moon has not fallen on Halloween since 1944.  This next full moon is also a Blue Moon (the second full moon in a month) and the Hunter’s Moon (tied to the equinox as the moon always following the harvest). 

Mandala on black paper. A landscape. Yellow grain grows at the bottom, with purple hills rising behind. The sun, shrouded in fog as it rolls over the hills. Original artwork by Anna Loscotoff.
Mandala of a Harvest Moon coming up over a field of grain. Original art by Anna Loscotoff.

Ritual of the Full Moon

I think of the full moon as a time of letting go.  As the moon loses her roundness, so we release the things that no longer serve us.  

  • Think about the things that are no longer serving you, the things that are hurting you, the things you no longer need in your life.
  • Write the things you wish to let go on small slips of paper or bay leaves.
  • Using a fire safe bowl in a fire safe space, a fire pit, a fireplace, burn these things that you wish to release.  
  • Watch the flame, thinking about these weights being released from you. 
  • When the fire has been extinguished, your thoughts burned, reground with a bit of chocolate, or in honor of the Harvest Moon, hot cider, cinnamon, or tree nuts. 

To learn more about the Harvest Moon, check out these links:

The Old Farmers Almanac

Full Moons in October – CNN

Complex Nocturnal Visual Hallucinations

Original Mandala by Anna Loscotoff. Drawing of experience with Complex Nocturnal Visual Hallucinations, drawn on Procreate. Image of woman with blonde hair dreaming her arms are too long. She's sitting in blue bed with orange light in background. 2020.

I recently had a rough night of sleep.  The hallucinations kept coming, one after another, for hours.  Because I understand what’s happening, or at least understand it’s not real, they don’t last as long as they used to.  I can generally pull myself out fairly quickly, but on nights like this I become afraid to close my eyes again and the anxiety rises. The adrenaline and fear is exhausting and at a certain point my brain begins to think something is really wrong.  On this particular night, after hours of partially waking, I told my husband that I thought I was having strokes. I was mostly asleep, not fully conscious of what I was saying. Other nights I’ve told him I was having a heart attack.  One night, I got up and told my daughter, full of panic, that my arms were too long. Yes, my arms were too long.  In reality, my brain is somewhere in the in-between; not yet awake, not completely asleep.

Anna sleeping at around 5 years of age with her dog.

When I was in high school I slept with my lamp on.  My dad, always conscious of the energy bill, would come in at 2 or 3 in the morning, my light having somehow woke him. He would switch it off, unintentionally waking me, and quietly reprimand me for keeping it on.  I’ve come to learn it was a sleep survival instinct. Research has shown that increasing light pulls the individual out of the hallucination.  That’s why, in second grade, the skeleton on my shelf didn’t disappear just because my dad came in the room.  It disappeared when he turned on the light. Many nights, with the lights off, I would see doors in my bedroom walls.  My brain told me I needed to go through the doors, curious about where they went.  Only I couldn’t get to them, something was in the way.  That something was often a dresser or bookshelf, and I would fully wake trying to move them.

You’d think a solution would be to sleep with the light on.  As an adult, I wish that were an option.  I do sleep with a salt lamp, but that often feels too bright and doesn’t allow me to fully sleep.  Nightlights cause shadows.  Those shadows become stories, creatures, forms.  Those shadows become anxieties to my sleeping mind. 

I go through stages of hallucinations, my mind fixating on certain subjects, sometimes for years at a time. I’ve had weeks of aliens coming through the ceiling, years of an important ring that I have lost or swallowed (and the loss of that ring to my sleeping mind will end the world), fairies flying around the room, floods. Lately my mind has a preoccupation with electricity. All of these are symbolic and visions into where my subconscious is centered. I will go more into symbolism, both in dreams and in hallucinations, in future posts.

Could there be something really wrong? This condition can be found in completely normal, healthy individuals, but there are some genuine medical reasons that people experience nocturnal hallucinations.  I just don’t seem to have any of them.  I don’t have hallucinations during the day, either visual or auditory, which is common in Schizophrenia.  I don’t have Epilepsy.  I don’t use drugs or alcohol.  No sight deprivation, Parkinson’s or Lewy body dementia.  Complex Nocturnal Hallucinations are also common in Narcolepsy, however Narcolepsy has several other defining factors such as excessive daytime sleepiness and sleep paralysis (neither are issues that affect me.) Also, it started when I was in 1st grade, (perhaps earlier, I just don’t have the conscious memory), which makes me think it is just how my brain fires. 

What types of things have you experienced while sleeping?  Any common symbols that keep coming up for you?

Want to explore deeper?  Here are some studies about Complex Nocturnal Visual Hallucination:

Complex Visual Hallucinations in Mentally Healthy People

Complex Visual Hallucinations; Clinical and Neurobiological Insights

What You Should Know About Sleep-Related Hallucinations

Melatonin-Responsive Complex Nocturnal Visual Hallucinations