It’s that time of year. The poplars are yellow, the gums are looking shaggy, and the nocturnal wallabies and pademelons seem to be finished earlier than they have been. Here in Hobart it’s getting cold. Nature seems to be contracting, there’s a sense of a slow turn inward and the mists hang low over the Mountain’s side. Hallowmas is on the calendar.
Hallowmas, All Hallow’s Eve, or Samhain, is probably one of the most distinct festivals for pagan-folk along with Beltane (Roodmas). The Festival of the Dead has many rituals and traditions and customs all over Europe, and many of us combine several different cultural practices at this time. And never is such a thing more appropriate. There are things for me, that are distinctly Australian, very British (and varied within that), and some of a most Swedish flavour. Just the same as my ancestors, the Beloved Dead.
Sometimes the things that occur before or in preparation for any festival are just as important as the rituals and traditions of the festival itself. Personally, Hallowmas is time at which preparation and observances before the ritual itself are very particular, and in some sense, a little odd. It begins with a spring clean.
Everyone is familiar with the concept. Spring arrives and our lives become far more active and external. It has a sort of common sense about it. The lighter months are a time in which we socialise, expect guests, throw parties, so a good spring clean is always advisable. But for those who experience the darker months as an emergence of a different kind, this seemingly misplaced activity can lend itself to deeper awareness of what, and who, is emerging.
It might appear strange, but my first task is to ready my home as if I am expecting a large party of guests. “As if”. The veil between the worlds is thinning, and that eerie feeling seems to creep about the landscape. This preparation, mundane as it might be, is an offering, an act of invitation to the ancestors. It also provides me the opportunity to establish new alters and shrines in my home. At the Equinox (the traditional beginning of Winter in Sweden) I stop making offerings to one Goddess, on this New Moon she will withdraw, and a somewhat darker Mistress will make Her appearance. 9 days before the Festival itself, I will begin to light candles and make offerings to Her. As well as that, larger numbers will join my Ancestral Shrine, especially those who passed since last year.
The significance of the dead is clear and traditions, though changed over time, are still adhered to in Sweden on All Saint’s Day. But the place of the ancestors goes much further back than Christianity, and seems to have been a much more personal and idiosyncratic practice within the home. Though I don’t celebrate on All Saint’s Day specifically, it still forms part of the Triduum of All Hallows (All Hallow’s Eve, All Saint’s Day, All Soul’s Day).
There are lots of small tasks that take place about the house that help me find the seasonal grove. From bedding down plants and cutting back my rose, to pulling out my knitting and cross stitch. All of which are crafts and skills that have come down to me from the English side of my family, and help to bring the gifts of my Foremothers to the front of my mind.
It will also mark the last period of collecting and harvesting in nature of particular things. Specifically, the sap of the Silver Wattle (Acacia dealbata). This plant is of special significance at this time year. I have had great success working with this plant, especially the sap which forms on the bark in a deep amber, sweet and apparently used by Indigenous people as a glue. The timber of this plant is used for furniture and wood turning, and the flowers (as it does about the time of the Hawthorn in Spring) are associated with International Women’s Day. But for all that, for me, this species is associated with ancestry.
I’m not even sure if I can articulate why. In the winter months, the Brushtailed Possums, much regarded as a animal associated with Grandmother Land, will eat the sap as a substitute and carbohydrate supplement. It grows in all the crossroad inbetween places. There’s something skeletal about it, and always seems to be broken, split, and half of it dead.
Whatever the case, I have had for a long time now, most definite success with this plant and it features as a key ingredient in my Beloved Dead Incense. Which in turn will be a key ingredient in the festival rite.
Other key natives that might help you enter into the Current of land include the King Billy Pine (Athrotaxis selaginoides), named for Willian Lanne, the last full-blooded Aboriginal Tasmanian man, and therefore an important cultural ancestor for Tasmanians and indeed all Australians. Although classified as vulnerable now, it is always good practice to meditate upon the lessons our ancestors have to teach us. In this case, there are multiple lessons to be had, both in terms environmental and human. It is a somber symbol to my mind, of the importance of remembrance. More than that, as a way to meditate upon the very nature of ancestry. It is certainly a time now to connect with our blood ancestry, how ever it is that we each do so, through crafts, objects, photos, stories. But Ancestry is so much more than that. It is a time we can mediate upon those ancestors further removed from blood, but who form and inform our minds and Spirit. It is primarily for that reason I include this plant. For most, it is inaccessible, but it has a name worth remembering.
For those on the mainland, one can hardly go past the Ghost Gum (Corymbia, various) (not considered a eucalyptus since the 1990’s, though commonly called a gum still). There’s hardly a point in fighting the nature of it’s name. It seems designed to invoke images of the dead with it’s ghostly spectre in the landscape. Interesting some species are considered key indicators in an environment of poor soils. If you happen to have a species near you, offerings of the flowers is a wonderful addition to graves and shrines.
Finally, for those feeling a little more cautious with the approach of winter, attending to, or refreshing your household security might be an added activity before the arrival of All Hallow’s. There are several things one can do, especially in relation to the dead. It is worth remembering that your iron talismans may have little to no effect on wandering dead. But talismans more Jupiterian and Martial in nature, imbued with a greater amount of ‘red fire’ will aid you. Equilateral crosses of Hawthorn and Silver Wattle help define you ‘hedge’ the boundaries not to be crossed. Using eucalyptus (particularly broad leaf) work similarly with a vastly more Jupiterian nature. Marking door frames and windows with whatever symbol or sigil that reflects and expresses protection for you is always good practice. Use an oil specifically designed for such a task, like Oil of Mace, made specifically for this purpose. Smoking and cleansing your home with a incense with a base of Huon Pine, like this Household Cleansing Incense is a more subtle way to define your household and deter negative energies. And it smells wonderful!
Many people will keep on hand sage smudge sticks. Which are wonderful cleansers. And so easy to keep and use whenever one feels and for smoking yourself as well as spaces. I have for a time used smudge sticks made from eucalyptus, especially the broad leaf Blue Gums and Swamp or Stringy Gums. And they will be available to purchase at Australia Incognita soon.
Until then, enjoy this lovely half way space moment in the seasons.
“If you wake up
And the day feels-
Just lean into the crack
And it will tremble
Ever so nicely
How it sparkles
Down there” -Björk – It’s Not Up To You