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Living in Season Newsletter

Living in Season
The official newsletter of the School of the Seasons
Volume 2, Number 17
November 2, 2004
Samhain, All Souls


  • Welcome
  • My Season: Darkness Falling
  • November Calendar Up!
  • Living in Season: Honoring the Ancestors
  • On the Web: Finding Your Ancestors
  • On the Web: Preparing for Yule
  • Signs of the Season: Winter
  • Winter Correspondence Course
  • Copyright
  • Subscribe - Unsubscribe

Welcome to my periodical newsletter featuring ideas for bringing the beauty of the current season into your life. If you enjoy this newsletter, please forward it.

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My Season: Darkness Falling
AThe start of this month of November seems particularly dark this year. The switch back from Daylight Savings Time helps further that impression, especially for a night owl like me who isn't likely to appreciate the extra hour of daylight in the morning but notices the earlier fall of darkness at night.

My daughter is still struggling with depression and trauma and drinking as a way of self-medicating. It is breaking my heart to watch her suffering. I'm finding myself drawn back to spiritual practices: tarot readings, labyrinth walking, 12 step groups and pagan rituals, knowing these are places which provide the metaphor and reflection that help me go deeper.

During a dare (an African form of healing council) sponsored by Deena Metzger during her visit to Seattle, I got advice from an amazing African healer, Mandazze, who recommended I pay more attention to my dreams (they are still confusing and seem mundane to me.) I've also found a good counselor.

The incredible fear and hostility generated by the election isn't helping either. I don't remember ever witnessing such a vicious campaign (especially on the state and local level) and I think it's a measure of our despair over recent world events. It feels like a life-and-death struggle.

I got a glimpse of light at the end of the tunnel last night while attending a Samhain ritual sponsored by the Seattle Reclaiming group: Turning Tide. I actually imagined Kerry winning and felt the tiny sprout of hope. Could it be?

The ritual focused not just on our beloved dead and our ancestors, those who've passed away into the darkness, but also on the babies and new ideas and projects that have been born during the year. In a meditation in which we were asked to listen to the voices of our ancestors, I was told to continue working with the seasons, through my classes and writing (not surprising since I had invoked Helen Farias, my mentor in this work). That seemed fine with me. But then I got the message to buy a farm. Not sure where that came from (although almost all my ancestors were farmers). It seems ludicrous as I don't have the money to buy a farm (or even a condo) nor the skills necessary to maintain one but I'm willing to sit with it for a while and hope it becomes clear.

May this turning into darkness give you time for reflection and renewal.

November Calendar Up!
The November calendar has been updated and is posted here.

Living in Season: Honoring the Ancestors
Ever since I first learned about Days of the Dead, the festival honoring the ancestors which is celebrated most vividly in Mexico, the month of November has become a time for honoring the ancestors in my life. I display pictures of my known ancestors and beloved dead (friends, pets) on a bulletin board in my front hall and beneath it, I set up an altar, draped with a colorful orange cloth and decorated with paper marigolds, pink dahlias, candles and offerings of food. This altar stays up throughout November, which is known as the month of the dead in Ireland; I take it down on December 1st when I begin decorating the house for Winter Solstice.

Many religions around the world maintain traditions of respect for the ancestors. During the Japanese Obon festival celebrated in July, the ancestors are invited back to dance the Bon-Odori with us. In many African religions, the ancestors are consulted for their wisdom. In India, the lamps of Diwali are lit to welcome the ancestors back for a visit. That's also the original purpose of the lit pumpkins we put out on Halloween.

The Catholic Church used to celebrate the feast of the dead. There are accounts of the monks of Cluny putting out huge vats of beans (also the food offered to the ancestors by the Romans) on November 1st. But gradually the idea of inviting back those who had died became spooky and dangerous, thus the idea that ghosts (the unshriven dead) or even demons wander the world at this time of year. After all, good folks should be in Heaven and not interested in returning to visit us. Still the Catholic holiday honoring All Saints happens on November 1st, and what are the saints, but the holy dead, the ones whose intercession and wisdom we request in our prayers?

In many cultures (the native people of the Pacific Northwest and the Celts), the start of winter (and November is the start of winter in the Celtic calendar) is the only time of the year for storytelling. People gather around the warmth and light of the bonfire to listen to the stories that sustain their culture: the great deeds done by the ancestors, the myths about the gods and their gifts.

So you could collect the stories of your ancestors during the month of November, perhaps interviewing an older family member or doing genealogical research. The Internet has a wealth of genealogical information but I recommend starting with the human resources in your own family: poring over a photo album with your great aunt or locating the person who's the family historian in your family.

You could make story-telling the focus of a Thanksgiving dinner in which everyone brings a story or an object (a family heirloom) to the table to show and tell. Or perhaps the feast itself could become the vehicle for sharing in the convivial culture of food. Each person might bring a dish from their ancestral background or you could tour the world, researching and serving a holiday meal from a particular culture each year.

Luisah Teish suggests honoring the ancestors of all the cultures from whom you've received value. For instance she praises the Wind Goddess and the Wright Brothers whenever she boards an airplane. You might just spend one day, perhaps Thanksgiving, walking through your life, considering the origins of all the items which you use and giving thanks to those who made them.

If you don't feel comfortable inviting your ancestors back to visit you during the month of November, you mightinstead invite the spirits of those who have inspired you with their lives and work. For me, that includes Joseph Campbell, Elizabeth Goudge (my favorite novelist) and Helen Farias, my mentor and friend. November could be a month when you learn about the lives of your heroes and heroines, reading biographies about the choices they made and the path they took to become the people you admire. Or you simply acknowledge them by putting flowers in front of a picture (perhaps from a book jacket or CD cover).

Deena Metzger has a wonderful exercise on teachers in her wonderful book on writing. She asks you to make a list of all those persons, living and dead, known by you or not, who have been important to your creative life. Once you've written all the names, you rearrange them in the order of their influence, then read down the list and ask yourself questions about the lineage from which your creativity flows? What is the history of your creative development? What qualities do these people have in common? What sort of work might emerge from this line or tradition? She then asks you to pick one person from the list, someone who can challenge you, who has the most to teach you, and engage in a dialogue with this person about your creative life. You can imagine the relationship that's developed and how it impacts your life, going back to a point in time when you were stuck or made mistakes and re-imaging the outcome with the help of your teacher, or working through current obstacles. See Deena's book for specific questions and examples.

Metzger, Deena, Writing for Your Life, Harper SanFrancisco, 1992
Teish, Luisah, Jambalaya, Harper San Francisco 1985
Thanks to Natural Family Online, a website devoted to attachment parenting and other natural child-raising practices, for giving me a chance to think through these ideas in my November column for their new ezine www.naturalfamilyonline.com

On the Web: Finding Your Ancestors
The Internet is a true boon for genealogists offering a wealth of records that previously existed in scattered government offices across the country, not to mention the opportunity to connect with unknown cousins. But it is also overwhelming and some of the information posted by enthusiastic but inexperienced researchers is simply inaccurate.

I recommend starting with the resources in your own family. Do an inventory of your house, identifying the items you've inherited, both written records, photos and heirloom books, furniture, jewelry, china, etc. Go to visit your relatives and pore over photos together. Ask permission to make color photo copies of the old pictures you don't own and make sure you write down the names and stories about the folks in the photos. Often the stories you hear along the way are more interesting than the true stories you unearth in your research.

Almost every family has a family historian — it may be a second cousin twice removed, someone whose name you've never heard, but in my experience there's always someone who's compiled the photos, made copies of the census records and entered all the names into a family tree program.. Once you start gathering the genealogical data (names, birthplaces, dates), you'll likely hear about this person or notice their name on the photocopies you're using. Contact your family historian, offer to share the information you have. They will be able to steer you towards other relatives and resources you don't know about now.

Starting your search on the Internet too early may lead to discouragement, as you won't be able to tell if the Michael Fitzgerald you're chasing is your ancestor or one of the many who emigrated to America in the 1850's. But once you have more information (his wife's name, his birthplace, his date of birth), you'll be able to narrow down your search. Once you're ready for the Internet, I recommend Cyndi's List, a comprehensive list of links: www.cyndislist.com

If you need some friendly help doing your search, contact your local genealogical society and ask about classes in your area. Your librarian will also be able to help you use many of the paid databanks to which libraries subscribe. My local library has a wonderful genealogical collection which includes detailed maps and county histories of some of the places significant in my family's history, even though those places are thousands of miles away.

Field trips are the best part of genealogical research. Once you've identified contacts and locations significant to your family, schedule a trip where you'll gather even more stories about your ancestors and have an opportunity to share in their experiences in a kinesthetic way. I've walked through the empty house built by my grandfather when my father was an infant and seen how the ground sparkled (with mica chips) on the site of the tourist camp my grandparents ran in the Black Hills of South Dakota.

On the Web: Preparing for Yule
We'll look at this topic again in my next newsletter, with links to sites that promote bringing back the Twelve Days of Christmas and highlight ideas for developing a spiritual approch to the winter holidays.

But I wanted to remind you about the website I mentioned a few weeks back -- Organized Christmas -- as they're already in the second week of the Holiday Planner. This is Reality Check week when you examine your wishes and dreams for the holidays, figure out if they're realistic, develop a budget and start preparing. For more ideas go to www.organizedchristmas.com

Signs of Winter
Don't you love the new cloudscapes stamps from the U.S. Post Office? I'm convinced that stratus opacus is a picture from Seattle as it resembles our usual cloud cover: a sort of misty fog, typical of this time of year.

I love getting a glimpse of the season in so many different places. Send me the signs of the season where you live, and I will post them here.

Winter Correspondence Course
November 1st is the Celtic New Year and the start of winter by the old British reckoning of the season (as illustrated by the alternate name for the Winter Solstice: Midwinter). So it's time to order the Winter correspondence course if you're interested in ideas for aligning with the rhythms of Winter.

The Winter correspondence course is now available. (Of course, you can also order any season out of season, if you like). For a list of topics and the subjects covered, click here.

Copyright ©Waverly Fitzgerald 2004.
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