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I respect nature’s balance of life from death. I respect the harmony of the elements.
~ Forest Hedgewitch

Autumn - 2009

This is my favorite time of year. No matter what tradition you follow or if you follow none, there is no denying that the veil is thin, and the energy of the season is powerful.

Now, every warm day is treasured. The scarcity of time is tangible. The sun sets early into lush blankets of purple and red. The hours of daylight grow short. The powers of life and death permeate the cool, earthy air. All of nature signifies the turning of the wheel.

In the Mid-Western United States, honking groups of geese fly overhead in classic V formation. Black clouds of chirping and tweeting birds gather in the sky and descend into one chosen tree. Their congregation announces the changing season with a thousand voices all chatting at once – like a crowd gathered for an important public meeting.

The squirrels are busy collecting winter hordes of nuts or digging up newly planted flower bulbs. Mums, goldenrod, wild carrots, and asters are blooming. Leaves of red, gold, plum, yellow, and brown burst forth from the trees with every gust of wind, and gracefully dance to partners fluttering on the ground.

Mosquitoes are sparse. Summer’s katydid chorus has ended. A few crickets singing solo remain – like the last drunken patrons leaving a bar.

Seeds fall, float, or hitch a ride. Plants die back to create the decay that regenerates earth. Nuts and berries feed the wildlife and replenish the forest. Milkweed pods release their seeds to the wind for future monarch butterflies.

This fantastic display of the energies of life and death working in concert begins around September’s Autumnal Equinox, and it grows to a point where everyone is affected by it. The power of this season is evidenced by the jack-o-lantern in every window. Even Christians feel strangely compelled to celebrate Halloween – Though most couldn’t tell you why.

As with every Solstice and Equinox, I spent this Autumnal Equinox in the woods where my spirit sours like a crow riding a wind current. This is where I belong. Where the weavers of fate placed my thread. I can bolt through the forest like a deer, or silently watch like a fox, but either way, I am at home among the trees.

Among other things, I am a Keeper Of The Forest. My calling is to maintain nature’s balance and protect it from harm.

On the Autumnal Equinox, I spend time communing with the older oaks in my woods. Many of them are over 100 years old. Hand to bark, I greet them and wish them well as they prepare for winter’s sleep.

Much to the consternation of the protesting squirrels, this year, I collected some viable acorns I found on the ground. Most of them I planted. But such plantings are really best left to squirrels. They are just so much better at it.

Alone, in the center of the woods, I reaffirmed my vows to rise against harm and act to heal. To lend nature my voice among men.

I will return on the Winter Solstice - like a pine watching over those that sleep in the snow.

After the sun set, a heavy fog gathered around the woods. Night was setting in. There was no Harvest Moon this equinox, but the crescent moon was magnificent in the western indigo sky. As I walked through an open field at the edge of the woods, I was cloaked in mist. Not a soul could see me. It was an open solitude of earth, mist, and sky.

As October’s New Moon approached, I helped my friends with a house clearing. This proved to be no small task. There were some serious negative energies infesting the house and plaguing the occupants. But it was rewarding to watch their two cats go from leery and skittish to welcoming and affectionate. Pets give voice to the energy of a home. After we finished the clearing, one cat playfully rang a cow bell hanging from the back porch - As if to announce that the clearing was complete.

As October days grow shorter, the presence of the dead grows stronger. My husband sees his beloved cat several times out of the corner of his eye. She returns to him because certain bonds of love simply do not die.

My thoughts unexpectedly drift off to memories of family. Faces I have loved, and those I did not. It is a time of reflection and assessment. I evaluate my life and my spiritual progress. Have I harmed anyone – person or living creature? Did I learn anything new? Have I righted any wrongful ways. How will the book of life report my year? How will I be remembered when I die?

Autumn calls forth the forces of life and death. It brings them face to face to mingle or grapple with each other. It is as it has always been. Each life effects other lives. These effects are vividly recalled when the veil is thin and the souls of the dead present themselves to our consciousness.

Some souls are warmly welcomed with the embrace of love and good will. Others are rejected with distain. It is good to consider this while one is still alive. For nothing but the forgiveness of the living can alter it once you are dead.

It is best to be kind and forgiving to both the living and the dead. It is good to remember that you too will be judged by the living after you die.

On October 31st , my tradition takes me to the cemetery at sunset. Our family’s graveyard is a quaint, rural place surrounded by corn fields. Only one rule is posted – “Closed At Dusk” – but I often break even that rule without consequence.

I always take note of new graves, and the markers placed on them. This year, I discovered a grave marker that had this excellent poem engraved in polished black marble:

Do not stand at my grave and weep;
I am not there. I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow.
I am the diamond glints on snow.
I am the sun on ripened grain.
I am the gentle autumn rain.

When you wake in morning's hush
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of graceful birds in circled flight.
I am the stars that shine at night.

Do not stand at my grave and cry;
I am not there. I did not die.

“Awesome!”, I said to the fellow buried there. “Well done, Sir. I hope you have an excellent Halloween!”

I lit a candle at each of my relatives’ graves. We had a chat, and exchanged stones for the year.

Each year, I carefully select a stone from my property for each of my departed loved ones. On Halloween, I remove the stone that was left last year, and leave the new stone at the grave. This new stone will be with them all year. The stone I take from the grave, I keep. In this way, my loved ones are with me, and I am with them on this very special night – and throughout the year.

As I look around the cemetery, I can see that others also follow this tradition. I notice the unobtrusive, yet pretty stones that people have left near the grave markers of their loved ones. I always wish these departed souls a happy night.

Just as the forest, the sea, and open fields do, the cemetery often offers me things that I can use. Hemlock seeds, wildflowers, a bird feather, or an interesting stick of wood. I accept these gifts with a reverence for the place from which they came. I will put them to good use.

When the sun finally sinks below the horizon, I take my leave of the cemetery. It’s time to get home for trick-or- treat. Every kid in the neighborhood knows that my house is not the one to skip. I’m a bit out of the way, but they know that I will make it worth their while.

After returning from the cemetery, I put on my Mother’s favorite crocheted Halloween Shawl - a long, black, shimmering spider web with fringe. It looks like something Morticia Addams would wear. I crush hole cloves and cinnamon sticks with my mortar and pestle, and I put on a pot of potpourri. I light black Witch’s Brew candles in the front window, and carve my Jack-O-Lantern. (Yes, I wait until Halloween Night to carve the pumpkin.) When Jack is done, I sprinkle crushed cloves and cinnamon inside, and light him up with a candle. The combination of the candles, the potpourri and the Jack create a delightful seasonal aroma throughout the house.

When the door bell rings, it’s on. My husband smiles as I rush to the door with an outrageous bowl of candy. This is my favorite part of the holiday.

I hold out a large bowl filled with various candy bars, and tell the little ghosts or goblins , “Pick your favorite.” After they choose one, I scoop a heaping handful of candy bars out of the bowl, and throw it in their bag. This elicits excited cries of delight from the children as they turn and walk away. You just can’t put a price tag on that. It’s priceless.

When the kids finally go home for the night, I go for my traditional Halloween walk. Friends and family, whomever is at my house, comes along. We walk through my neighborhood taking in the magical night air and the holiday displays.

Afterward, the Keepers Of The Flame gather around the hearth until the wee hours of the morning making the colorful flames of a cherry wood fire do spectacular things. This is a private gathering of family and close friends – the inner circle. It is a celebration of the season and relationships that withstand the ultimate test of time.

After I finally wake up on the afternoon of November 1st, I return to the cemetery to collect my candles, plant spring bulbs, and invite departed relatives to our Thanksgiving Day celebration.

Dates of Note:

November 1st and 2nd mark the celebration of the Day of the Dead. Also, All Saints Day and All Souls day in Christianity.

Old Halloween falls on the cross-quarter day when the sun reaches 15 degrees Scorpio - approximately on November 6th.

Thanksgiving is Celebrated on the Fourth Thursday of November in the United States. It is celebrated on the second Monday of October in Canada.