Friday, October 15, 2010

Keeping Up With October

The dark month is flying by, and the world has kept me too busy to enjoy it. I admit that I feel like I'm missing my favorite time of year. So I'm back here to remind myself what I love about October, and why I try to inhabit its country all-year-round.

When we look at October, and especially Halloween, those of us in the United States realize that we are celebrating a time that has been considered sacred for over one thousand years. But do we realize how modern we've made Halloween? This is not a bad thing, of course. But many of our traditions are very American, and some are less than 100 years old. Let's look at the old and the new of October, and see if we can't capture a little of the American October essence.

Things to do in the October Country

1. Catch the Leaves

This is probably the oldest October activity in history (at least in places where October brings fall foliage). Growing up in rural Massachusetts, this was one of my favorite activities. The changing season brings a lot of blustery weather in the midst of startlingly beautiful colors of gold, red, orange, brown, green and mixes of each. The wind knocks the dying leaves loose and they literally rain down over children screaming with joy, and they are tough buggers to catch!

This is something fairly pastoral, and perhaps is only still done in the country, where trees are abundant. But if you have a park you can visit, take your dog, take your kids, take your loved one, and take yourself on a windy day and try to catch some color. If you do, catch one for me, as Houston Texas does not have an Autumn.

2. Pumpkin Carving
One of the most ubiquitous tradition in North America, but a fairly recent one as well. The Jack-O-Lantern tradition came to us from Ireland. The legend usually entails a wicked man, who is too wicked even for hell, being given a ever-burning ember by the devil to light his way through eternity on earth. The man, "Jack", carves a turnip to serve as his lantern. Immigrating to the U.S., the Irish retained their tradition. But substituted turnips, which are hard to carve, for the yielding flesh of the pumpkin (which did not grow in Ireland at the time). Today, pumpkin carving is elaborate and sometimes lucrative, with carving contests awarding prizes in excess of $25,000 for winners and a profitable kit and pattern industry in the market.

Remember not to waste the pumpkin seeds! Highly nutritious and often delicious, the pumpkin seed is considered by nutritionist to be a super food, with numerous vitamins, amino acids, iron, calcium and other benefits. The pumpkin seed can be helpful in everything from dental issues, to depression to cancer. Plus, they are extremely yummy!

Garlic spiced Pumpkin Seeds
1 1/2 tablespoons margarine, melted
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon garlic salt
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
2 cups raw whole pumpkin seeds

Preheat oven to 275 degrees F (135 degrees C).
Combine the margarine, salt, garlic salt, Worcestershire sauce and pumpkin seeds. Mix thoroughly and place in shallow baking dish.
Bake for 1 hour, stirring occasionally.

3. Apples and Apples and APPLES

For me, nothing embodies Autumn like the crisp, tangy taste of a freshly picked Macintosh apple. For many, Apple picking is the high watermark of the Harvest season. For those in the south and out of reach of those cooler-weather-loving apples orchards, it means lower prices and a more plentiful selection of apples at the super market. For nearly everone, it means the joys of apple cider. Different from your juice box variety apple drink, Cider is made from crushed apples, whereas apple juice is made from boiled peels and cores. So, in reality, apple cider has more apple juice . . . than apple juice. Sorry Motts. Cider is truly heavenly when spices such as cloves, allspice, orange peels and cinnamon sticks are added to the liquid as it's slowly heated. This is the essence of hot apple cider on brisque Autumn days.

Historically, Apples have also been used in Autumn for divination. Bobbing for apples is a treasured pastime using both marked(european) and unmarked(American) apples to divine who would be the first to marry in the new year, and to whom. Irish traditions of snapping an apple (biting an apple on a string without using hands) is still an observed Halloween tradition.

4. Scrying and Divination

And more from the divination chapter, Halloween and October have always been considered prime times for seeking hidden knowledge. Halloween, as the Pagan New Year, is the time where the veil between the living and the dead is purported to be very thin, and an excellent time for spells and divination. Practioners cast lots, stones, and scry with crystals, mirrors, water, ashes or nuts. Pumpkin seeds can be used for divination by inscribing them with nordic runes and casting them. Others may opt for a classic black mirror for their All Hallow's Eve scrying.

Easy scrying mirror

Use an existing tabletop mirror, remove the glass.Take the flat black spray paint and begin to coat 1 side of the glass with even, light strokes. Apply 1 thin coat and allow to dry. Apply following coats, drying completely in between coats, until no light shows through the glass. Insert the glass back into the mirror frame. Be sure to bless the mirror according to your own traditions to prevent inviting anything unwanted. Scry away!

5. Cemeteries

Strangely, I find that cemeteries are largerly avoided in much of the United States during October and the Hallween season. Many cemeteries even discourage visits, as seasonally-inspired visits often result in vandalism and destruction of property. But I heartily recommend spending a little time with the dead during the dark month, whether you know them or not. Besides being a place of excellent atmosphere, cemeteries are beauitful, peaceful and full of history. Whether you explore tombstones, do rubbings (if allowed), leave some flowers on a random grave or just ponder what the lives of the deceased might have been like, it is time well spent, and, I like to think, does not go unnoticed or unappreciated.

Observing the Mexican El Dia De Los Muertos tradition, place a candle on the grave of a loved one. This doesn't HAVE to be done on Halloween or the day of the dead, but should be done at night. Unfortunately, many people are nervous about visiting graveyards at night, and some don't permit visits after dark. Still, if the opportunity arises, go ahead. You'll be glad you shared a little bit of life with the dead.

6. Tell a Ghost Story

There is no better way to get close to the dead then to speak about them. Everyone knows a ghost story, some sad, some frightening, some strange and outrageous. My favorite ghost stories are the ones thought to be true, or who at least have their roots in history or folklore. The library, bookstore, and probably your great uncle or grandfather are full of such stories. So browse the shelves and pick a brain or two. You never know what spirits are haunting the places, and the people right next to you.

Now, I'm off to New Orleans to do some of my own investigations of mysterious and creepy history. Many photos and memories of the haunted big easy are right around the corner. I'll see you soon!