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Our sun once marked worktime, rest-time, its presence divided our year into summer and winter, it told us the time to grow, the time to harvest. It’s increasing light and warmth from springtime through summer gave hope of new life, light,and a knowledge that a time of abundance would follow. It's journey away from us in winter told us of harder times, coldness and dark. Nowadays we seem to miss so much of what our sun is telling us, unlike our ancestors who lived their lives by it. Many of us have instant light and warmth at the flick of a switch, we farm and grow throughout the year, we have constant availability of food, we have a health service to help see us through winters. But in these times when we hear of humankind using siege tactics as a weapon of choice to take away these ‘basics’ we begin to realise our fragility when we are left without the things many of us take for granted.

As winter moves towards, as our sun moves away, we do not rest. We ignore our deep seated feelings.

We can read in old Irish texts that Gaelic people would light bonfires at this time of the year, marking the death of summer and heralding the beginning of a new year that starts with winter. This seems an incredibly positive outlook at a time that would have been the hardest time for survival through cold, hunger and winter illnesses.

When it feels difficult to feel positive about turning towards the dark part of the year I think about these ancestors and see wisdom in their outlook and their observation and listening to our mother nature and our sun. If we can in some small way try to take back time from our busy schedules to rest, listen and observe we may see the dark months as an opportunity to attend to the needs of our bodies, our wellbeing, the wellbeing of others and of our Earth.

The bright colours and heady scents of summer may have gone, the swallows may have returned to warmer climes along with many other of our summer migrants, our sun is noticeably getting more distant, paler, and lacking vibrancy but all we need do is look a little closer at what nature in winter has to offer us.

Now is the time of toadstools, mists, changing colour leaves, seeing our trees in their winter majesty, dark skies broken by spirit like barn owls, tawny’s serenading the night, deer silently moving in wooded border lands, headlights catching a flash of russet fox and of course a sky full of stars. It’s time to really make the most of daylight hours with ‘wrapped-up’ – ‘whatever the weather’ walks, and to celebrate the ever-increasing night-time with hot toddies, ‘curled-up’ stories, preparing for the many festivities of these months through food preserving, gift making & creating natural decorations to adorn and brighten not only our homes but our lives too.

Accept that winter activities are different to summer ones, allow an excitement to enter your life as a new time is coming as the wheel of the year turns once more in its ever perpetual cycle. Experience the joy of getting cosy & snuggly, big socks, soft jumpers, scarves, gloves & hats adorning extremities in outlandish colours, pom-pom’s & patterns and cinnamon buns, blankets and hot chocolate.

The name Samhain, ‘summer’s end’ was attributed to the 1st of November by Gaelic and Celtic people with the tradition of celebrating on the eve of the event upheld, making 31st of October a night to mark. Fires were extinguished and new one’s built in communities. Known as a ‘forced fire’ it was ignited by friction as was a tradition for sacred fires. It is recorded that a wheel was used with a spindle in the middle which were moved in opposing directions to create the spark.The wheel was seen as a symbol of the sun moved sunwise.

The fire was ‘shared’ amongst the community to light their own hearths on the following morning. It was believed this special 'New Year’s’ fire would not only warm the home but protect it.  

It is unclear if the association we now have of death and spirits at this time of year originates from our ancestor’s belief that the sun was dying as it moved into a new realm or if the darkness, the high mortality rate, or this being a time to slaughter animals as food led to these associations. Or perhaps it was influenced from the customs and beliefs of the people that conquered and settled in our Isles such as the Roman’s & Vikings. This was accompanied by an idea that ‘the veil’ was thinnest between the realms of the spirits and the living and that it was a potent time for ‘seers’ to find out about the future. 'Torches were lit and carried around fields in a sunwise direction to protect them from malevolent spirits, charms were worn of fern and hemp and dreams at this time were considered prophetic.' Immortal Hour, Sharp

“How many times the Church has decanted the new wine of Christianity into the old bottles of heathendom.” Samhain and other variations of marking summer’s end were to become Christianised with a period of days beginning with All Hallows Eve(31st), All Hallows Day/Saints Day (1st Nov) and All Souls Day (2nd Nov). The church carried on the tradition of lighting bonfires but now as a means of lighting the way for souls to pass through Purgatory to Heaven. Torches and candles were lit too as prayers and petitions were made. The old ways and the new became blended into a time of commemoration of death and the hope of better things to come.

We now move forward to more recent and our own time when October 31st is popularly known as Hallowe’en (the eve of All Hallows).

Folklore traditions abound at Halloween particularly relating to divinisation usually to discover the name of a future partner, as protection or as a predictor of wealth, health, or death. Apples and nuts were often used as a medium to foretell things. Nuts put in a fire in pairs, or in some customs in threes, could foretell the relationship a couple would have. If they burnt to ashes, a long and happy life together was predicted. If they crackle and move from one another then unhappiness, quarrels and separation was foretold and if the fire ‘spat the out’ then no future together was the prediction. In parts of Scotland, it was thought that children born on Halloween could converse with supernatural powers. It was not only ghosts, witches, devils and demons that were feared but also those that lived in the realms of the fey.

One woman in Scotland reported ‘I have tied a red thread round the bains’ throats, and given ilk ane of them a ride-wand of rowan tree, forbye sewing a slip of witch-elm into their doublets’ such was the fear that babies would be snatched and easily transported into faerie mounds, never to return. Equally children and brides were at risk of being taken.

And so all we have to decide is how we will mark this time of the year to keep alive old ways and celebrate the new. Do we turn to the traditions of our ancestors and have a bonfire or light some flame to mark the decline of our sun? Keep mischievous spirits at bay? Remember those who have passed? Do we feast and make merry and give thanks for the bounty in our lives to see us through winter? Do we get ‘crafty’ and make decorations from natural materials we collect on long walks in nature? Do we try and foretell our futures or reflect on our past? Do we cause mischief, scare ourselves with ghost stories & haunting tunes? Do we hold a ceremony that acknowledges the struggles of others and sends wishes on the winter storms for peace? Or do we simply rest, reflect, and rekindle a love of the dark months? I leave you with a poem from 1910 that gives a few insights and suggestions…..

“Bring forth the raisins and the nuts-

Tonight All Hallows’ Spectre struts

Along the moonlit way.

No time is this for tear or sob,

Or other woes our joys to rob,

But time for Pippin and for Bob,

And Jack-o-lantern gay.

Come forth, ye lass and trousered kid,

From prisoned mischief raise the lid,

And lift it good and high.

Leave grave old Wisdom in the lurch,

Set Folly on a lofty perch,

Nor fear the awesome rod of birch

When dawn illumes the sky.

‘Tis the night for reveal, set apart

To reilluminate the darkened heart,

And rout the hosts of Dole.

‘Tis the night when Goblin, Elf, and Fay,

Come dancing in their best array

To prank & royster on the way,

And ease the troubled soul.

The ghosts of all things, past parade,

Emerging from the mist and shade

That hid from our gaze,

And full of song and ringing mirth,

In one glad moment of rebirth,

Again they walk the ways of the earth,

As in the ancient days.

The beacon light shines on the hill,

The will-o-wisps the forests fill

With flashes filched from noon;

And witches on their broomsticks spry

Speed here and yonder in the sky,

And lift their strident voices high

Unto the Hunter’s moon.

The air resounds with tuneful notes

From myriads of straining throats,

All hailing Folly Queen:

So join the swelling choral throng,

Forget your sorrow and your wrong,

In one glad hour of joyous song

To honor Hallowe’en.

J.K Bangs 1910

May you find light or have light given to you in this darker part of the year and hoping that you will be able to embrace the benefits winter can bring into our lives. And perhaps enjoy a little bit of Halloween chills and divination.

Talking Trees x

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What a beautiful time of the year as we officially welcome Autumn and say goodbye to summer with so many names to describe this seasonal celebration. And yes we should celebrate and mark this seasonal transition and give thanks for the year we have harvested and look forward to what is yet to come. And it seems that the weather has finally begun to act as it should with misty mornings, watery sunlight, showers and a bit of a chill in the air unlike our rather poor excuse of a summer which was grey, dull, wet and didn’t give us our sufficient dose of vitamin D from our sun. This is another reason to get outside and get those rays while you can before winter is here and seeking our welcome.

The equinox is the time or date (twice each year) at which the sun crosses the celestial equator and when day and night are of equal length. It can also be a good time for seeing the Aurora, Northern Lights or Mirrie Dancers as there is often an increase in geomagnetic energy at the times of equinox and the tilt of the earth aligns to ‘receive’ the geomagnetic particles.

Balance visits for only a moment.

As Autumn colours, float so lightly,

That little difference is apparent.

It tips, nonetheless,

Change has begun

Hurried harvest is completed and stored

It’s no time to be caught out.

As the wise prepare

And then wait for our Sun’s return

From journeying to distant lands

Of which we can only dream.

It’s the time of preserves and pickles as a way to eek out the vegetables and fruits throughout the coming months. Not only can pickles and preserves add flavour to foods but often have the added benefit of providing vitamin C that could not be be attained when the fresh vegetables and fruits had finished. For sailors this was an important way to avoid scurvy . Rose hips are particularly full of Vitamin C and Rose hip syrup was made and taken to stave off seasonal sniffles.

This time of the year also marked the time to begin shutting down bee hives for winter. The Michaelmas daisy, the flower of the moment, was said to symbolise farewell, perhaps in recognition of saying our goodbyes to summer.

The 24th is St Bartholomew’s Day. If it is ‘fair and clear’ then a prosperous Autumn comes that year.

Although traditionally we decorate our trees with ‘clooties’ in summer now is a lovely time to gather nuts, hips, berries and changing colour leaves to make circlets or strings to feed wildlife and look beautiful adorning your home, hanging off trees and marking thresholds. You can usefully add Rowan to act as a protectorate if you are feeling under supernatural influences.

For our ancestors bringing the harvest home and preparing for the darker and colder part  of the year was essential for survival. This is no longer the case for us. However the residue of preparing and shutting things down seems to still permeate our instincts which we try to fight off due to work/life demands. Perhaps we should listen to our instincts a little more.

Having just come back from a visit to Iceland it was very apparent that they are still very much dictated to by the arrival of winter and an acceptance that things change, places become inaccessible and that there is a need to bring light, warmth and cosy-ness into their lives. Fairy lights and candles were plentiful in all places we visited together with blankets, hot chocolate and cinnamon buns. Crafts of all kinds but particularly textile and wool based ones were occupying people already. A real sense of community, kindness and making the autumn and winter very positive and being welcomed was apparent.

Here in Britain we are lucky not to have such extremes between summer and winter but we do have our own lovely traditions and pastimes that can make this such a Magickal time. Storytelling and reading, playing board games, walks to kick leaves and collect conkers, apple pie making (served with custard), sloe gins made in readiness for Yuletide and jacket potatoes made crisp on bonfires.

So we welcome Autumn with its many guises and names and celebrate the change. We keep the light and warmth of summer alive in our actions and ways, we illuminate our homes and we get cosy.

May the colours and soft light of Autumn be with you as you celebrate this wonderful seasonal gentle transition as the year's wheel turns once more.

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Lammas is the season of first fruits and bringing in the wheat and grain crop. A ritual harvest loaf was made from the new wheat. It was one of the ancient quarter days the others being Candlemas, Whitsuntide and Martinmas. The quarter days were later changed to Lady day, Midsummer, Michaelmas and Christmas. Lammas was the day that people had their accounts made up and some think the origin of its name as it was known as 'Later Lammas,' meaning 'last day of accounts.' Another explanation for the name Lammas is that the 1st August was when priests gathered 'tithe lambs' or that it comes from the Saxon word 'Leffemesse' or the old English Hlafmaesse meaning Loaf-mass day. Whatever the origin of it became a time when a mix of pagan and Christian ways  mixed together in a celebration of bringing in the first harvest. Marking an important part of the year when the 'lean' summer months were left behind.

Lughnasdh is another name for this time of the year which is a Gaelic festival marking the beginning of the harvest season where handfasting, fairs, feasting took place and communities came together.

The hedgerow is full of thistles, grasses, teasles, yet to ripen blackberries.

And orchids and everlasting sweet peas . All is abundant.

The scarecrow hangs in harvested fields with not so scared crows finding easy pickings.

‘You sunburned sicklemen of August early, Come hither from the furrow and be merry’.

Lammas is the time of John Barleycorn, a personification of the barley harvest and the alcoholic drinks made from it such as beer and whisky. We hear how John lays down his life at the hands of the harvesters but that he doesn’t die but lives on in the drinks made from him and of course his rebirth as the seasonal agricultural cycle continues.

The first song to personify Barley was called Allan-a-Maut ('Alan of the malt'), a Scottish song written prior to 1568

The first mention of "John Barleycorn" as the character was in a 1624 London broadside entitled introduced as "A Pleasant New Ballad to sing Evening and morn, / Of the Bloody murder of Sir John Barley-corn". In the second verse of the 1624 version we are introduced to an array of characters. ‘Whose names was Sir John Barleycorn, he dwelt down in a dale,Who had a kinsman lived nearby, they called him Thomas Good Ale, Another named Richard Beer, was ready at that time, Another worthy knight was there, called Sir William White Wine’

The final two verses of this 1624 version show Barleycorn as vengeful as he intoxicates those who have ‘killed’ him.

‘When Sir John Goodale he came with mickle mightThen he took their tongues away, their legs or else their sightAnd thus Sir John in each respect, so paid them all their hireThat some lay sleeping by the way, some tumbling in the mireSome lay groaning by the walls, some in the streets downright,The best of them did scarcely know, what they had done oernightAll you good wives that brew good ale, God turn from you all teenBut is you put too much liquor in, the Devil put out your een.’

Robert Burns (1782) published his own version of John Barleycorn which became the model for most subsequent versions of the ballad. Burns's version begins:

There was three kings unto the east,Three kings both great and high,They took a plough and plough'd him down, Put clods upon his head,And they hae sworn a solemn oath John Barleycorn was dead.

Unlike other versions, Robert Burns makes John Barleycorn into a saviour:

And they hae taen his very heart's blood,And drank it round and round;And still the more and more they drank,Their joy did more abound.John Barleycorn was a hero bold,Of noble enterprise;For if you do but taste his blood,'Twill make your courage rise.'Twill make a man forget his woe;'Twill heighten all his joy;'Twill make the widow's heart to sing,Tho' the tear were in her eye.Then let us toast John Barleycorn,Each man a glass in hand; And may his great posterity Ne'er fail in old Scotland!

Below is a link to a most beautiful rendition of the John Barleycorn song by Stevie Winwood.

We are delighted that our 2024 Country Wisdom & Folklore Diary has arrived from our wonderful local printers WPG bang on time for Lammas which could not be more fitting. We have spent the year gathering folklore snippets from around the British Isles, creating images, researching, writing and publishing the diary in our endeavour to keep alive the old ways and celebrate the year which has culminated in the 2024 diary which is now ripe and ready for picking and available to buy from our webpage shop, Etsy, Folksy and Amazon.

The wheel of the year has turned once more and we celebrate the cycles Mother Nature brings us . Give thanks for the fruition of the things in your life that you have planted and are now ready to be harvested. At Talking Trees with are very thankful of all of you who support our endeavour to keep alive the old ways and celebrate the year with us. We hope you like our 2024 diary & calendar. Lammastide blessings to you all. X

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