Walking deeper into Autumn is the calling of now. Some embrace this. Some resist. Truth is, it’s that time. What do your Autumn rituals look like that help prepare your body and spirit for the long nights and deep inner-workings of Winter? It's different for each of us. Moaning may be part it for some and this is a sort of self-soothing mantra that says, 'yeah, this is hard.' There are those bigger questions tossed on the table each year for review and a revisiting of old wounds and stories that seek easing through releasing. Here we are, walking again, to the watery west of the annual Medicine Wheel. What's coming up for negotiation deep on the inside? And what do we need to be getting okay with as this time of year teaches us about the cycles of things?
I'm feeling it: the getting okay with letting go. The getting okay with releasing. The getting okay with grieving a bit to flush the heart and soul. The getting okay with death...
We’re taught to be sun-worshipers. We're eternally encouraged to “let in the light”, “meditate", "sun-sip on the inhale" (drawing in the shards of light as we squint towards the sun), "vacation in the tropics", and "stay up" late with artificial lighting as a way to extend the daytime. So culturally we’re deeply in need of cultivating the desire to know and prepare for our journey into the dark, our time of restoration, our time of visioning and dreaming. It begins now with unloading what is no longer needed.
There are those among us who know and honor this. To name them is tricky. Categorizing people is something I've had to un-learn. Let's just say there are those who naturally tap into their ancient-self, their indigenous soul-self, the self that awakens their endocrine system for being the compass used to navigate the cyclic nature of things versus the brains desire to force life into a linear way only. These people often know darkness and the value of being able to navigate it well. They can vary greatly in age and are of all faiths and backgrounds. They know that death is a part of a larger cycle and to honor release and death is part of how life actually continues to jump up and be.
If your mind is set on the linear journey from birth to death, then winter can easily put you out of sorts. Do you catch yourself whining about the weather, or the microbial world that affords us chelation from our deep tissues, or the fact that it's dark at 5pm now for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere? I speak to this way of being because I too fall into the deep sighing when my body feels cold and everything seems to just take more energy.
Accepting death is not meant to be easy.
There is sorrow to navigate. Grieving is part of this too. Culturally speaking in our ultra-pasteurized and ultra-homogenized ways, we have forgotten how to make something beautiful and delicious that supports life out of our honoring death and grief. We are being asked to call on our deeper, wiser self for some indigenous soul resurrecting around how to honor time as a cyclic being and grief as an "enzyme of the soul that changes our sorrows to a life giving substance that changes us and supports flow and moving forward in life" (Martin Pretchtel, the Smell of Dust on Rain: Grief and Praise). This is what makes life delicious. This is what can help us change our attitude towards the darkening time of the year. Accepting death and grieving losses are also part of the ingredient list required for making that life supporting substance we all crave. And yes, working like this supports that deep sigh too, like a flower floating down a stream, it will support beauty wherever it flows.
So how do we honor Autumn as a way to honor grief and death as part of life?
We practice, practice, practice. Every year. We learn the art of letting go. We learn it from the trees and dying plants, the dropping of seeds, and from the stilling of the Earth as it draws vital energy down deep to prepare. We learn it from the quiet places in our hearts as we allow our tears to flow without question. We learn it from each other as we lean into those that offer assistance and bear witness without analysis and judgment. And we learn it from our ancestors, those who’ve gone before us that do return to support.
How do we prepare to move toward the darkness of Winter?
Our bodies will crave the benefits of sunlight. So give it a little extra love by being outside as much as possible without sunglasses. Fifteen minutes a day does the body good. The natural light through our eyes stimulates the pineal gland deep in our brain to synchronize or re-calibrate our bodies with the Sun and Moon for proper sleep and hormone washes through our blood that we need to be well. Consider moving up and down with the Sun and Moon. Have less and less light in your house each night ’til you get to the Winter Solstice, and then have no artificial light at all that day. This is how we honor cycles. It's considered a tall order for some but so is the lack of synchronicity with these cycles on our well-being. Plan to be home and quiet once it's dark enjoying loved ones and tending creative desires. Our brains actually enter a completely measurably hormone and electrical state that is different when we are fully awake and out and about or deep in sleep. Spending more time during this time of year, in this state of being, supports our immune system and our ability to transition well.
9 Stellar Autumn Ritual Ideas:
Remember: ritual is consciousness in action that helps to shift or change our present moment forward. It is a highly creative and personal process so add to this list and scratch what doesn't work for you. You'll find each year it might change a little. That's perfect! It's your unique dance with the Earth as it changes in rhythm with cyclic time.
#1 : Consider stocking up your winter apothecary or pantry:
#2 Make an Autumn Altar, Ancestor Altar, or Grief Altar:
An altar is a place of honoring. It's a doorway to the unseen and sacred. Clear a space on a windowsill or table or outside. Bring items from nature as well your favorite candles, beautiful bowls, crystals, stones, pictures and any objects you hold sacred. To keep my altars fresh, I visit it daily to tend and arrange new items, bring fresh flowers or food offerings, to pray and smudge or enjoy the glow of the candles for a few moments. Build an altar each day for a week to memorialize different losses in your life. Keep them small and meaningful. Give your altars an amount of time that feels right and then deconstruct them gently with gratitude to clear the space for another time when called to make another one.
#3 Gather Seeds, Final Harvests, Play With Leaves:
You can gather for next year or, if you’re a lazy gardener like I am, gather the flower heads where the seeds are resting and place them where you want that plant in next year’s garden. Make a seed rattle: This year I gathered Poke berries and harvested the small black seeds, placed them in a small glass jar and I rattle a heartbeat rhythm over my body while at my altar to call in the healing of Poke. My teacher Rocio refers to this sound of seeds as the "sound of creation". Maybe you would love to gather the final growth of Mugwort, Lavender, Rosemary, or Juniper and make your own smudge sticks to dry for winter honoring. Maybe play with the leaves by working them into artwork, or piled high for jumping into, or worked for compost, or just look deeply at them each day as they begin to change (it's the cooler nights and shorter days that trigger the color change). Sit with a tree, feeling its leaves dying and falling, its vital energies returning to its roots deep in the Earth.
#4 - Enjoy the Farmer’s Market:
As the days get shorter, I cherish the final weeks at the market. I love when the apples come in and robust squashes and broccoli and greens. I have to visit the soap woman for winter stocking up and gift giving and then there's the cheese man and the bread man and the cut flower woman! I have a market basket and make this a ritual with some cash for honoring my local folks who work so hard to make my world beautiful and delicious.
#5 - Make an Herbal Cordial:
I love and make cordials for winter sips by the fire. Now is the perfect time to start one so they’re ready for your winter celebrations and gifting. My favorite Autumn Cordial this year? Rosehip, Ginger, and Orange Cordial. (Well, it's been a favorite for years actually!) Fill a jar 1/3 full with rosehips (fresh is best, or dried at the health food store), chopped fresh ginger root to bring it to 1/2 full and then zest and fruit of one organic orange. Fill with brandy and allow to sit for a 1-2 months, shaking daily (or a few times a week is fine). Strain and add honey to the sweetness you like, or none at all. If alcohol is not for you then try mulling spices for cider or apple juice.
#6 - Make Special Foods:
My son fell in love with Apple Crisp just this year. He needed some practice working with the peeling and cutting of the apples for baking. Eating this made him highly motivated! We've started making this weekly and it should tapper off soon! Maybe for you this year it's Pumpkin Bread, Corn Bread or Kneaded Bread? My soup making is a ritual that begins every Autumn. Ever since I had my first child I have honored this as soon as I start grabbing my wool sweaters and thick comfy socks and slipper. Every weekend I make a huge pot of something we enjoy all week. I lean on the bone and mushroom stock recipes above as my base and this keeps my bones warm and soul nourished. And I have an already made gift for friends in need too.
#7 - Honor Fire:
Allow the first fire of the season to be sacred. Take your time. Stack the wood, or arrange many favorite candles. I make an initial offering of cornmeal, sage or food I've made to the fire every year to honor the trees and the fire that release the heat for my family to be warm. Plants make their bodies from the energy of the fiery sun too, which we then ingest at every meal to grow ours. As we move toward the cooler months many desire to be more intimate with fire, be it the distant sun, the candle flame, or the hearth fire. Lean into this transition. Honor fire in your personal way.
#8 - Listen to Water:
The rain falling softly in the dark of morning caught me today. Sitting with water and listening to the sound that comes from its dance with our world initiates flow. Season changes often present with congestion in our bodies, our emotions, and our thinking. Creating a simple ritual with water to honor this season of the West on the Medicine Wheel helps us stay in flow. Water is the teaching element of the West. West is the teaching element of Autumn. Drink more water. Visit your favorite water place in Nature and bring a gift. Sit and listen to rain or a stream or the waves. Plan your sacred bathing ritual with herbs or bath salts in the bath during the full or new moon to honor flow. No tub? Enjoy foot soaks the same way. Allow your tears to surface, carried deep within your sorrows, to ease the congestion on your soul as you make you way in this one beautiful life.
#9 - Make a Bitters Tonic:
This was on the top of my list last year and I made so much that I don't have to make more this year. Honoring the making of 'Bitters' is definitely an Autumn ritual for my family. I'm getting it out, strained, and bottled beautifully for taking as a seasonal tonic and when I over-indulge with the heavier eating of the holidays. We need this digestive support to keep our inner digestive fire strong through the dark, cooler times. Bitters will help you. Recipe ideas are in the link. Enjoy!
Maybe choose one thing and dedicate yourself to it in honor of the rhythmic dance with the seasons. While these supports always work wonders, what has amazed me most is the benefit of acceptance around what is happening as Autumn gives way to Winter. This acceptance is cultivated from doing the seasonal work of honoring, releasing, and rooting in. Once we shift from linear time to cyclical time, our perspective and attitude around Winter changes. Some actually are surprised to find themselves enjoying Winter’s darkness just by accepting and embodying a few rituals, maybe even just one ritual, that brings your sacred into your everyday. Walking with you.
Much Love, Jen
Finding your good, right medicine is the walk of the healer. We begin with healing ourselves by connecting deeply to the plants. Come learn the walk of an herbalist that is unique for you. Being a home herbalist is just like being a home cook. We tend our tribe this way. We have the right to know and honor the plants this way. Herbal Courses are on-going on-line and in-person and Discounted 15% through November 2016. New Moon Lodges are Free for Women wanting to learn about synchronizing with the cyclic nature of the Moon.
Jennifer Costa, Herbalist, Teacher, BS, RN, CST, and Founder of ElderMoon School of Herbs & Earth Medicine