Three things mark this season of death and remembrance for me: the severe drop in temperatures; the death anniversaries of many in my family, most specifically my parents; and the perceived closeness of the ancestors as the veils thin.
As an emotion, grief can rebound, returning even when years have passed. This has been one such year. Unlike previous death anniversary periods, which focused more on my mother, this year has been not only both parents, grandparents, close relatives and friends whose love and friendship shaped my childhood and entry into adulthood. My devotions with the gods intensify during the autumn months with the natural draw to reflect. In my home tradition, the first harvest festival, Kronia, explores abundance gained through our efforts earlier in the year, while the second harvest of Thesmophoria expands into the territory of balance and the necessity of sacrifice as demonstrated by the goddess Demeter.
The erratic pace of ever-increasing temperatures in the summer, combined with a lack of water to relieve the drought, hammered home the internal awareness of climate change. It also reminds me of my childhood. As water is the lubricant of life, so memories, especially those surrounding food are necessary to the proper functioning of the soul.
During this season, when we celebrate the thinning of the veils by speaking or having feelings of closeness with those who have transitioned from this plane of existence, I recall the small remembrances of the past that continue to give me comfort.
Perhaps it is the anticipation of the smell of leaves on a crisp autumn breeze, the feel of the crunch of fallen branches filled with red, yellow, and slightly brown treasures beneath my feet as I walk a bit more swiftly in the breezy afternoons. The bag of Honeycrisp or Pink Lady apples are headed home with me for a quick rinse and a long cooking session in the same crock pot I’ve had for more than a decade. My first crockpot, the yellow covering dotted with blue flowers, came courtesy of my father. He made sure to give me something when I left home that was small enough to fit on any kitchen counter easily, yet large enough to help stretch my tiny budget as a graduate student.
I miss that crock pot now because it is hard to find cheerful replacements anymore. The more cost-effective ones feature sleek modern decor, with silver or black tones dominating the market. These are cold in comparison to what I would expect from a small cheerful yellow and blue crockpot.
Like so many memories, I did not know what I had until I gave it away during a period when I thought I needed an even bigger, more “grown up” version of the crock pot to match my circumstances. Now, I want it back because it was a connection to home, to a time in memory before the deaths of my loved ones yet what I used to honor those same loved ones.
For those who have noticed the “grayification” of modern dwelling places as presented on American television during the past decade, thankfully that color appears to be finally on its way out with the color beige showing up as a replacement.
Memory reminds me of the bright and sometimes garish colors of my childhood. My grandparents’ home boasted a traditional white kitchen with a full room for the eating area and a formal dining room. Each room held a different energetic signature. The silence of the dining room due to it being held for special occasions – wedding celebrations, funeral lunches, Thanksgiving dinners, and the place of honor for birthday cakes – reminds me of the importance of honoring those who have passed on by using the “good” dishes, wearing the “good” clothes, and bringing joy into the rooms that used to be just for special occasions.
My parents skipped the 70s stereotypical orange shag carpeting with an avocado green refrigerator or harvest gold appliances, preferring white appliances and a bright yellow gloss painted kitchen. When their house was finally sold, I realized that the cheeriness of home came down to the kitchen. There was not a grey wall or stainless steel decorating trend in sight in my parents’ house, and for that lesson, I am eternally grateful.
Gray on walls may be sleek, modern, and terrific for resale, just like open concept homes with large kitchen islands with exquisite tops and waterfall edges. My parents broke tradition by showcasing mellow yellow kitchens, lilac bedrooms, and a living room with dueling accents of gold, mauve, and fuchsia. Seeing these remind me of how attempting to keep up with the Joneses (our actual next door neighbors) can bring separations rather than unity. When everyone seeks gray or gray with white, few or no walls, and the same decorative appliances as everyone else, we become de-individualized and more separated as humans.
How does this connect to death, you might ask?
Well, during this time of reflection before the third harvest, Pomonalia or Samhain, we have the opportunity to look, assess, and grow from our pasts, even as we gain wisdom from ancestor chats – those who choose to check in on us as the veils grow thinner. While Hecate remains present all the time, I find it comforting and easy to speak with her at this time.
Although I have lived as a Witch for nearly two decades, and a Heathen for five years, one tradition I love to re-establish each year is the formulation of the Constellation of the Worshipped. As a pantheist and a polytheist, I strive to strengthen my connection with the gods by focusing on a small number each year depending on my goals. In our tradition, we start when the light returns in December during the Saturnalia season, also known as Yule; however, I tend to reflect on what might need tweaking when the veils are thin through the Pomonalia sabbat and about a month afterwards.
For this year, I have been missing both mother and father energy. While Hermes and Dionysus have provided lessons in father energy, and in particular the reminder of my father every time I make biscuits from scratch like he taught me with flour, water, and cheese slices, it was the mother energy that surprised me this year.
This year has been the delicate touch and no-nonsense manner of Gaia. She has reminded me to return to the source, to my roots based in childhood, and to the lessons of my parents, particularly my mother’s beloved recipes, like her fruitcake. While for some, it is a traditional Christmas or wedding cake, my mother would make it year round.
My mother was one of the those people who loved to cook alone; it was her happy place. When she knew that she was aging, she taught me her fruitcake recipe, long revered in our family since the early 60s when she made it for my grandfather and uncles. She couldn’t stand the stuff, but enjoyed making both the light and dark varieties for those she loved. After my parents married, she added my father and her in-laws to the list.
One thing that I do remember about the very first time I tried fruitcake having made it with her. First, it is an act of love, not just for stirring the near concrete-like mixture in the bowl or baking it in the oven in paper lined pans over low heat, but for the joy that results in the act of wrapping it carefully in aluminum foil after dousing it with your choice of pineapple or orange juice for a light fruitcake, or your choice of brandy or dark rum for a dark fruitcake.
While I love a good light fruitcake, a classic image of fruitcake in the United States is dark fruitcake. Personally, I feel if folks got to try both types that there would be a run on fruitcake of all types. Here is one recipe.
A good fruitcake tastes incredibly delicious. It is not dry, nor is it crumbling. If so, then it needs to be freshened with the alcohol or juice of your choice.
Each time that I make that fruitcake recipe from Better Homes and Gardens , I think of bright colors, not just in the fruitcake, but as a reminder of family, my beloved ancestors and the lessons they have left behind as a guide for the future. At this time of death, visitation, and renewal, the coolness of fall reminds me to stir a pot of my mother’s split pea soup made simply and with love. In her memory and in the memory of all my ancestors, cooking keeps the bonds between us alive and unbroken.