Samhain 2012

The ancestor altar is built, and so many familiar, beloved faces smile back at me from the altar space in the dining room.  This afternoon I sang to the ancestors as I prepared dinner, and

Samhain ancestor altar, 2012.

lit some candles in their honor.  Last night we attended Mistral’s Dark Harvest Ballads for either the 3rd or 4th time in the past several years.  We can’t quite remember how long we’ve been attending the band’s Samhain fundraiser. This year’s theme, “Fathom the Deep,” was a fundraiser for both a local food bank and for the Newport Fishermen’s Wives charity.

I grew up in northeastern Massachusetts, in a seaport community, and recall the history of shipwrecks on the Atlantic coast.  Not far from home was the famous Gloucester fisherman’s statue in honor of the hundreds lost at sea.  It is inscribed with the quotation from Psalms, “They that go down to the sea in ships.”  Last night’s music was a delicious and haunting assortment of bleak songs about the sea, from The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald to Ship in Distress, and a version of the Twa Sisters.  I delight in Martin Carthy’s version of Ship in Distress, a haunting tale of near-starvation aboard a foundering ship, with shipmates who draw lots to choose a victim among them to die to feed the rest of the crew.  While I miss the old, spookier, crowded and dark location of the event at Hipbone Studio, there was more space and comfort in the new location.  Ian Clemons and Elizabeth Christina are two favorite musicians in Mistral, and Ian’s daughters performed a splendid shadow puppet production of the Greyling, a song about a selkie sung by Elizabeth Christina.  It was a good evening.

Trinity replica on the porch, Samhain 2012.

Last weekend we visited a farm on Sauvie Island and picked pumpkins for our annual display on the porch.  Here’s a photo of the new Trinity replica on a day when we still had sun last weekend.  Perhaps this photograph has become another annual tradition at Samhain.  Better yet, the Trinity sounds even better and richer this year than it did last year at this time.  Best of all, I am enjoying better health this Samhain, and I thank my patron gods and ancestors for that.

Wishing you all the ancestral blessings of Samhain,


Samhain in Portland

The new Trinity on the porch, Samhain 2011.

Samhain is, for me, the most significant season of the year. It is a time when I build an ancestor altar with photographs of my beloved dead, from a well-loved grandfather who died before I was born, to a dear old cat whose long life came to a close this past winter. The faces are all there, familiar and honored.

Tonight Amy and I are attending the Dark Harvest Ballads, an event sponsored by a local group of musicians, Mistral, who specialize in Breton music. Tonight’s performance will be, according to the organizers, “an evening of spooky, cathartic songs drawn from the English tradition, exploring themes of death, struggle, and untimely departures…” We attended a previous incarnation of the event, and had a dark, splendid time. I enjoy John Fleagle and Robin Williamson’s old ballads laced with foreboding, so this is my cup of tea. It is also, to Mistral’s credit, a benefit concert for the Oregon Food Bank. Samhain blessings to Mistral for their generosity.

The elegant new Trinity (shown above on my porch) is nearly complete, lacking only a string for the loop (the bottom drone string), and an end cap. A wonderful master metalsmith is making a custom cap for it, and I’ll be sure to show photos when it arrives.

With Samhain good wishes,


Ancestral Greetings at Samhain

The ancestor altar, Samhain 2010.

It’s Samhain (Halloween) night, and I’m playing harp in the front room in between visits from trick or treaters, who are thick on the ground this year.  We’ve had nearly 30 visitors to our door, which may be a new record for this house.

I’m working on a piobaireachd with Simon, my teacher, and at the moment it is going well, but he hasn’t yet introduced the more dizzying variation sets that will likely reveal my dyslexia in all of its strange permutations.  There is no complaint from me, however.  I am happy.

This week I placed the photos of my beloved dead on the Samhain altar in my dining room, and just this morning after my harp lesson I cut a late bouquet of flowers in the garden.  The echinacea, pineapple sage in bright red, and black and blue salvia are still strongly blossoming, and so is that elegant old rose, Glamis Castle.  The dried Indian corn is from a small crop I grew in a garden at the old house over a decade ago.

Back to my laments, which tonight, are a fitting offering for the ancestors.


%d bloggers like this: