The Imbolc Sabbat

Imbolc, pronounced IMM-molk, means “from the belly of the mother” due to its proximity to lambing season, when livestock animals produce abundant milk and birth many new babies.

Imbolc marks the beginning of Spring. It is the first of four fire festivals during the Wheel of the Year, celebrated by Pagans, Wiccans, and non-religious or spiritual collectives alike. Dating as far back as the 10th century, Imbolc is celebrated on 2 February, though the date may sometimes vary depending on weather and geographic location.

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Imbolc Fire Ritual. Photo shared from Metro.co.UK

Imbolc is a time for anticipating new life, making way for new beginnings, and welcoming the Sun’s return. With Spring coming soon, most of us are planting seeds and getting our gardens tilled for new harvests.

It is also time to honour St. Brigid, the Celtic Goddess of Light and Illumination, of Home and Hearth, of Fire and Protection. Brigid was also a poet, clairvoyant, weaponsmith, midwife, a celebrated herbal healer, and teacher of herbcraft/ wildcraft. As a certified (yet still new) Herbalist myself, I am intrigued by her legend.

Cycle of Brigid. Photo shared by FlourishingGoddesses.com

My song for this entry is “T” by iamamiwhoami because this video is full of Imbolc imagery and symbolism for Brigid’s light bearing season. “Brigid” emerges from the darkness and slowly begins to spread light while her body seeps some sort of milk or pollen (new life/midwifery).

She finds and filters pollutants (healer) in the environment and turns it into a (goddess) crown and armor (weapons), gaining momentum until it turns her body black. Then she returns to the depths from where she started this light-bringing cycle. Wiccans/Pagans will likely make this easy connection to the Sun God cycle.

Foods of the Season
Shortly before Yule last year, my friend in Georgia brought me several branches of Georgia Pine (aka Pinus palustris) from her home. I used the fresh needles to make infused salt and a pine vinegar that can be used in place of balsamic vinaigrette.

Both were easy to make. For the vinegar, just fill a mason jar with clean pine needles, add any herbs you like, pour organic apple cider vinegar to the top, and seal the jar. Shake every day for six weeks and keep it in a cool pantry or cabinet.

For the salt, start by filling a small organza bag with clean pine needles that have either been cut, ground lightly, or snapped in half. Tie the bag together completely so the needles do not fall out.

Fill a large mason jar about 1/3 full of organic Himalayan pink sea salt and add a teaspoon of red chili flakes. Grate the peel from two oranges and broadly slice five cloves of garlic. Drop the orange peelings and garlic slices in the salt, then add the tied bag of pine needles.

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Keep this jar sealed and shake the hell out of it for a couple minutes twice a day to keep any damp bits coated in salt. In my experience, any moisture is quickly dried out by the salt, so you should not have to worry about mold unless your jar is not sealed properly.

For this year’s Imbolc Sabbat, my ladies convened once again for dinner and quality time. We were a little early for this one due to some heavy schedules coming up. When preparing the meal, I used balsamic and pine vinegar to marinate chicken before grilling it.

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To symbolically anticipate and welcome the sun, it is common to make bright yellow, orange, or red foods and to set your table with lots of bright “sunny” light.

I made Moroccan-style barley with curry, cumin, paprika, and other spices then dressed it with chopped Medjool dates and sliced almonds in a loose Sun God pattern.

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Winter months typically mean relying on previous seasons’ canned goods, and foods for Imbolc include seeds, and dried vegetables and fruits.

Roasted root vegetables like sweet potatoes, radishes, parsnips, beets, onions, garlic, carrots, and rutabaga are more durable than spring and summer crops, and are absolutely perfect for fresh choices in colder months.

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I cut up a variety of root vegetables and coated them in some herbed EVO oil my mother made for me as a gift, plus lots of marjoram, oregano, black pepper, and minced garlic. Lightly cover the pan of veggies with aluminum foil so they can roast longer without scorching.

I used bacon fat to sauté freshly-snapped green beans then squeezed lemon juice over them when they were finished.

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Lemon Poppy Seed Cake is always my go-to cake for Imbolc because it combines fresh, crisp lemon and dried poppy seeds with dairy staples like butter, eggs, and cream.

I always use coconut oil or butter in my cakes, and I use fresh-squeezed lemonade in place of water for the batter. If you are using a boxed mix (no shame) you will want to use a bit more lemonade than pure water when measuring ingredients.

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For my vanilla buttercream I whip a stick of butter in the mixer, add 1 cup of powdered sugar, cover the mixer with a towel, and mix slowly for one minute. Stop the mixer, add three tablespoons of heavy whipping cream and one tablespoon of vanilla extract. Add 1 more cup of powdered sugar, cover the mixer with a towel, and mix slowly for another 3-5 minutes.

From there I experiment with some secret ingredients and different flavour combinations, but the important part is to add the powdered sugar SLOWLY and mix it slowly. You may mix longer or add more cream to your preference.

Covering your mixer with a towel is optional, but wise. In my past bakery experience, I quickly learned that this will prevent the blades from throwing out all over you and your kitchen, but live on the edge if you like.

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Tradition says that you should throw a piece of cake (or Bannock) over your shoulder to honour Brigid and return a little to the land, and that another small piece should be kept in the cupboard or pantry until the next Sabbat to symbolize abundance and never being empty.

Best I could do was accidentally fling some off my plate in a moment of excited conversation, and I tried to save a slice for my boyfriend but ended up eating most of it because it is just THAT good.

Recently I learned that Colcannon, an Irish dish I make often and can not get enough of, has been a traditional meal served during Imbolc since the 1700s.  You can check out my recipe here.

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Another one of my favourite Imbolc-appropriate treats are my mother’s iced lemon cookies. She created her own recipe that includes cornbread in the batter instead of basic flour, and she uses fresh lemon juice for both the cookies and the icing.

Maybe some day she will give me her recipe, but until then I wait in anticipation of the next batch.

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On the eve of, or the day after Imbolc, I like to make a soup of chicken, parsnips, rosemary, lemon, and other vegetables on hand. This works especially well for using up leftovers from the Sabbat dinner.

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Engaging Activities
After dinner, we played a delightful board game called WildCraft. The premise of the game is that you are visiting your grandparents, who have been teaching you about medicinal herbs you can find in the woods.

Grandma sends you up the mountain one morning to gather bushels of huckleberries and promises to make you a pie if you all get home before dark. The game is witchy, Pagan-friendly, teaches basic Herbalism, and focuses on values like helping others and teamwork.

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We had so many factors against us. For example, every time you land on an X, you must suffer some type of injury or affliction, then collect the proper herb needed to heal. It gets dark really fast, and you can get washed away by surprise waterfalls like it’s nothing.

Some really crazy shit happened in those woods, but we managed to regroup and get back to grandma’s house in the nick of time, between bouts of embarrassingly loud heehaw laughter interlaced with adult humour. This game was hilarious in ways it probably does not intend to be, and I can not wait to play it again.

If you prefer to celebrate on your own or to do so after a social gathering, take a milk bath with fresh lemons and rosemary.

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Light lots of yellow, gold, and white candles. Put on some classical music or check out the other songs on iammaiwhoami’s album, Bounty.

Meditations for Imbolc can be focused around grounding yourself, especially during close connections to the energy of coinciding Aquarius season, which always makes my head spin with a surge of new creative ideas and goals.Ask yourself what it is that you want to see happen in the coming weeks. Which crops are you planting and where?

Ask yourself what it is that you need to hear or find, and ask the Universe to put these aspects in place to cross your path. Blessed Imbolc!

Coming up next on the Wheel of the Year is Ostara, also known as Eostre.

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© Venerate Your Dead, 2015- Current. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Venerate Your Dead with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

The Yule Sabbat

Yule is one of my favourite Sabbats, which some of you may find odd, considering my distaste for Christmas and other American-Christian holidays.

I do not believe in the lore of Jesus or Santa or any of the other obnoxious icons that fill the environment during Christmas. The loud, sentimental jingles and off-key children’s choirs rattle my nerves like a jackhammer, and worst of all is the forced obsession with buying, shopping, and consuming. It is always mortifying to read/hear about people fighting or getting killed or going bankrupt from buying Christmas gifts.

But what I LOVE about this time of year is all of the scents; pine, balsam, spruce, cinnamon, wood smoke, gingerbread, peppermint, and clove, and I love how pretty all the lights are at night.

I love the chilly bite in the air that numbs my face and takes my breath away when I go for a walk, and I love how much joy my brother gets out of harassing me and our father with his growing collection of awful Christmas tunes every chance he gets.

I love my mother’s incredible talent for decorating and all the buckeyes, cookies, peppermint bark, and other treats she makes for our Christmas day together. I scoff at tradition for tradition’s sake, but my family has always made our own traditions and it would probably break my chubby little heart if she ever stopped.

My song for this entry is Type O Negative’s “Red Water (Christmas Mourning)”

I love the abundance of glossy evergreens with the contrast of bright red berries and blooms. As heart-wrenching as it is to watch most of my plants die off each winter, I feel a bit of inspiration and solidarity with evergreens and other robust plants that are still standing and growing during the hard times.

And I feel empathy for the ones that go dormant for a while because this is the time of year when animals also go dormant, and time slows down for us humans, and we make time for each other, and we start to reflect on the year as it comes to a close.

Yule is a time of turning inward. Like all Sabbats, it is a time for reflection, inner exploration, and expressing gratitude. In most cultures, especially Native American, the Winter Solstice is a time for storytelling and ceremonies that take place after the first snow.

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Artist Unknown. Please contact me if you know!

Yule coincides with the Winter Solstice, which is the longest night and shortest day of each year, and when the sun is in its southernmost position. For those of us in the northern hemisphere, our North Pole will be shifted further from the sun today than any other time.

This transition can leave people feeling lonely or fatigued, partly because we try to resist the natural instinct to withdraw and rest. We try to keep up with the usual pace, the regular plans, and often do not anticipate the sudden drop in energy.

Eventually we give in because cold weather makes it easier for us to stay indoors, linger in bed a bit longer, and to ask our friends for rainchecks.

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Credit: Farmacy

Ways to Celebrate

1. Get crafty with nature
As a practicing herbalist, I really enjoy making healing medicine, teas, vinegars, spice blends, balms, etc. out of natural elements. A close friend recently brought me some lovely pine branches from her Georgia home. I used the needles to make pine vinegar and some sea salt infused with pine, garlic, chili flakes, and grated orange peel.

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In Progress: Sea salt infused with pine, garlic, chili flakes, and grated orange peel, plus pine vinegar which can be used as a balsamic vinaigrette alternative

2. Show some Love
Just like salt, vinegar, and edible tea blends, bath teas double as beautiful gifts.

There isn’t much in my daily life that can not be fixed or alleviated by a hot bath. I really enjoy making bath teas, and having a huge chest of dried herbs, flowers, essential oils, etc. allows me to customize them for whatever occasion or problem may be going on at a given time.

I use a blend of sea salt, epsom, pink or grey Himalayan, and other coarse salts for these. Add in essential oils and shavings of shea or coconut butters, and any dried petals or herbs you like. I include a candle with mine that is set with intention, and a small reusable tea or muslin bag to fill for each individual bath in order to prevent clogged drains.

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3. Host a small dinner party
Certain foods dominate the menu during this time of year due to a combination of  tradition, nostalgia, and availability. Glühwein, mulled wine, apple cider, and wassail are seasonal essentials. I like to change it up each Sabbat but here are a few dishes from last Yule:

Winter kale salad with cranberries, figs, almonds, and garlic Parmesan vinaigrette

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Guinness beef stew with tri-colour potatoes

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Roasted sweet potatoes and turnips with homemade ‘Nduja, served with chicken apple stuffing.

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Roasted zucchini with Meyer lemon and pepper

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Freshly baked Stollen, to show love for my German heritage

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4. Hold a Yule Log ritual

Traditionally, a small log is cut so that it lays flat, horizontally, on top of a table or altar. I will be constructing mine later today, but until then check out this guide to create your own.

Journaling, holding rituals, and taking inventory of the ending year are common activities during this time of year. Share your favourite memories while spending time with loved ones, go for a walk in the woods, and find something to laugh at yourself about.

Think deeply about any difficulties you faced and the lessons you learned from it all so you can wear it like armor into the new year. What are you hoping to see unfold for you, and what are you willing to do to make that happen?

Blessed Yule, Winter Solstice, and Happy Holidays!
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© Venerate Your Dead, 2015- Current. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Venerate Your Dead with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Dia De Los Muertos

“Do you not know that a man is not dead while his name is still spoken?”

-Terry Pratchett

Cultures across the globe venerate their dead with elaborate festivals. Many fall immediately on or after Samhain, though it differs between hemispheres.

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Photo Credit: Last Podcast on the Left

Living in the US, I struggle to find any merit in our holidays. (WASP)Americans are without any real tradition to honour ancestors and I am continuously dismayed by the lack of openness regarding grief or speaking of death.

So naturally I’m fascinated by cultures with soulful traditions, particularly those that venerate their dead, and I am compulsively interested in what they eat at these festivities. #deathpositivity

My song pick for this one is Oingo Boingo “Dead Man’s Party”

The National Hispanic Cultural Center produced this overview of Dia de los Muertos and remembrance rituals among the multi-cultural and polyethnic continents of the Americas based on archaeological discoveries and oral/written traditions:

Dia de Los Muertos (Day of the Dead)
This well-known celebration takes place from 1-2 November in Mexico and increasingly worldwide. Altars composed of photos, flowers, candles, personal possessions, and gifts pop with blue, orange, and purple.

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Photo shared from Mexico Desconocido

You will find these altars in family homes, burial sites, in public places, and religious centers. As part of the festival, attendees design elaborate costumes and paint their faces.

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Credit: NatGeo

Preparing for Dia de los Muertos is time consuming. Sugar skulls and skull-themed food and decorations are also painstakingly baked and displayed for the big event.

I have made a few skull cakes for fun (below):

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Pan de Muerto and other sweets reserved for these days and Calacas skeletons are displayed all around.

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Credit: Mexico in my Kitchen

Families will often visit and clean the graves of their beloved before and after the main events. Offerings of bread and flowers, typically marigolds, are also given to honour the lost loved ones and to guide them through the afterlife.

Here is a touching short film I found:

Mexico City hosts a grand parade each year, which you can get a feel for in the opening of scene of Spectre:

Variations of Dia de los Muertos can be found all over Central and South America. In Guatemala, the people fly massive kites and consume a special dish called fiambre that is reserved for this day.

Fiambre is a type of salad that is made from the favourite foods of loved ones who have passed, so each one varies. Saveur, Growing Up Bilingual, and Spandango each have some great example recipes in the respective links.

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Fiambre. Credit: Chocolate and Chiles

In Ecuador, the indigenous Kichwa people have their own designated recipes that they make for Day of Deceased (Dia de los Difuntos) on 2 November.

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Credit: Laylita

Loja bread filled with guava and sugar, and a spiced pineapple-blackberry pudding called colada morada are among favourites. Here is a simplified version of colada morada, but Youtube has a great video recipe for the real deal:

https://youtu.be/WaY99POopTs

 
Dia de los Muertos is just one of many holiday celebrations in Latin/Hispanic cultures that venerates the ancestral dead. Check out my blog Bolivia’s Día de las Ñatitas to learn about more.
 
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© Venerate Your Dead, 2015- Current. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Venerate Your Dead with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Belize’s Hanal Pixan

In my home country, the USA, ancestor veneration is unconquered territory. Most WASP American families grieve in private. Talking about death is taboo, and one might be considered insane or criminally suspect if they celebrated during or immediately after a death. Our national holidays are ruled by capitalism, false sentiment, gluttony, and alcoholism. Spirituality often equivocates to religious extremism or fads. All of this to say, as I have said many times, I’m enamoured by cultures with authentic, strong, and vivid traditions, particularly those who openly mourn and honour their dead.
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Hanal Pixan parade. Credit: Medium
My song for this entry is a sultry number by Maria Moctezuma:
Ethnic Yucatec Mayans in Belize practice Hanal Pixan which means “food for the souls” with similar motifs found in other Middle/South American veneration festivals such as flowers, candles, and altars. Festivities start on 31 October and last for three days, including masses and feasts. These Mayans tie a red or black string around the wrists of their children and tie up any animals that may be tempted to run loose or be taken during these nights.
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Children with black wrist ties. Credit: Preguntasantoral.es
Traditional foods for Hanal Pixan include lima soup, tortillas filled with eggs in pumpkin seed sauce, and the wondrous Mucbipollo delicacy. Mucbipollo is a giant corn tamale that combines Mayan and Spanish flavours so they are filled with chicken, pork, peppers, tomatoes, and spices. Credit: The Yucatan Times Mucbipollos are wrapped in banana leaves then placed in an outdoor pit and baked underground. Due to the size, it is often served more like a casserole. I found a great recipe here. For Sopa de Lima (lima soup), check out this recipe:
Cochinita Pibil is a crowd-pleaser you can make in the Crock Pot, but in the event you do have a traditional Yucatecan pit in your backyard you can find a more genuine recipe here.
Another Hanal Pixan / Dia de los Muertos favourite is Tinga Poblana, a spicy chicken and chorizo stew:
This news story is in Spanish, but highlights the foods of Hanal Pixan:
I have not yet had the opportunity to try my hand at these delicacies but stay tuned in the near future!
Check out this mini-doc (in English) about Hanal Pixan in Merida, Yucatan:
In contrast, this one was filmed mostly during daylight and highlights ritual clothing and makeup:
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© Venerate Your Dead, 2015- Current. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Venerate Your Dead with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

The Samhain Sabbat

Samhain falls on 1 November each year, just after Halloween, and coincides with festivals and holidays for remembering ancestors around the world.

People of most cultures, and as in this case I am writing about Pagans, believe that the veil between the living world and the afterlife is thinnest during this time of year which makes it easier to communicate with spirits. But I mean, it’s a veil.

My song pick for this entry is the band Samhain’s song “Halloween II”

For my meditation / altar, I set up candles around photos of my paternal grandfather, paternal grandmother, paternal great grandmother, and my paternal grandfather-by-marriage, with obituaries and a few treasures they left behind.

I burned myrrh copal resin with bits of cinnamon, apple seeds, cloves, and sandalwood oil and sat for a while, speaking out loud all the things I wished to communicate to them at that time. I do this every few months, without any fancy spell or rhyme or ritual beforehand. Just sit and start talking.

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Roger is the man to whom I credit my first taste/desire to explore the world, and I wrote Roger That for him. He died from cancer when I was almost ten but I still talk to him often.

Both maternal grandparents passed a few years apart, and both under particularly distressing circumstances. My parents, brother, and I have each had experiences lately that lead us to believe my grandmother is still reaching out to us.

On my Samhain Sabbat I hosted a party called Totenmahl, the German word for dead meal or funeral feast. The intention/meditation for the night was to remember and celebrate loved ones we have lost, so we stood around the fire and shared stories of how they influenced us and continue to shape our lives.

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I have been reading/writing more about traditions in Central and South America, and am so inspired by some of the recipes I have found.

I created my own version of mole with ground apricots and raisins, dark bitter chocolate, vegetable broth, garlic, onions, roasted chipotle and Thai chili peppers, bay leaves, cocoa, chili powder, smoked paprika, turmeric, harissa, chipotle, cumin, red pepper, cinnamon, and clove.

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It was so good we kept finding other things to use as a vessel for delivering the mole into our mouths.

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My first step was putting chicken and onions in the smoker for about four hours.

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Rosemary garlic roasted root veggies – turnips, parsnips, carrots, sweet potatoes. Parsnips always add a taste of lemon sweetness to any dish, and the rosemary balanced out the tartness. I marinated the veggies overnight in olive oil and mixed it up well before roasting.

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Macaroni and cheese pie with gouda, mozzarella, parmesan, and herbs.

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S’mores brownies- double layer with dark chocolate, honey grahams, and marshmallows on top. I added the toppings after the brownies were done and put it under the broiler for a few minutes.

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A friend made these bacon-wrapped dates, and another brought bacon-wrapped asparagus, and I really just do not have any complaints at all about that.

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My ladies all brought various side dishes, corn pudding, salads, breads, herbed butters, drinks, and more.

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I made so much that I able to use it for other dishes the following week as well.
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Our sweets table was pretty wild too, with double chocolate pretzel bark, strawberry and chocolate cookies, cheesecake, candies, s’mores brownies, dark chocolate truffles, sweet potato casserole, pomegranate seeds, apples and caramel, etc.

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We had such a beautiful night. Blessed Samhain!

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© Venerate Your Dead, 2015- Current. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Venerate Your Dead with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

The Mabon Sabbat

Mabon is the autumn equinox and falls between 21-24 September. This is a relatively new name for the ancient Meán Fómhair that is sometimes known as the Harvest Home day and close to the Feast of the Ingathering.

Pagans celebrate Mabon as the first of the three annual harvest festivals, with the second being Lammas (Lughnasadh) and Samhain being the third. Essentially it is the Witches’ Thanksgiving.

Apples are abundant this time of year, and my song pick for this entry is The Andrews Sisters “Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree.”

For my Mabon Sabbat, I wanted the menu to be centered on seasonal squash, pumpkins, root vegetables, and apples with lots of colour and high comfort. Here is what I came up with:

Creamy kale soup with unpeeled red potatoes, spicy sausage, onions, garlic, herbs, vegetable stock, and heavy cream.

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Stuffed acorn squash with caramelized onions, quinoa, spinach, apples, garlic, rosemary, and cream cheese

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Pumpkin curry with coconut milk, Thai chilies from my garden, green peas, broccoli, cauliflower, garbanzo beans, onions, ginger, and lemongrass, over jasmine rice.

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Brussels sprouts with bacon, amino acids, and black pepper

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A friend made these Deviled eggs- one set is Bloody Mary and the other was full of herbs.

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In previous years, I have baked other stuffed items such as butternut squash with quinoa, sausage, and cheese as well as apples stuffed with steel cut oats, cinnamon, maple, and honey. It’s just the right time for treats like that.

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In lieu of an altar, I led a group smudging ritual and shared my knowledge of materials, procedures, and intent. We talked about different herbs, resins, woods, and how/when to use each one, etc.

Bonus link:
The Dark Secret of Harvest Home is a 1978 horror film with Bette Davis, lots of Mabon imagery and references, chock-full of over the top false witchlore and stereotypical misunderstandings. I have not been able to watch it in its entirety but here is a link to a very poor quality Youtube version.

Blessed Mabon!

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© Venerate Your Dead, 2015- Current. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Venerate Your Dead with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Cambodia’s Pchum Ben

In my home country, the USA, ancestor veneration is unconquered territory.
Most WASP American families grieve in private. Talking about death is taboo, and one might be considered crazy or suspect if they celebrated during or after a death. Our national holidays are ruled by capitalism, false sentiment, and alcoholism.
Spirituality often equivocates to religious extremism or fads.All of this to say, I’m enamoured by cultures with authentic, strong, and vivid traditions, particularly those who openly mourn and honour their dead.

Credit: FestivalinCambodia.blogspot

My song pick for this entry is the “Pchum Ben Song” by Meas Soksophea.

Cambodia, Pchum Ben (Ancestor’s Day)
Cambodians celebrate Pchum (a gathering) Ben (ball, of something) somewhere near the end of September to early October, depending on the lunar calendar each year. They gather to honor their ancestors by offering food and gifts via Buddhist monks and to the monks themselves.

It is tradition on Pchum Ben to make balls of rice and set them out at dawn to appease passing spirits, and to visit seven (but no less than three) separate pagodas.

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Credit: Global-children.org

Pchum Ben origins predate even Buddhism; back to when people observed Animism, the belief that all creatures and objects, living otherwise, have a spirit. The first 14 days of this 15-day religious holiday are known as Kan Ben, the observation period of sacrifice and prayer.

The final 15th day is known as Pchum Ben Day, where villages come together to cook, eat, drink, play, and dance together. Music and traditional arts take place throughout the entire period.

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Credit: Whatsonphnompenh.com

Pchum Ben stands out in comparison to other remembrance rituals I have written about because in addition to giving offerings to ancestors, the Khmer people also give to offer solace and good karma to the spirits of victims of the Khmer Rouge, when over a third of the population was brutally murdered.

The pain and suffering still sits heavily within the Khmer people, who have not fully recovered, in any sense of the word. Here is a good place to start if you are interested in reading more about the Khmer Rouge genocide, and check out the video below:

Khmer people have a really beautiful way of cooking meals and making desserts by boiling dishes in bound banana leaves. Below is a video that shows how to make the traditional Num Ansom Chek (banana cakes) to celebrate Pchum Ben.

Nom Ansorm is another type of dish:

In the Khmer language, the word Ben means to collect, to cup, or to mold something, and the word Pchum means to gather together. It is a beautiful combination of words to describe the festival of congregating over endless tiny bowls of Cambodian delicacies to venerate ancestors.

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© Venerate Your Dead, 2015- Current. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Venerate Your Dead with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Korea’s Chuseok

North and South Koreans celebrate Chuseok for three days near mid-September or early October, depending on the lunar calendar. Chuseok shares many traditions with China’s Hungry Ghost festival.
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Young participants observe Chare. Credit: Seoulbeats
My music pick for this entry is actually a full album by Korean punk band Rux, because why not?
Jesa is a term for the ancestral veneration rituals that are observed at specific times through the year. The main rites are Gijesa (on the anniversay of the loved one’s passing), Sije (seasonal rites), Miyoje (ceremonies at the burial site), and Charye (mostly reserved for Chuseok).
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Credit: International Prodimex
Charye is commonly observed by piling a low wooden table with fresh fruits and vegetables to celebrate the harvest season, as well as various dumplings and treats.
Credit: IntlDaysoftheDead.Weebly
Each family has their own special rituals and afterwards, they feast. Some of the staple dishes prepared for Chuseok are Bulgogi, Japchae, Jeon, a spread of Banchan, rice cakes, and cookies. Bulgogi is a sweet and savoury beef dish full of fried onions, with the added depth of Asian pear and oyster sauce. I have made mine quite similar to this and to the video below:
Japchae is another sweet-meat dish, but what makes this so special is the Glass Noodles made of sweet potato starch.
Jeon are Korean savoury pancakes and can range from the simplicity of dipping sliced vegetables in a egg and flour batter to really fanciful and filling pancakes much like okonomiyaki. I found this recipe for a seafood and green onion version called Haemul Pajeon:
Most Koreans observe Chuseok by spending time with family in their home towns, going on vacations, and/or visiting graves of their ancestors. This is the largest Korean national holiday and is centered around food, comparable to the American Thanksgiving. ************** ************* © Venerate Your Dead, 2015- Current. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Venerate Your Dead with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Japan’s Obon Festival

Japan’s Buddhist day of the dead festival, Obon, takes place in the summer, typically late July or August. On the first of three days, paper toro nagashi lanterns are lit and taken to cemetery to guide a family’s loved ones back to home in a ritual called mukae-bon. The lanterns are taken to the waters edge and sent adrift to send spirits back safely on the third day in a ritual called okuri-bon.
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Credit: This Little Adventurer

My song for this entry is “Beast of Blood” by Japanese goth metal band Malice Mizer:
Similar to other day of the dead festivals, families spend the day visiting and cleaning graves, returning to their home towns, catching up with relatives, and preparing an altar for food and offerings. Here it is known as the Shoryo-dana shelf.
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Photo found on Pinterest (OP link was broken)

As an outsider, the Bon Odori traditional dancing with Japanese taiko drummers is the most fascinating part of festivities. These types of drums have been used in Asia and India since the 6th century or even earlier according to multiple archaeology findings. Taiko drums have been used historically in war and in entertainment. These massive drums are specially designed to create a low, hollow sound without pitch. Check out this video of a live performance:
This Bon Odori gets progressively lit until it turns an afro-punk version:
Bon Odori is not too difficult to learn, as you can see here:
It would fill me with hope to know that somewhere in the world this scene below happens on loop. Perhaps in some remote village or in the back of some Lucky Cat souvenir store where one could visit at any time and nothing ever changes.
During Obon, the most popular foods served include Inari and Futomaki sushi, teriyaki chicken or beef, yakisoba, and chirashi.
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Inari and Futomaki. Credit: Spruce Eats

Chirashi is a type of “scattered rice” dish, one that would also be known as “deconstructed” in foodie terms. Try your hand with this recipe here.
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Chirashi bowls. Credit: Eatbook.sg

Forget about the cheap orange packages of dry noodle mix you can find in the grocery. Real Yakisoba is a delicious fried noodle dish that comes in endless variations like this spring vegetable Yakisoba recipe here.

Beef Kimchi Yakisoba. Credit: SandrasEasyCooking

Delicious food aside, death and funeral rites in Japan can be exhausting and the industry cost is hyper-inflated. Japanese law does not allow intact bodies to be interred or buried, so the deceased are almost always placed in an expensive coffin long enough to receive visitors and then the body is cremated, coffin and all.
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Credit: SavvyTokyo

The Buddhist wake ceremony called Tsuya takes place once the body is returned to the home. Okiyome, the funeral meal, takes place after the burial and the family is expected to provide enough food for all guests who wish to attend, even if it is an entire village. Even if it drives them into debt and further despair. Silver and black envelopes of condolence money are given to the mourning family who, in return, gives a small gift to each visitor. Often, the family pays to have a new Buddhist name given to the deceased relative with the belief that it will prevent the person from coming back from the dead if his or her name is called. Fish is forbidden at funerals and in most cases it is customary to have a monk lead the tsuya with prayers over the deceased’s ashes. The family separates the bones from the ashes and places them in one or more urns, starting with bones of the feet and ending with the skull.
Kotsuage, the bone picking ritual. Credit: Deep Japan
Shukatsu is a term for the hordes of business people racing to jobs, but is increasingly used more as a slang term to prepare for death. Japan is considered a dying society, with more deaths than births each recent year. Because of laws and limited space, Japanese culture is brimming with creativity and innovation for exciting burial options. Endex, Japan’s Funeral and Cemetery Show, is an annual convention that provides education, counseling, demonstrations, and wild entertainment in order to expand Japan’s comfort and awareness in death positivity, final arrangements, and the afterlife.
Endex Convention Schedule, credit: Endex.com
When I Die: Inside Japan’s Death Industry is a great intro to Japan’s growing culture of death positivity:
At the heart, Asian culture is based on respect and remembrance for lost loved ones. In the scriptures of the Theravada and Tirokudda Kanda, Buddhist concepts of offering food to hungry ghosts are offered to instruct the living in earning merit (aka karma). Each country has its own rituals that take place throughout the year but ancestor veneration is a part of daily life. In my current city we have a chapter of Death Cafe; a regular meet-up where people of all walks can discuss their fears, grief, death, final arrangements, and to seek help when needed. And they always serve cake.
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Photo shared from Facebook.com/DeathCafe
There has been huge progress in the US with Death Positivity in recent years, but Japan has it down pat. Thanks to Inelda, Death Doula courses, and other end-of-life planning specialists, the rest of the world is catching up.
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© Venerate Your Dead, 2015- Current. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Venerate Your Dead with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.