simple gifts, tools for reconnection and returning to the real
Dear Community—This moon I harvested the oat patch in my front yard. I gathered a linen tablecloth handed down from my grandfather’s family in Norway, and wandered outside with a scythe to the scrubby ground where in February, on St. Brigid’s Day, I planted the Last Sheaf of the year before.
I’ve been following this practice rhythm for three years now, ever since the beginning of the Covid pandemic. It, along with some key cornerstones—shared below—are helping me stay rooted, build a life of joy and connection amid the wreckage of “before/after,” and return to the realness of spirit, the human, the common, the earth itself.
These practices are also the root of some new direction—Myth and Moon is becoming Olden Practice. This name encompasses my research and heart love—a celebration of ancestral crafts, skills and traditions to help us remember and reconnect with the olden ways of our humanity.
The Last Sheaf is a beautiful Olden Practice, and with its ceremony of harvest it reminds me of the blessings inherent in the simple act of procuring food or medicine.
The Last Sheaf is a harvest tradition, not the last of the grain, it is the last of the cut grain—an important distinction for some of the grain is left in the field, an offering in honor of the next harvest. In Gaelic the Last Sheaf is called the Old Woman or Cailleach, in Poland it is called Old Woman, Wheat Woman or Old Man. The Last Sheaf was often given a procession from the field and ritually fed, then brought into the house where it might be dressed in ribbons or even fabric and given a seat at the table, in the corner or on the altar. It was sometimes fed for many years, or even generations. But in most folkways it is feasted through the winter then returned to earth in the spring.
One tradition present in all of my lineages is to save some of the grain from the Last Sheaf (or final harvest) and plant it in ritual in February, at the opposing Holy Day.
By integrating agrarian folk practice and ancestral prayers around food, bathing and offering, I am constantly seeking presence in the real, living world. Even in the throes of the digital, where everything becomes less and less rooted in the reality of remembered life, and more a projection of commercialism, addiction and falsity, awareness of earth rhythms and how they connect to the body, the plants, animals and other humans in our bioregions, helps us come home again and again to a reality our grandparents would recognize.
And their grandparents.
And their grandparents.
And so on.
I am seeking to live in a way that more readily connects with what my ancestors would recognize as life.
Life and death, death and life. The cycles of nature and agriculture remind me of my mortality, that every second is precious, that my body (this one, right here, typing these words for you) will one day feed microbes, red currants, hemlock trees.
Five years ago I spent some time near death. This awareness, far from forcing distress, has given me a rich and whole appreciation of each day, that life is sacred and I do not want to waste another moment of it in a digital world of corporate make believe.
I realize the irony of these words, typed here in a digital format on a platform that will fade into ephemera, as so many have, in swift revue. Farewell! Goes our precious content. The new reigns supreme, the dazzle, the capture, with more and more and more generation being the intention, the focus, more distraction a locus, more disconnection a goal.
Aren’t we so tired of distraction? Aren’t we sad with disconnection?
Don’t we long for a life of meaning, purpose, reconnection—and some really good food?
What can we do to create that life?
A lot, it turns out.
A lot of simple, free, small actions that impact the greater whole, reconnect us with life, reconnect us with the earth and with each other.
The trick is we have to do these things, and hold ourselves accountable to them—which is much easier in shared community.
What follows are a few of my favorite reconnective practices for the season, and an invitation to Unlearn Online with me in community this fall.
Like many of you, I am addicted to the digital effluence even while simultaneously being disgusted by it. My addictions root into distraction and information—I am a researcher’s researcher. My health issues also play a part in my digital addictions, as when I am sick I find most of the tasks of life challenging but can easily stream content for hours, distracting myself from my pain and fear.
But here is the thing: I don’t want to be distracted any more.
I want to be present, with, in, this moment. However uncomfortable, however challenging.
And I want to share this moment with others in community.
Three Small, Olden Practices for Reconnection This Season
Write a Letter—and Send it!
The alchemy of letter writing is two fold. First, it is the tangible, the process itself--so different from writing an email which may or may not survive a decade, depending on the whims of technology, and will likely never be seen again. Placing pen to page, or typing for print purposes changes the nature of the communication from the start.
The second transformation of letter writing is the audience. We are writing to someone specific, and choose our words accordingly. That person holds, temporarily, a part of us--cellular, substantial--in a way that is impossible through online communique.
Tactile + Audience = Clarity, Creativity, Connection and Endurance
In one of my first posts for the Olden Practice Blog I have five ways you can reclaim letter writing for yourself and encourage it in others, offered in the hopes of inspiring a return to this olden practice.
Make a Simple
A Simple is a single herb concoction—I like to make infusions, strong teas, using one plant at a time to strengthen my relationship with the plant and its effects. I’m drinking one as I write this—raspberry leaf. Yum. Some of the other herbs I use are oatstraw (a gentle nerve tonic), nettle (bioavailable iron, mineral rich), chamomile (lovely for nerves) and pretty much any mint family herb (digestive support and tasty).
Place a handful of dried plant material in a glass jar and fill with water
Set in the sun for 4-6 hours, or cover with boiling water and let steep for at least an hour. Strain and drink—warm or cool. These will keep in the refrigerator for a day or two.
Working with a single plant for a full lunar cycle can deepen your relationship with the plant and your physical body. Simples are wonderful to share too! Invite a neighbor for tea, have a tea party with a child, or set out a cup of simples in offering for your intended guest.
Celebrate Ancestral Feast Days With an Actual Feast
September 29th is the Feast of St. Michael the Archangel—which every parent of a Waldorf child recognizes as the celebration of Michaelmas. Learning about my Catholic ancestors has been an instrumental part of this past couple of years—they are in almost every lineage—and their rich traditions of feast days and seasonal celebration have been a joyful discovery. So at Michaelmas I will feast them, and again at All Soul’s Day, with foods they might recognize—honey bannock, leek soup, baked squash.
I feast my ancestors because they feed me, their lives and deaths made my life possible, their bones in the soil fertilize our food. When I feed them it is an act of gratitude and a reminder of the fact that my existence is a miracle. I feed them because I AM them, they live on in literally every cell in my body, and through my children as well.
To Feast the Ancestors:
Set aside some space in your home to honor the lives and deaths that have made your life possible.
Choose a feast day or celebration from one of your ancestral calendars—religious feasts, specific communities and cultural traditions are all great resources for this research.
Consider making some food that your ancestors would recognize—maybe gather the food from the land where you live, or simply share what you are eating. Prepare it with love and intention, then gift some to your ancestors in their space.
If you have any bowls, plates or cups from your lineage you might wish to use these for your offering.
If you would like to share a prayer or intention with your ancestors you might do so as you feed them.
After a day, return the offering to the earth (compost or bury the offering). Giving thanks again for the cycle—life, death, life—that has brought your body into being.
This practice can be especially potent in the waning year, as we move into the dark. It was common in all of my lineage traditions to celebrate the ancestors at the advent of winter.
Opportunities for the Season
Unlearn Online: a free community study group for returning to the real. This study/work group is visioned as a teaching-learning community, a space to unravel some of the learned online dependencies we've become accustomed to over the past three years. We will be articulating our values, and bringing our digital interactions into alignment with our values, in the hopes of crafting a toolkit to help others on this path.
The group will meet online, at least initially, but the intention is to reclaim offline space and build communities with the land/people where we live.
The ultimate goal is to create resources for others to reclaim their offline lives in sacred connection. As we help ourselves re-member, we help each other, too.
Click here to learn more and register. The initial meeting is September 13th and all are welcome!
Spirit and Story Sacred Writing Critique Group—if you missed the Spirit and Story generative workshop this summer but are interested in inspired writing and critique from a supportive community you are invited to join this group! All are welcome. There is an interest meeting on September 27th to discuss workshop format and scheduling. Click here to learn more and register.
Ending With A Blessing
Five years ago we moved into this house and shortly after I nearly died.
Five years to the month we moved in, this past July, our landlord contacted us asking if we would like to purchase our home for a significantly reduced price.
Ten years ago to the month of this offer, we were displaced from the home that would begin this whole journey, of illness and loss, survival and resilience.
And circling here we find ourselves, at last, home.
This is the seed story of spirit, we are guided and protected. The impossible becomes possible, we live and breathe in gratitude, trusting, somehow, all will be well.
The Wild Soul Sanctuary begins here, in the resource-full sharing of this city lot, in equity built and possibility gained. We will be here for a while longer, it seems, between my health issues and our children nothing really ever goes “to plan,” but this time gives us longer to connect, to co-create, to share the story.
This time gives us longer to be where we are, to live where we live, and remember that we need each other, that generosity is joy.
May this letter find you in the miracle of your every day.
May you be fed by this sacred earth.
(The same earth that fed your ancestors.)
May you be filled by the sacred waters.
(The same water your ancestors drank.)
May you breathe the sacred air.
(The same air your ancestors breathed.)
And may the sun’s warmth encourage your gardens to grow.
(The same sun shone on your ancestors, too.)
This is where the season story ends, and another begins. Thank you for being your own dear part in the tale.
With love in the turning, with blessing on the path.
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