Tuesday, February 18, 2014

D is for Death

Winter is still upon us.  In a time when we should be looking ahead to spring and birth and light, this blog post will focus more on the darker half of the year.  Death knows no season, but for many Pagans, autumn and winter are the seasons that represent endings.  Endings come in many forms. Relationships and friendships end. Good books end.  Life ends.  The end of life is my focus for this post.

I don’t really know for sure if death is the end of everything, or if it’s the beginning of a new chapter.  What I do know, however, is many people and animals that I love have passed from this existence.  Death is something we are faced with everyday, from your bacon sandwich to the spider you just whacked with a newspaper.  It’s not something we can escape, and as the saying goes, ‘If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em!’

Instead of dwelling upon the illnesses and accidents that  take us away from this life, it is far preferable to focus on life and living every day to the fullest.  That, as we all know, is much easier said than done.

I look at Samhain as a gift.  It is a time for us to remember, to visit with ancestors, to laugh and cry, and even to be angry if that’s how you heal.   It has always been my favorite day.  As the veil thins leading up to Samhain, I become more and more excited. Will someone visit?  Will I see something for the coming year?   And then I ask the other question: What am I going to cook?

Samhain has lots of traditional, seasonal foods.  Likewise, different cultures have many traditional foods for funerals.   I believe that grieving is very draining and that one should eat for strength during a period of mourning, even though it’s normal to have no appetite during that time.

For Samhain, traditional foods include pork, apples, pumpkins, root vegetables, and nuts like hazelnuts/filberts.    Those are fine, delicious, grounding foods.  The key word here is ‘grounding’.  Some may believe that it is better to be grounded on Samhain, while others would prefer to be less fettered and therefore better suited to receiving visitors from beyond the veil.

Others prefer to offer their ancestors foods that they best loved in life, as a way of enticing them to visit. My thoughts are as follows:  The living may wish to eat a light meal and offer the heavier meal to the spirits of the dead.  This may allow the spirits to stick around longer and the living less grounded and perhaps more aware of the spirits on this night.

(Before Samhain, a fast may even be in order.  What I try to do is a fast for a day before Samhain, but not a total fast. I can’t not eat. It gets ugly, believe me.  It can be juice or very light foods, preferably without animal products.)

Now, yes, cooking for both the living and the dead does require two menus, but the dishes can have a lot of similar components.  After you set out the food for the spirits, the leftovers can be wrapped up and kept for the next day for the living.   

Below are a couple of menus to get you started:

For the spirits:
Fried fish
Rosemary roasted potatoes
Carrots and cabbage with caraway seeds
Beer bread
Apple tart

And for everyone else:
Fish stew
Sauteed arugula
Fried apples
Rosemary cookies

Autumn is the season of water, emotions, introspection, and communication with the other planes of existence.  That is why I chose fish. 
I chose arugula because of its bite.  A bitter green would work here as well.
Rosemary is for remembrance.
Apples are a traditional Samhain food.
Carrots and cabbage may be traditional money-drawing foods, and while spirits don’t need money, a little extra prosperity in the next life can’t hurt, right?

**I realized that recipes for everything would make this post entirely too long, so please check back for those!

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