HAPPY HALLOWEEN TO ALL WITCHES

The cover of the Culture Magazine of The Sunday Times last weekend caught me attention as it featured a stunning photo of Dame Judi Dench who is currently starring in the movie ‘Philomena’ which opened recently in cinemas in Ireland.  Amid the sea of perfectly enhanced faces we normally see on the cover of magazines Ms Dench’s portrait is refreshingly beautiful in what I hope is an honest way.   
There is currently an ad on TV which begins by a woman announcing that she is growing old gracefully to her friend who in turn says that she would like to grow old disgracefully.  There are a number of women in the conversation mentioning things like glowing from within.  However just about the time that you the viewer is harbouring an inner glow in the hope that this is another refreshingly honest take on older women – they mention some bloody serum that ‘really works’.  A fact they know because of the ‘second looks’ they get.  Ta Dah… plus ca change?
The message stays the same – women must fight ageing all the way and remember that our worth is entirely dependent on how good, i.e. youthful we look.  The results of this ‘war on ageing’ can be seen every week on The X Factor as Ms Osborne resorts to jumping about a lot to make up for the fact that her face is not quite as mobile as it should be.  Madonna is another example of someone who is maybe winning the war on ageing by beginning to look extraordinary… anyone remember the series from the 80s called V (about reptilian people).  And then there is or was Cher… well.  I rest my case.
My husband is a photographer and he often says that women who have ‘had work done’ (God be with the days when that meant the addition of a conservatory) might look young from a distance but that up close they scare the bejaysus out of him.  
It’s beyond time that real women (who like me, even if I could afford ‘work’ I am way more afraid of looking odd than looking old) took a stand and retrieved women’s middle and senior years as being just as valid as their youth.
In ancient mythology woman was represented by the Triple Goddess of The Maiden, The Mother and The Crone.  The triple spiral found in ancient Ireland is said to be a representation of triumvirate view of woman.  The maiden was of course revered for her physical youth and beauty, the mother respected as the nurturer and carer.  And the Crone was respected for her wisdom.  But it was this wise and powerful woman, this Crone that became hijacked over the centuries to become the evil witch capable of knowing the unknown and of dastardly deeds.  By the middle ages she was a witch with evil powers but at least she had power.  In today’s society the older woman has been reduced to nothing.  Age is seen as entirely negative and we must fight to remain young….  to the point of cutting and pasting of our faces.
British actress Kristin Scott Thomas who is 53 spoke this summer about how she feels invisible and not just when she is in the company of younger co-stars but even walking down the street or among strangers.  And if someone as well known, as accomplished an actress, as beautiful as Ms Scott Thomas feels like that what about the rest of us?
Ageing is seen by modern society as failure, particularly for women.  And it seems to me that modern, older women are content to accept this as fact and to undergo surgery and injecting poisons in order to attempt to delay the inevitable?   This fact depresses me far more than noticing my lines and wrinkles.
Tomorrow we celebrate the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain.  Samhain marked the end of the harvest but it is also the time when we celebrate the Goddess as Crone. 
So amid the mayhem and madness this is time for older women to retrieve their true power.  We are in many ways at the pinnacle of our real power.  We have been around the block a few times; we have lived, perhaps given birth and raised children.  We have worked, we have loved, we have cried and we have laughed.  We have gathered wisdom and stories along the way.
The Crone stage is not the end.  It is a new beginning.  It is time women to step into your power, don your witch’s hat and scream it from the rooftops.  WE ARE WISE POWERFUL WOMEN…as for invisible… only if you allow yourself to be.
HAPPY HALLOWEEN….

OICHE SAMHAIN

This piece was featured on RTE Radio 1’s Sunday Miscellany Programme last year.
I will again be featuring on Sunday Miscellany this Sunday – 30th October – with a piece on Owls! Tune in after 9am news.

Halloween, Oiche Samhain. In its original form ‘as Gaeilge’, the name holds a hint of the magic and mystical mayhem that to me is what today, the 31st of October is all about. Of all our feastdays, Halloween is the one that links us most closely with our ancient Celtic and Pagan past. Today carries echoes of ritual and belief stretching back over hundreds and hundreds of years. Halloween speaks to a very deep and primitive part of my soul. I love it and always have.

Nowadays a lot of our Halloween traditions and customs have been overlaid with American style elaborate decorations and costumes. The old cry of “have ya any apples or nuts” has been replaced by the chorus of “trick or treat” which will ring through neighbourhoods tonight. But like buns becoming cupcakes top heavy in sugary frosting, Halloween may be somewhat overdressed but its origins are firmly based here in Ireland where fairy lore and a fascination with the ‘other world’ has always been a part of who we are. It is a celebration of the unknown, of the spiritual and speaks of the Irish penchant for eschewing authority and our love of a bit of occasional anarchy and chaos.

To this day I have absolutely no memory of ever having had a childhood birthday party but I have very clear recollections of my youthful Halloweens. Each year I dressed up as the same thing – a gypsy. I wore a long, multicoloured skirt, a head scarf and huge ‘clip on’ hoop earrings. But best of all, my mother applied eye shadow and kohl to my eyes making me a very glamorous gypsy indeed.

The Barm Brack is an important part of Halloween and in the 70’s it came with a whole array of bits to choke on. There was a rag for poverty, a bit of a stick indicating you would be beaten by your spouse, a coin for prosperity and of course the best prize of all was the ring. Mother would slice up the brack on the plate, keeping each slice firmly in place while my brothers and I, made our choice. The ring was immediately discovered, bulging from the cake, wrapped in greaseproof paper. Oh the excitement.

Once tea was over and darkness had fallen it was time to brave whatever ghouls and witches were abroad and head out to collect our store of apples and nuts. As autumn tipped into winter, the nights were cold and our breath made little clouds of condensation ahead of us. The air smelt of damp, decaying leaves overlaid with a whiff of gunpowder from bangers and the scent of distant bonfires. As we moved from house to house we passed other neighbourhood kids, their faces hidden behind garish plastic masks. Who were they? Did we know them?

Once the cold got the better of us and our bag was sufficiently heavy with its feast fit for any squirrel, we headed home. In the light of the house we investigated our booty just in case someone had sneaked in a chocolate bar. Usually they hadn’t. So we munched on monkey nuts as we recounted the nights events to the sound of ongoing bangers exploding outdoors.

I carry the memories of my childhood Halloweens with me to this day and relive them each year, as I hand out sweets and chocolate to my neighbourhood’s children. My own girls are now too old to have me accompany them around the houses and mobile phones mean they can contact me if they need to. Last weekend we decorated the hall and front garden with large spider webs, cats, ghosts and witches. I usually don my own witch’s hat as the light fades on this the most magical day of the year. But maybe for tonight, I will search out some huge hoop earrings and a headscarf! Either way, I can’t wait.

Photo by Paul Sherwood – our front door on Oiche Samhain

My Halloween Musings on Sunday Miscellany

Just a little note to let y’all know that I will be one of the featured writers on Sunday Miscellany this Sunday, 31st October when I shall be, appropriately enough, musing about Halloween. Regular readers will know that this is my absolute favourite time of year!

So, have a lie in and set the radio to come on at 9am for an hour of stories, memories and music. RTE Radio 1. 9am. Sunday 31st October.
Oh, and if you are around a radio on Monday morning, I shall be popping into the East Coast Radio Studio at about 11.15 for another battering, sorry chat with Declan Meehan. Check out http://www.eastcoast.fm/

Happy Halloween

A Heartfelt Welcome for Autumn

It is now mid September and although we have been experiencing a mini Indian Summer of late, there is a bite in the air, particularly after sunset that reminds me that we have now truly arrived in Autumn. And this is my very favourite season of the year.

Somewhere, deep in my bones, resonates the feeling of harvest bounty. My grocery shopping now includes lots of root vegetables with which to make big pots of soup, full of the energy of summer sunshine and earthy goodness. Soon we will take another trip out to blackberry country, armed with bags in which to collect the little, juicy, ruby red nuggets of sweetness which will be borne home and made into old fashioned desserts and autumnal crumbles.

The swallows who nest in our eaves every summer have left home again, following the sun south. This signals it is time for me to prepare the garden for the dark and stormy days of winter ahead. Pots will be emptied and stored in the corner, garden furniture covered and moved into a sheltered spot and wind chimes and mobiles will be hung in the safety of the boiler house.

Indoors I will root out throws and extra winter cushions for the lounge. Shortly we will begin to draw the curtains at sunset. Light summer nightwear will be replaced by winter pj’s, slippers and big cosy dressing gowns. And best of all, soon we will light the first fire of the season. A magical occasion, which reminds me of the bonfires of our pagan antecedents and connects me with the ancient Celtic meaning of Halloween.

This is the season of hibernation and introspection. Just like the hedgehogs preparing for a big sleep under the bushes at the bottom of the garden, my inner self knows that now is time for energy to be drawn inwards. My vision of autumn is of nights by the fire, kids tucked up cosily in bed, animals stretched by the hearth. Piles of books waiting to be read, and time to think and to be still.

Autumn is where I am most at home. It is where I find myself and where I am most comfortable. Autumn brings me a time to rest after the exertions of summer. A time to give thanks for all the joys of summer holidays. I welcome its arrival with open arms and heart.

How do you feel about Autumn? What is your favourite season?

Photo of an autumn walk in Devil’s Glen, Wicklow