Archive for category Traditions

Happy Halloween, my dears

Happy Halloween and Happy Samhain to those who celebrate it!

This is a magical night. The one time of the year to explore another side of ourselves through costume and disguise.

However you celebrate this holiday…by watching scary movies, reading spooky stories, giving out candy or having a party, I hope your whole day and evening are fun!

Thank you for reading this blog. I hope you’ll join me to celebrate everything that is wonderful about Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s on my other seasonal blog, Cool Yule

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Magical self-care for Halloween

Ready for a little self care? Get in the spirit of Halloween with these magical and relaxing rituals.

Candle Magic

Photo by Breakingpic on

Have you ever blown out a candle and made a wish? That is a version of candle magic. Jack o’lanterns? Originally created to chase away evil spirits.

Just as with stones, the colors of candles are associated with particular intentions. You might light a green candle to attract wealth, a black one to banish negativity and a pink one to bring love into your life. How about a delicious smelling, pumpkin orange one? That is said to help you focus and sharpen your intellect.

Often now, if I want to get in touch with my creative side or remove a little writer’s block, I light a candle and just pause for a moment.  I really find that this harmless bit of “magic” works for me.

There are a number of spells in Gillian Kemp’s book, The Good Spell Book.  Here are a few…

  • For money: light a green candle.  Let it burn for five minutes, then snuff it out.  Rub your hands in the smoke and imagine money coming to you.
  • To find your lucky word: light a white candle, take a dictionary, and face south.  Close your eyes and turn the book around several times.  Keeping your eyes closed, fan the pages until you feel ready to stop.  Let your finger explore the page until you feel ready to stop.  The word under your finger is your magic word. Whenever you need a boost of luck or energy, say this magic word. Snuff out the candle.
  • For love: on a Friday night (dedicated to Venus, Goddess of Love) take a new, never used pink candle. With a pen in your favorite color and white piece of paper, clear your mind of distractions and write your name and your loved one’s name.  Draw a circle around both names. Close your eyes and visualize the two of you happy together. Then watch over your candle for a short while. Snuff it out.

Burning Sage

Another simple spell is to cleanse a room of bad vibes by burning sage. You can purchase white sage bundles at Whole Foods and crystal stores for this purpose. Native Americans have been burning sage for who knows how long.

I complained once to a friend that I could not seem to get the smell of my ex out of my apartment. She burned some sage. Poof! The lingering odor disappeared…and I felt as if we had scrubbed his nastiness and bad humor away.  A simple ritual but it made me feel a lot better. Try burning sage if you’ve had an argument and want to move on in a positive direction.

Salt Spells

So you know about the superstition of throwing salt over your left shoulder to undo the bad luck of spilling salt? That’s a salt spell! Salt is reputed to have magical properties, especially purification and protection.You can rinse something in salt water to purify it of negative energy or get it ready for a spell — crystals, coins and keys are rinsed in this way. Or you can sprinkle some salt in the corners of a room to purify the space (for example, if you had an argument or bad dream while in that room). Throw a handful out the door after a person leaves so they can’t come back and bother you. I imagine some of you surreptitiously sprinkling salt in the corners of your cubicles and offices at work! But, seriously, try it. It feels empowering and it’s not expensive.  A ritual like this can help you affirm to yourself that you are not going to let toxic people (or bad energy) mess with you.

Divination Spells

There are many divination spells — that is, spells that foretell the outcome, or provide a “yes” or “no” answer to a posed question.  The apple and nut divination spells associated with Halloween party games (bobbing for apples, peeling apples, roasting nuts) are age-old examples of Celtic pagan divination traditions.

Try to peel an apple without breaking the peel. Then throw the peel over your left shoulder. The peel may form the initial letter of your love’s first name.

How about palm-reading? Learn some basics in this video…




Tonight is the Hunter’s Moon, the full moon of October

Do you love gazing at the moon? The moon will full at 5:08 pm, eastern standard time. In September, we had the Harvest Moon. Tonight the moon is called the Hunter’s Moon. The moon will also be full tomorrow night. If we are lucky and it doesn’t rain, the moon may appear to have an orange hue as it appears on the horizon.

You can see a calendar of the moon phases here from the University of Arizona Lunar and Planetary Laboratory as well as daily information about moon.

At sunset, Jewish people also celebrate Sukkot, a religious harvest celebration.

The Farmer’s Almanac is another great source of information about the moon.

Check out their 1-1/2 minute video that talks about the Hunter’s Moon and its traditions.

The New Moon will be October 27 at 11:28 pm.



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Fall flavors – German gourmet treats in Virginia and D.C.

It’s fall and that means Oktoberfest! While the official Oktoberfest celebration in Germany may have ended, in the states we’re still celebrating with brats and beer.

Where can you find the best German food around these parts? I have two suggestions.

German Gourmet – Falls Church, Virginia

The first is located in Falls Church, Virginia. German Gourmet is a store, delicatessen and bakery situated at 5838 Columbia Pike (not far from Route 7/Leesburg Pike). My son and I have been going to German Gourmet for years (when it had a location on Lee Highway).  It offers fantastic take-out from 9 a.m. – 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and 10 am – 4 pm on Sundays (the store itself is open until 7 p.m.) They have more than 20 different kinds of sausages, but if you’re thinking about bratwurst, their “homemade” offering is the most popular. You can order that as a sandwich on a Portugese roll for $6.25, including your choice of condiments (e.g., with mustard and sauerkraut, if you’re ordering for me!) Add two delicious sides for 95 cents each — I like their potato salad and red cabbage.

If you can’t wait to eat your bratwurst (and who would blame you?), there a couple of tables with chairs in the store.

German Gourmet also has a delicious variety of sweets for sale, including rugelach, strudel and fancy cakes, as well as chocolate candy from Germany, Austria and Switzerland. My son loves their pretzels!

One fun offering they have this fall is “Halloween” wine. This is a sweet, red sparkling wine imported from Germany that retails for $15/bottle. Drink this chilled and pair it with pizza, hamburgers or wieners.

Old Europe – Washington, DC

The next place I am going to tell you about is on Wisconsin Avenue, just on the edge of Georgetown, and it is amazing! Old Europe (2434 Wisconsin Avenue, NW) is the sit-down restaurant to go to when you crave traditional, authentic German food. I recommended this to a former employer once for our Christmas party and it was a huge hit! I haven’t been here for dinner, but (in addition to the company banquet) I have enjoyed lunch in this charming, small restaurant.

Old Europe is a dining experience unlike none other in the DC area. The restaurant has operated since 1948. At lunch, the small, cloth-covered tables are populated with well-dressed business men and women sharing a relaxed meal. Smiling waitresses in German dirndls circulated. I believe you’d feel most comfortable if you were wearing at least business casual attire. For its classy atmosphere, the prices are very reasonable, especially considering the quality of the food. For example, there is a Chef’s Special at lunch that includes dessert and coffee for only $12. Everything I have tried — sausages, potato pancakes, sauerbraten, pork loin schnitzel — has been outstanding. Even the house salad is unusual and delicious.

Do yourself a favor and treat yourself to lunch or dinner at Old Europe this fall. Be certain you call ahead for reservations. Just don’t plan to go on Tuesday! Old Europe is closed on Tuesdays.

On Wednesday nights through mid-November, Old Europe will offer polka music and live piano on Friday and Saturday nights.

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The Irish origins of Halloween

Halloween was originally a pagan holiday to honor the dead. It can be traced back to the Druids, a Celtic culture in Ireland (as well as Scotland, Wales, Brittany, Cornwall and the Isle of Man) that existed more than 2000 years ago. The Druids are famous for being the supposed creators of the shrine of Stonehenge. Their holiday It took place on October 31, the last day of the Celtic calendar, known as Samhain (pronounced sow-win).

Samhain, beginning on the evening of October 31st and ending on the evening of November 1st, marked the end of the summer and the beginning of the Celtic new year. It was celebrated with a harvest festival involving all kinds of traditions (feasts, bonfires, bobbing for apples, fortune-telling) and beliefs about spirits and magical beings, such as fairies. Pagans believed the night of Samhain was very mystical – that the veil between our living world and the spirit world was at its thinnest and most permeable point.

Because of this, the Celts believed the souls of the dead wandered that night. Some were evil. To appease them, people left out food and drink. They believed this could help ensure a plentiful harvest. Some dressed as animals or other beings so they would not be stolen away by the fairies. In some traditions, they went from house to house to ask for food. These customs evolved into today’s tradition of trick-or-treating.

Irish immigrants brought the tradition of jack o’lanterns to the United States. In Ireland, they carved turnips, but the head-shaped pumpkins in America inspired a new tradition.


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Cast a magical Harvest Moon circle

The Harvest Moon is here! Some believe this Harvest Moon — the closest full moon to the autumnal equinox — has special significance this year because it takes place on Friday the 13th. There are 13 full moons in a year and Friday is associated with the goddess, Venus. The moon is also associated with the Moon Goddess in Asian cultures and some religions, and is in Pisces, so that is a lot of feminine energy to be harnessed!

A Harvest Circle

Harvest rituals expressing thankfulness and celebrating abundance have been performed by numerous cultures for thousands of years. Today, many people are interested in things like circle casting and crystal energy. To celebrate the season, I have adapted and created this Harvest Moon Circle. I drew from several sources on circle casting online and added my own Harvest theme twists. You can make it your own however you like.

The Mindfulness of Casting

In many ways, carefully constructing, casting and deconstructing a circle is a mindfulness activity. Meditation, affirmations, prayer, gratitude, acceptance and creativity are all positive elements that can come into play. In some ways, it may even be considered a form of self care! I intend to use mine to meditate, harvest and send out positive energy, and to give thanks. Hopefully, you will find this activity relaxing and centering, but if you don’t, it’s just not for you, and that’s okay.

Constructing a circle

Casting a circle means creating a space for magic that incorporates four elements: Air, Fire, Water and Earth. You can also make it about prayer and/or meditation, because there are no hard and fast rules. Because it is almost fall, I selected items and crystals that are associated with these elements, and also the beautiful colors of fall. Many of these items can be found around the house, and the crystals can be purchased for a dollar or so from crystal shops and nature centers.

You can cast a circle indoors or outdoors, but I think this one is best conducted outdoors. You will not need much room to work in — maybe 5 or 6 feet. I made mine on my patio! To create your circle, you place items representing the elements at the four points of the compass, making a circle (kind of like a clock – 12, 3, 6, 9). To determine position, you may need a compass or an compass app on your smartphone. Google Maps sometimes works to orient your location, as well.

Start with the East (imagine this like a 12 on a clock) and put your Air element items on the ground there. You can choose a feather (you know, like flight) or a paper fan (because it creates a breeze). Another way to represent air is by using a lit incense stick. I used a cinnamon one. I like how you can kind of “see” the air as the fragrant smoke waves around. Crystals of fall hues associated with the element of Air include citrine, smoky topaz and rock crystal.

Next, go to your South point (imagine this like 3 on the clock). Put your Fire element items here. Easy to remember, right? South = hot. Of course, a lit candle goes here. Green is associated with Venus and with harvests, but if you don’t have a green candle, you could use the traditional fire element colors of red, yellow or gold — or even a pumpkin scented candle! I put a beautiful red carnelian crystal on this spot.

Next turn to the Western point of your circle (imagine this like the 6 on a clock face). This is for the element of water. This is meaningful because the moon tonight is in Pisces, a water sign, and of course, the moon affects the tides.  So easy — a little glass or bowl of water. A seashell is a nice touch. The crystal I select for this point is moonstone. You could also use aquamarine, pearl or the water-loving gem, opal.

Lastly, you will set your Northern point in the circle (the 9 spot on the clock). North is associated with the element of Earth. Here, a crystal can do double duty, since rocks and crystals represent the earth. I suggest black tourmaline, which is grounding and protective, tiger eye, and/or  golden pyrite. Then add, whatever you have: some flowers, an apple, some oats or a pinecone. You can also use a dish of salt, or herbs, leaves or acorns. Earth elements that suggest fall: an ear of corn or a small pumpkin.

Near the center, I like to place an offering. Something to please my ancestors – something to drink and something to eat. Of course, you will have to eat and drink it for them, but the idea is they appreciate the gesture 🙂 To drink, I’m choosing a glass of apple juice. You can choose a pumpkin spice latte, if you want!  To eat, I’m choosing bread, because bread has been put on altars as an offering at harvest time for thousands of years. An Asian moon cake would also be traditional and timely!

Since it was really quite dark, I added more candles so I could see what I was doing! I placed a salt grinder, the candle lighter, my selenite stick and the offering near the middle.

Lastly, when I stepped into the center of circle, I tossed salt around the periphery. It is said to cleanse and protect. Some people put salt around the house or in corners to fend off negative people and energies. I also dash a bit on my offering of bread. Bread and salt have been used in many cultures to convey welcome, gratitude and trust.

Casting the Circle

Protego totalum

So, now your circle is constructed and you are standing in the middle of it, but it is not yet cast. Casting the circle involves calling on benevolent beings or energies to engage and protect you while you are in this magical or spiritual space.

Remember when Hermione created that big protective sphere around the camp site in the last Harry Potter movie? She turned and turned? Imagine doing something like that. You are not really creating a circle so much as this lovely sphere around you, like a safe bubble of positive energy that keeps negative energy out. Or, you know, Death Eaters 🙂

She used a wand but if a wand hasn’t chosen you yet 🙂 you can raise your arms, a branch of fall leaves, a selenite wand, or whatever makes you feel magical.

To begin casting, stand in the center of your circle, facing east. Breathe deeply and embrace the moment. Listen to the sounds of nature all around you. Inhale the aroma of the incense or candles. Feel the cool air on your skin. Sense your most loving, healthy and positive energy inside of you and emanating from you.

Begin at East (Air). Imagine what air means to you — an autumn breeze shaking loose crimson and gold leaves, for example. Say something like: “Spirits of Air, I call on you.”

Next, turn to the South (Fire). You will actually have a flame to look at but you could also picture a crackling fireplace. Say: “Spirits of Fire, I call on you.”

Next, turn to the West (Water). Envision a lake, ringed with bright maples reflected in the water. Or would you rather see the ocean? Say: “Spirits of Water, I call on you.”

Next, turn to the North (Earth). Visualize fields of ripening crops of corn and pumpkins, or trees heavy with ripe apples, or vines of juicy grapes. Conjure up the smells and sounds of walking through crunchy, dry leaves in the woods; the chattering of squirrels and songs of birds. Say: “Spirits of the Earth, I call you.”

Now remain in place at the North because you are also going to call on the Earth and Sky or your divine creator (or both), as you choose.

Feel your feet firmly planted, benevolent energy coming from the ground. Say: “Mother Earth, I call on you for your blessings and protection.”

Next, visualize blessings or energy coming from above. Say: “Father Sky, I call on you on for your blessings and protection.”

Alternatively, you can call on the deity of your choice, or say something like: “Spirit of the Universe, watch over this circle and fill it with peace and love.” Again, make this your own so it is meaningful for you.

Now imagine you are in that beautiful sphere of positive energy, gratitude and wonder. You are loved and protected and part of nature. You may now choose to say: “Thank you. The circle is cast.”

Inside the Circle

What you do inside of this circle is up to you. You can perform magic, pray or meditate. Perhaps you will think about how fall is an opportunity to let go of what no longer serves you to make room for new growth.

I will take some time to reflect on the season of harvest and the concept of abundance, and the gratitude I feel.

Finally, I will honor my ancestors for leading the way for me. I will drink the offering of apple juice and eat the bread.

Finishing and Clearing Up

After you have finished your contemplation, invocation, prayer, meditation or other work, it is time to open the circle back up — basically, to undo it. To do this, you essentially work backwards. But some people do this differently and never go in a counter-clockwise direction. It’s up to you.

Stand and face the West (water) and say, “Spirits of Water, I thank you.” (Or whatever feels right in the moment. I empty the water.

Then, turn to the South (Fire) and say, “Spirits of Fire, I thank you.” I then extinguish the flame.

Next turn to the East (Air) and say, “Spirits of Air, I thank you.” I extinguish my incense.

Finally, turn to the North (Earth) and say, “Spirits of the Earth, I thank you.” I toss a bit of the grain away in the grass.

If you have invoked Mother Earth, Father Sky and/or other spirits, angels, or deities, you would now thank them.

To finish, you can say something positive, like “Go in peace and love” or “Goodbye and farewell” or “I walk in light and love” or whatever feels right. There are many suggestions online.

Collect your items, sweep away the salt, and perhaps leave the crystals outside in the full moon overnight to recharge their energies.

Consider following this ritual by gazing at the full moon in happy contemplation or taking a warm bath with scented epsom salts.

If you try this, I would love to hear about it! It sounds complex, but I think you will find it is rather fun and easy!

Disclaimer. This ritual is combined from several sources, as well as my own spin on the harvest moon theme. I mean no offense or disrespect to Wicca, Paganism or any other religion. I am a Christian, and my personal belief is you can employ creative rituals without compromising religious beliefs and connections as long as they are done in love and not to effect an outcome in other people or events, just as with prayer or affirmations. Some Christians disagree and I intend no disrespect or offense to them. This post and the activity are for entertainment purposes only.

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Tomorrow is the Mid-Autumn Festival

Have you heard of the Mid-Autumn Festival? In Asian cultures, this holiday is second only to the Lunar New Year.

It is a harvest festival, much like the American holiday, Thanksgiving. During this festival, families travel and gather together for a special meal. But instead of a turkey, the main feature of the festival is the moon cake.

Moon cakes are made of many different kinds of ingredients, but the most traditional one have bean paste and an egg yolk baked inside. They are delicious, sweet and rich. One tradition is to divide the moon cake for as many family members as you have, and to eat it with tea. Another is to put out a moon cake, fruit and other foods on an outdoor table or altar for the Moon Goddess.

The characters you see on stamped on the crust of Moon Cakes often indicate the bakery where it was made. You can buy them at most Asian supermarkets and bakeries this time of year.


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Day of the Dead Altar at the Mexican Cultural Institute

La Catrina – In Mexican folk culture, the Catr...

Image via Wikipedia

November 1st, the Day of the Dead, is one of the most important traditional holidays in Mexico.  Through November 23rd, the Mexican Cultural Institute will showcase its traditional and impressive Day of the Dead Altar.  Admission is free (street meter parking).

For many celebrants, the offering is the most significant attribute of the commemoration, and is based on the belief that the dead return to enjoy the essence and aroma of gifts of food and drink provided to them by their family members. In this way, the celebration revolves around welcoming and bidding farewell to souls.

Visit the Altar through November 23rd

Monday – Friday 10:00 am to 6:00 pm

Saturdays from November 11th,  12:00 to 4:00 pm


2829 16th Street NW, Washington, DC, 20009

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Comic Epitaphs from the Very Best Old Graveyards

This is a sweet, old slim volume from Peter Pauper Press.  Here are a few selections:

For a dentist:

Stranger tread
This ground with gravity
Dentist Brown is filling
His last cavity

On a music teacher:

Stephen and Time
Are both now even
Stephen beat time
Now Time beat Stephen

A Bedford Tombstone

Here lies my wife
In earthy mould
Who when she lived
Did naught but scold

Good friends go softly
In your walking
Lest she should wake
And rise up talking

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Harvest Moon Tonight – time to get a moon cake!

Tonight is the full moon for October.  This moon is known as the Harvest Moon.  Traditions across many cultures are associated with the rise of this large and beautiful moon.

In this area, you can purchase moon cakes in celebration of the mid-Autumn festival, which is celebrated by some Chinese and Vietnamese communities.  The Chinese moon cakes tend to be round and the Vietnamese ones tend to be square.  They are often decorated with lotus motifs and come in a variety of flavors.

Locally, you can purchase moon cakes at Eden Center in Falls Church, Virginia, where I purchased the one in the picture.

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