Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Feeding Your Spirit(s) at Celtic Halloween with Guest Author Cait Johnson

It's a magical time of the year, so I'm posting this extra treat today, the day before Hallowe'en. Put that candy away and enjoy some serious food for body and soul! I'm delighted to welcome my beautiful, brilliant friend Cait Johnson, author of Witch in the Kitchen, whose prose and recipes are both delicious. Dig in! ~ Sheila 

Feeding Your Spirit(s) at Samhain, the Celtic Halloween

by Cait Johnson

Samhain is one of my favorite holy-days, for the whiff of deep magic that still attends it: despite all the K-Mart costumes and cheap Halloween candy, when the wintry wind blows the garish draperies aside, Samhain reveals the bones of ancient earth-honoring traditions.

What's not to love about a time when, as some of us so quaintly put it, the veil between the worlds is thin? It means we get to ask our beloved dead for advice, and commune with them, setting a place at the table with a bite and a sip of everything we're having, just in case they drop by. Samhain is a time to make dishes our ancestors would have enjoyed, honoring our beloved dead with food, served with gratitude for the abundance of this beautiful planet of ours.

Many years ago, when I was away from home for the first time, my Grannie shipped a package of her special corn muffins to the unfamiliar dorm room where I was fighting homesickness. She baked them in an antique cast-iron mold that produced muffins in the shape of miniature ears of corn, and they made me feel so comforted and loved. So tomorrow I will make a batch of those muffins, using the mold I inherited from her, and my table will include a plate and cup for her and for my two dear friends who died 18 days apart this past March. It's all part of a process, one of which I am proud to be a part.

Ours is not a culture that deals well with death. But every year, along comes Samhain with its opportunity to take the terror out of it, to make it feel like what it is: a natural part of life. By giving us this magical excuse to feel close to our dear ones who have passed on, Samhain familiarizes us with the Mystery.

The traditions we practice at Samhain are partly the products of fertile imaginations—we're flying, not on broomsticks, but by the seats of our pants—because so many Western European pagan traditions have been lost in the mists of time. But some hints remain: the jack o'lanterns that were once carved from turnips to guide our dead ones home (and to keep undesirables away), and the general Memento Mori spirit of the night.

Because of the whole thin-veil thing, it's also the best night of the year to do divination, which means my hearth will be heaped with Tarot cards, runestones, apples, and other traditional divination tools, and I'll be enjoying the deep peace of wandering in a more magical realm than the usual, at least for a few hours.

If you want to know more about Samhain and the seven other earth-based celebrations we get to enjoy every year, check out my Witch itthe Kitchen. Besides recipes, it includes magical  decorating tips, meditation suggestions, and ritual ideas.

Here's an idea for a Samhainy recipe that your dear ones, both living and dead, might enjoy:

Lovable Lentils in Pumpkin Bowls

This hearty, nourishing pottage is made especially lovable with the addition of marjoram, an herb long associated with love. Marjoram also has a mild anti-depressant effect, making this the perfect meal for the waning days and lengthening nights. Make a pot of it for the ones you love to remind yourself of the people and relationships that truly matter in your life. Using small pumpkins as serving bowls gives it a magically Samainy touch.


4 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
4 large carrots, scrubbed and sliced into 1/2-inch rounds
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 cups dried lentils
4 to 6 cups water or vegetable broth (more, if you'd rather make a soup than a stew)
2 teaspoons crumbled dried marjoram
sea salt to taste
6 to 8 small pumpkins, tops removed, and seeds and stringy glop removed

Heat the olive oil in a large soup pot and add the onions, sauteing gently until soft. Then add the carrots (those round orange reminders of the Samhain season), and garlic, and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes. Add the lentils and stir to coat with oil, then add the vegetable broth, starting with 4 cups and adding more if necessary, and the marjoram, adding your own loving thoughts into the pot along with it. Add the sea salt to taste.

Bring to a boil, cover, and simmer until lentils are tender, about 1 hour. Add more broth if the mixture is too dry, or uncover the pot if the mixture is too soupy.

Ladle into your pumpkin bowls and serve hot—with corn muffins, if you like!

Serves 6 to 8.

Cait Johnson has authored six works of spiritual non-fiction, including Celebrating the Great Mother (co-authored with Maura D. Shaw), a handbook of earth-honoring creative projects and ritual celebrations for parents and children; Witch in the Kitchen, which restores a sense of the sacred to cooking and eating; and Earth, Water, Fire, and Air, a look at the common elemental roots of the great religious traditions. She also writes poetry grounded in an appreciation of the sacredness in the everyday, feminist spirituality, and the interconnectedness of all things. She is currently faculty at the Stonecoast MFA in Creative Writing program at the University of Southern Maine, and is an Emeritus Fellow of the Black Earth Institute. She has trained with the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology and is a shamanic practitioner with a private practice as an intuitive counselor in the Hudson Valley, where she teaches workshops and facilitates rituals, creates goddess-centered art, and writes, directs, and performs in shamanic theatre pieces. Learn more at


Want to see something really scary? 
Come back tomorrow for a peek into horror-writer 
Cecilia Dockins's inner sanctum as we begin 
November's "where we write" series. 


  1. Fabulous post. I'm thinking that Cait's suggestions for honoring the dead would be well suited for the Jewish "yahrzeit" - the Yiddish term for anniversary of death, customarily marked by lighting a candle and saying a prayer. I'm looking forward to taking a look at some of her books, Earth, Water, Fire and Air.

  2. Great Post, thought you might like my machinima animation Samhain Song,
    a celebration of this magical pagan festival
    Bright Blessings By Star & Stone ~

  3. What a lovely post, Cait. Thank you!

  4. Most enjoyable post I've read in a long time. Thanks Cait Johnson :)

  5. Having just returned from a funeral home where people tried to celebrate a good man's life amidst grief and unfathomable loss last night, this is timely reminder that although people die, they are never gone. Thanks Cait and Sheila and Happy Samhain!

  6. Having just returned from a funeral home last night where friends and family tried to celebrate the life of a good man despite their grief and unfathomable loss, this is a timely reminder that although people die, they are never truly gone. Thank you Cait and Sheila and Happy Samhain!

  7. What a lovely tradition! So often in this world, people are preoccupied with what is proper or legitimate in ritual and belief. They forget the more important aspect: what our rituals are meant to teach or remind us about. Arlyn, that's a very good idea! It keeps traditions alive "from generation to generation" and gives me a new practice for yahrzeit.

  8. Very enjoyable write, you have the most interesting guests Sheila!