Thursday, October 17, 2019

Origins: All Saint's Day, All Hallows, Samhein, Dia de los Muertos

The origins of Halloween, may have begun with Roman festivals of harvest, but is typically linked to the Celtic festival of Samhain (pronounced sow-an or sow-in)",which is derived from the Old Irish and means roughly "summer's end."

The festival of Samhain celebrates the end of the "lighter half" of the year, and beginning of the "darker half", and is sometimes regarded as the Celtic New Year.

It is believed that the border between this world and the otherworld became thin on Samhain, allowing spirits (both harmless and harmful) to pass through.

All Saints Day, or All Hallows or Hallowmas, is a Christian feast day celebrated on November 1, or the first Sunday after Pentecost.

It a day meant to honor all of the saints, both known and unknown. Because Halloween preceded this feast day, that day actually took it's name from this feast day and thus became "The Eve of All Hallows', and eventually 'Hallowe'en'.

In the Christian West, All Saints Day honors those who have attained beatific vision in heaven, while November 2, All Soul's Day, commemorates the departed faithful who have not been so purified and entered heaven.

In the tradition of using holy names taken from the Greek, early names such as All Hallowmas referred to hallowed or saintly, and mas, to the early Christian mass.

The Day of the Dead (Día de los Difuntos or Día de los Muertos) is a holiday celebrated mainly in Mexico and the Mexican immigrant community living in the United States.

The holiday is based on the complicated blended cultures of their ancestors, the Aztec and Maya, and the Spanish invaders, layered with Catholicism.

For more than 500 years, the goddess Mictecacihuatl (Lady of the Dead) presided over Aztec harvest rituals using fires and incense, costumes of animal skins, images of their dead and offerings of ceramics, personal goods, flowers and foods, drink and flowers.

The Aztec, Mayan and other indigenous traditions have enriched the Mexican's attitude about death. From these ancestors has come the knowledge that souls continue to exist after death, resting placidly in Mictlan, the land of the dead, not for judgment or resurrection; but for the day each year when they could return home to visit their loved ones.

Los Dias de Los Muertos is a time for remembering friends, family and ancestors. In the Mexican tradition, people die three deaths.

The first death is when our bodies cease to function; when our hearts no longer beat of their own accord, when our gaze no longer has depth or weight, when the space we occupy slowly loses its meaning.

The second death comes when the body is lowered into the ground, returned to mother earth, out of sight.

The third death, the most definitive death, is "when there is no one left alive to remember us."

The act of preparing an altar by placing photographs, flowers, candles, favorite foods and drink of the loved one provides a special time to remember, and to transform grief into acceptance.

The living invite the spirits of the family to return home for a few hours of laughter, tears and memories.

Once the night has passed, and the spirits have returned to their world, the ones remaining know that for another year they have triumphed in the struggle of life and that the only way to celebrate death is to live with courage.

Beware of the following superstitions of olde!

• Many people used to consider that owls would dive down to eat the souls of the dying on Halloween. They believed that if you pulled your own pockets out, and left them hanging, the dying would be safe. (Good to know, especially the next time you get caught with your pockets hanging out from the dryer!)

• To ward off evil spirits on Halloween, bury all the animal bones in your front yard, or even put a picture of an animal very close to your doorway. (I'll assume they mean collected wishbones and leftovers from Thanksgiving for the burials, and not those of anyone else, for the photos.)

• People used to believe you could walk around your house three times backwards before sunset on Halloween, and that would take care of all evil. (Next time you can't find the kids for dinner, remember you're keeping your family safe at the same time.)

• It has been said if a bat flies into your house on Halloween, it is a sign that ghosts or spirits are very nearer, and maybe they are in your home and let the bat in. (Living in the country, I've had bats in my house on several occasions. My friends claim they live in my own 'belfry', as well.)

• People used to believe that if bats are out early on Halloween, and they fly around playfully, then good weather is to come. (The bats in my belfry are beyond playful. I've been known to be borderline manic.)

• If a bat flies around your house three times on Halloween, death is very soon to come. (Doesn't this negate the good luck of the above?)

• It could be the spirit of a dead loved one watching you, if you watch a spider on Halloween. (And if you're watching, do so respectfully, and don't squish them!)

• Going in for what was once called a 'dumb' supper, meaning that nobody will talk while having supper, encourages the spirits to come to the table. (Well, not only is that term antiquated and not p.c., most families today with teenagers suffer from this predicament, so it's no wonder that most teenagers appear possessed.)

• It is believed that if an unmarried girl keeps a rosemary herb and a silver sixpence under her pillow on Halloween night, it is quite likely that on that very night, she would dream of her future husband. (If you have young daughter's, check their pillows tonight and remove those sixpence.)

• It is said that if you hear someone's footsteps behind you on the Halloween night, you should not turn back because it may be a dead following you. And if you commit the mistake of looking back, it is likely that you might join the dead very soon. (You just can't win on this one. I'm staying home and wearing ear plugs.)

• People believe that if on the Halloween night, a girl carrying a lamp in her hand goes to a spring of water, she will see the reflection of her life partner in water. (This sounds dangerous to me, especially if you believe in the superstition just above, and the one following you is already dead. Sure wouldn't want him for my life partner.)

• People have a superstition that if an unmarried girl carries a broken egg in a glass and takes it to a spring of water, she will be able to catch the glimpse of not just her future husband, by mixing some spring water in the glass, but also she can see the reflection of her future kids.

(OK, this is just too much. Now we are being followed by the dead, stuck with them for life and sharing common ghouls.)

• There is the old saying that "black cats are bad luck". It was once believed that black cats were the devil, or consumed by evil spirits. (I 've had several black cats, I loved them dearly, they slept with me every night. Time for an exorcism. Now, do I exorcise all black cats or just me?)

• People used to believe that Satan was a nut-gatherer. Nuts were also used as magic charms on the day of Halloween festival. (At this point, I'm feeling nutty. I think the exorcism has to be on me.)

• If you put your clothes on inside out as well as outside walk backwards on Halloween night. At midnight you will see a witch in the sky. People used to believe witches were the devil, or that they were consumed by evil. (I've been known to do both, on a fairly consistent basis. No wonder I run into so many witchy people and was gifted with a sign that says "If the broom fits, ride it"! It fit and I do.

• There is also an old saying "if the flame on your candle goes out on Halloween celebration; it gives you the meaning that you are with a ghost". (Stocking up on matches, lighters, and battery powered lanterns)

• If you ring a bell on Halloween it will frighten evil spirits away. (Ding!)


My own symbolic representation of this celebration. 

Our dining table set up with some of the traditional crepe paper roses, art cards and figurines as symbolic representations of both life and death, candles to light the way for the dead, goblets of water, candy, and packets of the salt.

By using symbolic items to represent the spirit of the dead, we honor them and their courage and ability to survive the physical world and live a life everlasting. 

We honor these days to symbolically keep the thin wall between us separated during the rest of the year. We remain safe in the present while we remember and honor the past.

My  little trio of holiday flags, given as an October gift.  These simple burlap and felt banners can be seen as prayer flags for those in their colorful costumes and festive spirit and not those darker aspects of this season that so many shy away from.

Michele Bilyeu Creates With Heart and Hands as she shares her imaginative, magical, and healing journey from Alaska to Oregon. Creating, designing, sewing, quilting, and wildcrafting... from my heart and with my hands. Mo

Monday, October 07, 2019

A Hmong Story Quilt of Gratitude and Love

Stitched into this beautiful applique and cross-stitched story quilt is the lifelong gratitude of a young girl and her Hmong family seeking refuge from warfare in their native Thailand with a church group family in Salem, Oregon in the 1970s.

MaiChue Her was only 9 years old when she and her father and brothers and sisters boarded an airplane for the United States of America. They were sick, scared, speaking no English and on their first airplane ride, ever.

Met by Pauline Mather, a member of the sponsoring Westminster Presbyterian Church in Salem and a nurse, the young girl MaiChue Her thought she'd been saved by an angel.

Read their heart touching story here and the history of the quilt stitched by Chue frim 9 years old on as gifts of gratitude to her mother/sister Pauline throughout her life.

Eventually, Salem became one of the centers in the U.S. for the beautiful Hmong people and their culture for many,  many decades with an ever growing community living here throughout the following decades.

Chue and her family and kinswomen made and sold textiles arts for our Salem Art Fair and am fortunate to own a number of very small pieces of their work and one bigger one. Treasures to the eyes and heart.

I reviously blogged about the Hmong people here on my blog.

I wrote then:

The Hmong (pronounced mung) are an ancient tribe of mountain people who originally migrated from China to the mountains of Laos, where they made their homes in the mid-nineteenth century. Ironically, the word 'Hmong' means 'free'.

The Hmong people cherish the concepts of freedom and liberty and it shows in the unusual free-spirited fabric arts that they create.

The history of Hmong needlework involves both ancient traditions and the more recent adaptions from their survival in refugee camps in Laos, Thailand and Vietnam.

They were strong supporters of the United States during the Vietnam war and were in grave danger after the war. Forced into the refugee camps, many later immigrated to the U.S .and other supportive countries.

A large contingency of Hmong refugees settled here, in Oregon. It quickly became apparent, that the Hmong needle crafts were unique and possessed a unique ability to capture both their cultural traditions and the history of their lives in their lovely work.

Possibly, the most difficult of these was their reverse applique meaning "Flower cloth"given to commemorate special occasions.

It incorporates cross-stitch patterns of snails, elephant footprints, trees and celestial stars. As they integrated into our own culture they began to use some of our own designs such as hearts and swirls and have had incredible success with their small stuffed animals which are highly appealing to young and old.

Shown in my own small collection:
Hmong embroidered pillow, 
small puse and 3 pins.

Whether a pillow, a bag, a cell phone holder, a stuffed animal or a simple patch applied to blue jeans, their delicate handiwork is always a wonderful token of friendship and blessing.


Michele Bilyeu Creates With Heart and Hands as she shares her imaginative, magical, and healing journey from Alaska to Oregon. Creating, designing, sewing, quilting, and wildcrafting... from my heart and with my hands.

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Reaching Out With Joy and Blessings

There is only a single, urgent task: to attach oneself someplace to nature, to that which is strong, striving and bright with unreserved readiness, and then to move forward in one’s efforts without any calculation or guile, even when engaged in the most trivial and mundane activities.

Each time we thus reach out with joy, each time we cast our view toward distances that have not yet been touched, we transform not only the present moment and the one following but alter the past within us, weave it into the pattern of our existence, and dissolve the foreign body whose exact composition we ultimately do not know.”

Rainer Marie Rilke
Letters on Life page 7

Our sunflowers come up year after year. Thriving and reseeding with very limited attention or care. They give me great hope in perseverance,  hope, and survival in spite of all challenges.  I choose hope, joy and finding beauty all around me.

And a deep faith and sustaining belief that all sentient beings are connected to and with nature. If sunflowers can grow with such abundance and exhuberance of spirit then so can we all.

No matter what our challenges or problems, fill your hearts with hope that we can all persevere through any and all trials and tribulations.

Even in the darkest hours of adversity, strength can pull us through.

After a lifetime of helping others,  even the  kindness of strangers is now being returned and it brings me to tears  with gratitude. 

Here a gift from volunteers at the Willamette Cancer Care Institute where my daughter is holding strong after chemo Round 3 of 6. 

These gifts and their message of caring lifting her spirits and mine.  Thank you for these lovely blessings. 

Especially those who have sent caring messages and donations:

Bless you and thank you from all of us.

On my home front of keeping my heart filled with love and hope and my hands busy with helping others. 

And two quilt tops pieced, backing selected and pieced and donated to our charitable quilting group for hand tieing by our dynamic duo of lovely  ladies!

Keeping busy, spending time with family, having a day to give to community quilting and blanket making at a local church with a lovely bunch of ladies and gents from our extended community.

 Keeping up my spirits and rejoicing in every good day and survival of harder days. 
But its it's all going as well as challenges can be. 

Fabrics of all kinds have gotten so expensive!  Thank goodness I love scrap quilting and I hit the sales big time for fleece sales!  

Not cheap even at 60% off or as low as $3.99 yd when you need 3.5 yds for a double sided chatitable blanket! Our group has limited funds and we do our best to save what funds are in the donation pot for expenses. 

Hit those free cycle tables and garage sales and share with charitable groups when you know its still sitting and sitting in your stash. 

Boy, do we go through our scrap bins big time!

Michele Bilyeu Creates With Heart and Hands as she shares her imaginative, magical, and healing journey from Alaska to Oregon. Creating, designing, sewing, quilting, and wildcrafting... from my heart and with my hands.