In Praise of Pumpkins
I have always had a fascination with pumpkins. As a child I enjoyed Christmas and Thanksgiving and all the other holidays we surround our year with, but Halloween was special. Halloween spoke of ghosts, ghouls, witches and all the primal fears that children delight in. One of the most important rituals of my childhood was the carving of the pumpkins. From the slimy hands caused by raking out pumpkin brains to the joy of being allowed, just this once, to use a sharp knife to carve my pumpkin, this was the one activity that I dreamed and planned for through the year.
As an adult, fall still holds all the magick I felt as a child. As a Witch, Samhain is the beginning of the long night, both figuratively and literally and the holiday has gained even more importance in my life.
My family has a small farm in rural Colorado. This spring I claimed a small patch of land, with black fertile earth and lots of water to be my pumpkin patch. My lover and I blessed the land in the old ways, under a full moon, both of us feeling the earth below us, welcoming our love and energy. I cleared the land, raked and hoed, dug irrigation ditches and lovingly planted my pumpkins.
I was ecstatic when the first shoots sprung up from the earth, with reluctance I thinned the shoots leaving only the strongest to continue. I was shocked when my dainty little shoots sent out vines more then twenty feet from their roots, aggressively claiming the water and sunlight.
As I sat in my patch, weeding out the damn wild peas and other unwanted visitors, my mind delighted with the feel of the earth under my hands, much as I would touch a lover. I felt the sun touching, loving and warming the body of the earth. At times I had to struggle to shut down my metaphor detector, to stop analyzing all the wonderful data, and just enjoy.
In time the yellow flowers on my pumpkin vines swelled and produced small, round bulbs. I began to worry about how big my pumpkins would be. I planted true pumpkins, that would grow ten to fifteen pounds, and a pumpkin and squash hybrid that would grow up to eighty pounds. It was late June and I only had 2 inch bulbs.
Summer sped by, we were busy keeping the weeds away from the grapes and the apple trees, keeping the birds out of the garden and repairing the adobe barn which has a tendency to wash away in the rain.
One morning, not long after sunrise I walked out to my pumpkin patch. Through the light mist hugging the ground I faced my first real pumpkin. It was about the size of a basketball and beckoned me like a siren calling to a lonely sailor. As I looked through the many leaves I found more pumpkins, small bulbs to basketball sized giants.
July and August swelled my pumpkins beyond my dreams. I would kneel in my patch, weeding and slapping misquotes, dreaming of pumpkin pies and carving my beauties.
In early October we harvested my pumpkins. Some went to neighboring covens as gifts, some went to friends, the rest we kept stacked in the barn under hay to protect them from the frost.
Finally Samhain arrived. My coven joined with friends and loved ones for a feast and ritual. The children, after plundering the neighborhood for treats, helped carved our quarter pumpkins. We designed one each for earth, air, fire and water. Near midnight we processed out to the circle, which was in the corner of a friends alfalfa field. My pumpkins were at the quarters, waiting for us, flickering with a warm welcoming light. We spoke of our loved ones who have passed to Summerland, we said our good-bys and dealt with our grief. My pumpkins kept a silent vigil with us.
After the ritual, I sat by the circle, wrapped in my cloak against the cold. My pumpkins' lights slowly flickered out, one by one. I gave silent thanks to my now dark friends, each of them seeming more sinister because of their darkened countenances.
The next morning I went out to clean up the ritual circle. The frost had shrunken my pumpkins faces until they looked like shriveled old men who had seen too much of the world. I loaded them into a wheelbarrow and took them to the chicken coop.
I watched with morbid fascination as the chickens picked chunks out of their shrunken faces, as if they were stars in some grade B horror movie.
My pumpkin patch is now sleeping beneath an inch of snow. The shriveled vines littering the patch are white with frost. The land sleeps, regaining her strength. Thanksgiving and Yule will soon come, but my heart looks to the spring and the planting of my pumpkins.
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