Cultivating Autumnal Magic for Writers
Cultivating Autumnal Magic for Writers
It may not be autumn where you are, or it may still feel like summer, but that doesn’t mean you can’t use the magic of the autumn season in your writing! Even in Florida, where I grew up, the seasons didn’t change in the typical sense. (Unless you count hurricane season, that is!) Yet I was still able to find some autumnal magic in the tropical landscape of my childhood. Halloween, for me, will always be linked to the scent of the night-blooming cereus (it smells how you think candy corn will taste) and the orange-hued streetlights of my childhood trick-or-treating days made the season feel appropriately magical…and spooky!
Read on for ways to use the magic of autumn to harvest the rewards of your own creativity…
Autumn Equinox (Mabon): September 22
Samhain, Halloween, All Hallows’ Eve/Day, el Día de la Muertos: October 31 – November 2
Harvest, Feasting, Fire, Warmth, Moon, New Year, the Dead/Ancestors/Spirit World, Ghosts, Pumpkins, Apples (For a more in-depth look, check out https://irishmyths.com.)
Making your Creativity Altar
Thrift stores and antique stores could be a great place to start, as they often have plenty of harvest/autumn-themed décor that can be reused or repurposed.
Here’s some suggestions of items for your creativity altar or writing space:
- Artificial pumpkins or gourds—try painting them with meaningful designs or symbols.
- Harvest swags to add autumnal color to your altar.
- Halloween- or Thanksgiving-themed décor. Brooms or straw from country-style décor can be used to make things like corn dollys. The kitschy ribbons can be used to decorate glass jars and bowls to hold your talismans, stones, herbs, or anything else you might find inspiring.
- Representative figurines (see the section “Communing with Autumn’s Nature and Animal Guides) or landscapes/artwork. These could symbolize aspects of your characters, their favourite things (or yours), and the settings that they move through. You could also expand your altar to include mini-dioramas that capture particular manuscripts you’re working on (similar to a vision board), or keep it more general by including elements that you’re regularly drawn to when you create your works. Feel free to take your imagery out of the realm of the representative/figurative and go abstract.
- Patterned fabric to cover your altar. Again, try your thrift stores, or check in at your local fabric store as they often have remnants that you can buy and reuse for other projects or for next year’s autumnal altar.
- Go to your local library or bookstore and ask for recommendations for books with a seasonal theme.
Communing with Autumn’s Nature and Spirit Guides
- Found objects in your own backyard or in nature that you could add to your creativity altar or simply arrange around your writing space. When you’re out in nature, look for branches with unusual shapes or stones with distinctive forms or colors. I’d recommend looking for items on the ground rather than taking them from living trees and bushes. Then, once the season is over, you could return the found objects back to nature (preferably to the ecosystem they were originally in). This allows you to clear out the altar and its energy for the next creative cycle.
- As soon as leaves start to fall off the trees, you may feel compelled to break out the rake or the leaf blower. But it’s better to let the leaves pile up in your yard. This provides a valuable mini-ecosystem for small creatures as well as being free fertilizer/mulch for your trees, plants and even the soil. You could even take this one step further, and make your own composting bin. If you don’t have your own yard, head to your nearest park and find a pile of leaves to frolic in!
- Incorporate certain power animals into your stories or poems, if you can. Or connect with nonhuman animals that not only resonate with you but lend their elemental energy to your writing. Squirrels, for example, are not only industrious but strategic planners in a way, and they conserve their energy by taking advantage of the slower rhythm as the world hibernates around them. It may seem counterproductive to slow down your literary output, but your work will be richer as a result. Other critters to build connections with: owls, foxes, coyotes, hedgehogs, badgers, rats/mice, and sparrows.
- In addition to slowing down and appreciating the creative process, autumn is a good time to focus on relationships and/or your livespace. Consider prepping your home for maximum coziness as the days shorten and the weather turns colder. This could also be a good time to make space for a shelter animal that needs a forever home—plus, they make great writing companions!
- And, perhaps, instead of having a turkey on your plate, you could symbolically adopt a turkey that’s in a sanctuary. After all, November is “Adopt a Turkey Month.” Here’s a couple of sites to learn more: https://www.farmsanctuary.org/adopt-a-turkey/ and https://therileyfarmrescue.org/adopt-a-turkey. Truly terrifying turkey trivia: The shape of male turkey poop is generally different from that of a female turkey; J-shaped in the male, coil or spiral-shaped in the female.
Sustaining Mind, Body, Spirit…and Tummy!
Before I pick up the pen/pencil (or keyboard), I take the time to transition not only myself, but the space around me. While I can write as my schedule, time, or environment demands, I find that performing certain rituals helps me focus my energy and my mind. Going through my creativity rituals has helped me be more efficient in terms of time management and in managing my writing habits.
- These stones/metals can be placed on your creativity altar, around your workspace, or in a pocket while you write. Copper (grounding), Carnelian (fire), Moonstone (guiding light), Tiger’s Eye and Obsidian (both protective and strengthening forces).
- Candles (good colour choices to enhance creativity during this time are brown, orange, and black). Seasonal scents (where available): cranberry, wood smoke, pumpkin, apple cider, mulled wine. You can also get a candle-making kit and reuse the wax leftover when your candle flickers out, and even add essential oils of your choice. Consider more eco-friendly candle choices, like soy wax and lead-free wicks.
- Background music or sounds: Something low-pitched and rhythmic, perhaps with drums, chanting, cellos, sounds of whales communicating, or a crackling fire.
- Try writing on paper over the computer, using pencils or refillable fountain pens. (There are more sustainable options for paper and pencils out there as well.)
- Warming and comforting foods like stews (explore different varieties of beans), soups (split pea), and casseroles will not only ground you, they’ll help fortify you for the coming winter. Nourishing fruits and vegetables could include squash, corn, tomatoes, potatoes, and pumpkin, of course! I’ve included my own recipe that’s my go-to breakfast for crisp autumn mornings:
Harvest your Creativity with these Writing Exercises
After your altar/livespace is decorated, your candles are flickering, and your music/soundscape is playing softly in the background, use these writing exercises to reap the rewards of your imagination.
- Remember those leaves I recommended you let pile up on the ground? How would your character(s) interact with a big pile of fall leaves? Do they find joy by stomping through them? Do they pick up handfuls and throw them up in the air to see the colours sparkle in the sun, or do they toss them at their companion and start a leaf fight? Are they hesitant to walk through them for some reason? Imagine what could be hidden under those vibrantly beautiful leaves. How would the nonhuman animals I’ve listed above interact with the pile of leaves?
- Create memories for your character(s) that involve the autumn season and/or its holidays. They can be good memories, or not-so-good memories. How does the character come to terms with these memories and their past?
- If the character lives in an urban environment, what signifies the beginning of autumn for them? Create settings that are removed from nature but which still bear a connection to autumn.
- How would the autumn season be represented in another world, in another dimension, or on another planet? How would you, as a writer, still make it identifiable as a season of harvest while having it be distinctive and unusual? Would autumn even matter in the same context that it does on Earth? What sort of holidays or celebrations would they have that might take the place of clear seasonal shifts?
- What new symbols could represent autumn, not only in urban environments, or on planets/worlds with more advanced technology, but in a near-future world impacted by climate change?
- How could you redefine the symbolism that’s typically associated with autumn, including the nonhuman animals listed above, as well as trees, plants, birds, insects, bugs, and more? What new myths, rituals, magic, spells, and other like ceremonies could you create? These can be sinister, of course, but don’t forget the motivation or the background needed to make them more believable.
- What sort of spooky campfire tales would your character(s) spin? Or, take an entirely new stab at the around-the-campfire/cabin-in-the-woods setting with your written work.
- Go full on trick-or-treat candy bag, and mix up genres and mediums in new ways to create deliciously spooky short stories, haunting poetry, or chilling flash fiction.
Has this got all of you as excited for autumn as I am? If so, share pics of your autumnal creativity altars, your bedecked writing space, and your favorite harvest recipes with Horror Tree (#HorrorTreeAutumn) on Facebook, Twitter @HorrorTree, and Instagram, or make the Horror Tree staff “tremble with fear” by sending in your spooky seasonal spec fic stories to their always-open Trembling With Fear submission call: https://horrortree.com/submissions/.
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“Cat Whisperer” Kirsten Lee Barger has written articles on everything from cats to a piece about the “Di Wae Powa: They Came Back” homecoming event (Special thanks to Executive Director Karl Duncan and the Poeh Cultural Center: https://poehcenter.org/diwaepowa/.). In addition to befriending not only feral cats (as well as skunks and the occasional chipmunk or squirrel), she strives to support authors with everything from editing services to book coaching, and more. Find her on LinkedIn, here: https://www.linkedin.com/in/kirsten-lee-barger-4a984a49/ or visit her at her website: https://kirsten-lee-barger.mailchimpsites.com/.