Fall Rituals to Make this Season More Magical

Trickles down the spine and slight prickles of hair on the back of the neck help alert our ancient instincts that fall is creeping in. On the outside we notice the shimmering blankets of red, orange and gold above us. Below us we relish the sight of quilted yellow and purple fields, bursting with goldenrod and New England asters.

But on the inside we feel something much older. We sense something stirring just below the surface. For me it manifests as butterflies in the stomach or goosebumps on my arms as I step out into a crisp fall day. The urgency of the wind calls to me. The scent of the decomposing leaves both caresses and warns me at the same time.

Now is the moment for preparation, reflection, and revelry. Humans were meant to go into a sort of hibernation during the winter. At least to draw within, learn new crafts and skills in the dark hours, and slumber after a long hot season’s work. Therefore fall is the time we are meant to expel one more outward burst of energy before the winter snow. Of course the ancient laws of hibernation rarely apply in our modern lives, but there are rituals we can preform during the fall to honor this important transitional period.

The hardest part is to make the time. Because of its fleeting nature, it is all too easy to blink and see fall flash before your eyes. By capturing little moments in your day, you can make the most of this magical season. I’ve gathered a bundle of my favorite rituals to share with you hear in hopes of inspiring you to find your own traditions.

Make Grzaniec (an ancient Polish herbal mulled wine)

Connecting with our ancestors is one of the most important aspects of fall when the veil is thinnest. Cooking or brewing recipes that our lineage once did is a great way to strengthen this connection. Mulled wine is a coveted drink amongst many cultures around the world. The Russians have a version called dusheparka, the Swedes call it glögg, and the Italians have vin brulé. My Polish lineage enjoys grzaniec. Though it is most commonly enjoyed for Christmas, I liked to brew up a batch when the nights turn chilly in autumn. It goes perfect with a spooky movie or book by the fire.

Here is a quick recipe for grzaniec:

  • 1 quart of Red Wine, such as Cabernet Sauvignon

  • 1/2 cup Local Honey

  • 1 Cinnamon Stick

  • 5 whole Cloves, lightly crushed

  • 1 whole Nutmeg

  • 1/2 Bay leaf

  • 2 tablespoons sweet fern

  • 1 tablespoon Orange Zest

I put the wine and honey into a slow cooker. I then put the herbs into a cheesecloth bag to make it easier to strain and infuse the bag into the wine for a few hours. Once the concoction is aromatic, serve hot in a mug.

Crafting Wild Fall Spices

The woods come alive in the fall not just with colors, but scents. Harvesting some of these aromatics and grinding them into spices preserves the essence of this season for months to come. Custom spice blends are also great holiday gifts and offerings. I also happen to think autumn is the best season to get out and wildcraft as the bugs have disappeared and the weather is brisk and inviting.

A few custom wildcrafted spice blends to consider:

  • sweet fern and juniper: I talk about sweet fern often because I believe is is an underrated herb and is plentiful in my neck of the woods. The sweet cinnamon taste pairs perfectly with the warm spiciness of the juniper.

  • wormwood and mint: the potency of the wormwood is balanced well by the cool pungency of the mint. Using wormwood and mint in a food dish also helps to make the meal more digestible as both herbs help to stimulate the digestive system. You can find wormwood growing in disturbed areas and mint grows almost anywhere it can get its runners on, especially moist partially shaded areas.

  • sassafras and sage: sassafras has been an important ingredient in Creole and Cajun cooking, as well as to the indigenous peoples of America. It has an astringent lemony taste that blends well with the warm camphor of the sage. Use the dried sassafras leaves in the blend.

Create Your Own Personal Harvest Festival

While harvest festivals are common throughout the country and a fun way to connect to the community, they can be a bit void of spiritual significance. Ancient cultures used harvest festivals as times to thank the gods for a prosperous season, connect to ancestors who have passed on, and look forward to another year.

We can preform our own harvest festivals or ancestor feasts according to our culture. As a person with a Polish Slavic descent, I look to the harvest festival of Święto Plonów for inspiration. Besides lighting bonfires, huge wreaths were made to honor the season, and kołacz (a type of baked bread) was the ritual food of importance.

Obviously not every aspect of your culture’s harvest festival will be able to be followed, but look for the small intimate rituals that you can incorporate into your life.

Make Herbal Syrups from Harvest Leftovers

Even after all herbs have been harvested, there are always a few stragglers that pop up before the hard frosts take them back to the underworld. Try savoring the last of your herb garden by making herbal syrups for cocktails and mocktails. Some of my favorite herbal syrups are:

  • anise hyssop

  • basil

  • rosemary

  • bee balm

  • mint

Stock the Apothecary for Winter

The urgency we feel as autumn engulfs the land urges us into preparation mode. Let it take over. Making sure our home apothecaries are stocked for the cold and flu season is not only satisfying intuitively, but also saves us stress when or if sickness strikes. Whether you harvest and make your own medicine or shop your local herb shop, it helps to have even a few remedies on hand.

My go to fall prep medicines are:

  • fire cider: I make my own ACV from the discarded apples of a friend’s tree then infuse them in all sorts of anti-bacterial spicy goodness.

  • mushroom blend tinctures: making sure the immune system is up to par can help prevent getting sick in the first place. Having a blend of potent medicinal mushrooms can help you stay healthy.

  • elderberry syrup: besides being delicious, this berrylicious syrup can be useful when a cold does rear its ugly head. The syrupy texture also helps to soothe a sore throat.

  • peppermint and tea tree essential oils: I always have these two on hand in case of sinus congestion. Using these as a steam inhalation helps to loosen the phlegm in the nasal cavity so that it can be expelled.

  • bright teas: winters can be long in the northwoods, and keeping the body healthy mentally and emotionally is just as important as the physical. Having a tea ritual with bright herbs help to keep the spirit lifted. A few of my favorite herbs for these teas is chamomile, rose, tulsi, lemon balm, and lemon verbena.

Regardless of your schedule, there are always little moments where you can make time to incorporate intimate rituals. As long as you are mindful of being present in that moment, a moment is all you need to enjoy this season.

Valerie Elkhorn