The moon festival (moon festivals are held from the autumn equinox to the beginning of the Far Pavilions’ new year) of Morchuria is held between the festivals of Oliach (autumn equinox) and Mordrach (midwinter) in the Grimalkin calendar. At this time the year descends into darkness and the observance marks the beginning of the winter. Morchuria is the Grimalkin remembrance festival where we ask those who have departed this mortal life to join us in our celebrations. Vigils are held in the forest, at barrows and burial cairns, in groves and in homes. Candles are lit and incense is burned to invite the departed and the spirits of the forest into the household to sing, dance and feast. All merriments are held in their honour. The official remembrance ceremony takes place in the Central Council Chamber and we sing songs and read poems to remember our loved ones.
After the initial ceremony and the invocation to the spirits at sunsdown, all gather at the torch-lit Henge and hold a banquet. Huge cauldrons of stew, casseroles and hot fruit puddings bubble deliciously over roaring fires, all washed down with hot spiced mead, warm fruit cordial or spiced milk. Balefires are lit under which potatoes and apples cook. All merriments honour the Great Mother in her Dark Aspect – the bringer of night, of winter, and of arcane secrets. All around the forest hollowed out ‘neeps glow with candles, their odd faces leering through the dark to frighten away evil.
Morchuria is also known as the Day of the Elders where the elders of the clowder are honoured and given gifts. Elders are the cornerstone of Grimalkin society – all wisdom, skills and trades are passed down from the old ones. They are revered as great teachers and they represent the Great Mother in her Crone aspect – the tester and initiator of souls. The young ones (and older ones who should know better) dress up in costumes and scare each other in the dark for it is the only time they can stay up all night without going to bed. Adults dress as demons, swarthy spirits and shades to frighten the young ones who then converge upon the ‘evil-doers’ and ‘vanquish’ them with sticks. This is a symbolic gesture; badness and negativity are driven out by the light and innocence of youth and, by doing this every year, it not only drives away malevolent spirits, but teaches youngsters to never fear the darkness.
Ancestral Shrines and Honouring the Spirits
“A great oak does not mourn the loss of a single twig.”
Old Grimalkin Saying.
Ancestral shrines are found in all Grimalkin homes. They consist of small niches or spaces within the household sometimes with statuettes and items belonging to the deceased. Some items may represent the trade or profession of the forebear. Candles are lit and flowers placed on the shrine to mark anniversaries such as the ancestors’ birth and death. At Morchuria, the Day of the Ancestors, offerings of food and wine are placed on the shrine and the departed are invited into the home so they can celebrate along with the living. The shrine will be in a private part of a Grimalkin’s dwelling, such as a bedroom or ante-room. The deceased will then take his or her place on the shine in the form of a figurine, or an object that reminds the family and friends of that Grimalkin. If a Grimalkin was fond of the sea, it would be a shell, or if they liked to walk in the woods, it would be an acorn, nut or pinecone. Grimalkins have many ways of remembering those who have crossed over into the Otherworld.
But shrines are not just confined to the home; our respect for the dead is great and there are public shrines all over the clowder, usually dedicated to the founders, or other prominent Grimalkins. Yew groves are also places where many a historical Grimalkin is buried. West of the Henge is a grove where there are burial cairns and graves in abundance. Here one will find votive offerings of food and flowers making the burial grounds not a place of sadness, but one of memory and joy. Stone effigies of Grimalkins past look down benevolently at those who come to remember, in particular, the memorial to Celandine Ursula Longwhisker, the mother of Winnowyn Longwhisker, who was Clowder Mother for many decades. Here, a robed Celandine stands with paws outstretched with a silver halo around her head and a dormant lion at her feet. Many come to honour her with flowers and music on the anniversaries of her birth and death.
The Wildcat equivalent of ancestral shrines is the Halls of the Ancestors. When a Wildcat dies, it is believed their soul is taken by the Irya Nos, the Dark Sister, to the halls of their forefathers. Each clan has its own ancestral hall that has an entrance in the physical world. These entrances can be in the side of a barrow, a cave in the mountainside, or at the entrance to a waterfall. Wildcats (like Grimalkins) believe the afterlife lies parallel to the mortal world, existing side-by-side. Votive offerings are placed at the entrances of these halls at set times during the year. In Old Grimalkin, these places are called ahnn-dachann (place of the ancestors) and date back to a time when the clowders, as we know them, did not exist. Some are more than ten-thousand years old. The ancestral spirits that reside within the halls are called manes. In the Halls of the Ancestors, life is eternal in a world of everlasting summer. In these otherworldly fields and mountain passes, clans will visit other clans and share meat and mead with one another. In this land there is no war and no strife, no Wildcat fighting Wildcat. Here, everyone is a Laird. In the world of Grimalkin, entrances to barrows and caves are doorways to the world of the spirits, not the spirits of the departed, but to the realm of the elementals, spirits and faeys. But one must be careful – not all spirits are friendly. Some can be mischievous and swarthy.