Midden Making

I’ve learned more about my ancestors, who they might have been and their traditional practices, the seasonal and local foods they probably ate, the wild medicines they likely used. Once upon a time some of my ancestors would have been preparing for the Quarter Days during this part of the year. These were days that corresponded to the natural seasons and social changes. The Quarter Days initially marked the halfway points between midwinter, midsummer, and the equinoxes. They are the social and financial first days, when rent was due, school terms started, and budgets were submitted. In the U.S., they are the first days of January, April, July, and October. But in England, they correspond to the seasonal solstices and equinoxes. While in the traditional practice of Ireland and Scotland, they marked the midway points between the solstices and equinoxes.

The end of January, beginning of February marks the middle of the time between winter solstice and the spring equinox. Many holidays and traditions happen at this time. Quarter Days, Brighid’s Festival, Groundhog Day, Candlemas, Imbolc, Thorrablót… Generally, this day marks the halfway point between the middle of winter and the middle of spring. The traditions reflect the hope for spring, preparation for gathering food and medicine, sorting seeds, and of course, ceremonies and rituals. 

I have a habit of collecting things. I realize this has become a sort of ritual. I didn’t grow up with shrines or altars; regardless, the things I collect have a way of becoming part of my home. They are reminders of where I’ve been: physically, spiritually, and emotionally. I can revisit these places or I can discard a thing that reminds me of something I no longer need to remember. 

Mostly my things are wild crafted and found objects. I refer to these collections as a midden. The word comes from Middle English midding, Old Dutch mykdyngja, and other words that mean refuse or dung pile. Does it seem strange that I would refer to my collection of treasures as a dung pile?

Well, it is and it isn’t. Here’s my thinking: a kitchen midden is a pile of bones, leaves, nut shells, etc. The parts of food that aren’t eaten. The term is used for refuse piles in ancient ruins and in animal dens. They are the things that don’t serve a purpose. The leftovers.

Unless of course, you are a gardener. Then these items are called fertilizers, the gardener’s gold. So for me, a midden is a collection of things that fertilize my soul, my spirit, my mental well-being. But they are also the kind of things that other people might consider trash, and they are often made of things that can be given to the garden when I no longer need them. 

I recently created some middens for the elements as part of a class. Here is an example:

My FIRE midden is representative of the South and the things that I found or received while in California. Here is what is in the photo:

  • a sun hat given to me by Granma
  • a lemon from my Granma’s backyard
  • a Queen of Spades on the sidewalk near my father’s house
  • a colorful ball (the fire element is associated with summer, the most colorful season with all its flowers)
  • seed pods from white sage and a bit of white sage
  • seed pod from the Jacaranda trees near my father’s house
  • juniper sprig with berries gathered near the Devil’s Punch Bowl
  • pine cones, rocks, and berries
  • a tiny bicycle that belonged to my Granpa
  • a compact mirror with Our Lady of Guadulupe
  • marigold seeds, commonly seen in Day of Dead images

Here is a photo that I associate with this midden… FORM is the root of the word TRANSFORMATION. This is an area that burned in recent years.

So perhaps now you see why a midden can be fertilizer for transformation.

Part of this story is an excerpt from the Fire Element lesson in my online class called “Crafting Transformation: Connecting with the Elements.” This class is part travelogue, part treasure hunt, part kitchen witching, part medicine making – all with the intent of creating a stronger connection with the elements of AIR FIRE WATER EARTH and SPIRIT.

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