Reed and Cattails
On the Calendar
A mild breeze whispers on sunny afternoons, but nighttime comes earlier now as the harbingers of winter steal leaves from the trees. Moonlight shimmers on frosty ground and the earth prepares for sleep. October brings a strong sense of seasonal shift, summer becomes a fond memory, and we move toward the dark of the year. This month takes its name from the Latin octo, meaning “eight,” as it was the eighth month on the Roman calendar.97
On the Calendar
October 28: The Celtic Month of Reed Begins
While reed does not seem like a prestigious enough plant to be ranked among trees, it was an extremely important component for warm, dry homes to the early people of the British Isles. Reed and its cousins are associated with health and healing, knowledge and learning, and one’s unfolding destiny.
Reed and Cattails
Common Reed (Phragmites australis syn. Phragmites communis)
*Also known as common reed grass, Dutch reed, and Norfolk reed
Cattails (Typha latifolia)
*Also known as cat-o-nine-tails, great reed mace, and water torch
Reed is a grass with round, hollow stems that can reach a height of thirteen feet. Its long, flat leaves are narrow and pointed. Plume-like flowers with tufts of silky hair grow on little spikelets in midsummer. After the leaves break away in autumn, a bare stem is left standing through the winter. Cattails can grow four to eight feet tall and also have flat, blade-like leaves. Its dense, brown, cylindrical flowering spike stays on the plant through autumn before breaking up into downy, white fluff. These plants are found in marshy, wet areas.
Reed and cattails have provided material for roof thatching, arrow shafts, musical instruments, and many other domestic items. Reeds and cattails are cousins, sharing the same order, Poales, but different families and genera. The genus name for reed, Phragmites, comes from Greek and means “growing in hedges” or “fence-like,” which describes its appearance of creating a thick barrier.98 The genus name for cattails, Typha, also comes from Greek and means “bog” or “marsh.” 99
Place several long stalks of cattails in a tall vase in your bedroom to enhance passion and sex, especially if there are issues in a relationship. For protection in ritual or spell work, cut six equal lengths of reed to lay out in two triangles to form a pentagram on your altar. Stalks of reed or cattails on your altar will help you to connect with ancestors. Burn a piece of reed to honor any household spirit as well as to bring unity and loyalty to your family. Pull apart a cattail flower spike to make a protection sachet/amulet that you wear during journeys to other realms. Hang it above your altar when doing magic work.
Reed and cattails are associated with the element water. Reed’s astrological influence comes from Mars and Pluto, and cattails’ from Mars.
Figure 34. Reed is associated with the ogham Ngetal (left) and the rune Algiz (right).
October 31: Samhain
Samhain is a time to remember ancestors and invite their spirits to come close. Legends of evil spirits on the prowl this night are misunderstandings of the belief that the barrier between the worlds of the seen and unseen is thin. It was the custom in parts of Europe to place candles in windows to help ancestors find their way. This eventually developed into the jack-o’-lantern, which was intended to welcome and guide spirits to the home, and to warn any unwanted ones to stay away.
It was customary to celebrate and hold a feast for the dead on Samhain. The feast could be a complete meal with an extra place set for those not physically present, or it could be as simple as leaving cakes and wine by the fireside or on the front step. Samhain has also been a night for divination using nuts, especially hazelnuts, as these were believed to hold ancient wisdom.
Decorate your altar with carved pumpkins, chrysanthemums, marigolds, and bittersweet. Let the power of the green world aid you in opening the portal between the worlds and connecting with loved ones who have passed. I like to include a piece of chocolate on my altar to symbolize my wish that my loved ones enjoy a sweet passage through the afterlife.