“Sweeping the Yard” for Fall

With fall’s arrival, I’m inspired to “sweep the yard” again, to take out the broom or mop and clear the floors in the old way. A tradition well-known throughout the American South and the Black Diaspora, sweeping the yard is both home cleaning and ancestor work. Here’s a ritual for fall.

African-American women sweeping a yard in Belton, North Carolina, 19th century America. Source: Unknown (if you know the source, please connect)

You’ll notice the word clearing rather than cleaning this time. I like clearing for fall. That sense of removing something to make space. The word brings attention to what we’ve accumulated or “packed in” to the spaces of our lives: home space, mental space, heart space, and so on.

We’ve lived through most of 2018. Maybe we’ve got more stuff, literally. Maybe we’re carrying emotional or spiritual residue. And in a world of #Metoo, (more) deportations and detentions, (on-going) racial profiling, and other injustice, we’re navigating collective residue and trauma, too.

The act of clearing makes precious space for what we need. Clearing reveals the healing that is happening, personally and collectively. And as I clear, I remember the inner resources available to me, no matter the emotional or social “weather”.

Ritual: “sweeping the yard” for fall

P.S.this ritual can be adapted to all kinds of living spaces. I have a patio and floors that could use attention, so I adapt “sweeping” to include broom and/or mop below:

1) Gather your materials in one place: the mop, the broom, the water, and any cleaners you use. If you’re going to light sacred smoke or candles (see #4), gather those too.

2) Bless what you’ve gathered. Give thanks for the physical and metaphysical work that broom or mop is about to do. Thank ancestors, honoring those who “swept the yard” before you. Offer up any other prayers. A note: due to historical and present-day trauma, we may not be able to name ancestors. This is my experience, too. Affirming: we don’t have to know our ancestors’ names to honor them. Just saying “ancestors” is powerful. Ancestors can also be people who have shaped our lives, plants, animals, literary figures, or artists.

3) Clear with intention. Pay attention to parts of your home or yard that feel heavy or dense. Linger there. Come back as needed, until it feels right to continue. As you clear, deepen your intention by using your voice. Say an affirmation or prayer. Hum. Sing! I sometimes do the lion’s breath from yoga. (Whenever I facilitate groups, the lion’s breath makes someone laugh. What a beautiful reminder. Healing work doesn’t have to be serious! Humor is an old way, too.)

4) Add sacred smoke. I sage or burn incense, either after or throughout the sweep. Sometimes I use sweetgrass instead if my space could use some uplifting sweetness. If smoke is not an option for you, candles – with flame or flameless – can also evoke a sense of smoke or fire. For fall, I’m enjoying scents like cinnamon, clove, orange peel, frankincense, myrrh.

5) Open the doors. Sweep any remaining energy that’s no longer needed out of the living space. I also use clearing words like, “This house is now cleared, and I am thankful” or “Letting go, I let Spirit in”.

Happy clearing!

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More inspiration:

Re-posted from the spring edition of “sweeping the yard”:

Black Feminist Archaeology by Whitney Battle-Baptiste

Cottage Gardens and Swept Yards: Recreating a Vernacular Horticulture

No Space Hidden: The Spirit of African-American Yard Work by Grey Gundaker and Judith McWillie

A Guide to Planting an African for an American/African Focused Yard in Miami Dade County

In Georgia’s Swept Yards, a Dying Tradition

African-American Gardens: Yards in the Rural South by Richard Westmacott

No Space Hidden: The Spirit of African-American Yard Work by Grey Gundaker and Judith McWillie