Happy Halloween, and a Blessed Samhain.
Some nice stuff today and tonight. We may be updating this as the day goes into night, so check back. Please let others know about the goings on as well.
On The Menu
Samhain/Halloween Updates Information From Scotland: 3 different articles from Scottish writers on various aspects of the holiday. A good overview, suggested reading!
Poetry: Halloween – by Robert Burns….
Radio Station is still down. Router Trouble and all that. My apologies in the delay. Hopefully in the next couple of days. Dealing with British Telecom is hellish.
Enjoy your celebrations tonight! With you in spirit….
Samhain/Halloween Updates Information From Scotland…
GIE’S oor Halloween … The traditional cry of the guiser grows ever fainter, driven into the outer darkness of what was once All Hallow’s Eve by strident shrieks of “trick or treat”. The once-ubiquitous reek of burnt neep is dissipated under the glare of the pumpkin, that transatlantic yellow peril which has all but usurped our native turnip as lord of Halloween misrule.
While police forces across the country issue warnings about excessive trick-or-treating, the gibbering of ghaisties and ghoulies enjoying their annual spree is drowned out by the ringing tills of what has become a multi-million-pound industry.
After Christmas and Easter, according to research analysts, Halloween is the third-most profitable event for retailers in Britain, with associated spending rocketing from £12 million five years ago to an anticipated £120 million this year – reflecting, among other things, the move from home-made guising costumes to often ready-made, bought outfits.
And this is not just for children: the adult fancy dress and decoration sector is the fastest-growing aspect of Halloween spending – while the UK pumpkin market is worth some £25 million.
Pumpkins, of course, as even the most fervent Halloween fundamentalist has to agree, are easier to carve than turnips (many of us will recall maternal wrath as the best kitchen knife was mangled, and spoil heaps of surplus neep accumulated). The leering orange vegetable’s popularity may also have been boosted among adults by reports that its seeds may improve the sex drive.
Perhaps the cry should be “Gie’s back oor Halloween”, as the one-time pagan Celtic festival of Samhain, hijacked by Christianity as All Hallow’s Eve, is reduced to a consumer-driven charade, like Mother’s Day or Valentine’s Day. Perversely, it has come full circle, the holiday having been first imported to America with Scots and Irish emigrants, then returned, rehashed and hugely commercialised, to Britain and Europe over the past century.
But this is not necessarily something we should worry too much about, according to Professor Hugh O’Donnell of Glasgow Caledonian University’s cultural business group. It regards the festival as having become such a phenomenon it is holding an international Halloween conference tomorrow and Wednesday.
“I don’t actually think the traditional Scottish Halloween has gone away,” he says. “My own experience in our street in Motherwell, the kids still come round, still guising as I remember it.
“And usually they still expect to sing something, tell a joke. In America and Canada, the kids don’t do anything any more. I think we’ll get a mixture of both; the traditional guising, but you’ll see pumpkins in people’s windows.”
Prof O’Donnell and his colleagues are engaged with all aspects of the ancient festival, from the cultural to the religious to the commercial – conference papers cover issues as varied as the festival’s folklore; its significance to New Age Wiccans; supernatural tourism in Scotland and Transylvania, and the intriguing-sounding Dracula Was A Woman and Media Representations Of Halloween In A Post-Socialist Country.
Prof O’Donnell points to the way Halloween has grown in England and Europe where a few decades ago it was virtually unknown, partly due, he suggests, to the popular impact of John Carpenter’s Halloween horror film and its sequels.
“It only really started to appear in continental Europe from about the Nineties. In the Catholic countries, they would have celebrated All Hallows. Then Halloween arrived, not from Scotland or Ireland, where it was born, but from America, where we took it in the 19th century. It came to Europe with these big Halloween movies, rather than in any Celtic form.”
For story-teller and children’s theatre director Allison Galbraith, who has been doing Halloween workshops with school children as part of the current Scottish Storytelling Festival, the traditional elements of Halloween are still about, “although usually only if there’s someone older around, a granny or a mum or a schoolteacher, who insists that they learn their party piece, rather than just ‘trick or treat’”.
“Having been in shops seeing about costumes, I’m blown away by how commercial it’s become,” adds Galbraith, who grew up in a Scottish household in the West Midlands where the late-autumn festival was unheard of – “we held the first Halloween party for my school pals”.
“We’ve been busy carving pumpkins,” she confesses. “But we’re using a turnip for the show as well. My partner was given the job of carving it and has been muttering about it being so much harder.”
And she suggests, interestingly, that the “trick or treat” concept may not be as alien as we like to protest, referring to the late F Marian McNeil’s Silver Bough, which describes the seasonal japes played in crofting communities, which involved everything from blowing smoke into unsuspecting cottages to much turnip-hurling.
Currently visiting Newfoundland, where she spent several years of her life, the Scots Gaelic folklorist and singer Margaret Bennett notes the huge growth in the Halloween industry there, with houses and gardens bedecked with ghosts, bats and pumpkins: “Wherever you turn, it seems no effort is spared to out-Christmas Christmas. And of course there’s the sell, sell, sell – candies, costumes and masks – at any price you’re crazy enough to pay.”
When she returned to Scotland from Canada in the 1970s, Bennett was reassured to find Halloween still being celebrated, but she soon found the pumpkins following her across the Atlantic. She regrets these changes “enormously – and not because folk have changed the way of celebrating; change is part of the whole cycle of tradition. It’s how they’ve changed. The material aspects and commercial pressures are merely a reflection of the changes in Scottish culture in general, with a headlong rush to embrace every aspect of America that can possibly be absorbed into, or superimposed on, our way of life and customs.
“But, perhaps most damaging of all, it denies children the opportunity of being as creative as their forebears. There was fun and freedom in making costumes and even masks out of just about anything. What we now have is a society where people expect everything to have a bar-coded price tag, and a tension between parents and children, all so brainwashed and pressured by the whole business.”
Bennett points to the festival’s origins in the Celtic New Year: “If we feel the need to celebrate any time, Scots especially, it is this time. If we could shove commercialism aside, I think there is a place for the recognition and celebration of the cycle of life mirrored in the cycle of the year and the seasons and special days, including Halloween.”
So perhaps strike a blow for tradition and turnip farmers – celebrate a traditional Halloween tomorrow night. Although perhaps avoid the precincts of Glasgow Caledonian University, which is liable to be haunted by guising academics attending the conference’s Halloween dinner.
LONG before the Christians turned the season into a service for souls and saints, Halloween was the ancient pagan ceremony of Samhain. Allhallows Eve was the night that Druids – or Celtic priests – gave thanks for the harvest and heralded the coming of winter. It was also a time when this world and the next came together and the Host of the Dead were abroad.
Ghosts, goblins, witches and fairies were all believed to roam at will, so the Druids lit bonfires to protect the living, disguised themselves to avoid being recognised and attempted to propitiate these other-worldly visitors with food and drink.
Halloween was also a night when young people turned their thoughts to their future. More specifically, they wanted to know whom they would marry and whether fortune awaited them.
Many of the traditions we associate with Halloween in Scotland can be traced to our ancestors’ fear of the dead and desire to know the future.
Fire reminds us of the Druids lighting up the night skies with bonfires to banish the spooks. Turnip or pumpkin lanterns give as much comfort to us in the dark as they would have done to people in the past. The Ordeal by Fire comes down to us in a sanitised form that has been changed even in the last 100 years. Traditionally a rod was suspended from the ceiling with a lit candle placed at one end and an apple at the other. The rod was spun round while the assembled company attempted to take a bite out of the apple. Given the danger, it is not surprising that latterly the candle was omitted and only the apple swung. Today a treacle scone or doughnut is often substituted and few will realise that they are honouring a Druidic ritual.
Alongside the Ordeal by Fire was the Ordeal by Water, which is most commonly played out today when we duck for apples. The symbolic journey by the Druids across water to the mythical “apple-land” is re-enacted when we try and bite these fruits bobbing up and down in a half-filled bath of water. (Please note: scaredy-cats, or the particularly well-dressed, can cop out by holding a fork between their teeth to try and stab the apples.)
Once you get your apple the greedy can eat it, or else you can keep it for the next most important part of our Halloween traditions ..
There are as many ways to find out how your future lies most involve fruit, nuts or vegetables from the harvest. However, almost all of the prophecies are geared toward revealing your loved ones. So if you’re not interested in walking down the aisle or finding out if your partner is loyal, then look away now.
Take your apple and divide it into nine segments. Eat eight pieces standing with your back turned to a mirror then throw the ninth portion over your shoulder. When you turn round you will see the face of your intended in the mirror. (Honest!). Alternatively you can peel the apple, throw the peelings over your shoulder where the initial of your loved one’s surname will be revealed.
Another way to find out whether you’ll have a happy future is to place two hazelnuts on the embers of a fire. Name one nut after yourself and the other after the significant other in your life. If you’re mismatched then the nuts will jump about and split apart. If they remain constant and side-by-side, then you are clearly a good couple.
Rural Scotland had hundreds of ways (well almost) to divine the future based on vegetables, which range from pulling up cabbages to sowing hemp seeds. In this instance you could even make your own idea up. Go on, be creative
Other foodie ways to find your fate
If you’re lucky you can still find Halloween parties where you can divine your future from a bowl of mashed potatoes. Various charms are hidden in the spuds and everyone given a spoonful. Your future depends on the charm you find; a coin denotes wealth, a button batchelordom, ring marriage just be careful you don’t swallow it!. A slightly more sophisticated way of predicting the future was done by a local “wise woman” who would crack an egg white into a glass of spring water and “read” the signs from the settlement of the egg.
Things to avoid at your party
In the not too distant past young people got up to all sorts of merry tricks during the night. However if you tried any of these things today you would probably end up with a police record. One favourite prank was for the men to blow smoke into people’s houses either through the letterbox, or by blocking the chimney. Or else they would knock a neighbour’s window whilst simultaneously smashing an empty bottle.
Ha, ha, happy Halloween and all that
HALLOWEEN, or All Hallows Eve, is the time when we remember every saint who hasnt been given their own day. Well, that is certainly how our Christian churches would want us to honour the last day of October. But for many, Halloween is all about guising, turnip lanterns and dooking for apples – which on the face of it doesnt seem to have much to do with saints.
That’s because long before Christianity reached our shores, Halloween was known by the older, darker and altogether more mystical name of Samhain.
Samhain is the time when the sun is furthest south of the equator. Ancient Celts considered it to be the beginning of their new year and the death of the old. It was a time of celebration, to give thanks for the summer harvest and to ask a blessing for the coming months.
Samhain was not just about year’s end and the coming of winter. It was also the feast of the dead, the season of the earths decay when evil was held to wander the planet. The shield of the female warrior Skathcach was lowered, and the barrier between the two worlds faded. The forces of chaos invaded our globe, and the world of the living joined with the world of the dead
With so much evil pricking the night, mans response was clear. Fire! Light! Illuminate the dark and cast out the shadows. Banish the witches and warlocks with ritual and rite. Druids built fires, disguising themselves in order to confuse and baffle the evil spirits. They scooped out turnips and fashioned them into skulls and placed them, lit, around their fire to keep evil at bay.
Water and apples were important to the ritual, evoking as they did the druid water rite of travelling across the worlds to the Celtic otherworld where the apple tree with magical fruit awaited – the passage to apple-land (Avalon).
Waiting at the periphery were the everyday Celts, who had put out their own fires in preparation and now awaited the pure, safe fire from the smoking embers of their druid’s consecrated pyre. When the ritual was complete, they crept forward and took home the new fire to re-light their own domestic hearths and gain safety for the coming year.
Hundreds of years later bonfires were still being lit to ward off evil spirits and appease the Gods. As late as the 19th century, villagers were lighting their bonfires in a ritual reminiscent of the ancient druids. In Braemar they fetched torches from the fire and circled the fields to ward off evil and ensure fertility during the coming year.
It is not just the lighting of bonfires that sounds vaguely familiar. Although the Church overlaid their own religious day on an existing pagan ceremony, they were not as successful as hoped in eradicating old rituals. They are still there, hidden beneath the ballyhoo of Halloween.
So the next time you go out guising, give a nod of remembrance to your disguised druidic ancestor. As you dook for apples, think of their ordeal by water and their journey to the apple-land. And as you light up your turnip (or pumpkin) lantern, dare a quick glance over your shoulder and check that the spirits are being kept at bay. Not that you believe in any of that old rubbish, oh no, but have a look all the same. Just in case.
Queen Victoria is known to have taken part in a fire ceremony in Balmoral, where villagers tossed an effigy of a witch known as the “Shandy Dan” into the fire to burn.
The word bonfire has two potential derivations:
= From bone-fire when the bones of slaughtered animals were ritually burnt in fires
= Or Bon-fire – bon meaning holy and evoking the more Christian association of All Hallows Eve
HALLOWEEN – Robert Burns
Upon that night, when fairies light
On Cassilis Downans dance,
Or owre the lays, in splendid blaze,
On sprightly coursers prance;
Or for Colean the route is ta’en,
Beneath the moon’s pale beams;
There, up the cove, to stray and rove,
Among the rocks and streams
To sport that night.
Among the bonny winding banks,
Where Doon rins, wimplin’ clear,
Where Bruce ance ruled the martial ranks,
And shook his Carrick spear,
Some merry, friendly, country-folks,
Together did convene,
To burn their nits, and pou their stocks,
And haud their Halloween
Fu’ blithe that night.
The lasses feat, and cleanly neat,
Mair braw than when they’re fine;
Their faces blithe, fu’ sweetly kythe,
Hearts leal, and warm, and kin’;
The lads sae trig, wi’ wooer-babs,
Weel knotted on their garten,
Some unco blate, and some wi’ gabs,
Gar lasses’ hearts gang startin’
Whiles fast at night.
Then, first and foremost, through the kail,
Their stocks maun a’ be sought ance;
They steek their een, and graip and wale,
For muckle anes and straught anes.
Poor hav’rel Will fell aff the drift,
And wander’d through the bow-kail,
And pou’t, for want o’ better shift,
A runt was like a sow-tail,
Sae bow’t that night.
Then, staught or crooked, yird or nane,
They roar and cry a’ throu’ther;
The very wee things, todlin’, rin,
Wi’ stocks out owre their shouther;
And gif the custoc’s sweet or sour.
Wi’ joctelegs they taste them;
Syne cozily, aboon the door,
Wi cannie care, they’ve placed them
To lie that night.
The lasses staw frae ‘mang them a’
To pou their stalks of corn:
But Rab slips out, and jinks about,
Behint the muckle thorn:
He grippet Nelly hard and fast;
Loud skirl’d a’ the lasses;
But her tap-pickle maist was lost,
When kitlin’ in the fause-house
Wi’ him that night.
The auld guidwife’s well-hoordit nits,
Are round and round divided,
And monie lads’ and lasses’ fates
Are there that night decided:
Some kindle coothie, side by side,
And burn thegither trimly;
Some start awa, wi’ saucy pride,
And jump out-owre the chimlie
Fu’ high that night.
Jean slips in twa wi’ tentie ee;
Wha ’twas she wadna tell;
But this is Jock, and this is me,
She says in to hersel:
He bleezed owre her, and she owre him,
As they wad never mair part;
Till, fuff! he started up the lum,
And Jean had e’en a sair heart
To see’t that night.
Poor Willie, wi’ his bow-kail runt,
Was brunt wi’ primsie Mallie;
And Mallie, nae doubt, took the drunt,
To be compared to Willie;
Mall’s nit lap out wi’ pridefu’ fling,
And her ain fit it brunt it;
While Willie lap, and swore by jing,
‘Twas just the way he wanted
To be that night.
Nell had the fause-house in her min’,
She pits hersel and Rob in;
In loving bleeze they sweetly join,
Till white in ase they’re sobbin’;
Nell’s heart was dancin’ at the view,
She whisper’d Rob to leuk for’t:
Rob, stowlins, prie’d her bonny mou’,
Fu’ cozie in the neuk for’t,
Unseen that night.
But Merran sat behint their backs,
Her thoughts on Andrew Bell;
She lea’es them gashin’ at their cracks,
And slips out by hersel:
She through the yard the nearest taks,
And to the kiln goes then,
And darklins graipit for the bauks,
And in the blue-clue throws then,
Right fear’t that night.
And aye she win’t, and aye she swat,
I wat she made nae jaukin’,
Till something held within the pat,
Guid Lord! but she was quakin’!
But whether ‘was the deil himsel,
Or whether ’twas a bauk-en’,
Or whether it was Andrew Bell,
She didna wait on talkin’
To spier that night.
Wee Jennie to her grannie says,
“Will ye go wi’ me, grannie?
I’ll eat the apple at the glass
I gat frae Uncle Johnnie:”
She fuff’t her pipe wi’ sic a lunt,
In wrath she was sae vap’rin’,
She notice’t na, an aizle brunt
Her braw new worset apron
Out through that night.
“Ye little skelpie-limmer’s face!
I daur you try sic sportin’,
As seek the foul thief ony place,
For him to spae your fortune.
Nae doubt but ye may get a sight!
Great cause ye hae to fear it;
For mony a ane has gotten a fright,
And lived and died deleeret
On sic a night.
“Ae hairst afore the Sherramoor, –
I mind’t as weel’s yestreen,
I was a gilpey then, I’m sure
I wasna past fifteen;
The simmer had been cauld and wat,
And stuff was unco green;
And aye a rantin’ kirn we gat,
And just on Halloween
It fell that night.
“Our stibble-rig was Rab M’Graen,
A clever sturdy fallow:
His son gat Eppie Sim wi’ wean,
That lived in Achmacalla:
He gat hemp-seed, I mind it weel,
And he made unco light o’t;
But mony a day was by himsel,
He was sae sairly frighted
That very night.”
Then up gat fechtin’ Jamie Fleck,
And he swore by his conscience,
That he could saw hemp-seed a peck;
For it was a’ but nonsense.
The auld guidman raught down the pock,
And out a hanfu’ gied him;
Syne bade him slip frae ‘mang the folk,
Some time when nae ane see’d him,
And try’t that night.
He marches through amang the stacks,
Though he was something sturtin;
The graip he for a harrow taks.
And haurls it at his curpin;
And every now and then he says,
“Hemp-seed, I saw thee,
And her that is to be my lass,
Come after me, and draw thee
As fast this night.”
He whistled up Lord Lennox’ march
To keep his courage cheery;
Although his hair began to arch,
He was say fley’d and eerie:
Till presently he hears a squeak,
And then a grane and gruntle;
He by his shouther gae a keek,
And tumbled wi’ a wintle
Out-owre that night.
He roar’d a horrid murder-shout,
In dreadfu’ desperation!
And young and auld came runnin’ out
To hear the sad narration;
He swore ’twas hilchin Jean M’Craw,
Or crouchie Merran Humphie,
Till, stop! she trotted through them
And wha was it but grumphie
Asteer that night!
Meg fain wad to the barn hae gaen,
To win three wechts o’ naething;
But for to meet the deil her lane,
She pat but little faith in:
She gies the herd a pickle nits,
And two red-cheekit apples,
To watch, while for the barn she sets,
In hopes to see Tam Kipples
That very nicht.
She turns the key wi cannie thraw,
And owre the threshold ventures;
But first on Sawnie gies a ca’
Syne bauldly in she enters:
A ratton rattled up the wa’,
And she cried, Lord, preserve her!
And ran through midden-hole and a’,
And pray’d wi’ zeal and fervour,
Fu’ fast that night;
They hoy’t out Will wi’ sair advice;
They hecht him some fine braw ane;
It chanced the stack he faddom’d thrice
Was timmer-propt for thrawin’;
He taks a swirlie, auld moss-oak,
For some black grousome carlin;
And loot a winze, and drew a stroke,
Till skin in blypes cam haurlin’
Aff’s nieves that night.
A wanton widow Leezie was,
As canty as a kittlin;
But, och! that night amang the shaws,
She got a fearfu’ settlin’!
She through the whins, and by the cairn,
And owre the hill gaed scrievin,
Whare three lairds’ lands met at a burn
To dip her left sark-sleeve in,
Was bent that night.
Whyles owre a linn the burnie plays,
As through the glen it wimpl’t;
Whyles round a rocky scaur it strays;
Whyles in a wiel it dimpl’t;
Whyles glitter’d to the nightly rays,
Wi’ bickering, dancing dazzle;
Whyles cookit underneath the braes,
Below the spreading hazel,
Unseen that night.
Among the brackens, on the brae,
Between her and the moon,
The deil, or else an outler quey,
Gat up and gae a croon:
Poor Leezie’s heart maist lap the hool!
Near lav’rock-height she jumpit;
but mist a fit, and in the pool
Out-owre the lugs she plumpit,
Wi’ a plunge that night.
In order, on the clean hearth-stane,
The luggies three are ranged,
And every time great care is ta’en’,
To see them duly changed:
Auld Uncle John, wha wedlock joys
Sin’ Mar’s year did desire,
Because he gat the toom dish thrice,
He heaved them on the fire
In wrath that night.
Wi’ merry sangs, and friendly cracks,
I wat they didna weary;
And unco tales, and funny jokes,
Their sports were cheap and cheery;
Till butter’d so’ns, wi’ fragrant lunt,
Set a’ their gabs a-steerin’;
Syne, wi’ a social glass o’ strunt,
They parted aff careerin’
Fu’ blythe that night.