Updated: Oct 31

We have recently returned from a folklore collecting ‘holiday’ in the northern isles of Orkney & Shetland. These very wild and wonderful places leached the stories, superstitions and traditions in landscapes that had been inhabited by Picts, Nordic and Scottish peoples resulting in an often unique and wonderful folklore.

As we are approaching Hallowe’en we noticed how much more emphasis was placed on this tradition than in our home county of Shropshire in England. We all know that this tradition has become more commercialised and our current celebration has been very much influenced by America through popular culture. But here on these outlying islands, where daylight is in short supply and it is acknowledged that winter begins with the coming of October, we could really see how fear of an unknown lurking in the darkness of the land or within the turbulent waves or down the thin dark passageways in old towns could give rise to superstitions, traditions and customs that mark this time of the year.

Every shop window in the little towns and communities were lit up, adorned in decorations. Community buildings and schools were also decorated and there was a wonderful feeling of living folklore taking place as people chatted about Hallowe’en and what they were doing to mark it.

The name Hallowe’en comes from a Scottish shortening of All-Hallows Eve which was the Eve of All Saints’ Day celebrated by the Christian church on November 1st and has its roots in the Gaelic festival of Samhain.

Neeps (turnips) we’re hollowed out to hold candles, thought originally to be put in windows to guide people to the safety of home, but at some point this changed to more creative ghoulish faces being carved into them in an attempt to ward off evil. We now commonly use pumpkins, a type of squash, ‘exported’ from America that is easier to hollow and carve. The tradition of marking this nightwas most likely exported to America through migrants from Scotland and Ireland who adapted their folk customs to suit their new home.

Guising (disguising) was part of the tradition as Scottish children wandered the streets in costumes that were intended to make them pass as actual spirits and so remain unharmed by them. Tricks or songs were performed and gifts given in gratitude for warding off evil. Costumes were made from all sorts of things. Skeklers wore strange costumes made of straw and went round dancing, singing and making a din. This pre-cursor to trick-or-treating was often performed as a service to communities in an attempt to drive away evil that may be threatening. (I’m sure an entertainment value also became part of it to)

It was an important time for divination. Robert Burne’s poem Halloween tells of people pulling kale stalks from the ground after dark with their eyes closed. The length and shape of the stalk was said to represent your future lover’s height and figure, and the amount of soil around the roots represented their wealth.

Another Hallowe’en tradition involved young couples putting a nut in a fire. If the nuts burned quietly, the union would be a happy one. However, if they hissed and crackled, a turbulent future lay ahead.

Games were played such as Apple ‘Dookin’ which was where apples were floated in water and the person had to use only their teeth/mouth to retrieve and apple and also Treacle Scones- which was where scones were hung from rafters at mouth level of players and smothered in treacle. The idea was to retrieve the scone, again only using the mouth.

As we returned from our trip we arrived for an overnight stay at the border town of Berwick-Upon-Tweed and again found a real visual community celebration in its shops and even inside an Italian restaurant we frequented.

We find it interesting that Hallowe’en is a Folk custom that has survived and even flourished in its ‘updated’ version, worldwide, when others have become lost and almost forgotten. Yuletide being the other great survivor with bonfire night, Valentine’s Day, Mayday, Easter and harvest festivals being survivors, even if to a lesser degree. So why do we hold on to this particular tradition ? Yes commercial gain has played its part but there has to be a will, consumers, who enable its existence and growth.

We have Gaelic and Celtic cultures, at the end of their farming year, to thank for the origins marking this time of the year- originally as Samhain, the beginning of winter and a time of marking darkness and connection with the spirit realms. Followed by the influence of Christianity that created the ‘Hallowed’ nature relating to honouring the Saints on November 1st and then the day after the Souls (All Souls day- November 2nd) of ordinary people. There can be no coincidence that the church recognised the need to continue the past practices and tradition of communities to come together at this time of the year. Death, endings, ancestors are very much connected to the dark winter months. But if we take a lead from our ancestors Samhain also marked beginnings, it was thought of as the beginning of the year and was the beginnings of customs that went on to become part of our New Year celebrations on December 31st/ January 1st.

If we too think of this time not only as endings but as beginnings it offers us hope, time to imagine and plan, something to celebrate and mark. We all need a bit of light as the darker months begin and it feels especially so this year. So do have some fun this Hallowe’en- try some of the traditional games, be outside with nature even if only for a short time to collect seasonal natural objects such as leaves, acorn cups, seed heads to decorate your home. Light fires or candles or fairy lights and bring the light into your lives. Tell ghost stories and acknowledge our ‘enjoyment’ of a little bit of controlled ‘fear’ that we all feel sometimes. And remember this wonderful folklore time of the year has its origins in those who have gone before us, wether it be those from the Northern Islands we visited or closer to home, let’s acknowledge and remember our family ancestors by setting a place for them in a seasonal celebration meal.

As for us we will be having a wonderful earthy mushroom and sage soup with a bannock and an apple pie made from our orchards apples, washed down with a seasonal mulled cider. Whatever is on you menu we hope your celebration of Hallowe’en is suitably chilling and warm - all at the same time x

#halloween #Samhain #noscalangaeaf #Shetland #Orkney #folklore #tradition #oldways

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It’s a calmer and drier day here at Talking Trees ‘Headquarters’ in rural Shropshire. A calm seems in the air and a fruitful mellowness in our old apple orchard. We know Autumn can be an unpredictable season but at it’s best is a glorious, with somewhat watery sunshine, celebration of seed heads, fungi, turning leaves and late fruits. However today is Michaelmas Day and traditionally the last day to pick blackberries for fear of them being interfered with by ’Himself’ as he landed on a blackberry bush on his expulsion from heaven and either spat, pissed or cursed on them depending on local folklore. An old Irish proverb goes:

“On Michaelmas Day the devil puts his foot on blackberries”.

it is almost certain that this idea of a last day for blackberries refers to what is now known as Old Michaelmas Day on the 10th October as the calendar change interfered with many of nature’s indicators. We have blackberries that still look very edible and will be following the ‘Old Calendar’ and continue making/eating apple and blackberry crumbles.

Michaelmas day is so called because it is St Michael‘s feast day and he is celebrated as a protector from darkness and evil- rather appropriate as we enter the darker months. The Michaelmas daisy is the plant of the moment and is a burst of late colour that fights against the monotone of Winter.

“The Michaelmas Daisies, among dede weeds, Bloom for St Michael’s valorous deeds. And seems the last of flowers that stood, Till the feast of St. Simon and St. Jude.”

(The Feast of St. Simon and Jude is 28 October)

Giving a Michaelmas daisy is a symbol of saying farewell. Perhaps these beautiful flowers are indeed saying a farewell to the summer and a hello to Autumn. As traditionally it is the beginning of a new term at universities, the courts sit once more, debts were collected, hiring fairs took place it seems that Michaelmas day marked a time of change and new beginnings. This feels positive and exciting as we can go out and look in nature for her Autumn glory before a restful-ness and hopefully quiet of winter.

#autumn #michaelmas #michaelmasday #michaelmasdaisy #fungi #apple #blackberries #crumble

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It’s one of those magickal times of the year when change is afoot as we move from summer into autumn. With a wonderful Fruit Full Moon (name from the Old English Tradition) to escort us this year as we arrive at the time of Equinox.

The name “equinox” is derived from the Latin aequus, which means equal, and nox, the term for night. So we should have 12 hours daylight and 12 hours of darkness. However the actual date when the timings are equal is known as the equilux, and falls a few days after the autumn equinox. It is the time when the two hemispheres swap over with us in the Northern hemisphere moving towards autumn & winter as we tilt away from our sun and the Southern Hemisphere towards spring and summer as they tilt towards the sun.

We consider this as the beginning of Autumn whereas the meteorological timing of Autumn is September 1st to 30th November. It is a time of harvest of hops, grapes, apples and blackberries and for many wonderful seasonal vegetables. It is a bountiful time and a time to feast from our earths gifts. It is also a time to think ahead to the coming winter and prepare food to see us through the times when fresh foods are in short supply making it a time to begin making preserves and pickles.

Traditional harvest festivals would take place on the Sunday nearest to the months full moon with people gathering in churches to bring produce to share and join together for blessings and giving thanks. Parishioners in churches enjoying singing harvest hymns that give thanks. Carts would be decorated with flowers and corn dollies carrying people to harvest suppers when ale and harvest foods would be plentiful over an evening of music and merriment.

An alternative name for this time time of the year is Mabon originating from welsh Celtic mythology, Madron was associated with light and was the son on Modron, the earth goddess. For some this signifies a festival time to thank Mother Earth and reflect on the past season. This association is considered relatively new dating as recently as the 1970’s although for many they believe it was an established name for this seasonal event.

Whatever your beliefs it really does feel a time for reflection and thanks, this year more so than ever as we are fortunate to be here for our harvest celebration. It often makes me feel wistful as our season changes with a feeling of loss of our summer. However it is equalled by a feeling of excitement of the coming of Autumn in all its glorious colours and the smell of fallen leaves in autumnal piles as the damp air and mists of this time mulches them to make fertiliser for the future growing seasons. I love seeing toadstools and mushrooms bring jewel like circles and patches to mist laden lawns and by long fallen branches.

It is a time to literally take stock . Make wonderful things to eat now and as preserves, create decorations for your home and celebrate this special time of the year. Autumn gives us time to prepare for winter by stocking up our pantry before we follow mother nature’s lead and hibernate a little. The slower living of winter approaches but not yet, for now be busy.

This year we have a wonderful crop of cooking apples and will be making Apple Butter Jam as well as crumbles and pies that will stock up our freezer.

We leave the many windfalls for our local wildlife and have seen our beautiful hares enjoying an early morning nibble. They become part of an essential late Autumn and early winter food supply for passing fieldfares and redwings as well as our wintering thrushes, blackbirds and jackdaws. We have lots to be thankful for.

It’s also the time that Talking Trees Books goes into busy mode as people buy our 2022 Country Wisdom and Folklore diary and wall calendar together with our Yuletide advent countdown calendar and seasonal cards. We are immensely thankful that so many of you help us in our endeavour to keep alive some of our old ways and celebrate the year. We have a bountiful crop of goodies in our shop on our website talkingtreesbooks.co.uk please do take a look.

blessings to you all at this time of change and may your harvest be bountiful - AML & RT x

#autumnequinox #autumn #mabon #harvest #fullmoon #equinox #magickal #tradition #preserves #pickles #nature

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