All Hallows' Eve -Winter is 'icumen' in !
Warning - Precautions must be taken on this night for fear of enchantment!
All Hallows Eve, Samhain, Halloween, Calan Gaeaf, Oíche Shamhna is a night of many names and many superstitions and has its roots in our agricultural/pastoral past, when the Celtic/Gaelic peoples of our isles celebrated the end of the old year and the beginning of the new. Now if we are being strictly accurate we are actually eleven days ahead of ourselves as it was the old Calendar, before the 1752 reform, that our ancestors followed, thereby making it the 11th November when the dead were honoured and remembered and people looked forward to what was ahead of them. I always think how poignant and coincidental that this it is the date of Armistice when we now remember our warriors and casualties of wars. However as with all things we change with the times and I feel that , as with many of these rural observances, it would have been as much about 'did it feel the right time of the year ?' Or were the weather, plants and animal indicators pointing to it being the right time? We know from watching the arrival of spring that there can be approximately two weeks difference as you travel from South to North to witness first snowdrops, crocus and daffodils and equally the same with autumn and winter indicators.
However for us the 31st October is the day/night we now negotiate our way through the commercialisation and search for the traditions and folklore at the root of it all. I was reading a book recently that was written in 1974 that points out that though the Christian Church celebrates this time of the year with its feast days of All Saint’s and All Souls that Halloween is still celebrated in the North of England with disguises, divination and candle-lit turnip-lanterns and it made me remember that when I was young in the Midlands that Halloween had all but been forgotten and wasn’t that big a deal and that it really is only quite recently that it has become celebrated all over the British Isles.
But in our past there was real fear as the dark part of the year made its presence known. In 1890 in Cornwall there are accounts that Journeymen would finish before sunset for fear of being enchanted on their way home and that rowan crosses or a piece of bread crossed with salt were carried in pockets both of which would repel malevolent creatures and magick that may do harm. Doors that were kept ajar were quickly shut fast on this night for fear an unwelcome visitor may enter and remain with them for life and candles were kept lit all night in windows and barns to keep evil at bay.
All hallows eve was traditionally a time for seeing faeries especially at twilight or midnight. It was said that the true inhabitants of these islands were the origin of the faerie. The Celts arrived around 500bc and drove the inhabitants into remote places such as hills, caves and woodland hollows. They became a secret people and were said to be small and dark skinned. How long they would have survived is unknown but it is perhaps these people that became ingrained in the Celtic conscious and became the fey folk they told stories about. It is also thought by some that this gave the idea that iron killed faeries as the Celts brought iron weapons and tools to a race that still used stone, wood and bronze.
The fun and games associated at this time of the year seems to have been longstanding as ducking for apples, divination using; apple pips, nuts, mirrors and water and tasty treats such as ‘treacled’ scones hung from strings together with scary stories around fires are mentioned in many folklore tradition accounts.
It was and still is a busy time of the year for farmers as animals are moved from high summer pasture to the low fields for overwintering, sheep are mated in readiness for spring lambing and livestock are slaughtered to provide food throughout winter. It was a time of great bonfires to purify the air and land, to frighten malevolent spirits away from homesteads and animals and to bring a symbolic light into the ever darkening days and remind the sun to return. The celebration marked for many this change in the year as summer officially ends and winter begins.
Have a happy celebration and beware the darkness where strange creatures from our past may be roaming !