It’s one day past the Day of the Dead, and this has been
a bad year, six funerals already and not done yet.
But on this blue day of perfect weather, I can’t muster
sadness, for the trees are radiant, the air thick as Karo
warmed in a pan. I have my friend’s last book spread
on the table and a cup of coffee in a white china mug.
All the leaves are ringing, like the tiny bells of God.
My mother, too, is ready to leave. All she wants now
is sugar: penuche fudge, tapioca pudding, pumpkin roll.
She wants to sit in the sun, pull it around her shoulders
like an Orlon sweater, and listen to the birds
in the far-off trees. I want this sweetness to linger
on her tongue, because the days are growing shorter
now, and night comes on, so quickly.
~ Barbara Crooker
Music by Matthew Perryman Jones, “Canción de la Noche”
“I think if human beings had genuine courage, they’d wear their costumes every day of the year, not just on Halloween. Wouldn’t life be more interesting that way? And now that I think about it, why the heck don’t they? Who made the rule that everybody has to dress like sheep 364 days of the year? Think of all the people you’d meet if they were in costume every day. People would be so much easier to talk to—like talking to dogs. ” ~ Douglas Coupland, from The Gum Thief
Some early Halloween silliness for you, including some monsters from Dr. Who, a clip from The Daily Show, and a nice bit of history:
For those who are interested in more of the history of Halloween, I came cross a really nice write-up on Intelliblog, which is hosted by Nicholas V. (reprinted here under a creative commons license):
Tomorrow is Halloween, which is the last night of the Celtic year and is the night associated with witchcraft, fairies, elves and wicked spirits. In countries where the Celtic influence is strong, customs surrounding Halloween are still current and relate to pagan rituals celebrating the beginning of the Winter cycle. Tales of witches and ghosts are told, bonfires are lit, fortune-telling and mumming are practiced. Masquerading is the order of the night, making of jack-o-lanterns and the playing of games pass the hours pleasantly. Bobbing for apples in a tub of water is an age-old custom. These pagan practices have been incorporated into the Christian tradition through association with All Saints’ Day on November the first.
The seasonal association of the apple with Halloween goes back even to Roman times. November 1st was the time when the Romans celebrated Pomona’s festival. She was the goddess of orchards and ripe maturity. Her festival was the time to rejoice in the fruits of the season and also the time to open up the Summer stores for Winter use. In Celtic tradition the apple was the fruit of the Silver Bough of the Otherworld and symbolised love, fertility, wisdom and divination. The hazel was a sacred Celtic tree and the hazelnut symbolised wisdom, peace and love. A hazel tree grew by the sacred pool of Avalon and was described as the Tree of Life.
As Halloween is the night when witches and evil spirits, the souls of the dead and wicked fairy folk roam the earth, numerous superstitions surround the night and have as a characteristic and apotropaic or protective function. The fire on the household hearth should on no account be left to die on this night, else evil spirits will descend down the chimney. Bonfires were lit on hilltops to drive off witches. Purification by fire ordained that people jumped over the flames, in some parts even cattle driven through the embers. In some parts many an unfortunate old woman was burnt in these fires because she was suspected to be a witch. The fires of purification were called Samhnagan. Often, food offerings were left out for the fairies on this night. Travelling was to be avoided at all costs as one could be led astray by the spirits and fairies. If one had to go out, pieces of iron or cold steel were carried on one’s person as a repellent against witchcraft.
Hey how for Hallow E’en
A’ the witches tae be seen
Some in black and some in green
Hey how for Hallow E’en.
Other traditions surrounding Samhain (i.e. November 1st and beginning of Winter),involved the reversal of order and normal values, the reign of chaos. This involved deriding figures of authority, hurling abuse and cabbages at notable people, playing tricks and practical jokes on friends and relatives. Parties of “guisers” went around from house to house collecting apples, nuts or money while riding a hobby horse or carrying a horse’s head. The association of the horse with this festival may go back to the ancient Roman festival of the October Horse, the last of the harvest feasts. Such customs are still very active in some countries, especially the USA, where Halloween has been revived with vigour, no doubt because of its appeal but also because of commercial potential.
It was customary at this time of dying vegetation and the fall of the year to decorate houses with evergreens such as holly, fir or mistletoe. This harks back to druidic tradition, which ritualised Autumn’s passage into Winter, the evergreen being a reminder that all was not lost, and life went on, ever vigilant of the return of Spring. Pliny records a Druidic ritual where the mistletoe was cut with a golden sickle, to fall onto a white cloak and not allowed to touch the ground. Two white bulls were sacrificed and a feast held. The ritual sacrifice and slaughter of animals at this time was also seen in Gaul and Teutonic lands. It was as much a Winter feast and laying in of Winter stores as it was also a killing of animals to conserve the meagre fodder during the harsh Winter months.
In even older times, human sacrifice was practised and this was to appease the Winter gods and to ensure the return of Spring and bring fertility. The Welsh festival of the Black Sow held at this time is a vestige of the human sacrifice rituals. The whole village ran down a hillside as fast as each could, shouting all the while: “Black Sow take the hindermost!”. The last person down the hill was the victim to be claimed by the Black Sow, the spirit of evil, cold and death.
Samhain was also a time of peace and all forms of violence, warring and fighting being suspended. No divorces were allowed, making it therefore a time for celebrating marriages. This also made it a time of the year when all sorts of love oracles were performed. A form of love divination was practised in Scotland and Northern England with hazelnuts on this night. A group of young unmarried women gathered around the fire and each took a hazelnut and threw it into the flames, saying:
If you love me, pop and fly,
If you don’t lie and die.
She then started to recite the names of possible suitors, her husband being indicated by the popping of the nut in the flames. A variation on this practised in Wales was the throwing into the flames of apple pips by two lovers. The same rhyme as above was recited and if the two pips popped simultaneously the lovers would marry happily. If the two pips exploded at different times, the two lovers would part.
Another divination involved a young woman taking a candle and going alone into a dark room with an apple. The candle was placed in front of the mirror and the apple was consumed while the woman combed her hair, looking into the mirror all the while. The face of the woman’s future lover (or of the Devil!) would then appear over her shoulder.
From ghoulies and ghosties
And long-leggedy beasties . . . ~ Scottish Saying
Goblins and gremlins and ghosties and ghouls . . . oh my. Happy All Hallow’s Eve everyone. Or to be more precise, Happy Samhain.
Samhain (pronounced sow-in), is an ancient Celtic festival. The Celts lived between 2000 to 2700 years ago, predominantly in the area that is now Ireland and the United Kingdom; although at one time, their tribes were spread through Western Europe from France (Gaul) to the Danube to Rome. The Celts celebrated their new year on November 1, which marked the end of the summer and the harvest and the beginning of winter. Unlike their portrayals in movies as a primitive barbaric society, in reality, the Celts were organized into three groups: the royal clans, who led the various tribes, the warrior aristocracy, and the common people.
Ancient Celtic religion was the mainstay of every aspect of everyday life. Their religion, which worshipped nature and all things in nature, was polytheistic, recognizing many levels of supernatural beings and divinities, female as well as male. The Celts believed that the course of nature was controlled by the will of their gods.
Druids, who served as Celtic scholars and priests, underwent rigorous training, sometimes lasting as long as 20 years. Druids passed on their knowledge of traditional lore about nature, the seasons, astronomy, and death. Along with the Druids, Celts venerated their Bards—singers who passed on history through the oral tradition—and their Vates, who were the soothsayers.
The Celts were a superstitious people, and they believed that on the night of October 31 the ghosts of the dead returned to wander the earth. These ancient people celebrated Samhain with huge bonfires where the people gathered to burn crops and make sacrifices to the gods. The Celts wore costumes, usually representing animals; these costumes, which were made from animal skins and bones, were used to hide the faces of the living from the dead who had returned. In addition, the clan’s priests, or Druids, would make predictions about the future. The flames from the dying bonfires were used to light the hearth fires, which would burn for the duration of the long winters.
“When witches go riding, and black cats are seen/the moon laughs and whispers, ‘tis near Halloween.” ~ 19th century Halloween postcard
Eventually, the Celtic tradition of Samhain was blended with Roman traditions after the spread of the Roman Empire overran the once powerful Celts. The Roman day of the dead, Feralia, fell in October, and the Romans celebrated the feast of Pomona in October. Pomona was the goddess of the fruit and trees, and her symbol was the apple. By 800 AD, Christianity had overtaken most of Europe, and November 1 was designated as All Saints’ Day (Alholomesse), the day to honor saints and martyrs. This day replaced the Celtic festival of the dead. October 31 became All Hallow’s Eve.
The modern idea of asking for treats may originate from the Christian tradition of All Soul’s Day (November 2), on which beggars would receive pastries called Soul Cakes from the more well-to-do citizenry. In return, the poor would offer to say a blessing for the wealthy family’s departed members.
History is a bit vague as to when the idea of costumes and Trick or Treats first came to the U.S., with most historians pointing to the influx of immigrants in the second half of the 19th century as the time during which the traditions of Halloween first began to infiltrate society. But the mass-marketing bonanza known today as Halloween is a relatively new advent: Orange lights, huge inflatable pumpkins in the yard—Halloween has become big business, with estimates that Americans spend $7 billion on the holidays, making it the country’s second largest commercial holiday.
Personally, I like the idea of celebrating fall and the harvest, but then again, I am no longer a kid getting sacks full of candy.
“My candle was nearly burnt out, when, by the glimmer of the half-extinguished light, I saw the dull yellow eye of the creature open . . .” ~ Frankenstein, Mary Shelley
While Corey and I were out today picking up a few groceries we saw all kinds of bizarre costumes, but not that many children. Purple fishnets, pink hair. Ah, the rich pageantry that is Wal Mart on a Saturday . . .
I remember when the kids were younger, and we would carve a pumpkin for Halloween. I only did the carving myself one year as I don’t particularly like to put my hands in squishy pumpkin guts. Besides, kids love to put their hands into squishy pumpkin guts. It’s part of the fun. What is not fun is carving the pumpkin, putting it out on the porch, and having some jerk come by and throw the creation into the street, which happened more than once. Some trick that was.
I once worked with a graphic designer who would carve the most incredible Jack O Lanterns at Halloween. I know that he won a few local competitions for his carving. I love to see the really artistic pumpkins, the ones with complete scenes or recognizable faces.
As with all things, the history of Jack O Lanterns comes from a folktale about some guy named Stingy Jack who kept making deals with the devil and then breaking them. As a result, he wasn’t allowed into heaven, nor did the devil want him. Poor old Jack had to roam the earth with a burning coal to light his way. The coal was inserted into a carved out turnip.
In Ireland, people made their own versions of Jack’s lanterns by carving scary faces into turnips or potatoes. These lanterns were placed into windows and near doors to frighten away wandering evil spirits, like Jack. Americans use pumpkins for their lanterns; the pumpkin is a fruit native to America.
Anyway, it’s past 9 p.m., and all little goblins have been taken home to sort through their various treats, completely unaware that they just participated in an ancient ritual.
Music from Halloween, the original. This music still scares the hell out of me . . .
More later. Peace.
Community Jack-o-Lanterns, Boylan Heights, Raleigh, NC