Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Time for the Dark: Samhain & Hallowe'en

A photo of artwork done by Sulamith Wulfing

As I went out walking this fall afternoon,
I heard a wisper wispering.
I heard a wisper wispering,
Upon this fine fall day…

As I went out walking this fall afternoon,
I heard a laugh a’laughing.
I heard a laugh a’laughing,
Upon this fine fall day…

I heard this wisper and I wondered,
I heard this laugh and then I knew.
The time is getting near my friends,
The time that I hold dear my friends,
The veil is getting thin my friends,
And strange things will pass through.

~The Veil Is Getting Thin by Wolfdancer

It has just dawned on me that I still haven't done a comprehensive post on the lore of my favourite holiday, Samhain. I have already done some on holidays such as Bealtaine and Lughnasadh, so I suppose this is a good excuse to do a blog post. ;)

Snap Apple Night by Daniel Maclise, 1833

Samhain is generally accepted to translate from old Irish to mean "end of summer" or "summer's end". At one time there were only two seasons observed in Ireland, Summer and Winter, or the Light and Dark halves of the year. Bealtaine heralded the beginning of Summer/Light half and Samhain the beginning of Winter/Dark half. {You can read more about the origins of the name and the Celtic year here.}

The Dark half was ruled by forces associated with Unseen, Otherworld, and Death. It was a time for divination, honouring ancestral spirits {and of course the Gods}, and the final harvest. It was also the start of a new year.

Besides also being Hallowe'en, there is Nos Galan Gaeaf in Wales, Hop-tu-Naa in the Isle of Man, Allantide in Cornwall, Día de los Muertos in Mexico, and All Saints Day for Catholics.

La ronde des Farfadets de Les Farfadets by David Ryckaert III, 1600's
Because it was thought that the dead roamed freely on this side around Samhain, some folks would leave meals prepared for their deceased loved ones. I have already talked about this a bit in other posts such as here and here.

But it wasn't only loved ones afoot! There were also other Otherworldy folk that one might run into who weren't as benign. According to Land, Sea & Sky travellers would disguise themselves in the hopes that they would be overlooked or would avoid being out at night altogether.

The text also mentions how people would kiss goodbye any leftover crops not yet harvested by Samhain, as they were believed to be spoiled or they were left out as offerings to the Faeries.

Just like Bealtaine, bonfires played an important role at Samhain. However, it would seem that Bealtaine bonfires were lit at daybreak, while the ones for Samhain were lit at sundown {The Gaelic Otherworld by John Gregerson Campbell}. Bonfires were probably seen as a symbol of renewal and purification, and no doubt was thought to protect the living from being harmed by supernatural forces.

Traditional Irish Jack-O'-Lantern
An iconic symbol of this holiday is of course the Jack-O'-Lantern. You can hear about it's supposed beginnings here, in a video I posted last year. Carving veggies into lanterns is a tradition that has quite a long history in Ireland and Scotland, but it wasn't made into a Hallowe'en tradition until the practice was taken up in America in the late 19th century. And while most folks make theirs out of pumpkins, veggie lanterns over the pond were usually turnips or swedes. You can learn how to carve a traditional turnip Jack-O'-Lantern here.
Another popular activity associated with this time of year is dressing up in costumes. As previously mentioned, folks would sometimes disguise themselves as a protective measure against malignant spirits.
In his book Hallowe'en, Nicholas Rogers remarks how in both Scotland and Ireland, there is a fairly strong tradition of guising at this time of year. Anywhere from an Irish traveller turning their coat inside out to avoid being nabbed by Faeries {The Year in Ireland by Kevin Danaher} to young Scottish men blackening their faces or wearing masks going out and about to cause mischief or entertain other folks in exchange for money, food, and drink. This is something you see at other times of year, especially around Yule/Christmas with Mummers. I suppose this was the beginnings off our modern trick or treating.
1920's Hallowe'en card
There are folks who feel that now is the best time for divination, making charms, and other magical practices. Many of these practices traditionally involve food {especially fruit and nuts}.
If you are wanting to leave a message for those who have passed, Robin Artisson suggests the following on the Tracks in the Witchwood blog:
Split an apple in two, and write a letter to that dead one you wish to communicate with on a small round of parchment, using Saturnian ink mingled with a dab of blood- then put it between the apple-halves and spear the halves “back into whole” with long, sharpened thin stakes of some Saturnian wood. Bury these messages in a ground that also has graves dug in it- or bury them under the roots of the Elder, the Apple, the Thorn, the Yew, or the Cypress. Thus, the deed is done. And this isn’t just a Hallows letter-writing; do it year-round, if you will.
Bobbing for apples, while seemingly just a game was also used as a form of divination. Over at the Tairis website it says that while dookin' for aipples in Scotland there was a penny added to the water and the finder would have luck in the coming year and that the apple caught was often used in other divination.
The website also talks about other forms of divination involving food as well, including nuts:

{in Ireland} Two hazel nuts, walnuts, chestnuts or grains of wheat were taken and named after the two potential lovers, and were then placed in the ashes or on the grate to see how they would behave. Spitting and jumping showed the couple were not meant to be together, whereas nuts or grains that burned happily together indicated an altogether happier fate.

And that both in Ireland and Scotland people would put various charms in food such as pies or potato-based dishes.
A way for a girl in Lewis to bring her chosen lover to her was to use a dumb cake:
Girls were each apportioned a small piece of dough, mixed with any but spring water. They kneaded it with their left thumbs, in silence. Before midnight they pricked initials on them with a new pin, and put them by the fire to bake. The girls withdrew to the farther end of the room, still in silence. At midnight each lover was expected to enter and lay his hand on the cake marked with his initials. {The Book of Hallowe'en by Ruth Edna Kelley}

In various places a young woman could find out who her future husband was by looking in a mirror on Hallowe'en, where she was supposed to see him.

If you are looking to erect an altar or shrine, some items you might want to consider putting on it besides that nifty turnip Jack-o'-Lantern I hope that you all are going to make { ;) } are photos or belongings of deceased loved ones; representation of animals such as owls, deer, crows, ravens, hounds, and horses; food and plants such as apples, pumpkins, pomegranates, nuts, dried roses, dried leaves, poppies; also items to place offerings on {i.e. bowl, cup, incense burner} are of course suitable.
Here are a few luverly photos from other people for inspiration:

by kightp

by Raul D

by Katie Cowden

by autumndragyn

by FreeCat

by Great Beyond

by Carlitos

by LoopZilla

by Avia Venefica
Also, here are a few previously posted videos that might be of interest in regards to altars, as well as other things for Samhain/Hallowe'en.


Plants for the Dying & Deceased:




Cammie said...

~*~Wonderful~*~ thank you for writing this.

Bek said...

You're a mine of information! Love these posts and ace pics too.

perma_culture said...

Halloween is my favorite too so thank you for writing this =^) I hope that you share some of the photographs from your halloween altar.

Marisol said...

Such beautiful information and pictures!

nefaeria said...

Thanks everyone! :)

Permie: I hope to get those up soon. ;)

Medusae said...

GREAT post!!!
I especially love the photos and advice about shrines. So beautiful!

The 'candle before the mirror to see your future husband' thing reminds me of the 'Bloody Mary' chanting that kids do to spook each other. I forget how it goes exactly, cause the 80s were a long time ago >.>

But basically I recall you're supposed to turn off the bathroom light (the bathroom being the only place with a mirror, natch). Light a candle in there, and say Bloody Mary three times in the mirror.
I dunno what is supposed to happen because I was WAY too scared to do something that might go so wrong! ehhehehe

I'm not messing with the magic if I don't have the spellbook!