Sunday, September 26, 2010

A Few Oíche Shamhna Traditions

To get into the season, I've been reading a book by David J. Skal entitled Death Makes a Holiday: A Cultural History of Halloween (link), and I'm really enjoying it despite its depressing introduction. But there are some nice little tidbits in chapter one that I'd like to share regarding Gaelic traditions, which I'm sure fellow Gaelic Polytheists might want to incorporate into their celebration(s).

First off, I had no idea that Halloween derives from the Middle England hallowen, which means hallowed or sacred. Yeah, put that in your pipe and smoke it fundies who believe it is an evol holiday full of devilry. And with that random tangent over, on to the fun stuff!
"In Scotland, young people went blindfolded into the garden to pull kale stalks; later , before the crackling fireplace, the plants would be "read" for revealing signs of the future wife or husband—short and stunted, tall and healthy, withered and old, and so on. The amount of earth clinging to the root was believed to indicate the amount of dowry or fortune the player could expect from a mate. The stalks were hung above the door in a row, and each subsequent Halloween visitor was assigned the identity of a vegetable-spouse in turn. Cabbages and leeks were similarly used." (page 29 -- didn't find a source listed)
Also on page 29-30, there's a great recounting of a incident in Leinster (Ireland) of the power spells cast on Halloween have. A lady named Sarah had a dream where she was walking in an unfamiliar part of the Irish countryside and came upon a cottage. Seeking rest and something to eat, she enters the cottage but she lacked the will to sit down. When she became too exhausted to stand any longer, she flees the house, back up the road and once again through the unfamiliar countryside. The next morning she wakes and tells her husband of the dream. He replies, "My dear Sarah, you will not long have me beside you; whoever is to be your second husband played last night some evil trick of which you have been the victim."

Within a few months, Sarah's finds herself a widow and a few years later her uncle introduces her to another man. The man is in shock, he recounts how one Halloween he cast a spell, and sat up all night to see the results. While by the fire a woman—Sarah—walked into the house, stood there a bit and then disappeared as quickly as she came. A very eerie tale indeed (by the way, they ended up married and happy).
"In Ireland, "Ashes were raked smooth on the hearth at bedtime on Hallowe'en, and the next morning examined for footprints. If one was turned from the door, guests or a marriage was propheised; if toward the door, a death." (page 30 -- Ruth Edna Kelley, Book of Halloween, 1919, listed as the source)
"Halloween was also the time when Irish children would return to the place where they had hung up an herb called "livelong" on Midsummer Eve. Those whose herb had retained their color would prosper, those whose plants had withered would die themselves." (page 30-31 -- Ibid. source) 
"Scottish children replenished the population by piling up cabbage stalks before retiring on Halloween, in the belief that a new brother or sister would shortly be provided to them—this, obviously, a variation on the belief that babies were found in cabbage patches." (page 31 -- William S. Walsh, Curiosities of Popular Customs, 1897, listed as the source)
Page 33 mentions some pranks from Ireland and Scotland, but this post is running rather long, so I'll probably do another post later. The above traditions, though, would work very well as part of a family celebration, especially those with children.

1 comment:

  1. The book looks good! I'll have to add it to my list.

    I was always told that Hallowe'en comes from 'Hallows Eve', the day after being All Hallow's Day. So yeah, arguably the name comes from trying to reclaim the whole idea of devilry being rampant etc, and put it in a Christian context.

    Interesting about the footprints - very similar to Scottish custom at Là Fhèill Brìgdhe, but in this sense perhaps articulating the fine line between ancestors and gods?