I’m looking forward to my visit to the Big Green Bookshop next Friday, Nov 6th. During the next week, if anyone spots Simon in his new Stonewylde T-shirt please let me know – he swears blind he’ll wear it all week! He asked me to blog here and as it’s Hallowe’en, this is about the origins of the festival. To counteract the Trick or Treat candy-bucket stuff that irritates me so much.
My books are set in a contemporary community in Dorset, where the people live their lives very close to nature, honouring the earth and following the “Old Ways”. I did a lot of research whilst writing the Stonewylde Series and the whole pagan thing is fascinating, whether you subscribe to it or not. It’s part of our folklore and heritage, and is in fact enjoying a huge revival as the Green Renaissance gathers momentum and people try to live more simple lives.
Hallowe'en is the Christianised version of a very ancient festival celebrated by the Celts, and possibly earlier than that too. The original name is Samhain (pronounced Sowain). It's the last day of the old year in the Celtic calendar - the Wheel of the Year. Nov 1st is the new year, so Samhain is the old New Year's Eve.
Many cultures have a time of remembering and honouring their ancestors and those more recently departed, and Samhain is the Festival of the Dead. Celts believed when you died your soul entered the Otherworld which was separated from our world by a veil. Some magical people such as shamen and wise women could communicate with souls in the Otherworld, and the crow was the messenger of the dead. At Samhain, this veil between our world and the Otherworld becomes very thin. At midnight when the old year becomes the new year, as the Wheel of the Year turns, it may be possible to glimpse or speak with the dead. Hence the current preoccupation at Hallowe’en with ghosts and skeletons.
The pumpkin or swede Jack o’Lantern is an old custom; vegetables were carved into frightening faces to scare away any unwanted attention from departed souls who might come a-stalking. Folk would leave out food and drink on their doorsteps for the dead, or lay a place for them at the table. The scene in Macbeth with Banquo's ghost is said to be a reference to this custom, and the words “ghost” and “guest” apparently come from the same root. When Christianity took over, those in power simply adopted the pagan festivals and put a Christian slant on them (like at Christmas and Easter). So they made November 1st All Hallows Day (hallows meaning the saints or souls) and the night before, All Hallows' Eve. Or Hallowe'en. It’s easy to see where our current customs originate from. And although Trick or Treating and the whole obsession with Hallowe’en may seem to come from the USA, in fact it’s only coming back. It originated from here and was exported over there with the Pilgrim Fathers and the ensuing migration of Brits.
When I visit the Big Green Bookshop next week I’ll be talking a bit about the Wheel of the Year and the eight festivals: the four fire festivals (the two Solstices and two Equinoxes) and the four cross-quarter festivals - Samhain, Imbolc, Beltane and Lammas. These cross quarter festivals were linked to the farming calendar - ploughing, planting and harvesting. Samhain heralded the first day of winter for the Celts, Nov 1st, and was the day when many of the animals (especially pigs) were slaughtered and then salted or dried for meat during the winter, as there wasn’t enough food to keep all the animals alive during the winter. So Samhain was a time of slaughter and blood.
Have a great Hallowe’en and remember at midnight to peer through the veil - you may get a glimpse of your ancestors! I hope to meet many of you next Friday in the shop.
Thanks Kit. If you want to know more about Kit, Stonewylde, and lots more you can't go far wrong visiting her website www.stonewylde.com.