Saturday, October 25, 2014
Paganism has its roots in the indigenous, pre-Christian religions of Europe. The majority of the population to inhabit Scotland in Pre-Christian times could trace their origins to Scandinavia, Northern Continental Europe and the Mediterranean. Some may even have emigrated from America around 7,600 BC. A mass immigration of people to mainland Europe and Ireland may also have occurred from North Africa around 650 A.D. Most historians agree Celtic culture can be definitively traced back to about 800 B.C. Judeo-Christian Benedictine monks in 750 AD found Ireland had a vibrant civilization, with many characteristics in common with Egypt and Libya; there was also a strong connection with South Central Europe. They considered the Celts must have reached Ireland about 400 BC., bringing with them civilization. Celts encompassed many different people and tribes and were loosely connected by language, art, culture and religion. The predominant faith was Druid and Priests played a major role in society, connecting people to other tribal communities, the gods and the dead as well as keeping an oral history of settlements. Celts did not have strict borders between the realms of the living and the dead. They believed a constant exchange of souls took place between the two worlds so that when someone died in the other world, it would bring a soul to this world. Rituals were largely based on both nature and the passage of time in nature such as the transition between day and night. This concept of natural change was also seen in the importance of transitions between the seasons, which also represented changes within the human life cycle. Spring represented birth, summer represented maturity, autumn represented decay and winter represented death and “re-birth into a new generation.” Druids gathered on 31st October to kindle a sacred fire (Hallowfire) and practice age old rituals. Christianity came to southern Scotland during the Roman occupation. It was mainly spread by missionaries from Ireland from the fifth century and is associated with St Ninian, St Kentigern and St Columba.
Samhain (pronounced SAH-win or SOW-in) is a Gaelic festival marking the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter or the "darker half" of the year. It is celebrated from sunset on 31 October to sunset on 1 November, which is nearly halfway between the autumn equinox and the winter solstice in the Northern Hemisphere. In the Old Celtic Calendar, New Year began on the 1st November. The Celts were mainly pastoral people and dependent on cattle Samhain was the time of year when the cattle were brought back down from the summer pastures and livestock were slaughtered for the winter. This was the time of harvest and the gathering of the clans. In Gaelic, Samhuinn or hallow tide (or season) is the feast of all-souls which is sometimes referred to as the Festival of the Dead. It is the transition between old and new year was believed to set free evil spirits which walked among the living. A liminal (transitional) time where the darkness of night was thought to prevail over the lightness of day. Lugh the Sun God was defeated by his darker side and became the Lord of Misrule. A twilight zone where the spirits of the dead and those not yet born, walked freely among the living. The souls of the dead were believed to revisit their old homes and good people needed the comfort of their own kind and protection from the evil forces of the dark. During Samhain feasts were held and Hallowbonfires were lit while Druids practiced their rituals. The Hallowfires were supposed to scare away evil spirits. In modern times the celebration of Samhain was common along Scotland's Highland Line. Two bonfires sat adjacent and celebrants and livestock were walked or danced between them as a ritual of purification. In the late 18th century, in Ochtertyre, Perthshire, a ring of stones was laid round the fire to represent each person. Everyone then ran round it with a torch, "exulting". In the morning, the stones were examined and if any was mislaid it was said that the person for whom it was set would not live out the year. In Moray, the boys asked for bonfire fuel from each house in the village. When the fire was lit, one after another of the youths laid himself down on the ground as near to the fire as possible so as not to be burned, and in such a position as to let the smoke roll over him. The others ran through the smoke and jumped over him. When the bonfire burnt down, they scattered the ashes, vying with each other who should scatter them most. People took the flames from the bonfire back to their homes in the belief it would bring them luck. In northeastern Scotland, they carried burning fir around their fields to protect them, and on South Uist they did the same with burning turf. In some places, hearth fires were doused on Samhain night. Each family solemnly took it in turn to re-light its hearth from the communal bonfire. This was thought to bond the families of the village together. In many parts of Scotland it was customary to leave an empty chair and a plate of food for invisible guests. A western-facing door or window was also opened and a candle left burning on the windowsill to guide the dead home. Eating and drinking was very much part of celebrations but the Witchcraft Act of 1735 contained a clause preventing the consumption of pork and pastry comestibles on Halloween; the act was eventually repealed in the 1950s.
All Hallow’s Eve
The Roman Catholic holy day of All Saints (or All Hallows) was introduced in the year 609 AD. This had been originally celebrated on 13 May. Louis the Pious in 835AD., switched it to 1 November in the Carolingian Empire, at the behest of Pope Gregory IV. The night of 31 October was known as All Hallows' Eve (or All Hallows' Even). Later the 2nd November became All Souls' Day and over time Samhain and All Saints'/All Souls' morphed into the secular holiday known as Halloween. Fear of pagan ways by the Church, Samhain became associated with witches and broomsticks, black cats (familiars), bats (night creatures), ghosts and other spooky things. Once the The Gregorian calendar (Christian calendar) was accepted many of the observed customs of Samhain were absorbed into Hogmanay e.g first footing.
From the 16th century guising (or mumming) became part of Halloween, and involved young people going door-to-door in costume (in disguise), often reciting verses in exchange for food (souling). In the Middle Ages poor people travelled from door to door on Hallowmas (November 1), receiving food in return for prayers for the dead on All Souls Day (November 2). A common belief was during Samhain the deceased would visit their old home and the purpose of disguise was to impersonate the dead and demand reward in exchange for good fortune. It is also thought guisers were able to ward off evil spirits. Playing pranks at Samhain is recorded in the Scottish Highlands as far back as 1736 and was also common in Ireland, which led to Samhain being nicknamed "Mischief Night" in some parts. In some parts of Scotland young men went house-to-house with masked, veiled, painted or blackened faces (using the village bonfire ashes ) often threatening to do mischief if they were not welcomed. This may be the origin of todays ‘trick or treat.’ Adults also took special care not to offend the little people(aos sí) and sought to ward-off any who were out to cause mischief. They stayed near to home or, if forced to walk in the darkness, turned their clothing inside-out or carried iron or salt to keep them at bay. Up until the early 19th century, locals in Lewis, the Outer Hebrides gathered on the shore on 31 October. One man walked into the water up to his waist, before emptying a cup of ale into the sea. He then called on the Celtic water spirit (Seonaidh - Shoney), to bestow blessings on the local fishermen.
The traditional illumination for guisers or pranksters abroad was provided by turnips or mangel wurzels, hollowed out to act as lantern. These often had grotesque faces to represent spirits or goblins. Traditionally the flame from the village bonfire was carried in the turnip lantern. Villages doused their home fires so they could be rekindled it with the new flame. By this means not only would it bring good luck the household, it also joined the communities together by sharing the flame from the village bonfire. Candles in hollowed-out turnips produce flickering flames. The old belief was candle flames which flickered on Samhain night were being touched by the spirits of dead ancestors, or "ghosts." They may have also been used to protect oneself from harmful spirits. The mass transatlantic Irish and Scottish immigration to North America popularized the Halloween traditions. "Jack of the Lantern” was an old Irish tale and Jack was a man who could enter neither heaven nor hell and was condemned to wander through the night with only a candle in a turnip for light. The term Jack-o’- lantern became associated with Halloween lanterns in the 20th century along with wearing costumes. In the US trick-or-treating became popular from the late 1940s.
By the 19th century children masqueraders in disguise and carrying lanterns made out of scooped out turnips to visit homes and be rewarded with cakes, fruit and money was well established. Children were only supposed to receive treats if they performed a party trick for the household. This normally took the form of singing a song or reciting a poem or telling a funny joke which the child memorized before setting out. Occasionally more talented children might do card tricks, play the mouth organ, or something even more impressive. More often than not today they do not even need have to perform to gain reward.
Seasonal foods such as apples and nuts were traditionally used to reward guisers. Later money, chocolate and other candies replaced them. In preparation for Halloween festivities, apples were ritualistically peeled by the young girls of the house. A long strip of peel was passed thrice, sunwise; around the head before the young girl throw it over her shoulder. If it fell to the ground in the shape of the initial letter this was a clear indication of the first letter of a future spouse's name. In the preparation of Halloween cake, egg whites were dropped in water, and the shapes foretold the number of future children.
Holloween cakes also contained tokens for luck.
Today childrens’ parties are still an important element of Halloween. The games played traditionally had their origins in divination for the coming year.
Dooking (or bobbing) for apples
One of the most popular games in Scotland is dookin' for apples, where bairns (children) have their hands tied behind their backs and try to grab apples from a basin full of water with their teeth. The apples being less dense than water floated to the surface and just to make it more difficult sometime flour was sprinkled on the water. A modified form of the game was to allow the child to kneel on a chair and hold a fork handle between their teeth. Taking aim they would release the fork, prongs side down into the basin and retrieve and keep any apple they skewered.
A variation on the game is "snap apple" where the fruit is hung from the ceiling on strings.
The origin of the game dates back to Roman Times, the Romans introduced the apple tree to Britain. When an apple is sliced in half, the seeds form a pentagram-shape. The apple was taken as a symbol of fertility and used to determine marriage. During the annual celebration, young unmarried people try to bite into an apple floating in water or hanging from a string; the first person to bite into the apple would be the next one to be allowed to marry. Girls who place the apple they bobbed under their pillows are said to dream of their future lover.
Because Pomona was a fertility goddess and because the Celts believed that the pentagram was a fertility symbol and when an apple is sliced in half the seeds form a pentagram it is natural that they believed the apple could be used to determine marriages during this magical time of year. From this belief comes the game bobbing for apples. During the annual celebration young unmarried people try to bite into an apple floating in water or hanging from a string. The first person to bite into the apple would be the next one to marry.
Another game played at parties is the game of treacle scones. With hands tied behind the back and sometimes blindfolded the participants are invited to bite a scone, covered in treacle, hanging from a string.
One custom in the Western Isles was for engaged couples to put two large nutshells on the grate of the fire. Each shell was named after the couple. If the heated nuts make a lot of noise like spitting and hissing etc., and flew off the hearth, this foretold it would be a stormy marriage. If the nuts burnt slowly and quietly, then the marriage would be a happy one. If the nuts jumped together this was deemed a good omen for the couple.
Another fortune telling game for adults is "Pull a Stock." Young men and women are blindfolded and walk toward a field of kale stocks (a form of cabbage). They must stop at the first one they come to and pull it from the ground. The shape of the stock indicates the shape of their future husband or wife; for example, thick, thin, tall, short, straight or crooked. Furthermore, if soil is stuck to the stock, this indicates a wealthy future.