Samhain or Halloween ?? A Look Into Our Past traditions

Samhain or Halloween ??
A Look Into Our Past traditions

As a war time babe , I recall growing up in the ‘40s and looking  forward  to celebrating  Halloween at the end of October . Things  change with time .In those  far off days we went  guysing with our turnip lanterns to immediate neighbours and  after performing  and entertaining them with a  short poem , a  song  or  perhaps  even a few stale jokes ,  we  would  be  given our “ Halloween” . This was usually a couple of apples or a banana or orange. I f we were extremely  fortunate  we might  even  be  the recipients  of a  handful of “ coppers “ . Such was the simplicity of life in an age when the internet  , mobile phones did  not exist and  the telly was in its  black and white infancy . The term “ trick  or treat  “ resided alone across the Pond and was unheard of  in the outlying regions of auld Scotia.  The turnip lantern seems to have given wayto its pumpkin cousin which in reflection seems a definite improvement!

This ancient Scottish festival dates  back  way  beyond  the Christian era and  surviving today  under the  better  known name of Halloween  or All Hallows Eve . Its  origins  lie in the fascinating Neolithic period oft  referred  to as the Stone Age  when Scotland’s numerous standing stones – megaliths or chambered cairns were  constructed  It was in that period  that the ancients  constructed those many and mysterious  cursus that are to found  throughout the UK  and which include  the  fascinating Strathearn cursus on our  very doorstep here in the Strath .
The origins are connected with the seasons of the year. Our Celtic forefathers celebrated Beltane the feast of mid-summer and Samhain the celebration of a successful harvest. Fire played a sign part in established ritual. Bonfires were lit on hill tops throughout the land and people danced around the burning pyre. In Stewart McHardy’s eminently readable Scotland: Myth, Legend and Folk Lore ( Luath , Edinburgh ) , he recalls that around 1840 , a Sheriff Barclay, travelling  from Dunkeld  to Aberfeldy a mere 16 kilometres apart , spotted at least 30 fires a blazing on hill tops each with people dancing around  them . Interesting to remember that in our anglicized society “Bonfire Night “ or “ Guy Fawkes Night” is some  5 000 years younger than what I have  been describing  The Gunpowder Plot of  1605 was an act against the English Parliament 102 years  prior to the establishment of the United Kingdom Parliament at Westminster with no Scottish relevance ! Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose ! 
The Scottish term “guising “meaning to dress up at Halloween and paint your face has an interesting origin. It is an abbreviation of the word “disguising “.
Witches play a significant part in our folk lore .On reflection the witches were in the most part women who were capable of translating nature into medicinal cures and to make concoctions of plants  and herbs to thwart  the effects  of  maladies and ailments . They were in general not regarded as bearers of evil but more as persons who could converse   with nature to the benefit of the populous. As has been recalled in some depth in previous Blogs  , the persecution of witches particularly  in the Strathearn and Glen Devon areas was extensive in the late 16th Century. 
Such was the influence of the old traditions on the average person that the Church  was forced  to make a move   which might counteract the powerful influence of the old beliefs and pagan rituals . In the 9th century AD the date of the Feast of All Saints  was moved  to the 31st October and All Hallows Eve or Halloween had  arrived ! 
Although  nowadays Guy Fawkes  Night  has virtually usurped many of  our  ancient traditions in Scotland and the newly hatched Safety Health and Welfare Regulations  have doused  many of the ancient flames of the traditional bonfires , it is important that a  proper understanding  of our past traditions is  maintained . 


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