Samhain

What’s Stuck In My Head – 6 September

This is song goes in and out of my head on a regular basis, but I have hesitated to post it because Wifey® absolutely hates it.  Well, in all honesty, she hates everything about the band.

But this is my blog, not her’s so I’m posting it.

tull

This song is what most likely gave Ian Anderson the “mad flutist” nickname.  Ian is a pretty decent guitarist in his own right. But was not quite up to snuff for the band’s manager who wanted to keep on rhythm guitar, but as Ian says:

I didn’t want to be just another third-rate guitar player who sounded like a bunch of other third-rate guitar players. I wanted to do something that was a bit more idiosyncratic, hence the switch to another instrument. When Jethro Tull began, I think I’d been playing the flute for about two weeks. It was a quick learning curve … literally every night I walked onstage was a flute lesson.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jethro_Tull_(band)

The story I heard was that Ian was checking out local bands for ideas when he came across Eric Clapton playing and realized he could never match what he was hearing so he picked up the flute because nobody else was playing it.  The fact that whichever band Eric was playing with at the time isn’t mentioned, probably makes this an “urban myth”. But it sounds cool!

This is a high-energy video of Tull in concert.  Enjoy!

Peace,
B

P.S. Samhain is coming up!

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Allhallow’s Eve

So tomorrow is Hallowe’en. But since it’s on a school day again this year I’m not sure when the trick or treating will be. The ancient Celts would celebrate Samhain (see my post here), on the full moon nearest what we would call October 31st (in the times before the Gregorian calendar when it was a lunar based calendar). For us this year, that will be Saturday, November 4th at 1:23 AM. So that would make Saturday the day for trick or treating.

And of course, that would be one of the nights that the veil between the worlds would be thin, allowing all sorts of creatures, both good and bad, to visit our world from the “underworld”. Scholars point to this fact as the beginning of our Hallowe’en costumes.

“Trick-or-treating is a modern incarnation of old Irish, Manx, and Scottish practices that sometimes occurred over multiple nights leading to Samhain. In Ireland, the poor went door-to-door “mumming” or “souling.” They offered songs and prayers for the dead. As payment, the owners of the homes visited gave them soul cakes, cookies with a cross drawn on top, representing each soul detained in purgatory. Some saw the soulers, who often carried turnip lamps as they went about their rounds, as enacting the role of the dead souls seeking their food offerings. The regions that called this practice “mumming” were also referring to a type of folk theater called “Mummer’s Theater.” These often involved loose, strange plots involving stock characters. Saint George and the Doctor was a common play used at Samhain. In Somerset, children went door-to-door on October 30, called “Punkie Night.” The colloquial name “punkie” referred to their turnip (or beet) lanterns. On this holiday, children begged their neighbors for money to pay for fireworks used on the next night, called Mischief Night. The locals considered it unlucky to refuse— the children carrying the punkies represented the souls of dead children. Some regions came to call this door-to-door collections practice Halloween rhyming. Often children sang a song to the people who answered their doors and soul cakes or soul meat was part of an expected exchange. Mumming in Ireland gave way to going door-to-door, saying, “Help the Halloween party! Any apples or nuts?” In France, the tradition differed slightly. Rather than demanding food, children collected flowers from their neighbors, so that they might decorate graves of family members the following morning.”

Rajchel, Diana. Samhain: Rituals, Recipes & Lore for Halloween (Llewellyn’s Sabbat Essentials) (Kindle Locations 296-309). Llewellyn Worldwide, LTD.. Kindle Edition.

Observing Samhain, or Hallowe’en, on Saturday also makes sense this year as the following Sunday would be All Souls Day (All Saints Sunday in the Christian Churches). A time of remembrance of those that have passed on the year before.

“Eventually both All Saints’ and All Souls’ became distinct holidays unto themselves, with All Saints’ an observance for souls believed already ascended to heaven, and All Souls’ as a day to honor souls possibly still working out some issues in purgatory. In Ireland, these days marked a time for family reunions after cow-milking season finished.”

Rajchel, Diana. Samhain: Rituals, Recipes & Lore for Halloween (Llewellyn’s Sabbat Essentials) (Kindle Locations 176-178). Llewellyn Worldwide, LTD.. Kindle Edition.

So what are you going to do for Hallowe’en, Allhallows Eve or Hallowmas, whichever name you wish to use? We don’t have many children in our neighborhood, so Wifey® and I usually leave the house and turn off all the lights. But this year may be different, our old dog (who was more than a bit aggressive) has passed on, so it’s safe to open the door to little children again. We’ll have to see.

Leave a comment on your plans!

Peace,
B

Samhain

(This isn’t an anti any religion post. Your beliefs are your beliefs. I’m not trying to push any of my beliefs on you, please don’t try to push yours on me. This is here to show the history of one of my favorite holidays.)

The season of Samhain (pronounced SOW-win) is upon us. The greatest of the ancient Celtic fire festivals, it is usually celebrated on October 31st or the full moon closest to that date (November 4th at 1:23AM this year).  It is from this ancient festival that we believe the modern-day Halloween comes from.

To the ancient Celts, Samhain marked the most important of four Celtic fire festivals. Located halfway between an equinox and a solstice, it is one of four cross-quarter festivals. Every year on the first frost after the full moon in October, families allowed their hearth fires to burn out. At this time, they brought back herd animals from grazing and completed gathering the harvest. After the fires died, they gathered with the rest of their tribe to observe the Druid priests relighting the community sacred fire using friction. The priests induced friction with a wheel and spindle: the wheel, representing the sun, turned from east to west and lit sparks. At this time, they made prayers and offerings or sacrifices related to their needs. The Crom-cruach came out: this was an emblem of the sun, and scholars are uncertain whether it represented a Pagan god or symbolized an aspect of nature embodied in a stone pillar. The villagers left offerings of food at the edge of their village for wandering spirits and faerie folk. There was also a sacrifice of a black sheep, a black sow, or cattle. At the end, every person returned home with a brand lit from the sacred fire, which they used to relight their own hearth and then to light bonfires or to set torches at the edge of their fields. These ancients considered it a sin to relight the hearth fire any other way. To the ancient Celts, Samhain marked the completion of the harvest and called them to put their energy into preparing for the coming winter. It also betokened a day when their ancestors would come to visit, followed across the veil by all sorts of creatures both good and bad that moved freely in the mortal world on Samhain night. Since faeries were often unfriendly, the Celts dressed themselves as animals or as other fearsome creatures as a way to prevent kidnapping by faeries and later by witches.

Rajchel, Diana. Samhain: Rituals, Recipes & Lore for Halloween (Llewellyn’s Sabbat Essentials) (Kindle Locations 154-168). Llewellyn Worldwide, LTD.. Kindle Edition.

Not only did this festival mark the end of the harvest, it was a time the “veil between the worlds” thinned. This “thining of the veil” was of great import to the ancient Celts. (And it’s pronounced Kelts, with a hard “C”).  It was a time to welcome lost family members back to ask questions of them, or just sit in remembrance of them. It was also a time that creatures of all sorts, good and bad could cross between worlds. I would like to think that when I’m gone, on this day I will be able to stand at the veil and watch my family. To see how they’re doing and maybe, somehow, let them know I’m thinking (if that’s the right word) of them. John Lennon (he of Beatle fame) is said to have told his son Julian that if he can communicate from the other side he will float a white feather in front of him. That would be cool.

In today’s world “fairy” brings up images of “Tinkerbell” and other cute little sprite-like creatures. That was not the thinking in the 3rd – 5th centuries CE. In more ancient times (maybe as far back as 30,000 BCE) these fairies and sprites were looked upon as belonging to the Mother Goddess (Cerrwiden for most of Isles) and were usually benevolent. It wasn’t until the coming of the Celtic Christians (which was separate from the Roman Catholics) that these fairies were taught to be mischievous at best, evil at worst.

Most of the “Old Gods” of the Druids (which were stolen by the patriarchal religions) were manifestations of the matriarchal religions’ Mother Goddess (or Mother Earth). To try to convert the pagans of the British Isles, the priests either turned these old Gods and Goddess into saints, as in “Saint” Brigid or claimed they were evil and cast them to live in the hills underground.

 

IMG_20141026_191733430.jpg

Our Jack o’Lanterns from 2016

 

So the Catholic church tried to change all the pagan holidays, Samhain being only one, into a Christian holiday. They didn’t invent these “holy days” so much as usurp them from the pagan calendar.

When Christianity spread throughout Europe, the church officials went about converting the area heathens by converting their holidays. Sometimes church officials did this by scheduling an observance for a different time of year. Other times, they simply renamed the old Pagan holiday for a saint’s day. In the fifth century, Pope Boniface attempted to repurpose the ritual of honoring otherworldly spirits and the dead, identifying it as a day to honor saints and martyrs, and moving the holiday to May 13. When the late October/ November fire festivals continued anyway, in the ninth-century Pope Gregory decided to move the saints and martyrs day back to the same day as the secular festival of the dead. In the case of Samhain, rather than negate the festival of the dead, the church resorted to declaring November 1 All Saints’ Day, alternatively called All Souls’ Day. Later the church added All Souls’ Day on November 2, possibly because All Saints’ Day failed to displace the Pagan rituals. Eventually both All Saints’ and All Souls’ became distinct holidays unto themselves, with All Saints’ an observance for souls believed already ascended to heaven, and All Souls’ as a day to honor souls possibly still working out some issues in purgatory. In Ireland, these days marked a time for family reunions after cow-milking season finished. Over time the night before November 1, called among many names Hallowe’en, Allhallows eve, or Hallowmas, became the repository for most of the original Pagan practices.

Rajchel, Diana. Samhain: Rituals, Recipes & Lore for Halloween (Llewellyn’s Sabbat Essentials) (Kindle Locations 169-179). Llewellyn Worldwide, LTD.. Kindle Edition.

As you can see, it didn’t really work. We pagans are a stubborn bunch. But I have to admit, that when I did call myself a Christian All Saint’s Sunday was an especially meaningful day for me. To hear the names of the “saints” that had left us the previous year and to have a bell chime for each name was very moving.

Despite the best efforts of the ninth century Christian Church, Samhain did not so much return as it remained. That, alongside Halloween, speaks to humanity’s enduring need to acknowledge fear, death, uncertainty, and loss. Samhain offers a chance for renewal and a chance to connect lovingly with the dead again. Halloween offers a release from the norm— often exactly what people need after enduring powerful grief. Pagans celebrate life, and with Samhain they do so by revering the dead, celebrating the chain of lives that brought us all together.

Rajchel, Diana. Samhain: Rituals, Recipes & Lore for Halloween (Llewellyn’s Sabbat Essentials) (Kindle Locations 423-427). Llewellyn Worldwide, LTD.. Kindle Edition.

I have quoted extensively from Samhain: Rituals, Recipes & Lore for Halloween. This book is part of a series “Llewellyn’s Sabbat Essentials”.  While I couldn’t find a link to the entire series (there are several books) this particular book can be found here on Amazon. From there you should be able to find the rest. While I found the “recipes & crafts” section rather boring, you may enjoy that kind of stuff. The rest of the book was quite interesting to me.  If you buy it I hope you enjoy it!

Peace,
B

P.S. Long live the Celts!