Memories of Halloween
Happy Halloween to all my Tarot Friends around The World,
This Post was due to go out yesterday but I had no internet access the whole day which was very frustrating for me. I apologise for the tardiness of this post. However, Halloween or Samhain as it is known here in Ireland, is not just one day, but is celebrated over several so I am not that late!!!! All images used were sourced from copyright free image sites. However, if you believe that some are copyrighted please let me know and I will remove them.
Halloween, also known as Samhain (Summer’s End) is a Celtic Fire Festival for Honouring the Ancestral Dead and Paying Homage to Land Spirits. For the Celts it marked the end of Harvest Time and the beginning of their New Year. Pagans also celebrate it as the beginning of their New Year, a time for letting go of the old and looking forward to the year ahead. It is the time in the year when The Triple Goddess manifests as The Crone, and The God as The Horned Hunter or Holly King, The Lord of Death. The Colours for Samhain are black, orange, purple and brown. Divination, as in Tarot Reading, Palmistry and Scrying are particularly accurate as the veil between the two worlds is at its thinnest.
I am not here today to go into the depths of Celtic Traditions for Samhain. That will be at another time and I will be closely following and discussing The Wheel of The Year on this site. Today, I am simply musing about Halloween or Samhain, and over the next few days will be bringing you a special Past Life Reading that is interesting to carry out at this time of the year.
Everywhere in Ireland, right now, at this very moment, children, and parents are getting prepared for a big, big night. For children, this is the second biggest night of the year after Christmas. Of course, their birthdays are very special but you would never be able to invite as many children to your party as the hundreds that will be roaming the streets, dressed in all manner of scary and funny costume. Halloween or Samhain is a spooky, scary and fabulously fun night for children. They get to go out after dark and get up to all sort of crazy behaviour that normally would not be permitted by parents.
From a commercial point of view, Halloween or Samhain is starting earlier and earlier each year, and in the last couple of months I have witnessed young children throwing terrible tantrums in supermarkets because they are not being allowed to buy a mask or some set of flashing pumpkin lights by an extremely distressed and embarrassed parent. Well, it was only mid-September at the time, with the summer school holidays only just over. What is a parent supposed to do?
Parents may be mad at the shop owners for deliberately taunting their children with premature shopping for Halloween or Samhain. Kids are confused as to what season it is and have lost the ability to wait for anything. For the last three weeks I have done my grocery shopping surrounded by both Halloween or Samhain and Christmas decorations. Now try to explain that one to a child. Not only do they want the skeleton costume, like now, but they also want the latest Xbox console the shop are promoting with Santa’s big round red face urging them on. Outside, we were experiencing an Indian Summer, with relaxed people strolling around in t-shirts and flip-flops, while in the stores, fake snow was being blown from a snow making machine, causing red itching irritation to my eyes by the way.
So our seasons have gone haywire and our traditional festivals with them. Kids do not know what they are missing out on. When I was a child, the excitement that started to build about two weeks before Halloween was frenzy-like. We waited patiently for the first plastic masks to arrive in the shops, and for our first sight of monkey nuts (we never saw them any other time of year), oh I forgot the coconuts too and of course the blood-red oranges. For some reason they always appeared around Halloween. Shop bought costumes really didn’t exist, that is unless you had relatives in The States who had sent them to you. Instead we made do with what was at home. I remember my mother tearing up old sheets and cutting holes for the eyes and mouth. We would then throw it over our head and hey presto, we were ready to go trick or treating. By the way, in Ireland we didn’t call it trick or treating back then. Instead when you called to someone’s door, you just shouted ‘help the Halloween Party‘. Sometimes we just put on a variety of old clothes and painted moustaches on our faces, and make-up just about anywhere. We would wear Wellington boots with men’s trousers tucked into them, and an old jacket with some twine tied around the waist. If we were lucky we had a cap to wear too. There were six of us at home so buying a plastic mask for each one of us would have been considered a luxury. We were happy with what we had.
School at that time was a hive of activity too. Old dusty Halloween decorations were pulled out of worn out cardboard boxes each year, and the best part was that art and crafts time was devoted to making new decorations, either for the classroom or to take home. Best still, if funds for the school permitted, we were given sheets of black card and were shown how to make our own witch’s hat with brim and all. A roll of elastic was passed around so that we could staple some on to prevent our hat slipping or blowing off us. We also made cardboard masks in that manner and these too were worn on Halloween or Samhain Night. Ceiling chains were made of black and orange crepe paper, and cardboard spiders with legs made out of black pipe cleaners.
Halloween or Samhain also coincided with mid-term break which added to the excitement. On the last day in school we were allowed to dress up and have a bit of a party. There were some really nice, mainly younger teachers, who might bring in a large bag of sweets, bought out of their own money, which were greatly welcomed by us kids. Ghost stories would be shared and no real school work was done. It was perfect and we would then head off home in high jinks for the real fun to begin.
In Ireland, it was traditional to bake or buy a barm brack for Halloween or Samhain. A barm brack is a bit like a traditional tea brack or tea cake. It was made with fruit, but there was a difference. If yours was made at home, then Mammy, as we all called our mothers back then, and probably still now, would wrap up little surprises or charms in greaseproof paper and mix them in with the cake before baking. One of these charms was always a ring. The ring was not expensive, more like a copper ring you would find in your local hardware store. It was light metal and usually way too big for kiddie fingers, but none the less that was the charm everyone wanted to secure from the brack for it held extra magic and was very symbolic. Of course most of this was to do with whoever got the ring would be engaged within the year which as young children would have been a ridiculous notion, but that made no difference to us. We just thought it very romantic and probably believed we had a secret admirer in school or on the road.
The barm brack would be served warm and spread with butter on Halloween Night and we would each get to choose a slice. I remember us all manhandling the brack when my mother was not looking, to see if we could detect a bit of greaseproof paper sticking out anywhere, especially in the shape of a ring. We would stuff our faces with the brack and not give up eating until we had found at least one charm. Of course the one who found the ring would be open;y envied while they delightedly gloated. We had one brother and the poor boy would get terrible jeering if he was the one to secure it.
Halloween or Samhain Night really started as the sun went down and all our eager little faces would be anxiously watching the sky, wishing the daylight away so that the fun could begin. Bowls of fruit and nuts would be placed at the door for all the children who would call that night. We each armed ourselves with bags, usually from the local supermarkets, ready and waiting to be given the signal that the time had arrived for us to be allowed out the door. We would watch from the window for the first few children going from door to door and then we knew we just had to be allowed out. I remember the knocks coming to the door and us running wildly to open it to see if we could identify any of our friends from the road. There might be four or five standing there and if they were very young, their parents would be with them, or an older sister or brother. Their loud screaming of ‘Help The Halloween Party‘ made us quite delirious with excitement. We would dish out a small handful into each outstretched bag and then wave them on their way as we watched them race down the driveway and head for the next house.
Back when I was a child we didn’t really have pumpkins, but our ancient tradition was to use a turnip in the same manner. Now, let me tell you it is much easier to cut out a pumpkin then it is a turnip, and often lumps would be hacked out of your hand instead. A candle would be placed inside and lit. It would then be put in the window to ward off any demons and evil spirits that were known to roam the land on this night. To us it was just pure fun and not scary at all, but there certainly was a different atmosphere that night when we were out and about. Anything was possible. Who knows, you just might see a real ghost and for sure. Sightings of witches flying through the night sky on their brooms were plentiful, usually instigated by a parent who would point to the sky and declare loudly ‘my God, I think I have just seen a witch, look there she goes, can you see her’? We would all stand with our heads tilted back, staring in the direction of where the parent was pointing to, and yes, we would see her, or imagined we did. Then the screaming would start and we would all run hysterically around trying to hide from the witch.
Halloween or Samhain Night was spectacular, we would be out late in the dark and with all our friends, roaring and shouting like maniacs with no one giving out to us at all. Even our parents seemed laid back and appeared to be enjoying themselves. When our bags were full, we would return home to off load and begin to play The traditional Halloween games that my mother would have sorted out in our absence. She would place a large basin of water on the kitchen table and fill it apples. We would then have to take turns ‘bobbing for apples’. This entailed holding your hands behind your back, then holding your breath, before putting your head into the water in an attempt to take a bite out of one of the apples. It sounds easy but believe me, apples are very uncooperative when they are floating in water. Each time you try to sink your teeth into them, they just bob away from you. It was great fun though and we all got very wet.
Sometimes the apples were hung from the ceiling by twine and the same rules applied. Hands behind your back and then try to take a bite out of one of the apples that would of course swing the other way as soon as you tried to grab it with your teeth. Once we had exhausted these games it would be time to head down the road to watch the bonfire with our parents. Crowds would gather and there would be no trouble like there is today. It was all fun and the bonfire was never really that big, but was simply symbolic. We were given sparklers which were long thin sticks that when lit, began to sparkle and spit. They were amazing and we would wave them around in the darkness which made them extra magical. There were always some parents who had organised fireworks and we would watch enthralled as they soared high into the sky and exploded into a myriad of colours. Then it would be time to go home, and with tired bodies and heads we would have to face the task of getting off all the make-up or marker we had put on our faces. My mother had some cold cream, can’t remember the name of it, and our faces would be scrubbed with this until they were nearly raw. We never ever got it fully off and sometimes there would be traces of moustaches or extra-large eyebrows on our faces for days. Everyone else was the same so it really didn’t matter.
Before we went to be that night, my mother would sit and tell us ghost stories and if could manage to stay up really late, she helped us with some strangely pagan (my mother was a staunch catholic) rituals and spells. You could not be afraid or it would be impossible to go through with them. She would set up a chair in front of a dressing table in one of the bedrooms. Then she would light just one candle and leave it near the mirror. The rest of the room would be dark. If you were brave you would go into the room and sit on the chair and stare at the mirror. You had to stare intently, and if you waited long enough you would begin to see a face take form just behind your own reflection. If you looked directly at it, it would disappear. The image in the mirror was supposed to be the face of the one that you would marry. Another version of this was when we would be given an apple and had to sit in the same room. You had to peel the apple in one continuous length without breaking it. Then you would throw it over your left shoulder, and taking the candle turn around and look at the peel on the floor. You were told that it would resemble an initial or just one letter. Again this was supposed to be the initial of the one you would marry. It seems marriage was a big thing in these rituals and spells.
I also remember her on Halloween Night leaving out four Saucers, one at each external corner of the house. Each saucer had something different on it. One had salt, another, water, another earth and the other one a feather. She told us that they were to keep the Faeries and Land Spirits happy but am not really sure she understood the symbolic aspect of what she was doing. I think there was a bit of a witch in her whether she knew it or not. It was her upbringing really, and where she came from that brought such rich ancient customs, traditions and interests into our lives. Catholic or not, she had grown up in, and was surrounded by the Natural Kingdom. They used what was locally sourced to heal themselves and treat all matter of ailments. They knew animals too, both wild and domesticated, and could foretell a lot just by the way they behaved from one day to another. They had the luxury of brilliant night skies untarnished by city lights. They could forecast the weather by the cloud formations, colours of the sky, circles around the moon and brilliance of the stars. They were not scared of the dark like city dwellers were, but understood the laws that governed night-time. There were things that could and could not be done when night fell.
It was the same with the seasons in the countryside for there was no escaping them. Each season was very definitely marked out from the previous one and each had its own tasks and duties that needed to be taken care of. In the city, seasons came and went, but with not the same importance as they did in the countryside. Therefore, those who lived in rural environments were able to hold on to the old traditional ways much easier than city folk. City folk often acted them out but they did not always understand why or the story behind it. Very little was done in the countryside that did not have meaning or need. Nothing was wasted or idly cast aside, and everything was a sign of one sort or another. They had their customs and they kept them to the letter. Each month and season of the year held special meaning for them.
Death, The Dying and The Spirit World were all intrinsically linked, and again were treated in a deeply respectful manner. In the countryside, death was all around. The unavoidable cyclical nature of the seasons, crops, plants and flowers was a constant reminder that all things must die. Livestock often died from illness or injury. They were also slaughtered for the dinner table, even the hens and pigs that children grew up with and played with, would inevitably end up on a dinner plate at some stage or other. People often died in their homes as hospitals were few and far between, mainly in the cities or large towns. The dead were waked in their own homes, sometimes for days with much partying, dancing and singing. Children were not shielded from these occasions, but instead were encouraged to be a part of it all.
When my father died in 2005, he was waked at home. My son, who is now also sadly passed on, stood by his coffin with his cousin madly playing the Bodhran so that their Granddad could hear them. My son would pop in and out to talk to my father who was laid out in his coffin on the dining room table. He used to stare at him and thought it incredible that he didn’t move an inch. Each morning he would inspect him to see if he had budged at all and would report back to my mother to say ‘no, he is still in the same position’. The night before his funeral, there was a massive party and several musicians. We had a great sing-song and of course, being Irish, there was much drinking. By the time the coffin was closed the following morning, I noticed that my father had several splashes of wine and Guinness on his clothes. I called my son in so that he could say good-bye to his Grandfather and he noticed the drink stains too. He thought it was awful, but I said ‘look Conor, I think Pops is actually smiling. I think he had a great time at the party too.’
Part of the Tradition of Halloween or Samhain is to set a place at the table for those who have departed in the last year or more. Samhain is The Feast of The Dead, and in Celtic times ancestors were revered and called on to return on this special night to share their infinite wisdom with the rest of the clan. It is still a time for remembering those who are no longer with us, and part of the tradition was to actually serve food on the plates laid out for the dearly departed loved ones. However, the food on these plates was then considered sacrosanct. No one was allowed touch it, no matter how hungry they were. The food was left on the plates until the end of the night when it was then left outside for the Faeries, or to give thanks to the Land Spirits for all they had helped provide throughout the year. It is actually a lovely tradition, very sad at times, but it brings our loved ones back to the dinner table, and into all the conversation. The dead are remembered and talked about. They are also asked to protect those in the family who are still in the physical.
Halloween or Samhain has some wonderful traditions associated with it and I do hope they are not lost to commercialism. Parents with memories of their own childhood Halloween or Samhain should make a point of sharing them with their children so that knowledge and history is passed on from generation to generation. This is what my mother did for us as children, and in turn, I passed my memories and knowledge on to mine.
We lived in Dublin, Ireland, but my mother was from the Irish countryside in Cavan in a small village called Mount Nugent. Mount Nugent was a place steeped in folklore, old wives tales and ghost stories. It was also teeming with Faeries, some good and helpful, while others were mischievous and troublesome. We spent most of our childhood summers with our Cavan relatives and sat enthralled by the range at night listening to our uncles tell stories of the local haunted houses and the Faerie Rings that we must never dare enter. There was even a story about a haunted hen-house just down the road where a strange light glowed from on certain nights.
The Faerie Ring story was my favourite as one of my uncles had direct experience of how mischievous the Fae could be. The story went that he had been coming home late one night down the country roads with only the moon to light his way. He was tired and still had some distance to go so he decided to take a short-cut across the fields. Little did he know what he had let himself in for. He was making his way from one side of the field to the other when suddenly he became very confused as to where he was. Now alcohol might have been involved, but as kids we were never told that. He told us that no matter which way he turned he could not find his way out of the field which he believed he knew quite well. It suddenly dawned on him that he must have entered a Faerie Ring and realised he was in trouble. He began to panic as he had heard stories of people disappearing, being taken by the Fae, down under the earth and were never seen again. He tried to calm down and think hard about what to do. Then it came to him. An old man had once told him that should he be unfortunate enough to find himself trapped within a Faerie ring, then the only way out was to take your jacket off, turn it inside out and then put it back on. So without a moment’s hesitation he did just that and within seconds the confusion lifted and he saw his exit directly in front of him. He made his way home, drenched in cold sweat with the fear of what have come to pass. He had learned his lesson that night, that the Fae were not to be messed with and their rules were not to be broken. Faeries and humans were not to mix, but sometimes if you stepped into one of their rings they would transform their images into human-like forms and then entice and enchant you away. Once you entered their realm, you could not return to the human world.
Banshees, (a Faerie Woman, Old Woman, The Crone) of course were another favourite of ours and we had another uncle who claimed to have followed one for miles one night. Banshees were a part of the Faerie Realm and were associated with death and the end of cycles of life should you see or hear one, especially hear one. They were known to follow certain families, and the night before someone died in the family, a Banshee would be heard screaming with her shrill voice and all would be filled with terror and dread as to who it was that would soon be departed. Mostly, it was someone who was due to go anyway, but anything could happen when the Faerie folk were involved.
Anyway, my uncle was out one night and again walking home in the moonlight when he spotted an old woman standing beside a like. She was very small and had long grey hair falling all the way down her back. He was curious as to what she was doing out alone on a dark night and approached her quietly so as not to frighten her. It was when she began drawing a strange-looking comb through her hair that my uncle froze. Banshees were regularly seen combing their long grey hair as they keened. However, my uncle was a brave man and he decided to move closer and get a better look. The old woman suddenly heard him and swirled around without her feet touching the ground. Never before had my uncle seen such an old, old face. He thought her to be about 200 years old. When she realised she had been discovered she started to move very fast away from the lake and through the trees. My uncle gave chase and she began her high-pitched screaming. He yelled back at her ‘you don’t scare me, you old Banshee‘. The Banshee seemed to cover ground at a frightening speed and eventually my uncle had to give up the chase as he was exhausted.
He slowly made his way home but began to worry about the trouble he might have brought upon the family as a result of his actions. He told no one, and for nights he lay awake, waiting to hear her scream outside his window as she returned to seek her revenge but she never appeared. Time passed and my uncle eventually told his family and friends his story. Some believed him, others not. However, the general consensus of opinion as to how he escaped the malice of the Shee Woman was that his courage and bravery at daring to follow her had impressed her. Faeries were known to believe that humans were weak. Everyone knew that the Fae were not to be messed with and he had stepped over that line. He got away with it though. Maybe she enjoyed the chase. Who knows?
Follow up from yesterday’s musings……………….
And so I watched the children all dressed up last night as they roamed the streets, trick or treating. Some of their parents were dressed up too. When my son was alive, he would have me demented from the 1st of October to get up to the attic and get the decorations down. I would have to keep him at bay for weeks as it was too early. However, I would agree to maybe a couple of pieces being hung every week. We had the coolest decorations on the street and the children would stand outside my window to stare and scare themselves. I lined the driveway with pumpkins and had witches everywhere. I dressed up each year as Morticia and went around the doors with my son. We had parties and neighbours gathered. I read the Tarot and the children stuffed their faces with sweets and jellies made in the shapes of bloody eyeballs and spiders.
My son bought his last Halloween or Samhain outfit in the October of 2007. He was unwell and heavily on steroids at that stage. He never got to wear it. Halloween Night was spent in hospital. His brain tumour had taken over and he had gone blind in one eye. We did decorate his room for him and brought in his outfit and placed it on a chair beside his bed. His friends that night took an extra bag around the doors with them for Conor. They then sent it into him the next day and I remember him asking me to pour them all out onto the bed so that he could see them. His bed was covered in bags of sweets and he ran his hands through them and lifted them up smiling. He couldn’t eat them for he was too ill, but for several days he asked me to empty that bag onto his bed so that he could feel the sweets and stare at them with an eye that too was beginning to fail him. He eventually lost his sight in the second eye and I remember keeping that bag of sweets for a long time before I had the heart to dispose of them.
Neighbours often talk to me about the wonderful Halloween window displays I used to have and how their, now teenage children, still remember them. I have never decorated the house for Halloween since Conor’s death in 2007. I hope one day that my daughter will have a child, or children, and I will pass on all the decorations to her so that they will be put to proper use once more. Halloween, or Samhain is a wonderful time for children and I really hope the old traditions are kept and passed down from generation to generation. It would be a shame for it all to disappear into commercialism. I also hope Conor that you called and paid your mother a visit last night on one of your most favourite nights of the year. I also hope you were not too cross with me for having no decorations up.