26 October 2015

Halloween (or Samhain)

Midnight in Greyfriar's Cemetery, Edinburgh

 As most readers of this blog know, your humble correspondent spent a few supremely wonderful years in Fife, Scotland; The Forefathers came from that area. This particular post is treading on thin ice as it may over-extend your author's actual knowledge base - input from weel-kenn'd Scottish readers is particularly sought to remedy errors or omissions. Information is derived in the first part from neighbors, friends and Lodge Brothers about both current and earlier 20th century observations of the date. These have been supplemented by a little internet research, mostly to buttress the writer's poor memory but to also resolve apparent conflicts in information (does that sound like a cautious historian?).

The Dictionary of the Scots Language defines Halloween (under the entry for Hallow) as 'the eve of All Saints' Day, i.e. 31st October, in the old Celtic calendar the last day of the year and the first of winter. 

It appears that Halloween, a custom of central and borders Scotland has become confounded and compounded with Samhain of the same date. Samhain is a Gaelic festival marking the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter or the "darker half" of the year. Being Gaelic, this festival would be contained within the area of Scotland north of Edinburgh whereas Halloween was the festival for the remainder of Scotland. Alas, your writer cannot find a definitive answer to this melding. More recently,
a Samhain-based festival has sprung up in Edinburgh, more celebrated by unrestrained revelers than true neopagans.

In Scotland, 'trick or treaters" are denominated "guisers." Guising has been a part of Halloween/Samhain in Scotland, Ireland and the Isle of Man since the 16th century or earlier - which would seem to indicate that it is a 'new' introduction (but from whence?). Guisers go door-to-door in costume and in exchange for edible treats or a small denomination of money such as a farthing or ha-penny (in the old days), they sing or recite or otherwise perform (your author can remember this as a function of Halloweens in Kentucky during the 1950s where treats had to be earned).

The "traditional illumination for guisers or pranksters abroad on the night in some places was provided by turnips, hollowed out to act as lanterns and often carved with grotesque faces to represent spirits or goblins".

Their purpose of them is to ward off bogles, haints, wraiths, dunters, habetrots, kelpies, red-caps, spunkies and their ilk said to be about on the night. From hard experience, it can be said that turnips are hard as rocks compared to pumpkins and a common knife is inadequate for the task! A Fife friend used woodworker's chisels and gouges to carve neeps (turnips).

A traditional guising song (and my English translation) is purported to be:
Hallowe'en a nicht o' tine
A can'le in a castock,
A howkit neep wi' glowerin' een 
To fleg baith witch and warlock.

Halloween is a night of fire
a candle in a cabbage stem 
A hollowed turnip wide eyed one
to scare both witch and warlock 

Another guising song and my shaky translation:
 'Canty dame wi kindly looks,
Ye hae fairins in yer neuks,
Aipples reid, or aipples green,
Up, and gie's oor Halloween!' 

Cheerful lady with a kind appearance,
You have presents in your nooks,
apples red or apples green,
Get up give whenever its Halloween

Both of the guising songs shown above are written in broad Scots, not to be confused with Gaelic. A clarification from the Scots Language Centre is in order: "Scots originated with the tongue of the Angles who arrived in Scotland about AD 600, or 1,400 years ago. During the Middle Ages this language developed and grew apart from its sister tongue in England, until a distinct Scots language had evolved.  At one time Scots was the national language of Scotland, spoken by Scottish kings, and was used to write the official records of the country."  Gaelic speakers represent about 1% of the modern population of Scotland whereas most over 60 Scots in the central and borders areas speak some form of Scots (it has major regional dialects). Robert Burns and Sir Walter Scott both wrote in Scots language. Mr. Fuzzy understands some bits and bobs of Fifish broad Scots but zero Gaelic.

Besides guising, All Hallow's Eve was also  time for some forms of divination. From Historic UK's web site here are two foms:
(1) "an engaged couple to each put a nut on the fire. If the nuts burned quietly then the marriage would be happy, however if the nuts spat and hissed then the marriage would be stormy. Similarly, if a girl put two nuts on the fire, one for her lover and one for herself, and the nuts spat and hissed, then this was a bad omen for their future together."
(2) The plants mentioned in the first gusing song above "were the stalks of the kale plant or 'castocks'. The stalks were pulled out of the ground after dark with one's eyes shut. The idea was that the length and straightness of the stalk would indicate a future partner's height and figure. Any soil on the stalk would indicate wealth."

Should the reader think the concept of spirits and witches is a far-fetched, outdated concept, a bit of British legal history from Wikipedia might provide illumination. "The Witchcraft Act (9 Geo. II c. 5) was a law passed by the Parliament of the Kingdom of Great Britain in 1735 which made it a crime for a person to claim that any human being had magical powers or was guilty of practising witchcraft. The maximum penalty set out by the Act was a year's imprisonment." "In September 1944, Helen Duncan was jailed under the Witchcraft Act on the grounds that she had claimed to summon spirits. It is often contended, by her followers that her imprisonment was in fact at the behest of superstitious military intelligence officers who feared she would reveal the secret plans for D-Day. She came to the attention of the authorities after supposedly contacting the spirit of a sailor of the HMS Barham," when that sinking was still a classified secret. Duncan spent nine months in dire prison conditions for her crime. The Witchcraft Act was not repealed in Britain until 1951.

Hopefully you will now understand where many American Halloween customs originated.

You might really enjoy Fiona Ritchie's special program of Scottish All Hallow's Eve music:

I leave you with Robert Burns' 1785 epic poem, written in the Scots language, best read with a wee dram of single malt and Fiona's program ambient in the background. Note his reference to castocks and casting nuts into the fire in the second verse:


Upon that night, when fairies light
On Cassilis Downans2dance,
Orowre the lays, in splendid blaze,
On sprightly coursers prance;
Or for Colean the rout is ta'en,
Beneath the moon's pale beams;
There, up the Cove,3to stray an' rove,
Amang the rocks and streams
To sport that night;

Amang the bonie winding banks,
Where Doon rins , wimplin , clear;
Where Bruce4ance rul'd the martial ranks,
An' shook his Carrick spear;
Some merry, friendly, countra-folks
Together did convene,
To burn their nits , an'pou their stocks ,
An'haud their Halloween
Fu' blythe that night.

The lasses feat , an' cleanly neat,
Mairbraw than when they're fine;
Their faces blythe, fu' sweetly kythe ,
Hearts leal , an' warm, an'kin' :
The lads saetrig , wi'wooer-babs
Weel-knotted on their garten ;
Some uncoblate , an' some wi'gabs
Gar lasses' hearts gang startin
Whiles fast at night.

Then, first an' foremost, thro' the kail ,
Their stocks5mauna' be sought ance ;
They steek their een , and grapean'wale
For muckleanes , an'straughtanes .
Poor hav'rel Will fellaff the drift ,
An' wandered thro' the bow-kail ,
An' pou't for want o' better shift
A runt was like a sow-tail
Saebow't that night.

Then, straughtor crooked, yirdornane ,
They roar an' cry a' throu'ther;
The verawee-things , toddlin, rin ,
Wi'stocks out owre their shouther :
An'gif the custock's sweet or sour,
Wi'joctelegs they taste them;
Syne coziely, aboon the door,
Wi'cannie care, they've plac'd them
To lie that night.

The lassies stawfrae 'mang them a' ,
To pou their stalks o' corn;6
ButRab slips out, an'jinks about,
Behint the muckle thorn:
He grippit Nelly hard and fast:
Loud skirl'd a' the lasses;
But her tap-picklemaist was lost,
Whankiutlin in the fause-house7
Wi' him that night.

The auldguid-wife'sweel-hoorditnits8
Are round an' round dividend,
An'mony lads an' lasses' fates
Are there that night decided:
Some kindle couthie side by side,
And burnthegither trimly;
Some start awawi' saucy pride,
An' jump out owre the chimlie
Fu' high that night.

Jean slips in twa , wi'tentiee'e ;
Wha 'twas, she wadna tell;
But this is Jock, an' this is me,
She says in to hersel':
He bleez'd owre her, an' she owre him,
As they wad never mair part:
Till fuff! he started up the lum ,
An' Jean had e'en a sair heart
To see't that night.

Poor Willie, wi' his bow-kailrunt ,
Was bruntwi'primsie Mallie;
An' Mary, nae doubt, took the drunt ,
To be compar'd to Willie:
Mall's nitlap out, wi' pridefu' fling,
An' her ainfit , it brunt it;
While Willie lap , and swore by jing,
'Twas just the way he wanted
To be that night.

Nell had the fause-house in her min' ,
She pitsherselan' Rob in;
In loving bleeze they sweetly join,
Till white in ase they're sobbin:
Nell's heart was dancin at the view;
She whisper'd Rob to leuk for't:
Rob, stownlins , prie'd her boniemou' ,
Fu' cozie in the neuk for't,
Unseen that night.

ButMerran sat behint their backs,
Her thoughts on Andrew Bell:
She lea'es them gashin at their cracks ,
An' slips out-by hersel';
She thro' the yard the nearest taks ,
An' for the kiln she goes then,
An'darklinsgrapit for the bauks ,
And in the blue-clue9throws then,
Right fear't that night.

An' ay she win't , an' ay she swat --
I wat she made naejaukin ;
Till something held within the pat ,
Good Lord! but she was quaukin!
But whether 'twas the deilhimsel ,
Or whether 'twas a bauk-en' ,
Or whether it was Andrew Bell,
She did na wait on talkin
To spier that night.

Wee Jenny to her graunie says,
"Will ye go wi' me, graunie?
I'll eat the apple at the glass,10
I gatfrae uncle Johnie:"
She fuff't her pipe wi'sic a lunt ,
In wrath she was sae vap'rin,
She notic't naanaizlebrunt
Her braw , new, worset apron
Out thro' that night.

"Ye little skelpie-limmer's face!
I daur you try sic sportin,
As seek the foul thief ony place,
For him to spae your fortune:
Nae doubt but ye may get a sight!
Great cause ye hae to fear it;
For mony a ane has gotten a fright,
An' liv'd an' died deleerit ,
On sic a night.

" Aehairstafore the Sherra-moor ,
I mind't as weel's yestreen --
I was a gilpey then, I'm sure
I was na past fyfteen:
The simmer had been cauldan'wat ,
An'stuff was unco green;
An' eye a rantin kirn we gat ,
An' just on Halloween
It fell that night.

"Our stibble-rig was Rab M'Graen,
A clever, sturdy fallow ;
His singat Eppie Sim wi' wean,
That lived in Achmacalla:
He gat hemp-seed,11I mind it weel ,
An'he made unco light o't ;
Butmony a day was by himsel',
He was saesairly frighted
That vera night."

Then up gat fechtin Jamie Fleck,
An' he swoorby his conscience,
That he could saw hemp-seed a peck;
For it was a'but nonsense:
The auld guidman raught down the pock ,
An' out a handfu' gied him;
Syne bad him slip frae' mang the folk,
Sometime when naeanesee'd him,
An' try't that night.

He marches thro' amang the stacks ,
Tho' he was something sturtin ;
The graip he for a harrow taks ,
An'haurls at his curpin :
And ev'ry now an' then, he says,
"Hemp-seed I saw thee,
An' her that is to be my lass
Come after me, an' draw thee
As fast this night."

He wistl'd up Lord Lennox' March
To keep his courage cherry;
Altho' his hair began to arch,
He was saefley'dan'eerie :
Till presently he hears a squeak,
An' then a granean'gruntle ;
He by his shouthergae a keek ,
An' tumbled wi' a wintle
Out-owre that night.

He roar'd a horrid murder-shout,
In dreadfu' desperation!
An' young an'auld come rinnin out,
An' hear the sad narration:
He swoor 'twas hilchin Jean M'Craw,
OrcrouchieMerran Humphie --
Till stop! she trotted thro' them a' ;
And wha was it butgrumphie
Asteer that night!

Meg fainwad to the barn gaen ,
To winn three wechtso'naething ;12
But for to meet the deil her lane ,
She patbut little faith in:
She gies the herd a picklenits ,
An'twared cheekit apples,
To watch, while for the barn she sets ,
In hopes to see Tam Kipples
That vera night.

She turns the keywi'canniethraw ,
An'owre the threshold ventures;
But first on Sawniegies a ca' ,
Syne baudly in she enters:
A ratton rattl'd up the wa' ,
An' she cry'd Lord preserve her!
An' ran thro' midden-holean'a' ,
An' pray'd wi' zeal and fervour,
Fu' fast that night.

They hoy't out Will, wi'sair advice;
They hecht him some fine brawane ;
It chanc'd the stack he faddom't thrice13
Was timmer-propt for thrawin :
He taks a swirlieauldmoss-oak
For some black, grousome carlin ;
An'loot a winze , an' drew a stroke,
Till skin in blypescamhaurlin
Aff's nieves that night.

A wanton widow Leezie was,
As cantie as a kittlen;
But och! that night, amang the shaws ,
She gat a fearfu' settlin!
She thro' the whins , an'by the cairn,
An'owre the hill gaedscrievin ;
Whare three lairds' lan's met at a burn ,14
To dip her left sark-sleeve in,
Was bent that night.

Whilesowre a linn the burnie plays,
As thro' the glen it wimpl't ;
Whiles round a rocky scar it strays,
Whiles in a wiel it dimpl't;
Whiles glitter'd to the nightly rays,
Wi' bickerin', dancin' dazzle;
Whilescookit undeneath the braes ,
Below the spreading hazel
Unseen that night.

Amang the brachens , on the brae ,
Between her an' the moon,
The deil , or else anoutlerquey ,
Gat up an' ga'e a croon :
Poor Leezie's heart maistlap the hool ;
Near lav'rock-height she jumpit ,
Butmist a fit , an' in the pool
Out-owre the lugs she plumpit ,
Wi' a plunge that night.

In order, on the clean hearth-stane ,
The luggies15three are ranged;
An' ev'ry time great care is ta'en
To see them duly changed:
Auld uncle John, wha wedlock's joys
Sin' Mar's-year did desire,
Because he gat the toom dish thrice,
He heav'd them on the fire
In wrath that night.

Wi' merry sangs , an' friendly cracks ,
I wat they did na weary;
And unco tales, an' funnie jokes --
Their sports were cheap an' cheery:
Till butter'd sowens ,16wi' fragrant lunt ,
Seta' their gabs a-steerin;
Syne , wi' a social glass o'strunt ,
They parted aff careerin
Fu' blythe that night.

[Footnote 1: Is thought to be a night when witches, devils, and other
mischief-making beings are abroad on their baneful midnight errands;
particularly those aerial people, the fairies, are said on that night to hold
a grand anniversary,. -- R.B.
2: Certain little, romantic, rocky, green hills, in the
neighbourhood of the ancient seat of the Earls of Cassilis. -- R.B.
3: A noted cavern near Colean house, called the Cove of Colean;
which, as well as Cassilis Downans, is famed, in country story, for being a
favorite haunt of fairies. -- R.B.
4: The famous family of that name, the ancestors of Robert, the
great deliverer of his country, were Earls of Carrick. -- R.B.
5: The first ceremony of Halloween is pulling each a "stock," or
plant of kail. They must go out, hand in hand, with eyes shut, and pull the
first they meet with: its being big or little, straight or crooked, is
prophetic of the size and shape of the grand object of all their spells -- the
husband or wife. If any "yird," or earth, stick to the root, that is "tocher,"
or fortune; and the taste of the "custock," that is, the heart of the stem, is
indicative of the natural temper and disposition. Lastly, the stems, or, to
give them their ordinary appellation, the "runts," are placed somewhere above
the head of the door; and the Christian names of the people whom chance brings
into the house are, according to the priority of placing the "runts," the
names in question. -- R. B.
6: They go to the barnyard, and pull each, at three different times,
a stalk of oats. If the third stalk wants the "top-pickle," that is, the grain
at the top of the stalk, the party in question will come to the marriage-bed
anything but a maid.-R.B.
7: When the corn is in a doubtful state, by being too green or wet,
the stack-builder, by means of old timber, etc., makes a large apartment in
his stack, with an opening in the side which is fairest exposed to the wind:
this he calls a "fause-house." -- R.B.
8: Burning the nuts is a favorite charm. They name the lad and lass
to each particular nut, as they lay them in the fire; and according as they
burn quietly together, or start from beside one another, the course and issue
of the courtship will be. -- R.B.
9: Whoever would, with success, try this spell, must strictly
observe these directions: Steal out, all alone, to the kiln, and darkling,
throw into the "pot" a clue of blue yarn; wind it in a new clue off the old
one; and, toward the latter end, something will hold the thread: demand, "Wha
hauds?" i.e., who holds? and answer will be returned from the kiln-pot, by
naming the Christian and surname of your future spouse. -- R.B.
10: Take a candle and go alone to a looking-glass; eat an apple
before it, and some traditions say you should comb your hair all the time; the
face of your conjungal companion, to be, will be seen in the glass, as if
peeping over your shoulder. -- R.B.
11: Steal out, unperceived, and sow a handful of hemp-seed,
harrowing it with anything you can conveniently draw after you. Repeat now and
then: "Hemp-seed, I saw thee, hemp-seed, I saw thee; and him (or her) that is
to be my true love, come after me and pou thee." Look over your left shoulder,
and you will see the appearance of the person invoked, in the attitude of
pulling hemp. Some traditions say, "Come after me and shaw thee," that is,
show thyself; in which case, it simply appears. Others omit the harrowing, and
say: "Come after me and harrow thee." -- R.B.
12: This charm must likewise be performed unperceived and alone. You
go to the barn, and open both doors, taking them off the hinges, if possible;
for there is danger that the being about to appear may shut the doors, and do
you some mischief. Then take that instrument used in winnowing the corn, which
in our country dialect we call a "wecht," and go through all the attitudes of
letting down corn against the wind. Repeat it three times, and the third time
an apparition will pass through the barn, in at the windy door and out at the
other, having both the figure in question, and the appearance or retinue,
marking the employment or station in life. -- R.B.
13: Take an opportunity of going unnoticed to a "bear-stack," and
fathom it three times round. The last fathom of the last time you will catch
in your arms the appearance of your future conjugal yoke-fellow. -- R.B.
14: You go out, one or more (for this is a social spell), to a south
running spring, or rivulet, where "three lairds' lands meet," and dip your
left shirt sleeve. Go to bed in sight of a fire, and hang your wet sleeve
before it to dry. Lie awake, and, some time near midnight, an apparition,
having the exact figure of the grand object in question, will come and turn
the sleeve, as if to dry the other side of it. -- R.B.
15: Take three dishes, put clean water in one, foul water in
another, and leave the third empty; blindfold a person and lead him to the
hearth where the dishes are ranged; he (or she) dips the left hand; if by
chance in the clean water, the future (husband or) wife will come to the bar
of matrimony a maid; if in the foul, a widow; if in the empty dish, it
foretells, with equal certainty, no marriage at all. It is repeated three
times, and every time the arrangement of the dishes is altered. -- R.B.
16: Sowens, with butter instead of milk to them, is always the
Halloween Supper. -- R.B.

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