The Book of Hallowe'en/VIII.

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search

An account of the history of Hallowe'en. The book was originally published in 1919 by Lothrop, Lee & Shepard.



As in Ireland the Scotch Baal festival of November was called
Samhain. Western Scotland, lying nearest Tara, center alike of
pagan and Christian religion in Ireland, was colonized by both the
people and the customs of eastern Ireland.

The November Eve fires which in Ireland either died out or were
replaced by candles were continued in Scotland. In Buchan, where
was the altar-source of the Samhain fire, bonfires were lighted on
hilltops in the eighteenth century; and in Moray the idea of fires
of thanksgiving for harvest was kept to as late as 1866. All
through the eighteenth century in the Highlands and in Perthshire
torches of heath, broom, flax, or ferns were carried about the
fields and villages by each family, with the intent to cause good
crops in succeeding years. The course about the fields was sunwise,
to have a good influence. Brought home at dark, the torches were
thrown down in a heap, and made a fire. This blaze was called
"Samhnagan," "of rest and pleasure." There was much competition to
have the largest fire. Each person put in one stone to make a
circle about it. The young people ran about with burning brands.
Supper was eaten out-of-doors, and games played. After the fire had
burned out, ashes were raked over the stones. In the morning each
sought his pebble, and if he found it misplaced, harmed, or a
footprint marked near it in the ashes, he believed he should die in
a year.

In Aberdeenshire boys went about the villages saying: "Ge's a peat
t' burn the witches." They were thought to be out stealing milk and
harming cattle. Torches used to counteract them were carried from
west to east, against the sun. This ceremony grew into a game, when
a fire was built by one party, attacked by another, and defended.
As in the May fires of purification the lads lay down in the smoke
close by, or ran about and jumped over the flames. As the fun grew
wilder they flung burning peats at each other, scattered the ashes
with their feet, and hurried from one fire to another to have a
part in scattering as many as possible before they died out.

In 1874, at Balmoral, a royal celebration of Hallowe'en was
recorded. Royalty, tenants, and servants bore torches through the
grounds and round the estates. In front of the castle was a heap of
stuff saved for the occasion. The torches were thrown on. When the
fire was burning its liveliest, a hobgoblin appeared, drawing in a
car the figure of a witch, surrounded by fairies carrying lances.
The people formed a circle about the fire, and the witch was tossed
in. Then there were dances to the music of bag-pipes.

It was the time of year when servants changed masters or signed up
anew under the old ones. They might enjoy a holiday before resuming
work. So they sang:

    "This is Hallaeven,
     The morn is Halladay;
     Nine free nichts till Martinmas,
     As soon they'll wear away."

Children born on Hallowe'en could see and converse with
supernatural powers more easily than others. In Ireland, evil
relations caused Red Mike's downfall (q. v.). For Scotland Mary
Avenel, in Scott's Monastery, is the classic example.

  "And touching the bairn, it's weel kenn'd she was born on
  Hallowe'en, and they that are born on Hallowe'en whiles see mair
  than ither folk."

There is no hint of dark relations, but rather of a
clear-sightedness which lays bare truths, even those concealed in
men's breasts. Mary Avenel sees the spirit of her father after he
has been dead for years. The White Lady of Avenel is her peculiar

The Scottish Border, where Mary lived, is the seat of many
superstitions and other worldly beliefs. The fairies of Scotland
are more terrible than those of Ireland, as the dells and streams
and woods are of greater grandeur, and the character of the people
more serious. It is unlucky to name the fairies, here as elsewhere,
except by such placating titles as "Good Neighbors" or "Men of
Peace." Rowan, elm, and holly are a protection against them.

  "I have tied red thread round the bairns' throats, and given ilk
  ane of them a riding-wand of rowan-tree, forbye sewing up a slip
  of witch-elm into their doublets; and I wish to know of your
  reverence if there be onything mair that a lone woman can do in
  the matter of ghosts and fairies?--be here! that I should have
  named their unlucky names twice ower!"

                                             SCOTT: Monastery.

"The sign of the cross disarmeth all evil spirits."

These spirits of the air have not human feelings or motives. They
are conscienceless. In this respect Peter Pan is an immortal fairy
as well as an immortal child. While like a child he resents
injustice in horrified silence, like a fairy he acts with no sense
of responsibility. When he saves Wendy's brother from falling as
they fly,

  "You felt it was his cleverness that interested him, and not the
  saving of human life."

                                        BARRIE: Peter and Wendy.

The world in which Peter lived was so near the Kensington Gardens
that he could see them through the bridge as he sat on the shore of
the Neverland. Yet for a long time he could not get to them.

Peter is a fairy piper who steals away the souls of children.

    "No man alive has seen me,
       But women hear me play,
     Sometimes at door or window,
       Fiddling the souls away--
     The child's soul and the colleen's
       Out of the covering clay."

               HOPPER: Fairy Fiddler.

On Hallowe'en all traditional spirits are abroad. The Scotch
invented the idea of a "Samhanach," a goblin who comes out just at
"Samhain." It is he who in Ireland steals children. The fairies
pass at crossroads,

    "But the night is Hallowe'en, lady,
       The morn is Hallowday;
     Then win me, win me, and ye will,
       For weel I wot ye may.

    "Just at the mirk and midnight hour
       The fairy folk will ride.
     And they that wad their true-love win,
       At Miles Cross they maun bide."

                       Ballad of Tam Lin.

and in the Highlands whoever took a three-legged stool to where
three crossroads met, and sat upon it at midnight, would hear the
names of those who were to die in a year. He might bring with him
articles of dress, and as each name was pronounced throw one
garment to the fairies. They would be so pleased by this gift that
they would repeal the sentence of death.

Even people who seemed to be like their neighbors every day could
for this night fly away and join the other beings in their revels.

    "This is the nicht o' Hallowe'en
     When a' the witchie may be seen;
     Some o' them black, some o' them green,
     Some o' them like a turkey bean."

A witches' party was conducted in this way. The wretched women who
had sold their souls to the Devil, left a stick in bed which by
evil means was made to have their likeness, and, anointed with the
fat of murdered babies flew off up the chimney on a broomstick with
cats attendant. Burns tells the story of a company of witches
pulling ragwort by the roadside, getting each astride her ragwort
with the summons "Up horsie!" and flying away.

       "The hag is astride
        This night for a ride,
    The devils and she together:
        Through thick and through thin,
        Now out and now in,
    Though ne'er so foul be the weather.

     * * * * *

        "A thorn or a burr
         She takes for a spur,
    With a lash of the bramble she rides now.
         Through brake and through briers,
         O'er ditches and mires,
    She follows the spirit that guides now."

                          HERRICK: The Hag.

The meeting-place was arranged by the Devil, who sometimes rode
there on a goat. At their supper no bread or salt was eaten; they
drank out of horses' skulls, and danced, sometimes back to back,
sometimes from west to east, for the dances at the ancient Baal
festivals were from east to west, and it was evil and ill-omened to
move the other way. For this dance the Devil played a bag-pipe made
of a hen's skull and cats' tails.

    "There sat Auld Nick, in shape o' beast;
     A tousie tyke, black, grim, and large,
     To gie them music was his charge:
     He screw'd the pipes and gart them skirl,
     Till roof and rafters a' did dirl."[1]

                      BURNS: Tam o' Shanter.

[1] Ring.

The light for the revelry came from a torch flaring between the
horns of the Devil's steed the goat, and at the close the ashes
were divided for the witches to use in incantations. People
imagined that cats who had been up all night on Hallowe'en were
tired out the next morning.

Tam o' Shanter who was watching such a dance

    "By Alloway's auld haunted kirk"

in Ayrshire, could not resist calling out at the antics of a
neighbor whom he recognized, and was pursued by the witches. He
urged his horse to top-speed,

    "Now do thy speedy utmost, Meg,
     And win the key-stane of the brig;
     There at them thou thy tail may toss,
     A running stream they dare na cross!"

                  BURNS: Tam o' Shanter.

but poor Meg had no tail thereafter to toss at them, for though she
saved her rider, she was only her tail's length beyond the middle
of the bridge when the foremost witch grasped it and seared it to
a stub.

Such witches might be questioned about the past or future.

    "He that dare sit on St. Swithin's Chair,
     When the Night-Hag wings the troubled air,
     Questions three, when he speaks the spell,
     He may ask, and she must tell."

                  SCOTT: St. Swithin's Chair.

Children make of themselves bogies on this evening, carrying the
largest turnips they can save from harvest, hollowed out and carved
into the likeness of a fearsome face, with teeth and forehead
blacked, and lighted by a candle fastened inside.

If the spirit of a person simply appears without being summoned,
and the person is still alive, it means that he is in danger. If he
comes toward the one to whom he appears the danger is over. If he
seems to go away, he is dying.

An apparition from the future especially is sought on Hallowe'en.
It is a famous time for divination in love affairs. A typical
eighteenth century party in western Scotland is described by Robert

Cabbages are important in Scotch superstition. Children believe
that if they pile cabbage-stalks round the doors and windows of the
house, the fairies will bring them a new brother or sister.

    "And often when in his old-fashioned way
     He questioned me,...
     Who made the stars? and if within his hand
     He caught and held one, would his fingers burn?
     If I, the gray-haired dominie, was dug
     From out a cabbage-garden such as he
     Was found in----"

                           BUCHANAN: Willie Baird.

Kale-pulling came first on the program in Burns's Hallowe'en.
Just the single and unengaged went out hand in hand blindfolded to
the cabbage-garden. They pulled the first stalk they came upon,
brought it back to the house, and were unbandaged. The size and
shape of the stalk indicated the appearance of the future husband
or wife.

  "Maybe you would rather not pull a stalk that was tall and
  straight and strong--that would mean Alastair? Maybe you would
  rather find you had got hold of a withered old stump with a lot
  of earth at the root--a decrepit old man with plenty of money in
  the bank? Or maybe you are wishing for one that is slim and
  supple and not so tall--for one that might mean Johnnie Semple."

                                       BLACK: Hallowe'en Wraith.

A close white head meant an old husband, an open green head a young
one. His disposition would be like the taste of the stem. To
determine his name, the stalks were hung over the door, and the
number of one's stalk in the row noted. If Jessie put hers up third
from the beginning, and the third man who passed through the
doorway under it was named Alan, her husband's first name would be
Alan. This is practised only a little now among farmers. It has
special virtue if the cabbage has been stolen from the garden of an
unmarried person.

Sometimes the pith of a cabbage-stalk was pushed out, the hole
filled with tow, which was set afire and blown through keyholes on

    "Their runts clean through and through were bored,
     And stuffed with raivelins fou,
     And like a chimley when on fire
     Each could the reek outspue.

    "Jock through the key-hole sent a cloud
     That reached across the house,
     While in below the door reek rushed
     Like water through a sluice."

                      DICK: Splores of a Hallowe'en.

Cabbage-broth was a regular dish at the Hallowe'en feast. Mashed
potatoes, as in Ireland, or a dish of meal and milk holds symbolic
objects--a ring, a thimble, and a coin. In the cake are baked a
ring and a key. The ring signifies to the possessor marriage, and
the key a journey.

Apple-ducking is still a universal custom in Scotland. A sixpence
is sometimes dropped into the tub or stuck into an apple to make
the reward greater. The contestants must keep their hands behind
their backs.

Nuts are put before the fire in pairs, instead of by threes as in
Ireland, and named for a lover and his lass. If they burn to ashes
together, long happy married life is destined for the lovers. If
they crackle or start away from each other, dissension and
separation are ahead.

    "Jean slips in twa, wi' tentie[1] e'e;
       Wha 't was, 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,[2]
     And Jean had e'en a sair heart
                  To see't that night."

                      BURNS: Hallowe'en.

[1] Careful.

[2] Chimney.

Three "luggies," bowls with handles like the Druid lamps, were
filled, one with clean, one with dirty water, and one left empty.
The person wishing to know his fate in marriage was blindfolded,
turned about thrice, and put down his left hand. If he dipped it
into the clean water, he would marry a maiden; if into the dirty, a
widow; if into the empty dish, not at all. He tried until he got
the same result twice. The dishes were changed about each time.

This spell still remains, as does that of hemp-seed sowing. One
goes out alone with a handful of hemp-seed, sows it across ridges
of ploughed land, and harrows it with anything convenient, perhaps
with a broom. Having said:

         "Hemp-seed, I saw thee,
    An' her that is to be my lass
          Come after me an' draw thee----"

                      BURNS: Hallowe'en.

he looks behind him to see his sweetheart gathering hemp. This
should be tried just at midnight with the moon behind.

    "At even o' Hallowmas no sleep I sought,
     But to the field a bag of hemp-seed brought.
     I scattered round the seed on every side,
     And three times three in trembling accents cried,
    'This hemp-seed with my virgin hand I sow,
     Who shall my true-love be, the crop shall mow.'"

                                     GAY: Pastorals.

A spell that has been discontinued is throwing the clue of blue
yarn into the kiln-pot, instead of out of the window, as in
Ireland. As it is wound backward, something holds it. The winder
must ask, "Wha hauds?" to hear the name of her future sweetheart.

    "An' ay she win't, an' ay she swat--
       I wat she made nae jaukin;
     Till something held within the pat,
       Guid Lord! but she was quakin!
     But whether 't was the Deil himsel,
       Or whether 't was a bauk-en'[1]
     Or whether it was Andrew Bell,
       She did na wait on talkin
         To speir[2] that night."

                    BURNS: Hallowe'en.

[1] Cross-beam.

[2] Ask.

Another spell not commonly tried now is winnowing three measures of
imaginary corn, as one stands in the barn alone with both doors
open to let the spirits that come in go out again freely. As one
finishes the motions, the apparition of the future husband will
come in at one door and pass out at the other.

  "'I had not winnowed the last weight clean out, and the moon was
  shining bright upon the floor, when in stalked the presence of my
  dear Simon Glendinning, that is now happy. I never saw him
  plainer in my life than I did that moment; he held up an arrow as
  he passed me, and I swarf'd awa' wi' fright.... But mark the end
  o' 't, Tibb: we were married, and the grey-goose wing was the
  death o' him after a'.'"

                                            SCOTT: The Monastery.

At times other prophetic appearances were seen.

  "Just as she was at the wark, what does she see in the moonlicht
  but her ain coffin moving between the doors instead of the
  likeness of a gudeman! and as sure's death she was in her coffin
  before the same time next year."

                                       ANON: Tale of Hallowe'en.

Formerly a stack of beans, oats, or barley was measured round with
the arms against sun. At the end of the third time the arms would
enclose the vision of the future husband or wife.

Kale-pulling, apple-snapping, and lead-melting (see Ireland) are
social rites, but many were to be tried alone and in secret. A
Highland divination was tried with a shoe, held by the tip, and
thrown over the house. The person will journey in the direction the
toe points out. If it falls sole up, it means bad luck.

Girls would pull a straw each out of a thatch in Broadsea, and
would take it to an old woman in Fraserburgh. The seeress would
break the straw and find within it a hair the color of the
lover's-to-be. Blindfolded they plucked heads of oats, and counted
the number of grains to find out how many children they would have.
If the tip was perfect, not broken or gone, they would be married

Another way of determining the number of children was to drop the
white of an egg into a glass of water. The number of divisions was
the number sought. White of egg is held with water in the mouth,
like the grains of oats in Ireland, while one takes a walk to hear
mentioned the name of his future wife. Names are written on papers,
and laid upon the chimney-piece. Fate guides the hand of a
blindfolded man to the slip which bears his sweetheart's name.

A Hallowe'en mirror is made by the rays of the moon shining into a
looking-glass. If a girl goes secretly into a room at midnight
between October and November, sits down at the mirror, and cuts an
apple into nine slices, holding each on the point of a knife before
she eats it, she may see in the moonlit glass the image of her
lover looking over her left shoulder, and asking for the last piece
of apple.

The wetting of the sark-sleeve in a south-running burn where "three
lairds' lands meet," and carrying it home to dry before the fire,
was really a Scotch custom, but has already been described in

    "The last Hallowe'en I was waukin[1]
       My droukit[2] sark-sleeve, as ye kin--
     His likeness came up the house staukin,
       And the very grey breeks o' Tam Glen!"

                           BURNS: Tam Glen.

[1] Watching.

[2] Drenched.

Just before breaking up, the crowd of young people partook of
sowens, oatmeal porridge cakes with butter, and strunt, a liquor,
as they hoped for good luck throughout the year.

The Hebrides, Scottish islands off the western coast, have
Hallowe'en traditions of their own, as well as many borrowed from
Ireland and Scotland. Barra, isolated near the end of the island
chain, still celebrates the Celtic days, Beltaine and November Eve.

In the Hebrides is the Irish custom of eating on Hallowe'en a cake
of meal and salt, or a salt herring, bones and all, to dream of
some one bringing a drink of water. Not a word must be spoken, nor
a drop of water drunk till the dream comes.

In St. Kilda a large triangular cake is baked which must be all
eaten up before morning.

A curious custom that prevailed in the island of Lewis in the
eighteenth century was the worship of Shony, a sea-god with a Norse
name. His ceremonies were similar to those paid to Saman in
Ireland, but more picturesque. Ale was brewed at church from malt
brought collectively by the people. One took a cupful in his hand,
and waded out into the sea up to his waist, saying as he poured it
out: "Shony, I give you this cup of ale, hoping that you'll be so
kind as to send us plenty of sea-ware, for enriching our ground the
ensuing year." The party returned to the church, waited for a given
signal when a candle burning on the altar was blown out. Then they
went out into the fields, and drank ale with dance and song.

The "dumb cake" originated in Lewis. Girls were each apportioned a
small piece of dough, mixed with any but spring water. They kneaded
it with their left thumbs, in silence. Before midnight they pricked
initials on them with a new pin, and put them by the fire to bake.
The girls withdrew to the farther end of the room, still in silence.
At midnight each lover was expected to enter and lay his hand on
the cake marked with his initials.

In South Uist and Eriskay on Hallowe'en fairies are out, a source
of terror to those they meet.

    "Hallowe'en will come, will come,
     Witchcraft will be set a-going,
     Fairies will be at full speed,
     Running in every pass.
     Avoid the road, children, children."

But for the most part this belief has died out on Scottish land,
except near the Border, and Hallowe'en is celebrated only by
stories and jokes and games, songs and dances.