Thursday, 31 October 2013

All Hallowed Out . . .

I am fascinated by the things that we forget. The date of your anniversary; How many of your close friends have died & the reasons why we started arguing in the first place. They are important, yet we forget them. For instance, in my case, I forgot that there were actually fourteen days in my Halloween Countdown! Because while I count down the days leading up to it . . . I forgot to plan a post for today, on Halloween Itself!

I'm so sorry, but I will try to bring you a good post. See, in the realm of forgetting things, I've noticed that all of you have been forgetting things about Halloween as well. Or, if you've remembered, nobody talks about it. Because while we celebrate Halloween, it's merely one of, up to, 10 other holidays that were once celebrated, but no longer. The thing about Halloween is that, in Christian History, it's not just one day. It's actually one of three days known as the Triduum of All Hallows leading into All Saints Day and concluding with All Souls Day. Much like Christmas, with its Christmas Eve & Boxing Day. Or Easter with Good Friday, Holy Saturday & Easter Sunday.
It's why I've always found it weird when those televangelists talk down Halloween & say it's devil worship; they're essentially spitting on the graves of their Saints and martyrs on this holy feast day.

But Christianity has all manner of these feast days & triduums that we don't pay attention to [I bet you don't know when Michaelmas or Candlemas is either], so let's discuss the pagan side of Halloween, since there's more to say. See, I got the idea for this when the Inimitable Miss Sridhar suggested I do a post on Samhain, a contemporary pagan festival that falls on Halloween. However, what she didn't realize is that, while it's Samhain for her, down here in Australia it's actually the pagan festival of Beltane. The Word of the Day is: 'BELTANE'.

Beltane /bel'tayn/ n. An ancient Celtic festival observed on May Day in Scotland and Ireland to mark the beginning of summer.

See, these pagan festivals (or sabbats) are known as quarter days & cross quarter days, because there are four major festivals that fall on all four of the solstices & equinox marking another quarter of the year & four more that cross half-way between those quarter day festivals. These make up the Wheel of the Year.
Halloween falls on Samhain in America, but because these festivals are reliant upon the seasons - and the seasons are diametrically opposed in each hemisphere -  it means that these seasonal celebrations occur 6 months out of time in the Southern Hemisphere.
So, since Miss Sridhar lives in America & I live in Australia, we figured she could talk about Samhain, while I talk about what's happening in this part of the world, with Beltane. That way, you can learn everything about the Pagan celebration of Halloween, all over the world.

Beltaine celebates the midpoint between the Spring equinox and Summer solstice. While Samhain is a festival of Darkness, Beltane balances that with a festival of Light; particularly that of fire, optimism & fertility. It occurs at the beginning of summer, so it's about preparing for the oncoming harvest & marks the time to move cattle to their summer pastures.
To celebrate it, practitioners would create sacred bonfires, whose flames, warmth, light & smoke were believed to have protective powers. These bonfires were often lit on mountains or hills and could only be lit by friction, not sparks, as it was considered more sacred and natural.

People would walk around the fire, walked between two bonfires, or leapt through the fire , believing this would grant them protection. They would also do the same with their cattle in the name of protecting the cattle and people from illness or curses that may come in the summer months. Sometimes food was cooked in the fire, although there were rituals around this and before eating it some of the food was often spilled on the ground as an offering.
It is also said that, at one time, people were burned in the fire as sacrifice (although I can't conform this) however there is a ritual whereby a person was selected at random and then practitioners pretended to throw them in the fire. The selected person would jump over the bonfire three times, then for the next few days others would refer to that person as though they were dead, perhaps to trick the spirits. One of the ways they picked the person to be faux-sacrificed, was by selecting slices of cake out of a hat while blindfolded (I swear I'm not making this up) one slice of which was marked with some charcoal from the fire.
Once the bonfire had burnt down and the ashes had cooled, the ashes were then scattered amongst the sprouting crops to encourage growth.

In addition to this, all household fires and hearths were extinguished, to then be re-lit using a flame from the sacred bon-fire at the end of the ceremony, to bring its protection into their homes.
Some would visit holy wells, walking around it "sunwise" (following the sun) praying for health and offering coins, much like a wishing well. It is said that the first amount of water drawn from the well will be the more potent, much like the Beltane Dew.
At dawn on Beltane, young maidens would wash their faces with the morning dew, or roll in it. One method was to collect this Beltane Dew in a jar, leave it in sunlight and then filter out any contaminants. This dew was said to make one more sexually attractive & maintain youth, as well as abate the effects of skin ailments.
If any of my lady readers are vain or superstitious enough to try this, be careful; I have found in the past that rolling on the lawn or drawing a blade of grass through one's fingertips (to collect dew) is a great way to get a paper-cut.
It was also common to decorate one's home with yellow Mayflowers, although I doubt that would be done in the Southern Hemisphere, as not only are they associated with May Day, which is celebrated in May, but Mayflowers aren't native to the Southern Hemisphere, as far as I can tell.

As at Samhain, Beltane is a time of , also known as fae (similar to fairies and elves, but not to be confused). But at this time of year, these spirits were warded off so their mischief would not interfere with the harvest. Common wards include carrying iron or salt on your person; wearing your clothing inside-out or leaving small offerings on your doorstep and where fairies would frequent.
In Ireland particularly, cattle were brought to a rath, where some of the cattle's blood was taken, tasted & spilled on the ground with prayers to protect the herd. Sometimes they would let the blood dry, then burn it, to keep the fae away.
Some Pagans would even lead a procession around the boundaries of their farm, carrying grains, holy well water, herbs (such as vervain or rowan) & tools of their trade. Then, at the furthermost North-, South-, East- & Westerly points of their farm's boundary, they would perform a ritual, to keep fairies away from their cows, milk & dairy products (which were considered incredibly vulnerable to fairies).

That's all I could find out about this festival at such short notice, but overall this seems like a lot of hard work. Samhain is a festival after the harvest, but this one is celebrated before it. Except for the Beltane Dew, most of these rituals are about preparing for the year ahead and trying to keep yourself and your farm safe during the coming heat.
But what I find fascinating is how creepy some of this is: Sacrificing people to the flames; baptism by fire & drinking cow's blood to offer to the spirits.
I'm glad that the history of Halloween, even down here in the Southern Hemisphere, lives up to the gross, supernatural, nasty & disturbing stuff that I've come to associate it with.

But the really weird thing is . . . in Australia, we don't do trick-or-treating. We don't go out on the streets dressed up like monsters. What we prefer to do is have Halloween Parties. We stay inside and have fun. I thought this was just due to Australian Apathy (and that does havea lot to do with it), but it actually suits the Beltane rituals, in a way. After all, we're not walking amongst the spirits as with Samhain, we're inside away from them, hiding from them as the old Celtics or Pagans once did.
So maybe, just maybe, either by luck, habit or coincidence we haven't entirely forgotten Halloween and it's History, as its been passed down by our Scottish and Irish ancestors. No matter which part of the world you hail from, I wish you a Safe and Happy Halloween.

I'm the Absurd Word Nerd, and until next time, I'm off to perform my own sacred rituals on honour of this Beltane Night . . . mostly involving Horror Movies & candy.

2 comments:

  1. Cattle always seem to get the short end of the stick in this festivals. Their bones are laid on the fire, they have to jump through the flames and get sacrificed.
    Still, they kept humanity alive. That's saying something.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Indeed. I believe it shows a degree of respect for the animal. But like a stalker with an unrequited crush, this deep respect is harming the thing they wish to keep the most . . .

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