Wednesday, 30 October 2013
That time of year again, which I really love. Autumn, and Halloween, fire festivals, bonfire nights, mischief nights and remembering the war dead. This year I made a few Halloween decourations and attended one cute disco last week with everyone dressed up. I know it's all fun and dress up, with pumpkins and the ghosts.
Spiders, bats, witches, black cats, skeletons, gouls, goblins, ghosts, monsters, werewolves, the night and moonlight all remind us of Halloween. We all know Halloween is a much ancient tradition called Samhain (pronounced sow-wain). The ancients believed that this was a time that souls of the dead, as well as other creatures of the dark, would harass people because sunlight is shorter and nights get longer. To combat the evil spirits and monsters, people kept them away by tricking the entities, using fiery lanterns, bonfires, images of monsters and gouls outside houses. People even dressed up as ghosts and ghastly creatures to blend in with the horrible supernatural things and avoid notice. That passed down through the ages, to what is now Halloween. Trick or Treating is a blend of Samhain and the old English "mischief night" when children went out playing practical jokes on people.
Celtic and Germanic myths and folklore blends tales together like weaving woodlands. The stuff we all recognise to do with Halloween has a place in legend too. The witches flying on broomsticks made to look like sinister hags are a combination of dark fairies, banshees, wise women and healers. The typical witch is often female, and a demonised woman. Historically there was a religious war and a mass hysteria, when ignorant people condemned others of witchcraft. Witchcraft was always a crime (until recently). Thousands (it's argued that it was about 9 million) of people were executed, tortured and imprisoned for witchcraft, even if there was no proof and all that mattered was hearsay and gossip.
Not everyone accused of witchcraft were "witches". Not all of them understood magic, the occult, the old ways or followers of the old pagan gods. Many of the accused were Christians, and some of them belonged to the clergy! Often these people were victims of harassment, gossip, spite or for being different. Some lived as hermits. Some practised science. Some were involved in disputes and were wanted out the way. But of all of them were treated horribly by the State. Also not all of the accused were women. The notion "Burning Times" is a modern name to describe this witch hunting period of human history, but described by the inventor of Wicca. Not all countries burned witches.
History is bloody and the witch trials were scarier than the myth of cackling witches flying on broomsticks. They didn't celebrate Halloween much during the Middle Ages. The entities crossed into our dimension and drove everyone insane.
"Encyclopedia of Witchcraft and Demonology" by Rossell Hope Robbins