A wife, mother and teacher who's always up for learning something new and meeting new friends.

Monday, 31 October 2011

Halloween, Magic and Myth

Samhain. All Hallows. All Hallow’s Eve. Hallow E’en. Halloween.  The most magical night of the year.  
 A night of glowing jack-o’-lanterns, bobbing for apples, tricks or treats, and dressing in costume.  A night of ghost stories and séances, tarot card readings and scrying with mirrors.  A night of power, when the veil that separates our world from the Otherworld is at its thinnest.  A “spirit night”, as they say in Wales.

 All Hallow’s Eve is the eve of All Hallow’s Day (November 1).  And for once, even popular tradition remembers that the eve is more important than the day itself, the traditional celebration focusing on October 31, beginning at sundown. 

The Celts called it Samhain, which means “summer’s end”, according to their ancient twofold division of the year, when summer ran from Beltane to Samhain and winter ran from Samhain to Beltane.  Samhain is pronounced, depending on where you’re from, as “sow-in” in Ireland and England, “sow-een” in Wales or “sav-en” in Scotland.

Not only is Samhain the end of autumn; it is also, more importantly, the end of the old year and the beginning of the new, a Celtic New Year’s Eve.  There are many representations of Celtic Gods with two faces, and it must have been one of them who held sway over Samhain, one face turned toward the past, in commemoration of those who died during the last year, and one face gazing hopefully toward the future, attempting to pierce the veil and divine what the coming year holds.  These two themes, celebrating the dead and divining the future, are inexorably intertwined in Samhain, as they are likely to be in any New Year’s celebration.

As a feast of the dead, this was the one night when the dead could, if they wished, return to the land of the living, to celebrate with their family, tribe, or clan.  And so the great burial mounds of Ireland (sidhe mounds) were opened up, with lighted torches lining the walls, so the dead could find their way.  Extra places were set at the table and food set out for any who had died that year, though all must return to their appointed places by cock-crow.

The Christian religion, with its emphasis on the “historical” Christ and his act of Redemption 2000 years ago, is forced into a linear view of time, where seeing the future is an illogical proposition.  In fact, from the Christian perspective, any attempt to do so is seen as inherently evil.  This did not keep the medieval church from co-opting Samhain’s other motif, commemoration of the dead.  To the church, however, it could never be a feast for all the dead, but only the blessed dead, all those hallowed (made holy) by obedience to God thus, All Hallow’s, or Hallowmas, later All Saints and All Souls.

There are so many types of divination that are traditional to Hallowstide, it is possible to mention only a few. Girls were told to place hazelnuts along the front of the firegrate, each one to symbolize one of her suitors. She could then divine her future husband by chanting, “If you love me, pop and fly; if you hate me, burn and die.”  Several methods used the apple, that most popular of Halloween fruits.  You should slice an apple through the equator (to reveal the five-pointed star within) and then eat it by candlelight before a mirror.  Your future spouse will then appear over your shoulder.  Or, peel an apple, making sure the peeling comes off in one long strand, reciting, “I pare this apple round and round again; / My sweetheart’s name to flourish on the plain: / I fling the unbroken paring o’er my head, / My sweetheart’s letter on the ground to read.” 

Perhaps the most famous icon of the festival is the jack-o’- lantern.  Various authorities attribute it to either Scottish or Irish origin.  However, it seems clear that it was used as a lantern by people who travelled the road this night, the scary face to frighten away spirits or faeries who might otherwise lead one astray.  Set on porches and in windows, they cast the same spell of protection over the household.  However, the American pumpkin seems to have forever taken over from the European gourd as the jack-o’- lantern of choice.

The custom of dressing in costume and “trick-or-treating” is of Celtic origin, with survivals particularly strong in Scotland.  However, there are some important differences from the modern version.  In the first place, the custom was not relegated to children, but was actively indulged in by adults as well.  Also, the “treat” that was required was often one of spirits (the liquid variety).  And in ancient times, the roving bands would sing seasonal carols from house-to-house, making the tradition very similar to Yuletide wassailing.  In fact, the custom known as caroling, now connected exclusively with Midwinter, was once practised at all the major holidays.  Finally, in Scotland at least, the tradition of dressing in costume consisted almost exclusively of cross-dressing.  It seems as though ancient societies provided an opportunity for people to “try on” the role of the opposite gender for one night of the year. 

To Witches, Halloween is one of the four High Holidays, or Greater Sabbats, or cross-quarter days.  Because it is the most important holiday of the year, it is sometimes called “The Great Sabbat”.
 Another date that may be used in celebrations is the actual cross-quarter day, or Old Halloween.  This occurs when the sun has reached fifteen degrees Scorpio, an astrological “power point” symbolized by the Eagle.  The celebration would begin at sunset.  Interestingly, this date was also appropriated by the church as the holiday of Martinmas.

Of all the Witchcraft holidays, Halloween is the only one that still boasts anything near to popular celebration. Even though it is typically relegated to children (and the young-atheart) and observed as an evening affair only, many of its traditions are firmly rooted in Paganism.

Nonetheless, it seems only right that there should be one night of the year when our minds are turned toward thoughts of the supernatural.  A night when both Pagans and non-Pagans may ponder the mysteries of the Otherworld and its inhabitants.  And if you are one of them, may all your jack-o’-lanterns burn bright on this All Hallow’s Eve.

Love and light.

Sunday, 30 October 2011

Happy Halloween, Have a Smashing Samhain

Love it or hate it, Halloween is here again.  As a pagan, I like to celebrate Halloween and yes, I do give all the children who call at the door treats.

I also like carving pumpkins although I'm not especially good at it.  My dog, Sonny isn't very impressed either.

Scary stuff huh?

This little lady (I call her Winnie) was a gift from a student of mine a few years ago.  It came in a beautiful floral display.  I kept her and have reused her each Halloween since.

I treated myself to some beautiful orange, white and purple flowers whilst out shopping this weekend, I popped Winnie in the top and they look lovely.

This picture is a little deceiving.  It's not a normal sized pumpkin, it's a teeny tiny munchkin!

 This is my finished Halloween display.  Can you see the little munchkins on the mantelpiece?  I've also put a little broomstick on the side to finish it off.

Have a great Halloween.  Love and light to you all.

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

A Day To Remember

Ten years ago today my Dad died, suddenly.
I don't want to go on about the details of when he died, I have spent the last ten years dwelling on that.  This post is about today and how I spent the anniversary.

This morning I updated my status on Facebook: 'Thinking about my dad Phil, who died ten years ago today. Time whizzes by so quickly and so many things have happened in the past 10 years that my dad has missed. Carpe Diem. But I like to think that those who have gone never really go as long as we remember them. x'

As I wrote it, I knew my sister would not be impressed.  She doesn't think it's right that people share their innermost thoughts or personal 'things' on Facebook.  I wondered if I was doing the right thing and why I felt compelled to write something on FB.  I really wasn't doing it for attention as some might think, I did it to remind my FB friends, many who knew my Dad, that ten years had passed and I wanted him to be remembered. At the time of writing this post, 21 friends and relatives have 'liked' my status and/or written a kind comment and I feel content that many have thought of him today, who might not have, were it not for my status.

Today was a lovely, mild, autumnal day and I felt compelled to go to the village I grew up in, buy some flowers and pay my respects to my Dad.
Now my other half, 'the accountant' isn't that keen on spending a precious day off walking round Uppermill (a village in Saddleworth) and visiting graves.  I convinced him by throwing brunch in and he was sold!

After a lovely brunch at our local farm shop 'Albion Farm' in Delph (pictures to follow in a later post), we set off on a short walk with the dog.

Sonny, blinking at the camera

Saddleworth is a truly lovely place to have grown up in 

although I never really appreciated that as a teenager.  Oddly enough my Baba mentioned just the other day that she would love to live in Uppermill.  I wish we could afford to but it's a very desirable area and the house prices reflect that.

The Accountant in the park

Encouraging the dog to cross

As we walked we didn't talk much and I spent a lot of time thinking about my Dad and all the things that have happened over the past ten years.  I think my wedding day is the day I missed him most.  But I did have my Dad in my life for almost thirty years and I know how lucky I am to have had him for that long.

We finished our 'day out' by taking some flowers to the grave.  The accountant doesn't know why I feel the need to do this, he says he remembers his dad in his head and doesn't need to go to a grave.  I understand what he means but going to my Dads grave gives me a special place to think about my Dad without distraction.  It's a beautiful place (if you know what I mean).  High up on a hillside, full of trees and wind chimes that people have hung in the trees and there are benches which look out across the valley, not to mention all the lovely plants and flowers.  Although it's obviously a very sad place it is also peaceful and beautiful.

Today has been emotional to say the least, a friend on FB who lost her brother last year asked the other day 'When does this grieving process end?' My reply was ' It does get a little easier with time. It's 10 years ago tomorrow since I lost my dad and it still hurts, but not as badly. I'm sure that people we love never completely go away. They are always with us in some way'

I don't think the grieving process ever ends, it just changes, from a harsh physical pain and other emotions such as anger, that you think will never go away, to a lesser pain or hurt, maybe a sense of loss or longing to see that person again.  

I think I will grieve for my Dad for as long as I live, then when I go, I know I'll be with him again.  But I really think that as long as our loved ones are remembered they will always be with us.

Much love,

A Lesson Learnt...A Lesson For Us All?

Paula - A teacher in New York was teaching her class about bullying and gave them the following exercise to perform. 
 She had the children take a piece of paper and told them to crumple it up, stamp on it and really mess it up but do not rip it. Then she had them unfold the paper, smooth it out and look at how scarred and dirty is was. She then told them to tell it they’re sorry. 
 Now even though they said they were sorry and tried to fix the paper, she pointed out all the scars they left behind. And that those scars will never go away no matter how hard they tried to fix it. 
 That is what happens when a child bullies another child, they may say they’re sorry but the scars are there forever.

Monday, 3 October 2011

I Don't Wish To Offend Anyone But...

My friend posted this on Facebook and it made me laugh. I really hope no-one is offended by this, I haven't posted it to offend.  I just think it's very funny.

Saturday, 1 October 2011

Grateful For Good Weather And Birthdays

This week I'm grateful for many things, here are are just a couple...

4. The beautiful weather.  We're having an Indian Summer here in Blighty.  Today has been the hottest October day in history! It hit 30* in certain parts of the country unheard of in the height of summer, let alone in October.

5. Birthdays. Yesterday I went to my baby sisters house to celebrate her birthday.  My sister, her friends, my Mama and Baba and myself made a variety of exciting cocktails and ate some lovely food.
  Today we returned for a smoked salmon and champagne breakfast. Gorgeous!
Also today I've hosted my beautiful babas 16th birthday party with nine of her friends attending. As I kept reminding my Baba, the weather is never this good in October and she might be 40 before she has a garden party again! It started well, then we had some fallings out, then they made friends and they are currently playing on the Wii.  I only hope that they go to sleep earlier than last year. I told them off at 5.45 in the morning last year!

I hope all you Brits are enjoying the weather too.