Fire, apples, nuts, loom large as propitiating instruments. In the North of England it was the custom to dive for apples, or catch at them, suspended from a string, with the mouth only, the hands being tied behind the back. In the burning of nuts, common to the North of England, Ireland and Scotland, propitious omens were sought, largely concerning matrimony. The custom is well described by the poet Gay in his spell:
Two hazel nuts I threw into the flame,
Anid to each nut I gave a sweetheart's name.
This with the loudest bounce me sore amaz'd,
That in a flame of brightest colour blaz'd;
As blaz'd the nut, so may thy passion grow,
For 'twas thy nut that did so brightly glow!
near the circumference for every person of each family interested, and whatever stone was out of its place upon the next morning the person represented by that stone was said to be devoted of
"fey " and was supposed not to live another year.
And much more you may learn by diligent search among old world customs. " Soul-cakes," too, you ought to make and eat about this time, and perhaps you may lighten the lot of your ancestors in another place. But there, we are getting a little bit out of our depth!
Before Hallowe'en in all the shops there is a great display of masks, or false faces, as they are more usually called in Scotland. This is in the village, for if the country people want them, they have to walk there for them. When the day comes, there is great preparation. All sorts of old garments are produced and there is great dressing up. This is not confined to children, for quite grown-up lads take part in it. On that night no door is closed against the " guisers." They walk into any house without knocking, and penetrate into its recesses.
I am told that in some parts the lads and young men get very riotous. There is great pulling up of cabbage stalks to see if the future partner for life is to be straight in mind and body. After these are pulled up, the youths run through the townships and play many rough pranks, throwing the cabbage stalks in at house doors, or at the windows which are frequently broken. They are even more daring than the town lads in their raids on combustibles to make the bonfires, and byres and stables are watched lest they be stripped of their woodwork.
The girls visit the churchyard at midnight to try their fortune whether it is to be good or bad. Their future husband’s wraiths are expected to appear. Samhain (the Celtic New Year) is mainly observed in the Highlands, but echoes of it linger on in the Lowlands. Children, dressed up and with blackened faces, still come round to the doors of the houses. I wonder whether the masks are the survival of the disguising themselves as animals which was practised by the ancient Celts in the orgiastic rites at Samhain.
The children in Fife used to sing:
This is the nicht o' Hallowe'en
A' the witches are to be seen,
Some o' them black, an' some o' them green,
And some o' them like a randy queen!
The evil powers that came out at Samhain lived the rest of the time in the cave of Cruachan in Connaught, the province which was given to the wicked Fomor after the battle of Moytura. This cave was called the "hell-gate of Ireland," and was unlocked on November Eve to let out spirits and copper-colored birds which killed the farm animals. They also stole babies, leaving in their place changelings, goblins who were old in wickedness while still in the cradle, possessing superhuman cunning and skill in music. One way of getting rid of these demon children was to ill-treat them so that their people would come for them, bringing the right ones back; or one might boil egg-shells in the sight of the changeling, who would declare his demon nature by saying that in his centuries of life he had never seen such a thing before.
The power of fairy music was so great that St. Patrick himself was put to sleep by a minstrel who appeared to him on the day before Samhain. The Tuatha De Danann, angered at the renegade people who no longer did them honor, sent another minstrel, who after laying the ancient religious seat Tara under a twenty-three years' charm, burnedup the city with his fiery breath.
These infamous spirits dwelt in grassy mounds, called "forts," which were the entrances to underground palaces full of treasure, where was always music and dancing. These treasure-houses were open only on November Eve.
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