Hello and welcome to the Archivist's Corner! This is a column dedicated to sharing interesting pieces of history that have buried in the archives of time. This column also runs in Celtic Guide magazine, a free web-based publication celebrating Celtic history and culture.
For this installment I bring you some Halloween related treasures from the past three centuries. I hope you enjoy these antique slices of history as much as I do. ~ Carolyn
"Halloween" by Robert Burns
This is a poem written in 1785 by Scotland's famous poet, Robert Burns, called "Halloween." The version on the right contains notations made by Burns himself, "to enable his readers to understand it, he added valuable notes, explanatory of the charms and spells of this eventful night."
You can read the full poem in original Scots dialect with Burns' notes here on Google Books.
The poem is available in translation to contemporary English here from BBC, where you can also hear an audio recording of the poem.
by William Allingham (d.1889)
I heard the dogs howl in the moonlight night;
I went to the window to see the sight;
All the Dead that ever I knew
Going one by one and two by two.
On they pass'd, and on they pass'd;
Townsfellows all, from first to last;
Born in the moonlight of the lane,
Quench'd in the heavy shadow again.
Schoolmates, marching as when we play'd
At soldiers once—but now more staid;
Those were the strangest sight to me
Who were drown'd, I knew, in the awful sea.
Some that I loved, and gasp'd to speak to;
Some but a day in their churchyard bed;
Some that I had not known were dead.
A long, long crowd—where each seem'd lonely,
Yet of them all there was one, one only,
Raised a head or look'd my way.
She linger'd a moment,—she might not stay.
How long since I saw that fair pale face!
Ah! Mother dear! might I only place
My head on thy breast, a moment to rest,
While thy hand on my tearful cheek were prest!
Across the moon-stream, from shade to shade,
Young and old, women and men;
Many long-forgot, but remember'd then.
And first there came a bitter laughter;
A sound of tears the moment after;
And then a music so lofty and gay,
That every morning, day by day,
I strive to recall it if I may.
These games come from a book called "Games for Hallo-we'en" by Mary Blane, printed in 1912. Pay attention to the objects from daily life that are mentioned as props and prizes for the games, it really highlights how life has changed!
GAME OF FATE
Guests take part, seated in a circle. Three Fates are chosen, one of whom whispers to each person in turn name of his (her) future sweetheart.
Second Fate follows, whispering to each where he (she) will next meet his (her) sweetheart; as, "You will meet on a load of hay," or, "at a picnic," or, "at church," or, "on the river," etc.
The third Fate reveals the future; as, "You will marry him (her) next Christmas," or, "You will be separated many years by a quarrel, but will finally marry," or, "Neither of you will ever marry," etc.
Each guest must remember what is said by the Fates; then each in turn repeats aloud what has been told him (her). For example, "My future sweetheart's name is Obednego; I shall meet him next Wednesday on the Moonlight Excursion, and we shall be married in a week."
A splendid game, and one specially suitable for a large party. A sheet or white tablecloth is first of all stretched right across the room, and on a table behind it is placed a bright lamp.
All the other lights in the room are then extinguished, and one of the players takes a seat upon a low stool midway between the lamp and the sheet. The other players endeavor to disguise themselves as much as possible, by distorting their features, rumpling their hair, wearing wigs, false noses, etc., and pass one by one behind the player seated on the stool. Their shadows are thus thrown upon the sheet.
The aim of the seated player is to guess the identity of the shadows as they pass before him; and the aim of the others is to endeavor by every means in their power to keep him from recognizing them. As may be imagined, the task of the single player is not an easy one, the distorted shadows being vastly different from the originals as seen before the lights were extinguished.
Suspend apples by means of strings in doorway or from ceiling at proper height to be caught between the teeth. First successful player receives prize.
These prizes should be Hallow-e'en souvenirs, such as emery cushions of silk representing tomatoes, radishes, apples, pears, pickles; or pen-wipers representing brooms, bats, cats, witches, etc.
APPLES AND FLOUR
Suspend horizontally from ceiling a stick three feet long. On one end stick an apple, upon other tie small bag of flour. Set stick whirling. Each guest takes turn in trying to bite apple-end of stick. It is amusing to see guests receive dabs of flour on face. Guest who first succeeds in biting apple gets prize.