A note to the reader: Never has it been so evident that history can sometimes be murky and difficult to wade through than during my quest to discover the roots of Christmas caroling! Different sources give different information, conflicting dates, and varying histories.
Ordinarily I would not open with a disclaimer. But, under the circumstances, if the reader were to look up this information on their own, they might find answers different than what I’ve written here. So, I will endeavor to weed through it all and give my own assessment of the material. And, I will try to be clear about where my information came from by citing all sources. - Carolyn
Celtic folklore is rife with tales of the Fae. According to the lore, to avoid angering the fairies you should always refer to them by a euphemism, such as “the Good People.” The fairies can be friend or foe, though in Celtic folklore they are more often known for their trickery than in neighboring Germanic lore, where elves are quite helpful. Germanic lore did make its way to Lowland Scotland with the Anglo-Saxons. The stories of helpful Scottish brownies, who do chores around the house are analogous with other Germanic domestic elves such as the German kobold and Scandinavian Tomte. Fairies could travel in groups, known as trooping fairies, or be solitary figures, such as the leprechaun.
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.
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
Ye Olde Halloween Poetry
"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.
Halloween is a fun and festive time of year with roots going back to Old World tradition. While some traditions have faded away, others survived and are still practiced today. In the old days, both October 31s and November 1st were considered special days. Often the eve before a holiday was the time for raucous revelry while the next morning was the time for solemn church going. Thus, All Hallows Eve (or evening) became Hallowe’en, and then simply Halloween. Of course we know that before it was All Hallows, the celebration was called Samhain (pronounced sow-en), a Celtic pagan high day. For this edition of The Archivist’s Corner, your archivist has uncovered some antiquated accounts of Celtic Halloween customs for your reading pleasure.
Since this column was written in the Autumn, I thought it would be fitting to highlight some poems by writers of the British Romantic movement. The Romantic Era had its origins in the early 19th century, but it reached its peak between 1850-1900. It was largely considered to be a reaction to, and to some extent a rejection of, the preceding Enlightenment Era. The Enlightenment brought with it the Scientific Revolution and the beginnings of the Industrial Revolution.
In a recent article about the discipline of folklore , I mentioned that one detriment of these movements was the backlash against folk customs. Because the emphasis was on science and progress, country customs were often seen as backward. The Romantic Movement coincided with the birth of folklore as an academic discipline. Both folklorists and Romantic Era writers sought to press the pause button on this fast paced rush into the future.
Scottish traditional dress is admired the world round. Indeed, Tartan Day celebrates Scottish heritage each year in April in the U.S. and Canada, while Australia and New Zealand celebrate it in July. Individual tartans are identified with different Scottish clans, and we when we hear the word “tartan,” the first image that comes to mind is the famed Scottish kilt. Perhaps it is because the kilt is so unique among modern men’s clothing that it has been the object of such fascination while traditional Scottish women’s clothing is often marginalized as a footnote. Well, this edition of the Archivist’s Corner is turning the tables! Kilt, step aside! Your Archivist has dug through the annals of time to uncover paintings, drawing, and written observations of traditional Scottish women’s apparel from roughly the 18th through the early 20th centuries.
For this edition, being the month of February, I’d like to share some old Scottish love ballads with you. However, these are not the epitome of what we would consider romantic today! But, they depict true emotion, and maybe a strong dose of heartache, while also giving a glimpse of a world gone by.
In this installment we travel to ye olde Yorkshire. Here is a selection of poems and lyrics in the Yorkshire dialect, accompanied by antique illustrations of Yorkshire. The poems come from “Yorkshire Dialect Poems” edited by F.W. Moorman (no date given, it appears to be circa 1911, with many poems dating earlier). All illustrations come from “Yorkshire Painted and Described” by Gordon Home (also undated, appears late 19th or early 20th century). I hope very much that you enjoy.
(originally published in Celtic Guide's November 2013 issue)