Sacred Texts  Paganism  Index  Previous  Next 



MAN especially has a treasury of fairy tradition, Celtic and Norse combined. Manx fairies too dwell in the middle world, since they are fit for neither heaven nor hell. Even now Manx people think they see circles of light in the late October midnight, and little folk dancing within.

Longest of all in Man was Sauin (Samhain) considered New Year's Day. According to the old style of reckoning time it came on November 12.

"To-night is New Year's night.

--Mummers' Song.

As in Scotland the servants' year end with October.

New Year tests for finding out the future were tried on Sauin. To hear her sweetheart's name a girl took a mouthful of water and two handfuls of salt, and sat down at a door. The first name she heard mentioned was the wished-for one. The three dishes proclaimed the fate of the blindfolded seeker as in Scotland. Each was blindfolded and touched one of several significant objects--meal for prosperity, earth for death, a net for tangled fortunes.

Before retiring each filled a thimble with salt, and emptied it out in a little mound on a plate, remembering his own. If any heap were found fallen over by morning, the person it represented was destined to die in a year. The Manx looked for prints in the smooth-strewn ashes on the hearth, as the Scotch did, and gave the same interpretation.

There had been Christian churches in Britain as early as 300 A.D., and Christian missionaries, St. Ninian, Pelagius, and St. Patrick, were active in the next century, and in the course of time St. Augustine. Still the old superstitions persisted, as they always do when they have grown up with the people.

King Arthur, who was believed to have reigned in the fifth century, may be a personification of the sun-god. He comes from the Otherworld, his magic sword Excalibur is brought thence to him, he fights twelve battles in number like the months, and is wounded to death by evil Modred, once his own knight. He passes in a boat, attended by his fairy sister and two other queens,

"'To the island-valley of Avilion;
Where falls not hail, or rain, or any snow,
Nor ever wind blows loudly; but it lies
Deep-meadowed, happy, fair with orchard-lawns
And bowery hollows crown'd with summer sea---'"

--TENNYSON: Passing of Arthur.

The hope of being healed there is like that given to Cuchulain (q.v.), to persuade him to visit the fairy kingdom. Arthur was expected to come again sometime, as the sun renews his course. As he disappeared from the sight of Bedivere, the last of his knights,

"The new sun rose bringing the new year."

Avilion means "apple-island." It was like the Heperides of Greek mythology, the western islands where grew the golden apples of immortality.

In Cornwall after the sixth century, the sun-god became St. Michael, and the eastern point where he appeared St. Michael's seat.

"Where the great vision of the guarded mount
Looks toward Namancos, and Bayona's hold."

--MILTON: Lycidas.

As fruit to Pomona, so berries were devoted to fairies. They would not let any one cut a blackthorn shoot on Hallowe'en. In Cornwall sloes and blackberries were considered unfit to eat after the fairies had passed by, because all the goodness was extracted. So they were eaten to heart's content on October 31st, and avoided thereafter. Hazels, because they were thought to contain wisdom and knowledge, were also sacred.

Besides leaving berries for the "Little People," food was set out for them on Hallowe'en, and on other occasions. They rewarded this hospitality by doing an extra-ordinary amount of work.

"--how the drudging goblin sweat
To earn his cream-bowl duly set,
When in one night, ere glimpse of morn,
His shadowy flail hath threshed the corn
That ten day-laborers could not end.
Then lies him down the lubbar fiend,
And strecht out all the chimney's length
Basks at the fire his hairy strength."

--MILTON: L' Allegro.

Such sprites did not scruple to pull away the chair as one was about to sit down, to pinch, or even to steal children and leave changelings in their places. The first hint of dawn drove them back to their haunts.

"When larks 'gin sing,
Away we fling;
And babes new borne steal as we go,
And elfe in bed
We leave instead,
And wend us laughing, ho, ho, ho!"

--JONSON: Robin Goodfellow.

Soulless and without gratitude or memory spirits of the air may be, like Ariel in The Tempest. He, like the fairy harpers of Ireland, puts men to sleep with his music.

"Sebastian. What, art thou waking?
Antonio. Do you not hear me speak?
Sebastian: I do; and surely,
It is a sleepy language; and thou speak'st
Out of thy sleep: What is it thou didst say?
This is a strange repose, to be asleep
With eyes wide open; standing, speaking, moving,
And yet so fast asleep."

--SHAKESPEARE: The Tempest.

The people of England, in common with those who lived in other countries of Great Britain and in Europe, dreaded the coming of winter not only on account of the cold and loneliness, but because they believed that at this time the powers of evil were abroad and ascendant. This belief harked back to the old idea that the sun had been vanquished by his enemies in the late autumn. It was to forget the fearful influences about them that the English kept festival so much in the winter-time. The Lords of Misrule, leaders of the revelry, "beginning their rule on All Hallow Eve, continued the same till the morrow after the Feast of the Purification, commonlie called Candlemas day: In all of which space there were fine and sublte disguisinges, Maskes, and Mummeries." This was written of King Henry IV's court at Eltham, in 1401, and is true of centuries before and after. They gathered about the fire and made merry while the October tempests whirled the leaves outsidem and shrieked round the house like ghosts and demons on a mad carousal.

"The autumn wind--oh hear it howl:
Without--October's tempests scowl,
As he troops away on the raving wind!
And leaveth dry leaves in his path behind.
* * * * *
"'T is the night--the night
Of the graves' delightm
And the warlock [devils] are at their play!
Ye think that without
The wild winds shout,
But no, it is they--it is they!"

--COXE: Hallowe'en.

Witchcraft--the origin of which will be traced farther on--had a strong following in England. The three witches in Macbeth are really fates who foretell the future, but they have a kettle in which they boil

"Fillet of a fenny snake,
* * * * *
Eye of newt, and toe of frog,
Wool of bat, and tongue of dog,
Adder's fork, and blindworm's sting,
Lizard's leg, and owlet's wing,
For a charm of powerful trouble---"


They connect themselves thereby with those evil creatures who pursued Tam o'Shanter, and were servants of the Devil. In 1892 in Lincolnshire, people believed that if they looked in through the church door on Hallowe'en they would see the Devil preaching his doctrines from the pulpit, and inscribing the names of new witches in his book.

The Spectre Huntman, known in Windsor Forest as Herne the Hunter, and in Todmorden as Gabriel Ratchets, was the spirit of an ungodly hunter who for his crimes was condemned to lead the chase till Judgement Day. In a storm on Hallowe'en is heard the belling of his hounds.

"Still, still shall last the dreadful chase
Till time itself shall have an end;
By day they scour earth's cavern'd space,
At midnight's witching hour, ascend.

"This is the horn, the hound, and horse,
That oft the lated peasant hears:
Appall'd, he signs the frequent cross,
When the wild din invades his ears."

--SCOTT: Wild Huntsman.

In the north of England Hallowe'en was called "nut-crack" and "snap-apple night." It was celebrated by "young people and sweethearts."

A variation of the nut test is, naming two for four lovers before they are put before the fire to roast. The unfaithful lover's nut cracks and jumps away, the loyal burns with a steady ardent flame to ashes.

"Two hazel-nuts I threw into the flame,
And to each nut I gave a sweetheart's name.
This with the loudest bounce me sore amaz'd,
That in a flame of brightest color blaz'd;
As blaz'd the nut, so may thy passion grow,
For 't was thy nut that did so brightly glow."

--GAY: The Spell.

If they jump toward each other, they will be rivals. If one of the nuts has been named for the girl and burns quietly with a lover's nut, they will live happily together. If they are restless, there is trouble ahead.

"These glowing nuts are emblems true
Of what in human life we view;
The ill-matched couple fret and fume,
And thus in strife themselves consume,
Or from each other wildly start
And with a noise forever part.
But see the happy, happy pair
Of genuine love and truth sincere;
With mutual fondness, while they burn
Still to each other kindly turn:
And as the vital sparks decay,
Together gently sink away.
Till, life's fierce ordeal being past,
Their mingled ashes rest at last."

-=GRAYDON: On Nuts Burning, Allhallows Eve.

Sometimes peas on a hot shovel are used instead.

Down the centuries from the Druid tree-worship comes the spell of the walnut-tree. It is circled thrice, with the invocation: "Let her that is to be my true-love bring me some walnuts;" and directly a spirit will be seen in the tree gathering nuts.

"Last Hallow Eve I sought a walnut-tree,
In hope my true Love's face that I might see;
Three times I called, three times I walked apace;
Then in the tree I saw my true Love's face."

--GAY: Pastorals.

The seeds of apples were used in many trials. Two stuck on cheeks or eyelids indicated by the time they clung the faithfulness of the friends named for them.

"See, from the core two kernels brown I take:
This on my cheek for Lubberkin is worn,
And Booby Clod on t'other side is borne;
But Booby Clod soon drops upon the ground,
A certain token that his love's unsound;
While Lubberkin sticks firmly to the last.
Oh! were his lips to mine but joined so fast."

--GAY: Pastorals.

In a tub float stemless apples, to be seized by the teeth of him desirous of having his love returned. If he is successful in bringing up the apple, his love-affair will end happily.

"The rosy apple's bobbing
Upon the mimic sea--
'T is tricksy and elusive,
And glides away from me.

"One moment it is dreaming
Beneath the candle's glare,
Then over wave and eddy
It glances here and there.

"And when at last I capture
The prize with joy aglow,
I sigh, may I this sunshine
Of golden rapture know

"When I essay to gether
In all her witchery
Love's sweetest rosy apple
On Love's uncertain sea."

--MUNKITTRICK: Hallowe'en Wish.

An apple is peeled all in one piece, and the paring swung three times round the head and dropped behind the left shoulder. If it does not break, and is looked at over the shoulder it forms the initial of the true sweetheart's name.

"I pare this pippin round and round again,
My sweetheart's name to flourish on the plain:
I fling the unbroken paring o'er my head.
A perfect 'L' upon the ground is read."

--GAY: Pastorals.

In the north of England was a unique custom, "the scadding of peas." A pea-pod was slit, a bean pushed inside, and the opening closed again. The full pods were boiled, and apportioned to be shelled and the peas eaten with butter and salt. The one finding the bean on his plate would be married first.

Gay records another test with peas which is like the final trial made with kale-stalks.

"As peascods once I plucked I chanced to see
One that was closely filled with three times three;
Which when I crop'd, I safely home convey'd,
And o'er the door the spell in secret laid;--
The latch moved up, when who should first come in,
But in his proper person--Lubberkin."

--GAY: Pastorals.

Candles, relics of the sacred fire, play an important part everywhere on Hallowe'en. In England too the lighted candle and the apple were fastened to the stick, and as it whirled, each person in turn sprang up and tried to bite the apple.

"Or catch th' elusive apple with a bound,
As with the taper it flew whizzing round."

This was a rough game, more suited to boys' frolic than the ghostly divinations that preceded it. Those with energy to spare found material to exercise it on. In an old book there is a picture of a youth sitting on a stick placed across two stools. On one end of the stick is a lighted candle from which he is trying to light another in his hand. Beneath is a tub of water to receive him if he over-balances sideways. These games grew later into practical jokes.

The use of a goblet may perhaps come from the story of "The Luck of Edenhall," a glass stolen from the fairies, and holding ruin for the House by whom it was stolen, if it should ever be broken. With ring and goblet this charm was tried: the ring, symbol of marriage, was suspended by a hair within a glass, and a name spelled out by beginning the alphabet over each time the ring struck the glass.

When tired of activity and noise, the party gathered about a story-teller, or passed a bundle of fagots from hand to hand, each selecting one and reciting an installment of the tale till his stick burned to ashes.

"I tell ye the story this chill Hallowe'en,
For it suiteth the spirit-eve."

--COXE: Hallowe'en.

To induce prophetic dreams the wood-and-water test was tried in England also.

"Last Hallow Eve I looked my love to see,
And tried a spell to call her up to me.
With wood and water standing by my side
I dreamed a dream, and saw my own sweet bride."

Though Hallowe'en is decidedly a country festival, in the seventeenth century young gentlemen in London chose a Master of the Revels, and held masques and dances with their friends on this night.

In central and southern England the ecclesiastical side of Hallowtide is stressed.

Bread or cake has till recently (1898) been as much a part of Hallowe'en preparations as plum pudding at Christmas. Probably this originated from an autumn baking of bread from the new grain. In Yorkshire each person gets a triangular seed-cake, and the evening is called "cake night."

"Wife, some time this weeke, if the wether hold cleere,
An end of wheat-sowing we make for this yeare.
Remember you, therefore, though I do it not,
The seed-cake, the Pasties, and Furmentie-pot."

--TUSSER: Five Hundred Points of Good Husbandry, 1580.

Cakes appear also at the vigil of All Souls', the next day. At a gathering they lie in a heap for the guests to take. In return they are supposed to say prayers for the dead.

"A Soule-cake, a Soule-cake; have mercy on
all Christen souls for a Soule-cake."

--Old Saying.

The poor in Staffordshire and Shropshire went about singing for soul-cakes or money, promising to pray and to spend the alms in masses for the dead. The cakes were called Soul-mass or "somas" cakes.

"Soul! Soul! for a soul-cake;
Pray, good mistress, for a soul-cake.
One for Peter, two for Paul,
Three for them who made us all."

--Notes and Queries.

In Dorsetshire Hallowe'en was celebrated by the ringing of bells in memory of the dead. King Henry VIII and later Queen Elizabeth issued commands against this practice.

In Lancashire in the early nineteenth century people used to go about begging for candles to drive away the gatherings of witches. If the lights were kept burning till midnight, no evil influence could remain near.

In Derbyshire, central England, torches of straw were carried about the stacks on All Souls' Eve, not to drive away evil spirits, as in Scotland, but to light souls through Purgatory.

Like the Bretons, the English have the superstition that the dead return on Hallowe'en.

"'Why do you wait at your door, woman,
Alone in the night?'
'I am waiting for one who will come, stranger,
To show him a light.
He will see me afar on the road,
And be glad at the sight.'

"'Have you no fear in your heart, woman,
To stand there alone?
There is comfort for you and kindly content
Beside the hearthstone.'
But she answered, 'No rest can I have
Till I welcome my own.'

"'Is it far he must travel to-night,
This man of your heart?'
'Strange lands that I know not, and pitiless seas
Have kept us apart,
And he travels this night to his home
Without guide, without chart.'

"'And has he companions to cheer him?'
'Aye, many,' she said.
'The candles are lighted, the hearthstones are swept,
The fires glow red.
We shall welcome them out of the night--
Our home-coming dead.'"

--LETTES: Hallowe'en.


Next: Chapter X: In Wales