I apologize for not blogging last week I was actually staying in Brighton for a few days with my daughter and her family. She was over from Dubai where she is currently working.
Anyway, as it was Halloween last weekend I decided to blog about that. I did some research, courtesy of the Internet, of course, and have found out a bit about it. It seems that the 'experts' are in disagreement as to its origins. Some say it is the memory of a pagan festival, but others that it is Christian. Seems to me it's a bit of both.
In the 8th century, Pope Gregory III said that there should be a couple of days set aside to honour and remember the dead of the Church. He said that All Souls Day, when all dead Christians should be remembered, should be on October 31st, while the saints should be venerated on November 1st (All Hallows Day). Now it just happens that these days were also celebrated in the Celtic pagan world as Samhain (pronounced sowain). It was the end of summer and the beginning of the dark months of the year. It was seen as a time when the veil between the worlds of the living an the dead was thin and the spirits could cross the divide. These spirits needed to be propitiated to ensure survival overe the harsh months of winter. They were offered food and drink, or a portion of the crop. Spirits of the dead were said to revisit their old homes, and it was customary to set a place at the table or a chair by the fire to welcome them. Divinations were also performed at this time of year, especially those concerning marriage and death. In Scotland people walked around the fields with torches, and maybe in Sussex too? as in Sussex there are still torchlight processions around this time, the most famous being at Lewes.
Bonfires were lit at this time and some customs included jumping over the fires. Some people dressed up and went through the streets making a lot of noise to frighten the spirits. Biting apples tied onto a string was also a tradition. All this happened long before the Gunpowder Plot!
In the north of England, at this time of year, people used to go round the houses 'soul-caking'. This was a custom whereby, in exchange for a small cake (a soul cake) the recipients would promise to pray for the souls of dead relatives. I found a recipe for soul cakes from Cheshire on the net at Recipewise for anyone interested to try them. They sound quite nice actually.
There seems to me to be much in our current traditions that reflect both the pagan and Christian traditions. I do not believe that Pope Gregory chose those dates to honour the dead just by co-incidence, especially as I understand that he chose to put many Christian churches in places that had been holy to the pagan religion on the basis that people had been used to going to that place for worship and would probably still do so out of habit. Other Christian festivals have also been put at times when the pagan folk celebrated. Examples are Christmas (Yule) and Easter (Beltane). My conclusion to this is that Halloween is a mix of Christian and pagan ideas, but that the Christians deliberately put their celebrations of the dead at the same time as the old pagan festival, and also, Bonfire night has become separated and hi-jacked by Guy Fawkes, who was not burned at all. He was due to hang, but threw himself from the scaffold to avoid it and died of a broken neck.
I will be publishing another extract from The Wolf Pack next week.