Halloween Beliefs And Customs In Ireland
IRELAND has a literature of Hallowe'en, or "Samhain," as it used to be called. Most of it was written between the seventh and the twelfth centuries, but the events were thought to have happened while paganism still ruled in Ireland.
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.
Brides too were stolen.
"You shall go with me, newly married
In the first century B.C. lived Ailill and his queen Medb. As they were celebrating their Samhain feast in the palace,
"Three days before Samhain at all times,
they offered a reward to the man who should tie a bundle of twigs about the feet of a criminal who had been hanged by the gate. It was dangerous to go near dead bodies on November Eve, but a bold young man named Nera dared it, and tied the twigs successfully. As he turned to go he saw
"the whole of the palace as if on fire
before him, and the heads of the people of it lying on the
ground, and then he thought he saw an army going into the
hill of Cruachan, and he followed after the army."
The door was shut. Nera was married to a fairy woman, who betrayed her kindred by sending Nera to warn King Ailill of the intended attack upon his palace the next November Eve. Nera bore summer fruits with him to prove that he had been in the fairy sid. The next November Eve, when the doors were opened Ailill entered and discovered the crown, emblem of power, took it away, and plundered the treasury. Nera never returned again to the homes of men.
Another story of about the same time was that of Angus, the son of a Tuatha god, to whom in a dream a beautiful maiden appeared. He wasted away with love for her, and searched the country for a girl who should look like her. At last he saw in a meadow among a hundred and fifty maidens, each with a chain of silver about her neck, one who was like the beauty of his dream. She wore a golden chain about her throat, and was the daughter of King Ethal Anbual. King Ethal's palace was stormed by Ailill, and he was forced to give up his daughter. He gave as a reason for withholding his consent so long, that on Samhain Princess Caer changed from a maiden to a swan, and back again the next year.
"And when the time came Angus went to the
loch, and he saw the three times fifty white birds there
with their silver chains about their necks, and Angus stood
in a man's shape at the edge of the loch, and he called to
She came, and he changed to a swan likewise, and they flew away to King Dagda's palace, where every one who heard their sweet singing was charmed into a sleep of three days and three nights.
Princess Etain, of the race of the Tuatha, and wife of Midir, was born again as the daughter of Queen Medb, the wife of Ailill. She remembers a little of the land from which she came, is never quite happy,
"But sometimes--sometimes--tell me; have
even when she wins the love of King Eochaidh. When they have been married a year, there comes Midir from the Land of Youth. By winning a game of chess from the King, he gets anything he may ask, and prays to see the Queen. When he sees her he sings a song of longing to her, and Eochaidh it troubled because it is Samhain, and he knows the great power the hosts of the air "have then over those who wish for happiness."
In vain Eochaidh pleads with her to stay with him. She had already forgotten all but Midir and the life so long ago in the Land of Youth.
"In the Land of Youth
"There is no age there,
"Great rivers wander
"There is no hunger
--SHARP: Immortal Hour.
She and Midir fly away in the form of two swans, linked by a chain of gold.
Cuchulain, hopelessly sick of a strange illness brought on by Fand and Liban, fairy sisters, was visited the day before Samhain by a messenger, who promised to cure him if he would go to the Otherworld. Cuchulain could not make up his mind to go, but sent Laeg, his charioteer. Such glorious reports did Laeg bring back from the Otherworld,
"If all Erin were mine,
--Cuchulain's Sick-bed. (Meyer trans.)
that Cuchulain went thither, and championed the people there against their enemies. He stayed a month with the fairy Fand. Emer, his wife at home, was beset with jealousy, and plotted against Fand, who had follower her hero home. Fand in fear returned to her deserted husband, Emer was given a Druidic drink to drown her jealousy, and Cuchulain another to forget his infatuation, and they lived happily afterward.
Even after Christianity was made the vital religion in Ireland, it was believed that places not exorcised by prayers and by the sign of the cross, were still haunted by Druids. As late as the fifth century the Druids kept their skill in fortune-telling. King Dathi got a Druid to foretell what would happen to him from one Hallowe'en to the next, and the prophecy came true. Their religion was now declared evil, and all evil or at any rate suspicious beings were assigned to them or to the devil as followers.
--YEATS: Land of Heart's Desire.
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, burned up 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
""For the fairy mounds of Erinn are always opened about Hallowe'en."
--Expedition of Nera. (Meyer trans.)
when the throngs of spirits, fairies, and goblins trooped out for revels about the country. The old Druid idea of obsession, the besieging of a person by an evil spirit, was practised by them at that time.
"This is the first day of the winter, and
--WARREN: Twig of Thorn.
If the fairies wished to seize a mortal--which power they had as the sun-god could take men to himself-- they caused him to give them certain tokens by which he delivered himself into their hands. They might be milk and fire--
--YEATS: Land of Heart's Desire.
or one might receive a fairy thorn such as Oonah brings home, which shrivels up at the touch of St. Bridget's image;
"Oh, ever since I kept the twig of thorn and hid it, I have seen strange things, and heard strange laughter and far voices calling."
--WARREN: Twig of Thorn.
or one might be lured by music as he stopped near the fort to watch the dancing, for the revels were held in secret, as those of the Druids had been, and no one could look on them unaffected.
A story is told of Paddy More, a great stout uncivil churl, and Paddy Beg, a cheerful little hunchback. The latter, seeing lights and hearing music, paused by a mound, and was invited in. Urged to tell stories, he complied; he danced as spryly as he could for his deformity; he sang, and made himself so agreeable that the fairies decided to take the hump off his back, and send him home a straight manly fellow. The next Hallowe'en who should come by the same place but Paddy More, and he stopped likewise to spy at the merrymaking. He too was called in, but would not dance politely, added no stories nor songs. The fairies clapped Paddy Beg's hump on his back, and dismissed him under a double burden of discomfort.
A lad called Guleesh, listening outside a fort on Hallowe'en heard the spirits speaking of the fatal illness of his betrothed, the daughter of the King of France. They said that if Guleesh but knew it, he might boil an herb that grew by his door and give it to the princess and make her well. Joyfully Guleesh hastened home, prepared the herb, and cured the royal girl.
Sometimes people did not have the luck to return, but were led away to a realm of perpetual youth and music.
"Father Hart. What are you reading?
--YEATS: Land of Heart's Desire.
If one returned, he found that the space which seemed to him but one night, had been many years, and with the touch of earthly sod the age he had postponed suddenly weighed him down. Ossian, released from fairy land after three hundred years dalliance there, rode back to his own country on horseback. He saw men imprisoned under a block of marble and others trying to lift the stone. As he leaned over to aid them the girth broke. With the touch of earth "straightway the white horse fled away on his way home, the Ossian became aged, decrepit, and blind."
No place as much as Ireland has kept the belief in all sorts of supernatural spirits abroad among its people. From the time when on the hill of Ward, near Tara, in pre-Christian days, the sacrifices were burned and the Tuatha were thought to appear on Samhain, to as late as 1910, testimony to actual appearances of the :little people" is to be found.
"'Among the usually invisible races which I have seen in Ireland, I distinguished five classes. There are the Gnomes, who are earth-spirits, and who seem to be a sorrowful race. I once saw some of them distinctly on the side of Ben Bulbin. They had rather round heads and dark thick- set bodies, and in stature were about two and one-half feet. The Leprechauns are different, being full of mischief, though they, too, are small. I followed a Leprechaun from the town of Wicklow out to the Carraig Sidhe, "Rock of the Fairies," a distance of half a mile or more, where he disappeared. He had a very merry face, and beckoned to me with his finger. A third class are the Little People, who, unlike the Gnomes and Leprechauns, are quite good-looking; and they are very small. The Good People are tall, beautiful beings, as tall as ourselves. . . . They direct the magnetic currents of the earth. The Gods are really the Tuatha De Danann, and they are much taller than our race.'"
--WENTZ: Fairy-faith in Celtic Countries.
The sight of the apparitions on Hallowe'en is believed to be fatal to the beholder.
"One night my lady's soul walked along the wall like a cat. Long Tom Bowman beheld her and that day week fell he into the well and was drowned."
--PYLE: Priest and the Piper.
One version of the Jack-o'-lantern story comes from Ireland. A stingy man named Jack was for his inhospitality barred from all hope of heaven, and because of practical jokes on the Devil was locked out of hell. Until the Judgement Day he is condemned to walk the earth with a lantern to light his way.
The place of the old lord of the dead, the Tuatha god Saman, to whom vigil was kept and prayers said on November Eve for the good of departed souls, was taken in Christian times by St. Colomba or Columb Kill, the founder of a monastery in Iona in the fifth century. In the seventeenth century the Irish peasants went about begging money and goodies for a feast, and demanding in the name of Columb Kill that fatted calved and black sheep be prepared. In place of the Druid fires, candles were collected and lighted on Hallowe'en, and prayers for the souls of the givers said before them. The name of Saman is kept in the title "Oidhche Shamhna," "vigil of Saman," by which the night of October 31st was until recently called in Ireland.
There are no Hallowe'en bonfires in Ireland now, but charms and tests are tried. Apples and nuts, the treasure of Pomona, figure largely in these. They are representative winter fruits, the commonest. They can be gathered late and kept all winter.
A popular drink at the Hallowe'en gathering in the eighteenth century was milk in which crushed roasted apples had been mixed. It was called Lambs'-wool (perhaps from "La Mas Ubhal," "the day of the apple fruit"). At the Hallowe'en supper "callcannon," mashed potatoes, parsnips, and chopped onions, is indispensable. A ring is buried in it, and the one who finds it in his portion will be married in a year, or if he is already married, will be lucky.
"They had colcannon, and the funniest things were found in it--tiny dolls, mice, a pig made of china, silver sixpences, a thimble, a ring, and lots of other things. After supper was over all went into the big play-room, and dived for apples in a tub of water, fished for prizes in a basin of flour; then there were games---"
--TRANT: Hallowe'en in Ireland.
A coin betokened to the finder wealth; the thimble, that he would never marry.
A ring and a nut are baked in a cake. The ring of course means early marriage, the nut signifies that its finder will marry a widow or widower. If the kernel is withered, no marriage at all is prophesied. In Roscommon, in central Ireland, a coin, a sloe, and a bit of wood were baked in a cake. The one getting the sloe would live longest, the one getting the wood was destined to die within the year.
A mould of flour turned out on the table held similar tokens. Each person cut off a slice with a knife, and drew out his prize with his teeth.
After supper the tests were tried. In the last century nut-shells were burned. The best-known nut test is made as follows: three nuts are named for a girl and two sweethearts. If one burns more steadily with the girl's nut, that love is faithful to her, but if either hers or one of the other nuts starts away, there will be no happy friendship between them.
Apples are snapped from the end of a stick hung parallel to the floor by a twisted cord which whirls the stick rapidly when it is let go. Care has to be taken not to bite the candle burning on the other end. Sometimes this test is made easier by dropping the apples into a tub of water and diving for them, or piercing them with a fork dropped straight down.
Green herbs called "livelong" were plucked by the children and hung up on Midsummer Eve. If a plant was found to be still green on Hallowe'en, the one who had hung it up would prosper for the year, but if it had turned yellow or had died, the child would also die.
Hemp-seed is sown across three furrows, the sower repeating: "Hemp-seed, I saw thee, hemp-seed, I saw thee; and her that is to be my true love, come after me and draw thee." On looking back over his shoulder he will see the apparition of his future wife in the act of gathering hemp.
Seven cabbage stalks were named for any seven of the company, then pulled up, and the guests asked to come out, and "see their sowls."
"One, two, three, and up to seven;
Red Mike "was a queer one from his birth, an' no wonder, for he first saw the light atween dusk an' dark o' a Hallowe'en Eve." When the cabbage test was tried at a party where Mike was present, six stalks were found to be white, but Mike's was "all black an' fowl wi' worms an' slugs, an' wi' a real bad smell ahint it." Angered at the ridicule he received, he cried: "I've the gift o' the night, I have, an' on this day my curse can blast whatever I choose." At that the priest showed Mike a crucifix, and he ran away howling, and disappeared through a bog into the ground.
--SHARP: Threefold Chronicle.
Twelve of the party may learn their future, if one gets a clod of earth from the churchyard, sets up twelve candles in it, lights and names them. The fortune of each will be like that of the candle-light named for him,--steady, wavering, or soon in darkness.
A ball of blue yarn was thrown out of the window by a girl who held fast to the end. She wound it over on her hand from left to right, saying the Creed backwards. When she had nearly finished, she expected the yarn would be held. She must ask "Who holds?" and the wind would sigh her sweetheart's name in at the window.
In some charms the devil was invoked directly. If one walked about a rick nine times with a rake, saying, "I rake this rick in the devil's name," a vision would come and take away the rake.
If one went out with nine grains of oats in his mouth, and walked about until he heard a girl's name called or mentioned, he would know the name of his future wife, for they would be the same.
Lead is melted, and poured through a key or a ring into cold water. The form each spoonful takes in cooling indicated the occupation of the future husband of the girl who poured it.
"Now something like a horse would cause the jubilant maiden to call out, 'A dragoon!' Now some dim resemblance to a helmet would suggest a handsome member of the mounted police; or a round object with a spike would seem a ship, and this of course meant a sailor; or a cow would suggest a cattle-dealer, or a plough a farmer."
--SHARP: Threefold Chronicle.
After the future had been searched, a piper played a jig, to which all danced merrily with a loud noise to scare away the evil spirits.
Just before midnight was the time to go out "alone and unperceived" to a south-running brook, dip a shirt-sleeve in it, bring it home and hang it by the fire to dry. One must go to bed, but watch till midnight for a sight of the destined mate who would come to turn the shirt to dry the other side.
Ashes were raked smooth on the hearth at bedtime on Hallowe'en, and the next morning examined for footprints. If one was turned from the door, guests or a marriage was prophesied; if towards the door, a death.
To have prophetic dreams a girl should search for a briar grown into a hoop, creep through thrice in the name of the devil, cut it in silence, and go to bed with it under her pillow. A boy should cut ten ivy leaves, throw away one and put the rest under his head before he slept.
If a girl leave beside her bed a glass of water with a sliver of wood in it, and say before she falls asleep:
"Husband mine that is to be,
she will dream of falling off a bridge into the water, and of being saved at the last minute by the spirit of her future husband. To receive a drink from his hand she must eat a cake of flour, soot, and salt before she goes to bed.
The Celtic spirit of yearning for the unknown, retained nowhere else as much as in Ireland, is expressed very beautifully by the poet Yeats in the introduction to his Celtic Twilight.
"The host is riding from Knocknarea
"'And brood no more where the fire is
"'Arms are heaving and lips apart;
"The host is rushing twixt night and day,