Saturday, September 14, 2013

Hallowe'en In Olden Time.

"What fearfu' pranks ensue!"
      Hallowe'en, or the eve of All Saints, is one of the oldest feasts of the Catholic Church, and has been the occasion of sport and pranks bordering on the clairvoyant for centuries past. In old English times it was a night of mystery, full of charms and revelry and queer pastimes.
      Delving into the future in order to catch a glimpse of one's prospective other half was one of the enjoyments. Many of the tricks practiced on this eventful evening were so odd and withal so weird that the claim that they have been handed down from Druidical times seems just. The folk lore and legions of the Celt are of a more kindly, spiritualized form than are the myths and fables of heathen countries. The resemblance between those of the two countries, Ireland and Scotland, is so striking that a frolicsome lad could easily leave his native heather to spend the evening of All Hallow-mas on the South side of the Giant's Causeway, listening to tales of Carrig-na-Pooka and feel altogether "at home." Indeed, the "spells" and witchery indulged in on this great night when elves were dancing on the highways in Ireland, the brownies were holding carnival in the land that claims the Doon.
      Sowing the hemp seed at midnight in a lonely field was customary with both nations. Burns tells us that Jamie Fleck took a handful of hemp seed and going out alone, "tho' saer afeard," to sow the seed, all the time repeating as he advanced;
"Hemp seed, I sow thee,
An' ner that is to be my lass
Come after me and draw thee
As fast, this night."
      Drawing his narrow furrow along the ground poor Jamie struck his neighbor's pig, its squealing causing him terrible fright. "An' young an' auld cam' runding out to hear the sad narration."
      To dip the left shirt sleeve into a rivulet, "where three lairds, lands meet," and going home, place it before the fire to dry, would bring the future wife, who would turn the sleeves other side to the fire. This was a trick also peculiar to both Irish and Scotch.
      Putting nuts into a blazing fire, naming each after one's sweetheart, was supposed to be a fine way of ascertaining the temper and disposition of the dear one nearest the heart. If they "bleezed brightly togither," then so would the lives of the two whose names were bestowed on the good housewife's nuts. But if the nuts jumped and sputtered "and flew high that night with saucy pride," so would the sad sight "make the heart sair to see," as they sat around the well-swept hearth. In Ireland, as in Scotland, maidens combed their tresses in front of a mirror while eating an apple all the time and, at the lonely midnight hour, in the midst of the trick, their conjugal companion was expected to look over their shoulder into the mirror.
      Indeed, the de'll alone was out that night," the jolly picture painter of Scotland's customs assures us. As he tells of the tricks in vogue among his people, he mentions the class of aerial beings that supposedly inhabited Ireland more than any other land. In "Hark, the Mavis," he refers to them as inhabiting:
"Yonder Clouden's silent towers
Where at moonshine, midnight hours
O'er the dewey, bending flowers
Fairies's dance sae cheery."
      On Hallowe'en in Ireland, no one would venture out, unless compelled by great necessity, because the fairies were supposed to be abroad. The lofty towers that exist in Ireland were thought to be the abiding places of some of these "good people," and the thickets and lonely spots of the country places also had their fairies. The little red-capped, red coated fairy was a great favorite among the country people. To catch one of these little chaps and hold him until he would tell where some great wealth was buried was one of the pleasant tales of the old days. The belief in fairies was firmly rooted in Ireland, and it was the belief that led to the queer doings, that obtained among them on Hallowe'en.
      The young people would go early in the afternoon and remain over night, rarely braving the terrors of a journey home after midnight on this particular evening. Sounds were heard and strange sights seen, blazing fires on hill-tops being among the odd things visible in Ireland on All Hallowe'en, especially, at midnight. The lonely rocks on the fishing coasts of this green isle echoed the wail of the banshee's cry, and the moss-grown abbeys, with their empty, ruined stalls and desolate altars, were more gloomy and awe-inspiring on Hallowe'en than on any other day. As a more commercial spirit advances among nations these strange beliefs are dying out and Ireland's fairies and Scotland's brownies have become a myth and nothing more.

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