The children are on mid-term this week or Halloween break as we used to call it. On Friday last they went to school in their outfits; The oldest went as the Grim Reaper, the second as a Dark Swan and the youngest as a Ghost with an incredibly long tongue. They seemed to have a great day and the teachers got in on the action too. The weather has contributed; the weekend has brought cooler, showery weather, overcast and the trees are shedding the last of their leaves. You can’t get more Halloween than that weather outlook.
Halloween is a global event these days but October 31 is really Samhain, the Celtic New Year. The ancient Celts society was based on cattle rearing. They were the Masai of Europe. Even in their Brehon Laws many serious offences such as murder would result in a fine called an Eric which consisted of a set number of cows. The cattle were given to the victim or the victim’s family, and if the perpetrator could not pay, or failed to pay, then his family picked up the tab. Cattle were the legal tender of Celtic Ireland and in this context the end of October was the date when the cattle were driven down from upland pastures, down to the lowlands for shelter in the winter. They would stay in the lowlands until the following Bealtaine, or May day, the first day of Summer, and then they were moved to the lower slopes again.
Samhain is also associated with light and the lighting of Bonfires. In the United Kingdom however the Bonfires will as usual be a few days after ours. Guy Fawkes Night on the 5th November is now the traditional night on which Bonfires are lit, in celebration of the discovery of the plot to blow up Westminster. Despite his notoriety, Guy Fawkes is sometimes toasted as “the last man to enter Parliament with honest intentions”.
One other thing I’ve noticed in recent years are the number of Pumpkins we see in our shops. Pumpkins are difficult to grow in our climate but the tradition of carving Jack-o-lanterns seems to have travelled to us from across the Atlantic. This would suggest that there was a tradition of lighting lanterns to ward off evil spirits prior to the colonisation of North America. I have read that hereabouts turnips were used, but it’s not something I wish to promote as the smell of burning turnip has to be one of the vilest odours known to man. On the other hand it might be useful if you are allergic to trick-or-treaters.
Samhain and the traditions associated with it are another example of how Christian culture simply took the existing Celtic Pagan traditions and painted them with a veneer of Christianity. The Celts believed that on Samhain the doors were opened between their world and the underworld and this allowed the spirits to pass between the two. The tradition was carried to Europe in the Dark Ages by the Irish Monks. In the year 998, October 31st was adopted as a Christian festival known as All Saint’s Day, or All Soul’s Day. It came to be commonly known as, All Hallow’s Eve or Halloween.
One tradition that didn’t carry over from the Celtic period was that of human sacrifice. The practice itself predated the Celts coming to Ireland. Many sacrifices were carried out on the Cavan – Leitrim border close in the parish of Templeport. In ancient times the place was known as Magh Slecht. Tigermas (Tighearnmhas) was an early High King of Ireland and around this day three thousand five hundered years ago he and his supporters and army made their way to Magh Slecht (translated as ‘The Field of Adoration’) to worship the Sun God, Crom Cruach. Tigermas had a long reign of seventy seven years but it was one in which he was in continual war with the the Sons of Eber (from which we get the word Hibernian) but which he was ultimately always successful. It was said that during this time Gold was first smelted in Ireland, by a man called Luchadán.
Tigermas also made a law that each grade of society should be known by the number of colours in its clothes: — the clothes of a slave should be of one colour; those of a soldier of two right up to the Chieftains who were allowed up to five colours. Tigermas as King, his family and Druids were allowed to wear up to six different colours in their apparel.
In 1544BC Tigernas headed to Magh Slecht to worship Crom Cruach and whatever happened there it resulted in three quarters of his army (as well as himself) dying. I am not sure who was doing the outdoor catering but let’s just say the investigation was inconclusive . Tigermas is described as the 13th Milesian King of Ireland. The Milesians came to Ireland from Spain and when they arrived here the Island was inhabited by the Tuatha de Dannan. The mythology states that the two peoples agreed to divide up Ireland with the tuatha taking all that was under the ground and the Milesians all that was above. This of course ties in neatly with the longstanding belief that there are people inhabiting the underground who come up above ground around this time of year.
I recently came across some interesting writings on the Spanish origins of the Milesians. It seemed that not only were the Irish aware of the Iberian link but the Spanish were also. This came to a head when the Irish Gaelic Lords fled Ireland in 1607. Many sought and received the protection of the Spanish king who decreed that the Irish in Spain were to be given all of the rights and privileges due to Spanish subjects. This unique legal position was confirmed in subsequent decrees by Charles II and Philip V of Spain in 1680, 1701 and 1718.
The French Revolution spread terror amongs the monarchies of Europe and this fear led to registers of foreign subjects been created in Spain. The register also required foreign subjects to take a particular Oath which was not a requirement of native Spaniards. This led to three Irish natives living in Cadiz agreeing to sign the register, but refusing to take the oath claiming they were not required to take it. The three appealed to the Royal Council in Madrid, who decreed (after consulting the attorney-general) that “the taking of the oath, to which all foreigners have been directed to submit, shall not be extracted from the Irish, seeing that by the sole fact of their settling in Spain the Irish are regarded as Spaniards and have the same rights. The decision led to King Charles IV of Spain issued a further decree in 1792 confirming this decision by his Council and the special and unique position of the sons of Mil back in their ‘old country’.
So to summarise this blog entry:_
- Enjoy Samhain or Halloween wherever you are,
- Don’t eat anyone
- Be careful with the fireworks and the outdoor catering
- Wear as many colours as you like, it flaunts your social status,
- Don’t worry if this winter gets too cold we can always head back home to Spain.