Thursday, October 31, 2013

Trick or Treat

Hi and Happy Halloween!

Welcome to today's post where I'm going to share what I'll be doing along with a little bit of history of the day... and of course some lovely handmade treats!

Although it isn't celebrated as keenly as it is in the US, Halloween originates from over here in the UK. The oldest stories reach back to the Celtic festival of Samhain (pronounced Sah-Ween) which marks the final harvest and the end of Summer. The Celts held any time of change or transition in high regard and believed that these times were magical and spirits could wander freely. Those that had died in the previous year could pass across to the otherworld and those already passed could travel back through to earth. Fires were lit in their honour and costumes were made from hollowed out animal heads and skins to represent the Gods of Nature.

Today, I'm going to be busy carving pumpkins with my kids, and they want angry birds... I think they're being a bit hopeful of my capabilities!

The tradition of carving pumpkins or Jack O' lanterns comes from Ireland where there lived a man known as Stingy Jack. He was well known for being mean and playing tricks on those around him and also for being a terrible drunk. One evening in a bar, he met the devil.

Not being easily intimidated, he asked him to join him in a drink. But being stingy, he didn't want to pay for them, so he convinced the devil to turn in to a sixpence to pay the bill in return for his soul. But rather than settle up, Stingy Jack decided to keep the coin and put it in his purse where he kept a cross. The devil was trapped and couldn't return to his original form. Jack agreed to let the devil go free if he promised not to bother him for a year. A year later, Jack again met the devil, this time while walking home. He convinced the devil to climb up in to a tree to pick him an apple. While he was up there, Jack carved crosses in the tree preventing the devil from climbing down again. This time, he agreed to free the devil if he promised to leave him alone for 10 years.

Before his 10 years were up, Stingy Jack died and went up to heaven. He was turned away at the gates due to his mean ways on Earth, so he travelled down to hell. The devil refused him entry as he had promised not to take his soul for 10 years and wasn't happy about being tricked, so Stingy Jack had no place to rest. As he left he asked what he should do... the devil threw him a burning ember, which he put inside a hollow turnip to light his way as he roamed for eternity looking for a resting place.

So with the pumpkins carved, it will be time to dress up, this year we're going with skeletons. Traditionally costumes have been worn to hide from the faeries or spirits alleged to run free on the night of Halloween. Disguised as beggars, they visit houses asking for treats and handouts. They will reward those who give food, but those who refuse will be tricked. Other stories say that pumpkins are left outside houses to guide the souls of those lost through the year home, and the scary faces are carved to scare away evil spirits.

Ours will be going in the garden while we go out looking for ghosts, and bats, and witches on broomsticks.

Witches for modern Halloween are usually portrayed haggard old ladies with warts and green faces, cackling around a cauldron. But the first witches were much kinder people.

The word witch, derives from 'Wicca' meaning 'Wise one'. These women were originally known as wise as they were healers. They practised early forms of medicine, making natural remedies to assist with pain and other ailments and were well respected in their communities.

With the spread of Christianity through Europe, practising medicine was frowned upon and considered to be practising against God's will, so witches were cast as evil, horrible old hags doing the work of the devil, and mass hysteria ensued. Accusations flew and people were accused of witchcraft for things as simple as having a birthmark or mole, considered to be marks of the devil. Those leading the witch hunts would offer the accused salvation in return for their confession and naming of the other witches in their coven. Faced with the choice of a nasty painful death, or being saved by naming a few others, the accused usually put forth the names in order to save themselves. This lead to hundreds of people being falsely accused and many put to death. This spread across continents with the migration of the Irish and led to events such as the Salem witch trials. 

And finally, we can't have a Halloween post without a cat! Now a symbol of good luck, the black cat was once feared as a figure of darkness. It was said that witches could transfer between their human form and that of their familiar to travel incognito, that the devil often appeared as a black cat when associating with witches, and even that they were gifts given by the devil. Cats were accused along with the witches of practising the dark arts and unfortunately many suffered the same fate as their owners. Thankfully we're a little more open minded about our pets now!

Well it's time for me to go and carve some pumpkins...

I hope you enjoyed reading, and whatever you're doing and whatever you believe, I hope you have a very Happy Halloween!



  1. Wonderful post and pics. Love all the Celtic lore and Halloween traditions from your part of the world.

  2. Very interesting post Caroline - most of that is new to me...I guess I better get some make up out and cover up my beauty spot...don't fancy a bbq today!

  3. Fun post! I love the photo of the cats! Is it a family photo?

  4. Fantastic read Caroline, love the pictures of the pumpkin heads and ghostly witches. I do love a good All Hallows Eve, I have my skeletons to plant in the garden for later and my ghost and banners to attach to the gate, the goo to spread all around for unsuspecting fingers to touch, spiders and cobwebs to brush against faces and sweets to hand out, I am having TWO trick or treaters this year a real novelty down these dark lanes and I am sooo excited, candles will flicker and gates will creak. Thank you for including my witchy finger I will be sad when Nov comes and I have to wait another year for pumpkins and cauldrons and things that go bump.....

  5. Thanks all! I'm afraid not Kathy, it's a vintage picture, I would love it to be though!

    Sounds like you're in for a fun night Laney!

  6. Fun post, Caroline! I love the eye candy!

  7. Really enjoyed reading, enjoy your night

  8. Yes, yes, and yes. Merry Samhain to you! Glad you mentioned the turnip. Its a bit of trivial thats hard to imagine as accustomed as we are to pumpkins.

  9. What a great post! I had never heard the legend of Stingy Jack so thank you for increasing my knowledge of my favorite holiday.

  10. I loved reading this! Even if I was a bit late at getting to it!


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