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10/29/2003 Archived Entry: "Hallowe'en"
31 October is Hallowe'en when ghosts and witches and things that go bump in the night are supposed to be abroad during the dark hours. The day has lots of other names too, such as Eve of All Hallows, Samain, Winter's Eve, Allantide, Ash Riddling Night, Hodening Horse Day, Nutcrack Night, Snail Tracing Night, Witch Lating Night and, of much more modern origin, Trick and Treat Night.
There is little doubt that the reputation of Hallowe'en has developed from a mixture of pagan and religious sources - Samain, for example, was the last night of the year in the pagan world and a time for their greatest fire festival. That was dedicated to the dead, the pagans believing that ghosts of their ancestors returned to their earthly homes this night. For that reason, elaborate preparations were made to welcome them - there was fire, food, music and dancing and it was also thought that bonfires would strengthen the power of the declining sun. Huge bonfires were lit, even into the nineteenth century, but these have now been transferred to November 5, with Yorkshire born Guy Fawkes being the modern reason for lighting them.
When Christianity came to Britain, the day was utilised as the time for remembering our own dead, the term 'all hallows' meaning all saints. It is the eve of All Hallows which in turn means the following day is All Hallows Day, or All Saints Day. In this case, the term saint does not necessarily refer to one who has been canonised by the Pope, but it means the deceased relatives of everyone and the occasion was usually a day for celebration rather than gloom.
Games were played both in the houses and around the villages, one of the most popular being dipping for apples. In Cornwall, this was known as Allantide. In all cases, whether in Cornwall or elsewhere, apples were floated in a barrel of water and they had to be lifted out by the teeth of the players, with the players' hands behind their backs. Nuts were also used by rural girls to divine the name of their future husband - the nuts were marked with the names of possible couples and placed near a fire. If the nuts spat away due to the heat, they were examined to see whose names they bore. Those people were rejected on the grounds they would be incompatible - the names of anyone left close to the fire were considered much a much better prospect on the grounds they would be peaceful and tranquil in marriage.
A snail was also used to divine one's future spouse - it was placed in a closed dish overnight and the marks it made were supposed to be the initials of one's future spouse. In Whitby, however, love-sick youngsters climbed the tower of St Mary's Church near the Abbey and shouted the name of their intended across the sea. Their destiny was assured if they heard the sound of bells from beneath the waves, the bells in question having been stolen from Whitby Abbey when it was dissolved by Henry VIII prior to the Reformation. As the bells were being carried away by ship, a storm arose and capsized it, tipping the bells into the sea. They have never been recovered.
Witch Lating was carried out in the Pennines. A person went onto the moors between 11pm and midnight on All Hallows, carrying a lighted candle. If the flame burned steadily, it meant the person would be free from witchcraft for the next twelve months but if it went out, great evil would befall that person! Ash riddling was done by riddling fire ash and leaving it on the hearth overnight. If a footprint appeared, the person who fit it would be dead within the year!
My grandchildren have been making pumpkin lanterns and will be dressing up in witch and ghost costumes for their Hallowe'en party. Sounds much more innocent!