The A-Z of Halloween

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The A-Z of Halloween

Post by Gorm_Sionnach on Thu Oct 29, 2009 11:57 am

I ran across this informative little article from the Limerick Leader, which does a nice (albeit it localized) breakdown of many of the traditions of Halloween.

A to Z of Halloween
Published Date: 29 October 2009

It's that time of year again: bonfires blazing, terrified animals cowering from firecrackers, kids roaming the neighbourhood looking for sweets and treats and horror franchises cramming the local cinema. Check out our Halloween A-Z:

A is for Arson which many youths in Limerick feel licenced to commit around the Halloween period, often without any pretence to observing the ancient tradition of the bonfire itself.
The word 'bonfire', or 'bonefire' is a direct translation from the Irish, tine cnámh. With the bonfire ablaze, the villagers extinguished all other fires. Each family then solemnly lit its hearth from the common flame, thus bonding the families of the village together. Often two bonfires would be built side by side, and the people would walk between the fires as a ritual of purification. Sometimes the cattle and other livestock would be driven between the fires, as well.

B is for 'Banes' as in beans. This folk recollection from a man called John Joe Ryan in east Limerick recalls a Halloween tradition.
"After the tea a portion of the fire was raked out and this left a red hot fire grate exposed. On this you placed beans. Burning the banes we'd call it.
"There was only type of bean in those days but two colours; black bean the male and white bean the female. They were placed on the exposed grate to represent the courting couples.
"The heat caused the beans to jump off the grate and what we wanted to see was who was first to jump away. The fire was eventually quenched before we had half our couples roasted," he recalled before rounding off with a rhyme.
"I'm thinking a stor Il'l be young ever more
when it fired the old blood in my veins
I'm thinking again of an old Halloween
Of a night we sat burning the banes"

C is for clean-up which in Limerick city at least is quite substantial. Spare a thought for all the Council workers around the place who have to pick up the ashen debris along with the usual Saturday night detritus of vomit and beer bottles

D is for dead people. At Halloween, or Samhain, the boundaries between the world of the living and the world of the dead become thinner, allowing spirits and other supernatural entities to pass between the worlds to socialise with humans.
Often a meal will be prepared of favorite foods of the family's and community's beloved dead, a place set for them at the table, and songs, poetry and dances performed to entertain them. A door or window may be opened to the west and the beloved dead invited to attend.

E is for eggs. As in pelting eggs at houses whether or not they give you a treat.
One Raheen householder reports, "Every year, there's huge gangs of kids gathering up and going around vandalising property. All the men of the houses have to stand outside on Halloween night to make sure the place isn't pelted with eggs. 'Tis terrible." So now Halloween is to egg producers as Christmas is to Turkey farmers.

F is for Firemen who are never more busy than on Halloween as one can imagine.
The members' forum on the Irish Fire Services website features comments from members directing each other to drive with the windows up to avoid flying bricks

G is for Gardai. God love them. Each year as the inevitable pyrotechnics approach the boys in blue use their channels in the media to issue common sense warnings about fire crackers and bonfires.
One such release this year wearily read, "Do not light bonfires too close to houses, sheds, trees, hedges, fences or power lines." Sigh. The EPA chimed in with their own equally futile warning: 'Households and businesses are warned not to dispose of household waste or hazardous materials at Halloween bonfires'.

H is for health. An old tradition involved each member of the family placing a perfect ivy leaf into a cup of water and leaving it undisturbed overnight.
If, in the morning, the leaf was still perfect and had not developed any spots then the person who placed the leaf in the cup could be sure of 12 months' health until the following Halloween. If not...

I is for Illegal bangers which, says Sinn Fein councillor Maurice Quinlivan "seem to be of a far more powerful nature and are extremely louder than in previous years."
He adds, "There are numerous reports of these devices being thrown directly at people, being pushed through letter boxes and the sheer volume of these complaints is staggering. It seems as if their use which culminates every year at Halloween starts earlier and earlier and this year's prolonged use since early September is simply not acceptable."

J is for Jack O Lantern. Carving tubers dates back to the eighteenth century and to an Irish blacksmith named Jack who colluded with the Devil and was denied entry to Heaven.
He was condemned to wander the earth but asked the Devil for some light. He was given a burning coal ember which he placed inside a turnip that he had gouged out. Villagers in Ireland hoped that the lantern in their window would keep the wanderer away. When the Irish emigrated in millions to America there was not a great supply of turnips, thankfully, so the softer and more tasty pumpkins were used instead.

K is for Knocknagoshel which is not strictly in Limerick, but it's as close as makes no difference.
The village hosts a hugely popular Halloween festival every year which attracts thousands of people. Initiated by street theatre group Mindana, the festival's Ghost Trail & Haunted Maze has to be seen to be believed and the whole thing is not for the faint hearted. Unfortunately this year's one is already over due to the early Bank Holiday. Get ready for next year's!

L is for Lough Gur, Limerick's ancient place of magic which has some of the most significant archaeological sites in Ireland including the country's largest stone circle.
A former Earl of Desmond thrown into the lake for dabbling in magic is said to ride the shores every seven years on a white horse, shod with silver shoes.

M is for magic show at the Ballysheedy Bar, Fedamore Road, on Halloween with one of Ireland's best magicians and illusionists, Peter Blackthorn, as seen on the Late Late Show.
Many of his illusions are currently only performed by him in Ireland. Entry is free – call 061-409445 for details. To follow there is a fancy dress disco, with a top prize for best costume and many spot prizes. All proceeds are going to St Gabriels hydro therapy pool, Dooradoyle.

N is for Nuts a traditional food of Halloween, which given the autumn date are naturally in abundance.
As with apples the significance of nuts at Halloween comes from Celtic beliefs. The Celts especially venerated hazelnuts, and nuts and apples are often linked in Celtic lore. Nowadays we get netted bags of peanuts in their shells which have to be broken and are generally chucked on the ground by lazy children for their mother to sweep up. Tut, tut

O is for Oiche Puca as Halloween was known in some parts of Limerick. On púca night people believed that the ghosts of the dead and the fairies were active.
The púca was supposed to spit on and blight the blackberries and other fruit, and children were forbidden to touch fruit after November 1 so they wouldn't be affected.

P is for Pagans for whom this is a holy time of year. These days Celtic Reconstructionist Pagans, of various hues, make offerings to the spirits at all times of the year, though Samhain in particular is a time when more elaborate offerings are made to specific ancestors and Gods.

Q is for Quare, as in quare goings on at this time of year. Until quite recently old people believed that the fairies were let loose on the night of October 31 and their breath blasted every growing plant.
Food offerings were left outside and the last portion of potato or corn was left in the ground for the fairy host to ensure their favour in the coming year. Many people took steps to protect their property and livestock from the fairies. A wooden cross was inserted in the thatch and any animal that seemed unduly restless was spat upon to drive away the evil spirit. Animals with more considerate owners who didn't like spitting just sprinkled holy water on them instead.

R is for ring. The traditional Halloween cake is the barm brack, which is a fruit bread containing a piece of rag, a coin and a ring.
Each member of the family gets a slice. If you get the rag then you're set to wear the same suit for a while yet. If you get the coin, then you can expect a more prosperous year. Getting the ring is a sign of impending romance or continued happiness with a loved one.

S is for Samhain the ancient Celtic festival from which the traditions of Halloween are derived.
The Samhain celebrations have survived in several guises as a festival dedicated to the harvest and the dead. The bonfires, communing with the dead, appeasing the spirits, dressing up etc... all derived from Samhain

T is for trick or treat the mostly innocent practice whereby groups of children roam from house to house soliciting treats and threatening (mostly idly, though not in Raheen obviously) to play some practical joke on you if you don't comply.
Just so you're aware, parents, traditional 'treats' of monkey nuts and apples do not cut it with today's more sugar-dependent trick or treater. You've been warned

U is for Underworld or fairy world to which some people would be carried off during Halloween.
Fairies and goblins try to collect as many souls as they can at Halloween but if they met a person who threw the dust from under their feet at the Fairy then they would be obliged to release any souls that they held captive.

V is for Visions of the future or divination. Most households in county Limerick used to undertake this game which looked to the year ahead and what it held in store.
Along the lines of the fireside nuts, one way of supposedly finding out the name of your future spouse involved apples. The skin would be peeled in one go then tossed over the shoulder. It would then be examined to see if the way the skin fell resembled the initials of your would-be spouse. Such were the marriage arrangements of yesteryear.

W is for wronged people. Those who had been wronged came back to haunt the wrongdoer at Halloween.
One story relates how a man had to accompany another home from the pub each Halloween because he had wronged a, now dead, widow woman by leading her to believe the cow he sold her was in calf, and she used to accost him each All Souls' Eve. The storyteller reckoned that this fear of ghostly visitations probably gave rise to the custom of pretending to be ghosts "with a hat of ancient days or shawl of a grandmother" to frighten young relatives.

X is for xenoglossia an ability claimed by mediums, clairvoyants etc... to speak a language with which they are unfamiliar.
Obviously with more ghosts and restless spirits flying around at this time of year there is potential for a case like the one in 1931 when a young girl from Blackpool, England began to speak in an ancient Egyptian dialect. She claimed to be under the influence of the personality of Babylonian princess and Pharaoh's Amenhotep's III wife Telika-Ventiu, who supposedly lived about 3,300 years ago and spoke about 5,000 ancient Egyptian phrases.

Y is for Yelps of fear which will be heard throughout the evening at the Coillte Ballyhoura Forest in Ardpatrick. Events include a Halloween costume competition, spooky guided family fun walks on the Halloween haunted trails, plenty of surprises and spooks and hot refreshments to brave the cold elements of the forest. Children and their parents arrive in fancy dress to be guided through the ghostly woods of Ballyhoura while encountering wicked witches, deadly ghouls and more. The woods will be alive with creatures of the night, decorations, eerie events, hair-raising face painting and oodles of tricks and treats. For those that survive there will be plenty old style interactive Halloween fun games, story telling and good food.

Z is for Zip firelighters, ideal for the lazy bonfire builder who never was a scout as a youth and is unable to lay their hands on any petrol (an unlikely scenario).
The little grey cinder blocks get the blaze going good and quick, allowing its miscreant setter to move on to the next fire. Z is also for Zippo lighters the discerning bonfire lighter's spark of choice.

Oíche Shamhna Shona Dhaoibh!

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