Thursday, October 31, 2013

It Being Hallowe'en And All...

Here is a delightful account of Halloweven, more commonly known as Hallowe'en in The Encyclopædia Britannica Ninth Edition, New Werner Edition Vol. XI (1907):
For some account of the singular observances by which this used to be, and to some extent still is distinguished in Scotland and elsewhere, reference may be made to such works as Brand's Popular Antiquities, Chambers's Book of Days, or better still to the well-known poem of Burns. Though sometimes neglected in modern practice, the most essential part of Hallowe'en ritual seems to consist in the lighting by each household of a bonfire at nightfall. This points to the very ancient and widely-diffused practice of kindling sacred fires at certain seasons of the year. ... 

Probably the winter as well as summer festival was from the beginning regarded as a season at which the fairies were both unusually active and  unusually propitious; but there is no evidence to show that the methods of divination at present usually resorted to, although of great antiquity, were originally regarded as limited in efficacy to any one day.
Robert Burns' poem, recommended in the entry, is appropriately titled, "Halloween." Written in 1785, Burns provides this introduction:
The following poem will, by many readers, be well enough understood; but for the sake of those who are unacquainted with the manners and traditions of the country where the scene is cast, notes are added to give some account of the principal charms and spells of that night, so big with prophecy to the peasantry in the west of Scotland. The passion of prying into futurity makes a striking part of the history of human nature in its rude state, in all ages and nations; and it may be some entertainment to a philosophic mind, if any such honour the author with a perusal, to see the remains of it among the more unenlightened in our own.-R.B.

So you're able to put a face to the name.
The first note, referencing the title, reads:
Footnote 1: Is thought to be a night when witches, devils, and other mischief-making beings are abroad on their baneful midnight errands; particularly those aerial people, the fairies, are said on that night to hold a grand anniversary.-R.B.
"Halloween" is a rather longish poem. You can read it all here. Here's how it begins (I've taken out the footnotes for ease of reading!):

Yes! let the rich deride, the proud disdain,
The simple pleasure of the lowly train;
To me more dear, congenial to my heart,
One native charm, than all the gloss of art.
Upon that night, when fairies light
On Cassilis Downans dance,
Or owre the lays, in splendid blaze,
On sprightly coursers prance;
Or for Colean the rout is ta'en,
Beneath the moon's pale beams;
There, up the Cove, to stray an' rove,
Amang the rocks and streams
To sport that night;

Amang the bonie winding banks,
Where Doon rins, wimplin, clear;
Where Bruce ance rul'd the martial ranks,
An' shook his Carrick spear; 
Some merry, friendly, countra-folks
Together did convene,
To burn their nits, an' pou their stocks,
An' haud their Halloween
Fu' blythe that night.
[The Goldsmith Brown quotes is Oliver Goldsmith of "The Deserted Village" fame.]

So, Halloween used to be about fairies? Who knew? 

Oh. I see. Lots of folks used to know this back in the crappy olden days.


"This play may be up on simply, with only five or six fairies, who dance about gayly... ."
And now, to the matter of the missing book. I think it's safe to day, it being Hallowe'en and all, that the Fairies took my book.

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