Friday, October 31, 2008

You Call It Hallowe'en... We Call It Samhain

http://www.witchvox.com/va/dt_va.html?a=usma&c=holidays&id=2204
Author: Peg Aloi
Posted: October 1st. 1996
Times Viewed: 273,526

Hallowe'en has its origins in the British Isles. While the modern tradition of trick or treat developed in the U. S., it too is based on folk customs brought to this country with Irish immigrants after 1840. Since ancient times in Ireland, Scotland, and England, October 31st has been celebrated as a feast for the dead, and also the day that marks the new year. Mexico observes a Day of the Dead on this day, as do other world cultures. In Scotland, the Gaelic word "Samhain" (pronounced "SAW-win" or "SAW-vane") means literally "summer's end."

This holiday is also known as All Hallows Eve ("hallow" means "sanctify") ; Hallowtide; Hallowmass; Hallows; The Day of the Dead; All Soul's Night; All Saints' Day (both on November 1st) .

For early Europeans, this time of the year marked the beginning of the cold, lean months to come; the flocks were brought in from the fields to live in sheds until spring. Some animals were slaughtered, and the meat preserved to provide food for winter. The last gathering of crops was known as "Harvest Home, " celebrated with fairs and festivals.

In addition to its agriculture significance, the ancient Celts also saw Samhain as a very spiritual time. Because October 31 lies exactly between the Autumnal Equinox and the Winter Solstice, it is theorized that ancient peoples, with their reliance on astrology, thought it was a very potent time for magic and communion with spirits. The "veil between the worlds" of the living and the dead was said to be at its thinnest on this day; so the dead were invited to return to feast with their loved ones; welcomed in from the cold, much as the animals were brought inside. Ancient customs range from placing food out for dead ancestors, to performing rituals for communicating with those who had passed over.

Communion with the dead was thought to be the work of witches and sorcerers, although the common folk thought nothing of it. Because the rise of the Church led to growing suspicion of the pagan ways of country dwellers, Samhain also became associated with witches, black cats ("familiars" or animal friends) , bats (night creatures) , ghosts and other "spooky" things...the stereotype of the old hag riding the broomstick is simply a caricature; fairy tales have exploited this image for centuries.

Divination of the future was also commonly practiced at this magically-potent time; since it was also the Celtic New Year, people focused on their desires for the coming year. Certain traditions, such as bobbing for apples, roasting nuts in the fire, and baking cakes which contained tokens of luck, are actually ancient methods of telling fortunes.

So What About Those Jack-O-Lanterns?

Other old traditions have survived to this day; lanterns carved out of pumpkins and turnips were used to provide light on a night when huge bonfires were lit, and all households let their fires go out so they could be rekindled from this new fire; this was believed to be good luck for all households. The name "Jack-O-Lantern" means "Jack of the Lantern, " and comes from an old Irish tale. Jack was a man who could enter neither heaven nor hell and was condemned to wander through the night with only a candle in a turnip for light. Or so goes the legend...

But such folk names were commonly given to nature spirits, like the "Jack in the Green, " or to plants believed to possess magical properties, like "John O' Dreams, " or "Jack in the Pulpit." Irish fairy lore is full of such references. Since candles placed in hollowed-out pumpkins or turnips (commonly grown for food and abundant at this time of year) would produce flickering flames, especially on cold nights in October, this phenomenon may have led to the association of spirits with the lanterns; and this in turn may have led to the tradition of carving scary faces on them. It is an old legend that candle flames which flicker on Samhain night are being touched by the spirits of dead ancestors, or "ghosts."

Okay, What about the Candy?

"Trick or treat" as it is practiced in the U. S. is a complex custom believed to derive from several Samhain traditions, as well as being unique to this country. Since Irish immigrants were predominantly Catholic, they were more likely to observe All Soul's Day. But Ireland's folk traditions die hard, and the old ways of Samhain were remembered. The old tradition of going door to door asking for donations of money or food for the New Year's feast, was carried over to the U. S. from the British Isles. Hogmanay was celebrated January 1st in rural Scotland, and there are records of a "trick or treat" type of custom; curses would be invoked on those who did not give generously; while those who did give from their hearts were blessed and praised. Hence, the notion of "trick or treat" was born (although this greeting was not commonly used until the 1930's in the U. S.) . The wearing of costumes is an ancient practice; villagers would dress as ghosts, to escort the spirits of the dead to the outskirts of the town, at the end of the night's celebration.

By the 1920's, "trick or treat" became a way of letting off steam for those urban poor living in crowded conditions. Innocent acts of vandalism (soaping windows, etc.) gave way to violent, cruel acts. Organizations like the Boy Scouts tried to organize ways for this holiday to become safe and fun; they started the practice of encouraging "good" children to visit shops and homes asking for treats, so as to prevent criminal acts. These "beggar's nights" became very popular and have evolved to what we know as Hallowe'en today.

What Do Modern Witches Do at Hallowe'en?

It is an important holiday for us. Witches are diverse, and practice a variety of traditions. Many of us use this time to practice forms of divination (such as tarot or runes) . Many Witches also perform rituals to honor the dead; and may invite their deceased loved ones to visit for a time, if they choose. This is not a "seance" in the usual sense of the word; Witches extend an invitation, rather than summoning the dead, and we believe the world of the dead is very close to this one. So on Samhain, and again on Beltane (May 1st) , when the veil between the worlds is thin, we attempt to travel between those worlds. This is done through meditation, visualization, and astral projection. Because Witches acknowledge human existence as part of a cycle of life, death and rebirth, Samhain is a time to reflect on our mortality, and to confront our fears of dying.

Some Witches look on Samhain as a time to prepare for the long, dark months of winter, a time of introspection and drawing inward. They may bid goodbye to the summer with one last celebratory rite. They may have harvest feasts, with vegetables and fruits they have grown, or home-brewed cider or mead. They may give thanks for what they have, projecting for abundance through the winter. Still others may celebrate with costume parties, enjoying treats and good times with friends. There are as many ways of observing Samhain as there are Witches in the world!

Peg Aloi

Bio:: Born 10/23/63, Peg is a freelance writer and artists' model, and a Witch of Celtic/Sicilian heritage. She has taught classes in film, literature, writing, herbalism, and calligraphy, and is also a singer, actress, astrologer and perfumer (gotta love that Libra/Scorpio cusp) . As a performer, she has made music with a number of Pagan artists, including MotherTongue (tm) , Urban Myth, and bard Olvardil Prydwyn. She reviews films for the Boston Phoenix, and is Associate Editor of Obsidian Magazine. She loves single malt scotch, apple orchards, Xena, Jethro Tull, and her three grey kitties, Ziggy, Zeus and Trivia.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Whoring & Dating

Recently a member of the escort industry contacted me, wanting to develop a personal relationship with me. As I tell everyone, please go to OKCupid to get started. Most people do & then they fall short of my standards for seeing me in person. However, he took me up on my request & now I am screwed. I know that we had a connection in the industry. I did not know that we are more compatible then I realized. The only problem is he still participates in the industry heavily, whoring whenever the funds allow. 

I really want to remove myself from the industry completely. I believe my arrest was a bitchslap from the universe & my cheek is still healing. He on the other hand, loves whatever the industry has given him. I cannot see him staying away from it.

I have no problem with my partners seeing whores. In fact, I think it’s rather healthy, as long as everyone is honest about it. My problem is I know he is a gossip or at least he was when I chatted with him. He likes whores because they make him feel important for a short period of time. He says that would not be the case. However, I do not know him well enough to judge that. My instinct tells me to just let this one go too.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Chris Chandler

I spent a lot of time with Chris Chandler recently. You would be a happier person, if you did too!

The Chris Chandler Story

Few musicians can claim "on-the roadisms" the way Chris Chandler can. He is a true veteran of the road, traveling across The United States of Generica for many years. His anthology of road tales transforms into a flock of doves beneath the musical high-wire act.

He has worked with everyone from Allen Ginsberg to Ani DiFranco and Pete Seeger to Mojo Nixon. Utah Phillips says, "Chris Chandler is the best performance poet I have ever seen."

Originally from Stone Mountain, Georgia the son of a Baptist minister, Chris has been on or around the stage his whole life. As a teen-ager he was in the bars and on the road working as a roadie for bands like the Georgia Satellites. He graduated from the North Carolina School of the Performing Arts in 1988. That summer - which was supposed to be a "summer away from college" he hit the road as a street performer to fund his way to audition as a lighting designer in Theaters across America. He actually landed a job on Broadway no-less but turned it down to become a performer in his own right. He has been on the road ever since.

For the first few years he was living in his car and stopping in every town from Bangor to San Ysidro where he opened his guitar case and waxed the manifesto electric sporting a sign that read "Stranded Musician Needs Gas Out of Town." Eventually he hooked up with a group of performers busking in Harvard Square where he joined a commune of other traveling street musicians. These nomadic experiences naturally fed him into the world of activism. Since then he has performed at thousands of festivals, colleges, and bar rooms across the US and Canada.

You can often find him at demonstrations and protests - large and small, across the US and Canada. Recently, he was seen protesting the FTAA in Miami, the G-8 in Calgary and the Iraq war (both of them) in Washington, DC to name a few.

His experience as a street performer and rabble rouser shine through every performance making him a welcome addition to festivals, carnivals, hay rides and riots, or where ever the rabble need to be roused.

This is not performance art - like the clich├ęs of Hollywood would imply. No one pours chocolate on the wings of a sparrow. This is steeped in the centuries of tradition that define theater. At one time in human history bards roamed outside the castle wall carrying tales from village to village. Today, gritty road warriors do the same - outside the castle walls of corporate America. Between the frequencies of Clear Channel, still exists the forgotten art form of storytelling.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The Redskins & my Mother

I went to visit my parents over the weekend. As I walked into the house, after not seeing them for two months, my mother shushed me. I was stunned. Not because of the shushing itself, but because of the reason she was shushing me. She was watching a football game! 

I never recall my mother watching any type of sporting event, including my own little league games. However, she now sat before me watching the Redskins game, with an intensity I had never seen before. Apparently, my father was doing something in the basement, so she yelled scores & plays down to him every 60 seconds, as he joyfully listened. I was truly speechless. What the hell happened to my mother?!

Because I was only allowed to make a noise during the commercial, I piped up & asked what happened? She said she needed to learn to bond with my father in a new way after his retirement, so she choose football! My father sat down & explained the ends & outs of the game & apparently had given her an addiction. Although I wanted to ask her more questions, just for the entertainment value, I was unable to. The damn wench shushed me again, as the game return to the television!