Yes, I decided at the start of this month that I would aim to post 50 entries on my blog this month as an exercise in writing discipline. Yes, yes, I know that I've cheated a bit by adding a few pictures and movies. But I have still added 50 posts. That's an achievement I reckon.
Well, it's the 31st of October and Halloween. It's been pretty quiet here and, despite the huge bucket of sweets on the dining room table, only two kids felt comfortable enough to knock. It wasn't that there were no Trick or Treaters; the street was awash with ghouls, ghosts, mummies, vampires, zombies and strangely indefinable characters with wings and bad make-up. So why did they stay away? I'd like to think that it was due to the cantankerous nature of the previous occupant of this house. In contrast, I'm quite nice. Admittedly I was going to scare them with a hyper-realistic severed head that I have here, but they would have got some sweets to help them over their trauma.
I wonder how many of the little darlings roaming the streets for candy tonight realise just what tonight is all about?
Halloween, or to give it its full name All Hallows Eve, is traditionally the day that the Devil’s own saints and supporters hold their own Sabbath.
The festival of All Saints, also sometimes known as All Hallows or Hallowmas is a special celebration of thanks to all the Christian martyrs who died for the good of Mankind. It falls on November the 1st and is followed by All Souls Day on November the 2nd.
In Mexico, the first two days combine to form a Catholic festival called The Day of the Dead (Día de los Muertos, Día de los Difuntos or, simply, Día de Muertos) and it celebrates the memory of deceased ancestors. Despite sounding morbidly depressing, it is a day of great fun with much dressing up, live music, street theatre and parades. Meanwhile back in the conservative UK, All Saints Day is a more formal affair with all of the fun and frolics going on the night before on Halloween.
Halloween is also Samhain, one of the Celtic ‘quarter days’ and the start of the Celtic New Year when the souls of the dead roamed abroad. Some of these spirits would be looking to get up to no good, so various charms were needed to ward them off. The doorways and windows of buildings were felt to be particularly vulnerable. On churches and castles, it was commonplace to site gargoyles or grotesque faces and figures like Sheela Na Gigs and Hunky Punks. It was believed that these would scare away witches and other nasties. Similarly, the grotesque faces carved into pumpkin lanterns (and earlier on turnips, swedes and mangolds) are meant to frighten evil away. Strangely though, the lanterns themselves have now become a symbol of evil themselves, regularly appearing on horror books and movie posters.
Other charms include walking around your home three times backwards and anti-clockwise before sunset on Halloween, knocking loudly on wood until Midnight, ringing bells and using mirrors to scare away the influence of the Evil Eye. Traditional English Mummers or Plough Jags, often decorated their costumes with mirrors and other shiny items before commencing their Halloween plays. Mirrors on hats were a favourite - though all I can see in my head now are images of facially-challenged fashion dyslexic Noddy Holder in his top hat on Top of the Pops. With a voice like that, he could scare demons and hobgoblins away, I’m sure.
The dead are all around us tonight, allegedly. If you hear footsteps behind you, don’t turn around as it may be the dead following you! Woo! Woo! And if you do look back you could soon be dead yourself ... other signs to look for are if a candle flame suddenly turns blue; that means there's a ghost nearby (although if the weather is cold enough, flames will turn blue or violet anyway). If a bat flies into your house, there are ghosts about, but if one flies three times round your house … cancel that holiday booking next year. You won’t be going. Spiders are said to house the spirits of dead loved ones, so clear them out of your bedroom unless you want your dead Auntie watching you on the job tonight.
If you want to stop ghosts from getting into the house in the first place, bury animal bones or a picture of an animal near the front door.
Halloween is a good night for divining too if you believe in such crap. The party game of Bobbing for Apples was originally a way of telling the future. Each player cut a chunk out of their apple and then inserted a fortune written on a small piece of paper. The apples were then chucked into a large tub of water and people took turns to retrieve an apple, using just their teeth. Thus every person had their fortune told. As a bonus, you should then peel your apple. The person with the longest unbroken length of peel is assured a long life. Finally, if single, you throw the apple peel over your shoulder. The right shoulder I presume as the demons are hiding on the left. Anyway, the shape of the letter the peel makes on landing is the initial of your future mate. Good news for Simons. Bad news for Kevins.
The old Celtic custom of lighting big Samhain bonfires (a tradition that has drifted forward to November 5th in the UK) enabled further fortune telling. Once the Halloween fire had died down, the hot ashes could be pushed out from the centre to form a circle around the fire. Within the circle of ashes and at its edge, each person would then lay a pebble. If, next day, any pebble had moved or was damaged in any way, the owner would die within twelve months.
Rather more bizarre was the art of seeing the future by way of mashed potatoes. It works a bit like apple bobbing. A number of charms are plopped into the spuds - a ring, a coin, a button, a heart-shaped charm, a shell and a key - and stirred in. Then all the lights in the room were turned out. Each person then, armed with a fork, endeavours to find the charms in the big bowl of mash. Whoever finds the ring will be married next. Whoever finds the coin will gain wealth. The button bachelorhood or spinsterhood. The heart means love is on the way. The shell indicates travel. And the key means success and power. I’m not sure if the spuds get eaten after this. Seems a bit unsanitary to me.
Now then, all you single ladies – forget Internet sites and speed dating. Here are a few handy Halloween tips for finding the perfect bloke:
Carry a lamp to a natural water source – such as spring or river – and you should be able to see your future loved one in the reflections in the water. And if you want to see your future children too, take a broken egg with you and chuck it in.
Alternatively, go out into the middle of a field and scatter hemp seeds. While you’re at it, say: “Hempseed I sow thee! Come after me and show me!” You should then be able to turn around and catch a glimpse of your Prince Charming. Of course, as someone with obviously ready access to cannabis hemp, you may have enjoyed a couple of doobies beforehand. Therefore you may see something quite different. Or you may not actually give enough of a toss to go anywhere. You might instead indulge in the much lazier practice of sticking a snail in a tin and seeing what initial it draws in slime by morning. But if even that is too much effort, stick a sprig of rosemary and a silver sixpence under your pillow on Halloween and you’ll see your future bloke in a dream.
Not wanting to leave the ladies out who do already have a partner, you’ll be pleased to know that you can check how faithful they are without recourse to webcams or private detectives. Simply select a letter they wrote to you – the more passionate the better – and lay it open on a table. Fold it nine times, pin the folds together, place the letter in your left-hand glove, and slip it under your pillow. If that night you dream about silver, gems, glass, castles or clear water, your bloke is faithful. If you dream of linen, storms, fire, wood, flowers, or he is saluting you, he’s up to no good with someone.
Now hang on … who dreams about linen or clear water these days? And what happens if you dream about shoes? Or, as I did recently, a mad monkey chasing me up a chimney with a cricket bat? Who writes love letters any more? And who wears gloves? I suggest a modern version:
‘Select a particularly saucy text message on your phone and leave it displayed on the screen as you tuck the phone inside a novelty sock and stick it under your pillow. Then, if you dream about money, bling, the shopping mall, the Beckhams or vodka, he’s a good boy. If you dream about fake designer labels, hoop earrings, bare midriffs, baggy trousers with ‘princess’ written across the arse, Bull Terriers, flat caps and burberry, he’s having it away with that Tracy from the chip shop.’
Happy Halloween, funsters!