Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Some things never change

The Catholic Church is at it again! This time they are urging children to dress up as Saints on Hallowe'en rather than witches or devils. "It is time we reminded Christians of what Hallowe'en really is", said the Right Reverend Kieran Conry, the Bishop of Arundel and Brighton.

What it really is, according to historians, is the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain which pre-dated Christianity. The name is derived from Old Irish and means 'summer's end' and is sometimes regarded as the Celtic New Year. The ancient Celts believed that the barrier between this world and the next became thin on Samhain, allowing spirits to return to earth. The family's ancestors were invited home to join in the festivities, while harmful spirits could be warded off by wearing costumes and masks to disguise oneself as some kind of evil spirit.

Samhain was the time to take stock of food supplies and slaughter livestock for the winter stores. Bonfires played a large part in these festivities, and the bones of slaughtered livestock were cast into its flames.

Some games traditionally played at the festival could predict the future. A traditional Scottish way of divining one's future spouse is to carve an apple in one long strip, then toss the peel over one's shoulder. The peel is believed to land in the shape of the first letter of the future spouse's name. Unmarried women were told that if they sat in a darkened room and gazed into a mirror on Hallowe'en night, the face of their future husband would appear in the mirror. However, if they were destined to die before marriage, a skull would appear.

Nothing whatever to do with Catholic Saints!

There is however a long tradition of religious women praying to their personal female saint (woman to woman) with regard to their future (or even present) spouse.

My favourite is the prayer to St. Catherine, who listens to maidens at St. Catherine's Chapel on the hill near Abbotsbury in Dorset.

'St.Catherine, St Catherine, Oh, lend me thine aid,
And grant that I nivver should die an old maid.
A husband, St. Catherine,
A GOOD one, St. Catherine,
But arna-one better than narna-one St. Catherine.

Sweet St. Catherine,
A husband, St. Catherine!
HANDSOME, St. Catherine!
RICH, St. Catherine!
SOON, St. Catherine!!'

But don't go up there on Hallowe'en or the witches will get you.

1 comment:

  1. I often get asked if we celebrate Halloween back in the UK, to which I usually reply, "yes we do, and we have indoor plumbing too".