Samhain: The Lore of Halloween

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History

Samhain is a pagan religious festival originating from ancient Celtic spiritual tradition. In modern times, Samhain, a Gaelic word pronounced “sow-win”, is usually celebrated from October 31 to November 1 to welcome in the harvest and usher in the dark half of the year. The barriers between the physical world and the spirit world (the veil) break down during Samhain, allowing more interaction between humans and denizens of the Otherworld.

Ancient Celts marked Samhain as the most significant of the four quarterly fire festivals.  After the harvest work was complete, celebrants joined with Druid priests to light a community fire using a wheel that would cause friction and spark flames. The wheel was considered a representation of the sun and used along with prayers. Cattle were sacrificed, and participants took a flame from the communal bonfire back to their home to relight the hearth.

 

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Christianity attempted to reframe Samhain as a Christian celebration The first attempt was by Pope Boniface in the 5th century. He moved the celebration to May 13 and specified it as a day celebrating saints and martyrs. The fire festivals of October and November, however, did not end with this decree.  In the 9th century, Pope Gregory moved the celebration back to the time of the fire festivals, but declared it All Saints’ Day, on November 1. All Souls’ Day would follow on November 2.

Neither new holiday did away with the pagan aspects of the celebration. October 31 became known as All Hallows Eve, or Halloween, and contained much of the traditional pagan practices. Trick-or-treating derives from ancient Irish and Scottish practices in the nights leading up to Samhain. In Ireland, mumming was the practice of putting on costumes, going door-to-door and singing songs to the dead. Cakes were given as payment.

Wicca Today

A broad revival of Samhain resembling its traditional pagan form began in the 1980’s.  Wicca celebration of Samhain run the gamut from the traditional fire ceremonies to celebrations that embrace many aspects of modern Halloween, as well as activities related to honoring nature or ancestors.  Wiccans look at Samhain as the passing of the year, and incorporate common Wiccan traditions into the celebration.

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Celtic Deconstructionists Today

Samhain is often called Oiche Shamnhna and celebrates the mating between Tuatha de Danaan gods Dagda and River Unis. They celebrate by placing juniper decorations around their homes and creating an altar for the dead where a feast is held in honor of deceased loved ones.

Sources:

  • History.com
  • BBC
  • “The Pagan Mysteries of Halloween,” By Jean Markale
  • “Samhain: Rituals, Recipes and Lore for Halloween,” By Diana Rajchel.

Richard the Lionheart (Richard I, 1157-1199)

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Richard the Lionheart (Richard I, 1157-1199):

During the High Middle Ages, the practice of dissecting corpses and embalming their remains was popular for royalty and other high ranking members of society. When King Richard I was killed during a siege in 1199, his body was opened up and had its internal organs removed and buried in a coffin near the site he died. Meanwhile, his heart was taken separately and sent to a church in Normandy, and the rest of his body was transported to Fontevraud Abbey to be buried close to his father Henry II.

#RichardTheLionheart #HighMiddleAges #Embalming

The Battle of Agincourt

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Today in history —> The Battle of Agincourt

It was on this day, 25th October in 1415 when one of the most significant battles of the Hundred Years War took place, the Battle of the Agincourt.  The English had renewed their war effort in 1415 following several decades of relative peace and had marched 260 miles in two and a half weeks only to face a considerably larger French army.  

The English were unable to withdraw to Calais as the French blocked their path, so instead they fought and even their King, Henry V, participated in hand-to-hand fighting.  The English numbered around 8,000 knights, but around 80% were archers armed with English longbows.  The French outnumbered the English considerably, but they were weighed down by heavy armour and their cavalry were slowed down by the heavy clay soil on the battlefield that day.

The English army won the battle, largely due to the military superiority of the longbow.  It is estimated that around 6,000- 8,000 French soldiers were killed, and only around six-hundred English soldiers died.  The Battle of Agincourt is one England’s greatest military victories.

Norman Conquest: Battle of Hastings

On this day in 1066 the Norman conquest of England begins with the Battle of Hastings.

Here’s the Battle of Hastings as depicted on the Bayeux Tapestry, supposedly embroidered only a few years after the battle. This bit is supposed to depict the death of Harold II, the last Anglo-Saxon King of England. He was supposedly done in by an arrow in the eye, and the Latin above him says, “Harold the King has been killed”.

#NormanConquest #BattleOfHastings #BayeuxTapestry

Most Admired: Virginia Woolf

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Virginia Woolf (1882-1941)

Adeline Virginia Woolf is well known as one of the major literary figures of the twentieth century. The English author, novelist, essayist, biographer, feminist, publisher and writer of short stories is best known for her novels “Mrs. Dalloway,” “To The Lighthouse,” “Orlando,” and her book length essay, “A Room Of One’s Own.” From this essay she is often quoted, “A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.”

She began writing professionally in 1900 with an article about Haworth, the home of the Bronte family for the Times Literary Supplement. Her first novel “The Voyage Out” was published in 1915 by her half-brother. She would go on to publish novels and essays as an intellectual to both critical and popular success. Much of her work was self-published through the Hogarth Press. Her work was often criticized for its narrow portrayal of the upper middle class intellectuals and lacked anything of ethical or emotional relevance for the common reader. She is often criticized as well for being perceived as an anti-Semite despite the fact she was happily married to a Jewish man and condemned Christianity as self-righteous egotism and in a letter to her friend Ethel Smyth, “my Jew has more religion in one toe nail—more human love, in one hair.” Additionally her distaste for fascism and its ties to anti-Semitism is quite plainly spelled out in her book, “Three Guineas.” Her final work, “Between the Acts,” aptly expresses some of her main themes : transformation of life through art, sexual ambivalence, and the flux of time throughout one’s life at the same time being a deterioration and renewal.

Throughout her life Virginia suffered from several “breakdowns” as a result of having symptoms that conform to bipolar disorder, the first occurring by the sudden death of her mother when she was thirteen. Her most significant episode occurred after the death of her father in 1904 and was in turn briefly institutionalized after her first suicide attempt. Modern scholars have suggested her recurring depressive periods were a result of sexual abuse both her and her sister were subjected to by her half-brothers. She vividly recounts this in an autobiographical essay, “A Sketch of the Past,” which can be now read in “Moments of Being” a collection of posthumously-published autobiographical essays. She wrote of the event, “I can remember the feel of his hands going under my clothes; going firmly and steadily lower and lower, I remember how I hoped that he would stop; how I stiffened and wriggled as his hand approached my private parts. But he did not stop.”

Throughout her life she struggled with periodic mood swings and associated illnesses. Though this often affected her social life, her literary career and productivity continued with very few breaks. After the completion of “Between the Acts” she fell into a deep depression. The onset of World War II and the destruction of her London home in the bombing only deepened it. On March 28th, 1941 she filled the pockets of her overcoat with stones and drowned herself in the River Ouse which runs through the counties of West and East Sussex near her home. In her last note to her husband she wrote :

“Dearest, I feel certain that I am going mad again. I feel we can’t go through another of those terrible times. And I shan’t recover this time. I begin to hear voices, and I can’t concentrate. So I am doing what seems the best thing to do. You have given me the greatest possible happiness. You have been in every way all that anyone could be. I don’t think two people could have been happier ’til this terrible disease came. I can’t fight any longer. I know that I am spoiling your life, that without me you could work. And you will I know. You see I can’t even write this properly. I can’t read. What I want to say is I owe all the happiness of my life to you. You have been entirely patient with me and incredibly good. I want to say that – everybody knows it. If anybody could have saved me it would have been you. Everything has gone from me but the certainty of your goodness. I can’t go on spoiling your life any longer. I don’t think two people could have been happier than we have been.”
~ Virginia Woolf

Most Admired: Mary Wollstonecraft

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Mary Wollstonecraft (1759-1797)

Mary Wollstonecraft was an eighteenth century English writer, philosopher and advocate of women’s rights. She wrote novels, treatises, a travel narrative, a history of the French Revolution, a conduct book, and a children’s book. She is best known for her 1792 book, “A Vindication of the Rights of Women.” Through it she argues that women are not naturally inferior to men, but appear so simply because they lack the education. She posits both men and women should be treated as rational beings and bring about a social order founded on reason. Today she is regarded as one of the founding feminist philosophers and her unconventional life is also cited as a fundamental influence among certain feminists.
A few of her quotes summarize some of her beliefs much more adequately than I could ever attempt :

“I do not wish them [women] to have power over men; but over themselves.”

“If we revert to history, we shall find that the women who have distinguished themselves have neither been the most beautiful nor the most gentle of their sex.”

“It is vain to expect virtue from women till they are in some degree independent of men.”

“My own sex, I hope, will excuse me, if I treat them like rational creatures, instead of flattering their fascinating graces, and viewing them as if they were in a state of perpetual childhood, unable to stand alone.”
“Taught from their infancy that beauty is woman’s sceptre, the mind shapes itself to the body, and roaming round its gilt cage, only seeks to adorn its prison.”

“It is time to effect a revolution in female manners – time to restore to them their lost dignity – and make them, as a part of the human species, labour by reforming themselves to reform the world. It is time to separate unchangeable morals from local manners.”

“Love from its very nature must be transitory. To seek for a secret that would render it constant would be as wild a search as for the philosopher’s stone or the grand panacea: and the discovery would be equally useless, or rather pernicious to mankind. The most holy band of society is friendship.”
~ Mary Wollstonecraft