I haven't been able to resist digging deep into Halloween this year, in particular what Halloween has meant over the years in my home of Wales.
Firstly, traditionally in Wales, the 31st October is the night before Winter starts, so it is Noson Galan Gaeaf, and I am reading about some unusual things that happened! Dr Juliette Wood, Cardiff University's Celtic folklore expert, explains how Calan Gaeaf included elements of Halloween and harvest. Whilst saying goodbye to the seasonal farm workers, the Welsh would also 'bid farewell to the departed, both living and dead'. There would be a celebration including a feast, whilst the animals were selected as fit enough for the winter or sold/slaughtered before it got too cold. The Welsh for November, Tachwedd, literally means 'The month of slaughter'.
Dr Emma Lile describes how November 1st was the day that the veil between our world and Annwn (the 'otherworld') was at its thinnest and is when the game Hwch Ddu Gwta would be played. Jack o' lanterns were carved from turnips (tricky) and served to help guide the dead back to earth whilst bonfires were lit to scare away evil spirits and masks were worn to confuse the ghosts.
Hwch Ddu Gwta
The Hwch Ddu Gwta or, in English, the Tailless Black Sow would be an adult dressed as one of the slaughtered pigs, usually wearing a pig skin (it places the lotion in the basket?) and would chase the children home from the bonfire that night.
The last child to get home would be caught by the Hwch Ddu. Oh my! I guess they didn't stay out too late back then. Check out the stunningly illustrated flag on the image to the right.
'Adref, adref, am y cyntaf,
Hwch ddu gwta a gipio'r ola'
Everyone at the bonfire would write their names on a stone and put it in the coelcerth, the bonfire. When you came back in the morning, a missing stone would mean that you were going to meet your doom before the year was out! I wonder h ow many times that prophecy became self fulfilling?
Y Ladi Wen
This is a slightly more pleasant tradition. Slightly. Apparently, the 'White Lady' guarded us from the darker spirits that might cross over from the Annwn. A bit like Buffy and Angel? Although other elements of the folklore suggest that she runs around with the Hwch Ddu Gwta, chasing the children and devouring their souls. So not quite a win, then.
Those that were not yet married or bequeathed were encouraged to walk around the boundary of a church, saying:
'Here is the sheath where is the knife',
in response to which they were expected to hear the name of the one they would marry. Am I the only one who remembers peeling and apple in one long strip and dropping it on the floor behind you to reveal the initial of the one you love? I'm not sure it ever predicted my Mikey Moo though. Also, if you ran round the church three times (just, you know, while you were there searching for signs of true love) and then looked through the keyhole at midnight, you would see the faces of those who would die over the next year.
We all know that the Welsh men of old loved dressing up as women (Rebecca Riots, anyone?), but apparently men also wandered door to door dressed as Gwrachod, or witches, asking for coppers, fruit and nuts before going to the local tafarn for a good night drinking.
The men claimed that dressing up like that kept the evil spirits away, but I'm sure it also helped that it would scare the poor homeowners into handing them any treats they wanted. This is a tradition I hope stays in the past - I don't want the men joining the children knocking on the doors!
This also seems like the perfect place to point out the podcast, 'Gwrachod Heddiw', an award winning podcast that discusses the modern equivalent of witches. If the crazies were around today, trying people for witchcraft - who do you think would be under suspicion?
Don't forget to check out our Halloween items over in the shop!