Skating on thin ice

St Martin was one of the most important in the Medieval Calendar of Saints. We will have a look at him tomorrow on his Saint’s Day.

But it is also Halloween or it would be if the Calendar had not been change in 1752. So for traditionalists this is the actual Halloween. It gives another chance to look into the future and to celebrate Halloween traditions.

If Martinmas ice will bear a duck
Then look for a winter of slush and muck.

i.e. it will be a mild winter. From my experience this will only have any validity if used in the North.

Today is also for Kali, Indian destroyer of Evil, and also for the Fate, the Norns, the Furies, the Morrigan and Persephone.


Gervase Markham (1682) says ‘…feed them for the first week with Barley sodden till it breaks; then feed them with raw malt from the floor; then for a week after give them dry Peas or Beans to harden their flesh. Let their drink be the washings of Ale-barrels and Sweet Whey. This manner of feeding breeds the whitest, fastest, and best flesh that maybe….’

NOVEMBER 8TH Saints Day for the 4 Crowned Martyrs

The Four Crowned Martyrs.

Crowned Martyrs

Sculptors Claudius, Castorius, Symphorian, and Nicostratus refused to carve a ‘graven image’ of Aesculapius (the greco-roman god of Medicine). They were condemned in the reign of Diocletian, placed in lead barrels, and drowned in the Danube.  

Patrons of sculptors, stonemasons, stonecutters; against fever; cattle


Goddess Lakshmi (Wikipedia)

Bhai Dooj is the day sisters and brothers celebrate a meal together to eat their favourite disches. often including their favourite dishes/sweets.

It is part of Diwali which is a 5 day festival of lights. It honors Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth and consists of lamps, fireworks and gatherings to exchange gifts and enjoy food together, honoring community and the new year (which started on November 5th).


Old print showing the plotters for the Gunpowder plot
The Plotters

Soon, after the discovery of the Gunpowder plot, Parliament legislated for a annual commemoration of the Plot. The date was chosen as it was the anniversary of finding Guys Fawkes with a lantern next to piles of barrels of Gunpowder. Fireworks and bonfires were clearly appropriate given that it has been estimated that the amount of gunpowder would have killed the king, the Royal Family, the House of Lords and the House of Commons and devastated a huge area around Westminster. But some suggest that the nature of the commemoration draws some elements from Halloween – use of bonfires and dressing up. Halloween was frowned upon by puritans who also supported Guy Fawkes Day as it was anti-catholic.

Guy Fawkes Lantern at the Ashmolean Museum

Banner in Lewes

The anti-catholic element of the celebration has not been important in Britain (except in certain places). Irish friends are amazed we still celebrate it, but more the vast majority of people in Britain it is really just Fireworks night, nothing to do with anti-catholic sentiment. Traces of the anti-catholic nature of it do continue in places like Lewes which is one of the most traditional Fireworks Nights. This consists of clubs who organise a parade through the town, and then the burning of an effigy of the Pope and more recently other unpopular figures on the contemporary scene. Click here for more on Lewes.

Procession in Lewes

Ottery St Mary continues the tradition of using Tar Barrels. These are wooden barrels in which tar and tinder are set on fire. The Barrels are either rolled through the Town, or down a hill, or, as in Ottery, carried on the shoulders of volunteers. This has a pedigree which goes back before 1605 as there are references to tar barrels and displays in Protestant processions to celebrate the accession to the throne of Edward VI and Elizabeth 1

Tar Barrels in Ottery St Mary

The King was given the credit for deciphering the warning given in a letter, written to William Parker, 13th Baron Morley, 4th Baron Monteagle at his house in Hoxton, London which warned against turning up at Parliament but was not explicit as to the nature of the threat.

Letter Lord Monteagle passed on to King James 1


Felicity Cloake The Guardian

Ginger cake is the traditional accompaniment to a cold night watching the Fireworks. There is a good recipe in Markham’s The English Housewife of 1683. But I’m suggesting you use this recipe from the Guardian for Parkin Cake. Traditional in Yorkshire.

Collecting for the Bonfire would continue:

A stick and a stake
For King George’s sake
Will you please to give us a faggot
If you won’t give us one, we’ll steal you two
The better for we and the worse for you.

Children create a ‘Guy’ named after Guy Fawkes who was discovered on 5th November in a cellar under Parliament by a pile of barrels of gunpowder. The children take the guys around collecting money to buy fireworks. When I was young we spent our money exclusively on ‘bangers’ not pretty fountains and candles nor rockets. One stunt was to cycle through the streets and to put a banger into the handle bars which would act as a rocket launcher.

London picture Collecting for the Guy

Today is dedicated to hunting gods such as Herne, the Horned God, Cernunnos and Pan.

Herne the Hunter first appears in Shakespeare:

There is an old tale goes, that Herne the
(sometime a keeper here in Windsor Forest)
Doth all the winter-time, at still midnight
Walk round about an oak, with great ragg’d horns;
And there he blasts the tree, and takes the cattle,
And makes milch-kine yield blood, and shakes a chain
In a most hideous and dreadful manner.
You have heard of such a spirit, and well you know
The superstitious idle-headed eld
Receiv’d, and did deliver to our age
This tale of Herne the Hunter for a truth.

William Shakespeare, The Merry Wives of Windsor, Act 4, scene 4

But he is linked to the Forest God, the Horned One, the Green Man and the Celtic God Cernunnos. This name Cernunnos comes from karnon which means “horn” or “antler”, and may be the source of the name ‘Cerne’. (note that the Cerne Abbas Giant has just been redated from the Celtic to 17th Century.)


Folklore is full of ways of predicting the future – mostly about the weather or love.

The Perpetual Almanac by Charles Kightly features many of these in rhyme form of the ‘Sky at Night Shepherd’s Delight’ type. Here is a seasonal one.

If ducks do slide at Hallowentide

At Christmas they will swim

If ducks do swim at Hallowentide

At Christmas they will slide

From my experience, in the south of the UK, this is simply not true as we very rarely get ice in early November, and don’t get snow at Christmas that often. But maybe, the further north you go the truer this becomes. But its good to remember what Macbeth said on seeing the wood moving to Dunsinane as he realised that prophecy is a double-edged sword and had led him to his doom.

The Three Witches tell Macbeth: he: ‘shall never vanquish’d be until Great Birnam Wood to
high Dunsinane Hill shall come against him’ and that ‘none of woman born shall harm Macbeth’

When the forest starts to move he ‘begin to doubt the equivocation of the fiend, that lies like truth.’ In the subsequent battle, Macbeth knows he is invincible until he is told by Macduff that he was not of woman born, but rather “from his mother’s womb / Untimely ripped”

November is the month of Blood in the Anglo-Saxon calendar when animals returning from summer pastures were slaughtered and only those needed for work or breeding were kept alive. A period therefore of salting, drying and preserving. The 9th Month of the Roman Calendar (originally) Tachwedd in Welsh and An t-Samhuinn in Gaelic – the month of the Samhain festival.

The 3rd of November is the Hilaria, the last day of the festival of Isis, the day of the rebirth of Osiris.


Mexican Day of the Dead, in fact the second day of El Dia de las Muertes

The day to celebrate all those loved ones who have passed away. To keep them in mind, to remind you still care about them.

Here is a song video from Mexico which you will enjoy.

This was the time of year in which ‘Souling’ used to take place. Households made soul-cakes, children or people in need of food come to visit and are given soul cakes in exchange for praying for the dead.

Soul, soul, for a souling cake.

I pray good Missus for a souling cake.

Apple or pear, plum or cherry.

Anything good to make us merry.

Traditional rhyme from Shropshire and Cheshire

This is based upon the idea of purgatory, and the idea that intervention on Earth can influence the amount of time an ancestor spends in purgatory for their sins.

John Aubrey mentions a custom in Hereford which shows how this works.

In the County of Hereford was an old Custom at Funerals, to hire poor people, who were to take upon them all the Sins of the part deceased. One of them I remember (he was a long, lean, lamentable poor rascal). The manner was that when a Corpse was brought out of the house and laid on the Bier; a Loaf of bread was brought out and delivered to the Sin-eater over the corps, as also a Mazer-bowl full of beer, which he was to drink up, and sixpence in money, in consideration whereof he took upon him all the Sins of the Defunct, and freed him (or her) from Walking after they were dead.

John Aubrey, Remains of Gentilism 1688

In the records of St Thomas Hospital, Southwark, a wealthy widow called Alice (de Bregerake – if I remember the spelling correctly) left her wealth to the hospital in return for an annual Rose rent; lifetime accommodation in the Hospital in Southwark, and for the monks and nuns to pray for her soul and the souls of her ancestors. The Catholic Church used this power of intervention in purgatory for much of its fund-raising.


Chrysanthemums Flowers for the Dead

How the Celtic start of winter festival became All Hallows is not clear. Some say the Church set up its own festivals independent of the Northern European traditions.

Samhain, on October 31st, was not only the beginning of Winter but also the beginning of the Year. It began on the evening because Celtic and Germanic traditions began the day at Dusk. So Halloween is not the evening before, it is the start of the day of festival. The Church celebrated the Vigil of All Hallows Day when all Saints are celebrated, but the Christian celebration is on the 1st November.

A celebration of All Saints was originally in May in the Church but was changed to the 1st November in the 7th Century by Pope Boniface, later swapped back to May, and in the 9th fixed on the 1st November. It is followed on the 2nd by All Souls Day.

So on the 1st November, those celebrating the pagan festival would be in full swing after a hard night of celebration. The embers of the Fire would be still burning, stones left around the fire would be inspected for the prophecy they told of the future. Each person had a stone, if it was still intact it was good luck, if it had disappeared the future was not good.

In France, All Hallows or All Saints is called La Toussaint, and flowers such as Chrysanthemums which blossom in late October, were put on the graves.

In Spain it is Dia de Todo los Santos and is a national holiday upon which people put flowers on the graves of the dead.

In Mexico Dia de Muertos celebrates Holy Innocents on the 1st – Dia de los Inocentes. People create altars to the lost ones, with their favourite flowers, toys, food stuffs,, photographs. People argue about the pre-colombian aspects of the festival as there are similarities to European All Saints Days celebrations but Quecholli, was a celebration of the dead that honored Mixcóatl – the god of war. It was celebrated between October 20th and November 8th.