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….’
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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 Hunter (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.