Friday, October 20, 2017

Familiars, with guest blogger Carolyn Emerick







Familiar and other sinister spirits riding with the witch, on a vintage Halloween postcard. | Source
Familiar and other sinister spirits riding with the witch, on a vintage Halloween postcard. | Source

The Familiar Spirit: Companion to Witches



Illustration by Ida Rentoul Outhwaite | Source

What is a familiar?

The “familiar spirit” is a common motif found in both folklore and witch trial records of the witch hunt era.
The term is said to be derived from the Latin famulus, which means servant, due to the familiar’s role of serving the witch to whom it was attached.
Familiars served as an attendant to the witch, providing such functions as protection and guidance, to teach the witch magical and healing arts, or in the case of bad witches, to do their bidding engaging in sinister deeds.
In popular media today, the familiar is almost always represented as an animal, and usually the black cat. Film and television programs often portray the familiar as a corporeal animal, more akin to a pet or companion, who aids the witch in their magic.
However, the familiar found in folklore and witch trial records often existed very much in the spirit realm, hence the name “familiar spirit.”



Illustration by Ida Rentoul Outhwaite, circa 1921 | Source

Black cat in a witch's hat, vintage illustration. | Source
In his encyclopedia on the witch hunt era (see link above), William E. Burns insists that familiars were never real animals, but always strictly a spirit.
But, folklorist Katharine Briggs disagrees. In her book, “Nine Lives: The Folklore of Cats,” Briggs explains the type of elderly person that was often accused of witchcraft often lived alone with his or her pets. Due to the loneliness of a solitary old age, this type of person would no doubt dote on their animals more than what was common in society during that period.
In her own encyclopedia on fairies and spirits (linked below), Carol Rose says that simply having a pet in the home of an accused witch, in some cases, could be considered proof of their guilt.
Whether spirit or corporeal, the familiar was not always an animal. Other times the spirit took the shape of a human, or was even known to be the ghost of a deceased person who now resided in Fairy Land. (In British folklore, there is a mingling of ghosts, fairies, fairy land, and the realm of the dead). The deceased might have been someone known to the witch, or it might well have been a complete stranger.
Familiar spirits could also be fairies, or other folkloric creatures such as the hobgoblin, who were in the service of the witch that they served.



Reminiscent of a women with her familiar interacting with a fairy. Illustration by Jennie Harbour. | Source

Where were they found?

Though familiars were common in many areas, they were not universally known in all regions. They are found with high frequency in the folklore of England, Scotland, and the Basque region of Spain.
Familiars most often took the shape of animals in England and Basque, but in Scotland familiars could appear as either human or animal and usually with a strong connection to the fairy realm.
The types of animals that familiars appeared as were usually creatures that would be commonly known to peasants.
So, we see familiar spirits taking the shape of domestic animals such as dogs and cats frequently.
But, they also appeared as animals that were present in the landscape. The toad is one such common manifestation.



“Moonlit Dreams” by Gabriel Ferrier | Source
Familiars appeared as toads in England and Scotland, but in Basque the toad is the most common form of familiar, and much folklore developed around this motif. Basque toad familiars were typically described as wearing clothes. They retained a place of honor in the witch’s household, and were thought to be especially powerful.
In this way, there seems to be some overlap in traditions of the domestic spirit. The domestic spirit is commonly remembered today as the house elf, or brownie, but could take many forms in old European folklore (more to come on this topic soon!).
We see the Basque toad familiar being propitiated with food offerings in the same way that domestic spirits were often given offerings of food in return for the services that they provided.
England developed a very rich tradition of the familiar spirit in their folklore and witch trial records. English familiars could appear as the aforementioned animals, but also as ferrets, weasels, rodents, rabbits, or insects.
The spirit might be passed down from parent to child in a family of witches, or it was often reported to be gifted to the witch by a power powerful spirit in the otherworld.


Familiars as demons

Because fairy lore was so aggressively demonized by the Church (see When Witches Communed with Fairies), fairies became equated with demons. Thus, the folkloric rulers of the fairies were often conflated with the devil, or seen to be in league with him.
Therefore, we see some witches receiving their familiars from the fairy king or queen, and others from the devil himself. For this reason, familiar spirits were often equated with demons by witch hunters.
Carol Rose says that “in Wales, familiars are mostly demons who are usually invisible” (Rose, 113). This tradition of invisible demonic familiars appears to be unique to Wales, and may be a result of prodding by witch interrogators rather than any real folkloric belief.


Possible shamanic connections

It is my opinion that animal familiars may serve a similar function in folk belief that we see entities such as spirit animals, power animals, totems, spirit guides, and so forth, fill in other cultures.
In fact, the modern conception of a spirit guide is quite similar to a guardian angel, and Carol Rose makes the analogy of an attendant familiar spirit with the role of a guardian angel in her encyclopedia.
There are many scholars today who have developed a very strong case for the theory that a minority of accused witches may have been engaging in ancient shamanic practices carried over from the pre-Christian era.
This does not apply to all, or even most, of the accused, as we know that witch interrogators would elicit confessions with the use of torture and tell the victim precisely what to confess. However, there are some anomalies.


For example, Italian scholar Carlo Ginzburg has studied the Benandanti, or “good walkers,” a group of accused witches from the Friuli region of Italy.
The region of Fruili had its own dialect that was distinct from the other Italian dialects, which protected them from the witch trials for a very long time, as there were no inquisitors who could speak their language.
When they eventually got around to interrogating them, the inquisitors were astounded by what the Banandanti confessed to – because none of it was found in their witch hunting manuals!


When the confessions do not match the witch hunters’ manuals, this is one clue that their practices were not fed to them by the interrogators.
Among the things the Benandanti confessed to was the practice of going into trance to journey to the spirit world to engage in spirit battles to protect their village’s crops from malevolent spirits that sought to sabotage their harvest.
Carlo Ginzburg discusses his theories, and even expands his discussion to other parts of Europe including German speaking regions and Lowland Scotland in his books, ”Ecstasies: Deciphering the Witches' Sabbath” and “The Night Battles: Witchcraft and Agrarian Cults in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries" (see link above).


Emma Wilby is a British scholar who has found similar conclusions in her research into Scottish witch trials.
Wilby discusses accused witches’ use of trance, and other shamanic techniques, to engage in otherworldly travel and interactions with spirits in the other world.
Both familiars and the fairy realm are discussed in depth in Wilby’s books, “The Visions of Isobel Gowdie: Magic, Witchcraft and Dark Shamanism in Seventeenth-Century Scotland” and “Cunning-Folk and Familiar Spirits: Shamanistic Visionary Traditions in Early Modern British Witchcraft and Magic.”
The theory that some accused witches were using shamanic practices is briefly touched on in “Scottish Fairy Belief” by Lizanne Henderson and Edward J. Cowan.
They mention another scholar, who I have not yet read, by the name of Eva Pocs whose research on witchcraft and the fairy tradition in Hungary and Southwest Europe has produced findings very similar to Ginzburg’s and Wilby’s.


So, we see that there is strong scholarly support for theory that a minority of witches may have been carrying on traditions that originated in the pagan landscape of ancient pre-Christian Europe.
Their familiars are often intermediaries to the spirit world. Familiars are often the beings who teach healing or magical powers to the witch.
This is not unlike the role of animal guides that we see in other shamanic cultures, or even in modern neo-pagan and new age beliefs.
And, indeed, Carol Rose mentions many worldwide cultures with folkloric tales of familiar-like entities in her encyclopedia.
Many of the cultures she names have historically shamanic traditions, such as the Saami, Native American, Australian Aborigine, and Siberian cultures. Of the Siberian tradition, she says “In Siberia the Familiar is known as a Yakeela, which may be required to combat the Familiar of an adversary shaman” (Rose, 113).
This sounds strikingly similar to the practice of spirit battles of the Benandanti described above.


Folklore and popular religion

To conclude, it’s important to mention that from the Middle Ages into the Renaissance, and indeed, in many cases even into modern times, the beliefs held by the populace are often vastly different than what they ought to believe when going by the standards of the powers that be.
In other words, if you were to ask “what religion were the people of Scotland in the second half of the 16th century?” Protestant Christianity would be the correct answer. However, this would not correctly reflect the beliefs of the common folk, especially among the peasantry.


The rural people hung on to “the old religion,” which was Catholicism, for many years after the Reformation. And that old religion was infused with many beliefs that were retained from the far older religion, indigenous polytheism.
Popular religion, therefore, is what is actually being practiced by the people vs. what the official religion preached at the pulpit teaches. And, it is usually a rich mix of influences from all of the above.
You see this very plainly today in Central and South America, where there is a fascinating merging of native beliefs and Catholicism. The same phenomenon happened many centuries earlier in Europe.
The tradition of the familiar spirit, like most folk traditions, retained elements of a pagan origin while it also assumed Christian ideas that were either organically infused or superimposed upon it by secular and religious authorities. This mix of influences is what makes folklore a fascinating, but sometimes challenging, topic to explore.


For more like this

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Bibliography

Briggs, Katharine. 1988. Nine Lives: The Folklore of Cats. New York: Dorset Press.
Burns, William E. 2003. Witch Hunts in Europe and America: An Encyclopedia. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.
Ginzburg, Carlo. 1966. The Night Battles. Baltimore: The John Hopkins University Press.
Henderson, Lizanne, and Edward J. Cowan. 2011. Scottish Fairy Belief. Eastbourne, UK: CPI Antony Rowe.

Rose, Carol. 1996. Spirits, Fairies, Leprechauns, and Goblins: An Enclyclopedia. New York: W. W. Norton & Co, Inc.

Wilby, Emma. 2005. Cunning Folk and Familiar Spirits. Eastbourne, UK: Sussex Academic Press.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Trolls Tears//Samhain story for children by D.J.Conway





The Troll Tear---A Children's Story
 The night was very dark, with a Full Moon hanging in the cloud-filled sky above. The air was crisp with the feel of late Autumn and the doorway between the worlds was wide open. Carved pumpkins sat on the porches of the houses in the little town, and the laughter of children dressed in costumes could be heard from the streets.
 It was a sad time for Beth as she climbed the little hill behind her house. In her arms was her cat and friend Smoky, carefully wrapped in his favorite blanket. A little grave was already dug on the hill, waiting, for Smoky had died that day.
 "Do you want me to go with you?" Beth's father had asked. "I dug his grave beside MacDougal's at the top of the hill." Beth clearly remembered when their dog MacDougal had died after being hit by a car.
 "No, I want to go by myself," she answered.
 Beth stopped at the top of the hill and knelt beside the little grave. She carefully laid Smoky's blanket-wrapped form in the earth and covered it with dirt, laying several large rocks on the top. Then she cried and cried.
 "Oh, Smoky, I miss you so much!" Beth looked up at the Moon, tears streaming down her cheeks. "Why did you die?"
 "It was his time to rejoin the Mother," said a deep, gentle voice in the darkness.
 "Who said that?" Beth looked around but saw no one.
 "Dying is part of the cycle of life, you know." One of the boulders on the hill stirred into life.
 "Who are you?" The moonlight shone down on the little woman, and Beth could see she was not human.
 "I'm a troll-wife," said the creature as she came to sit across from Beth. "This is a sad night for both of us, girl. I, too, came to this hill to bury a friend." The troll-wife wiped a crystal tear from her cheek. "The squirrel was very old. Still it makes me sad."
 Beth stared at the troll-wife. The little woman was the color of rock in the moonlight, her hair like long strands of dried moss, her bright eyes like shining crystals. She wore a dress woven of oak leaves and tree bark.
 "The squirrel and I lived together for a long time," the troll-wife said. "We often talked to your cat when he was hunting here on the hill. Smoky and I were friends. I shall miss him, too." The little woman patted Smoky's grave gently. "Sleep well, little friend. When you are rested, we shall talk together again."
 "But he's dead," Beth said, her voice choked with tears.
 "Child, this is Samhain. Don't you know the ancient secrets of this sacred time of year?" The troll-wife motioned for Beth to come and sit beside her. "It is true that our friends have gone into a world where we can no longer physically touch them, but the Mother has given us other ways of communicating with them. We can do this any time, but the time of Samhain is the easiest."
 "I don't understand how this can be done," Beth said, "or why Samhain makes it easier."
 "At this time of year," the troll-wife answered, "the walls between this world and the world of souls and spirits are very thin. If we are quiet and listen, we can hear our loved ones and they can hear us. We talk, not with spoken words, but with the heart and mind."
 "Isn't that just imagination?" Beth looked down at Smoky's grave, tears once more coming into her eyes. "Like my thinking I can feel MacDougal get up on my bed at night like he used to?"
 "Sometimes it is, but mostly it is not imagination, only our friends come to see us in their spirit bodies." The troll-wife reached up her hand and patted something Beth couldn't see on her shoulder. "Like my friend the raven. He is here now."
 Beth looked hard and saw a thin form of hazy moonlight on the troll-wife's shoulder. "I've seen something like that at the foot of my bed where MacDougal used to sleep," she whispered. "I thought I was dreaming." She jumped as something nudged her arm. When she looked down, nothing was there.
 The troll-wife smiled. "Close your eyes and think of MacDougal," she said. "He has been waiting a long time for you to see him."
 Beth closed her eyes and, at once, the form of her little dog came into her mind. His tail wagged with happiness. She felt a wave of love come from him, and she sent her love back. Then she felt the dog lie down against her leg.
 "Can I do this with Smoky?" Beth asked.
 "Not yet," the troll-wife answered. "He needs to sleep a while and rest. Then he will come to you. This gives Smoky time to adjust to his new world and you time to grieve for him. It is not wrong to grieve, but we must not grieve forever."
 "I never thought of it that way," Beth said. "It's kind of like they moved away, and we can only talk to them on the phone."
 "It is this way with all creatures, not just animals." the troll-wife stood up and held out a hand to Beth. "Will you join me, human girl? Although I buried my friend squirrel this night, I still must dance and sing to all my friends and ancestors who have gone on their journey into the other world. For this is a time to honor the ancestors."
 Beth joined the troll-wife in the ancient slow troll dances around the top of the little hill in the moonlight. She watched quietly while the troll-wife called out troll-words to the four directions, words Beth couldn't understand. Deep in her heart the girl felt the power of the strange words and knew they were given in honor and love by the little troll-wife.
 When the troll-wife was finished with her ritual, she hugged Beth. "Go in peace, human child," she said. "And remember what I have told you about the ancient secret of Samhain."
 "I will," Beth answered. "Will I ever see you again?"
 "Whenever the Moon is Full, I will be here," the little troll-wife said. "And especially at Samhain."
 "I wish I had something to give you." Beth hugged the little woman. "You have taught me so much." She felt the tears come to her eyes again.
 "Let us exchange tears for our lost friends." The troll-wife reached up a rough finger and caught a tear as it fell from Beth's eye. The tear glistened on her finger. The troll-wife gently touched her finger to her cloak, and Beth's tear shone there like a diamond in the moonlight.
 Beth reached up carefully and caught one of the troll-wife's tears as it slid down her rough cheek. It turned into a real crystal in her hand.
 "Remember the secret of Samhain, and remember me," the troll-wife said softly as she disappeared into the darkness. Beth walked back down the hill, the crystal clutched in her hand. Her father was waiting for her on the porch.
 "Are you all right?" her father asked as he gave Beth a hug.
 "I will be," she answered. She opened her hand under the porch light and saw a perfect, tear-shaped crystal lying there.
 "Did you find something?" her father asked.
 "A troll-tear," Beth answered, and her father smiled. For he also knew the little troll-wife and the secret of Samhain.
 by D. J. Conway


Photo: The Troll Tear---A Children's Story for Samhain The night was very dark, with a Full Moon hanging in the cloud-filled sky above. The air was crisp with the feel of late Autumn and the doorway between the worlds was wide open. Carved pumpkins sat on the porches of the houses in the little town, and the laughter of children dressed in costumes could be heard from the streets. It was a sad time for Beth as she climbed the little hill behind her house. In her arms was her cat and friend Smoky, carefully wrapped in his favorite blanket. A little grave was already dug on the hill, waiting, for Smoky had died that day. "Do you want me to go with you?" Beth's father had asked. "I dug his grave beside MacDougal's at the top of the hill." Beth clearly remembered when their dog MacDougal had died after being hit by a car. "No, I want to go by myself," she answered. Beth stopped at the top of the hill and knelt beside the little grave. She carefully laid Smoky's blanket-wrapped form in the earth and covered it with dirt, laying several large rocks on the top. Then she cried and cried. "Oh, Smoky, I miss you so much!" Beth looked up at the Moon, tears streaming down her cheeks. "Why did you die?" "It was his time to rejoin the Mother," said a deep, gentle voice in the darkness. "Who said that?" Beth looked around but saw no one. "Dying is part of the cycle of life, you know." One of the boulders on the hill stirred into life. "Who are you?" The moonlight shone down on the little woman, and Beth could see she was not human. "I'm a troll-wife," said the creature as she came to sit across from Beth. "This is a sad night for both of us, girl. I, too, came to this hill to bury a friend." The troll-wife wiped a crystal tear from her cheek. "The squirrel was very old. Still it makes me sad." Beth stared at the troll-wife. The little woman was the color of rock in the moonlight, her hair like long strands of dried moss, her bright eyes like shining crystals. She wore a dress woven of oak leaves and tree bark. "The squirrel and I lived together for a long time," the troll-wife said. "We often talked to your cat when he was hunting here on the hill. Smoky and I were friends. I shall miss him, too." The little woman patted Smoky's grave gently. "Sleep well, little friend. When you are rested, we shall talk together again." "But he's dead," Beth said, her voice choked with tears. "Child, this is Samhain. Don't you know the ancient secrets of this sacred time of year?" The troll-wife motioned for Beth to come and sit beside her. "It is true that our friends have gone into a world where we can no longer physically touch them, but the Mother has given us other ways of communicating with them. We can do this any time, but the time of Samhain is the easiest." "I don't understand how this can be done," Beth said, "or why Samhain makes it easier." "At this time of year," the troll-wife answered, "the walls between this world and the world of souls and spirits are very thin. If we are quiet and listen, we can hear our loved ones and they can hear us. We talk, not with spoken words, but with the heart and mind." "Isn't that just imagination?" Beth looked down at Smoky's grave, tears once more coming into her eyes. "Like my thinking I can feel MacDougal get up on my bed at night like he used to?" "Sometimes it is, but mostly it is not imagination, only our friends come to see us in their spirit bodies." The troll-wife reached up her hand and patted something Beth couldn't see on her shoulder. "Like my friend the raven. He is here now." Beth looked hard and saw a thin form of hazy moonlight on the troll-wife's shoulder. "I've seen something like that at the foot of my bed where MacDougal used to sleep," she whispered. "I thought I was dreaming." She jumped as something nudged her arm. When she looked down, nothing was there. The troll-wife smiled. "Close your eyes and think of MacDougal," she said. "He has been waiting a long time for you to see him." Beth closed her eyes and, at once, the form of her little dog came into her mind. His tail wagged with happiness. She felt a wave of love come from him, and she sent her love back. Then she felt the dog lie down against her leg. "Can I do this with Smoky?" Beth asked. "Not yet," the troll-wife answered. "He needs to sleep a while and rest. Then he will come to you. This gives Smoky time to adjust to his new world and you time to grieve for him. It is not wrong to grieve, but we must not grieve forever." "I never thought of it that way," Beth said. "It's kind of like they moved away, and we can only talk to them on the phone." "It is this way with all creatures, not just animals." the troll-wife stood up and held out a hand to Beth. "Will you join me, human girl? Although I buried my friend squirrel this night, I still must dance and sing to all my friends and ancestors who have gone on their journey into the other world. For this is a time to honor the ancestors." Beth joined the troll-wife in the ancient slow troll dances around the top of the little hill in the moonlight. She watched quietly while the troll-wife called out troll-words to the four directions, words Beth couldn't understand. Deep in her heart the girl felt the power of the strange words and knew they were given in honor and love by the little troll-wife. When the troll-wife was finished with her ritual, she hugged Beth. "Go in peace, human child," she said. "And remember what I have told you about the ancient secret of Samhain." "I will," Beth answered. "Will I ever see you again?" "Whenever the Moon is Full, I will be here," the little troll-wife said. "And especially at Samhain." "I wish I had something to give you." Beth hugged the little woman. "You have taught me so much." She felt the tears come to her eyes again. "Let us exchange tears for our lost friends." The troll-wife reached up a rough finger and caught a tear as it fell from Beth's eye. The tear glistened on her finger. The troll-wife gently touched her finger to her cloak, and Beth's tear shone there like a diamond in the moonlight. Beth reached up carefully and caught one of the troll-wife's tears as it slid down her rough cheek. It turned into a real crystal in her hand. "Remember the secret of Samhain, and remember me," the troll-wife said softly as she disappeared into the darkness. Beth walked back down the hill, the crystal clutched in her hand. Her father was waiting for her on the porch. "Are you all right?" her father asked as he gave Beth a hug. "I will be," she answered. She opened her hand under the porch light and saw a perfect, tear-shaped crystal lying there. "Did you find something?" her father asked. "A troll-tear," Beth answered, and her father smiled. For he also knew the little troll-wife and the secret of Samhain. by D. J. Conway

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Gues blogger Carolyn Emerick on Hop-ta-Naa


Some time ago I wrote a post on Hop-tu-Naa,  but I wanted to share this with my gentle reader because, to be truthful I would love to participate in this celebration someday.


A turnip lantern for Hop-tu-Naa. | Source
A turnip lantern for Hop-tu-Naa. | Source

Hop-tu-Naa: Halloween on the Isle of Man



Map of the British Isles with the Isle of Man in red.

The Isle of Man

The Isle of Man, or Mann, is located in the Irish Sea nestled between Ireland, Scotland, and England. It has a long history of human habitation since pre-historic times. Today it is part of Great Britain, but also remains self-governing.
Because of its strong Gaelic heritage, the Isle of Man is recognized as one of the six Celtic Nations by the Celtic League (some consider there to be seven, but Galicia is not recognized by the Celtic League).
Strong community usage of a Celtic language within recent memory is one important criteria of acceptance into the Celtic League (which is what disqualifies Galicia). The Celtic language historically spoken in Mann is called Manx. The term Manx is also used to describe anything that comes from the Island.
Like other islands in the region, Mann also shares some Norse heritage due to Viking settlement and Norse rule in the early Middle Ages. So some of the customs and folklore of the region retain unique flavor from a combination of cultural influences. The Isle is home to a large collection of both Celtic and Norse stone crosses carved with the knot work both cultures are famous for.



Source

October 31st

Bonfires have been an age old tradition during Celtic festivals for centuries. Although, the Celts certainly did not invent the invocation of flames at pagan gatherings. Bonfires were common at seasonal festivals all around Europe very likely dating to Neolithic times and continuing into the Modern Era.
The Celts are most famous for their bonfires that occurred on Beltane (May 1st, May Day) and Samhain (October 31st, Halloween).
There is a lot of talk now-a-days about how Halloween evolved from Samhain. While this is mostly true, this explanation neglects to explain that October 31st was a festival time for peoples all around Europe, not just the Celts. Not only that, but not all Celts called their October 31st festival Samhain. There could be variations of spelling and pronunciation, or a completely different name all together. And as time advanced, new names and customs could eclipse the old.
The truth is that most of the Indo-European people, from which the Celts, Germanic, Slavic, and most European groups descend, celebrated many of their festivals at the same times as each other, apart from agricultural festivals which would vary from year to year based on the growing cycle.


Hop-tu-Naa

The origins of Hop-tu-Naa on the Isle of Man a bit of a mystery, and there is very little written on it. A book called "The Folklore of the Isle of Man" by Margaret Killip gives more information than what is available on the internet. She explains that while some of the customs of Hop-tu-Naa coincide with Samhain (spelled Sauin by Killip), many others are unique to the island.
The term Hop-tu-Naa is speculated to come from the Gaelic phrase Shoh ta'n Oie, meaning "this is the night."
I can't help but notice a similarity in sound and syntax with the Shetland Island festival of Up-Helly-Aa. Similarity of sound does not necessarily imply a relationship. But, both islands lie outside the coast of Scotland, and both have a history of mixed heritage between the Celts and Norse.


Another point of interest is the custom of Trick or Treating in relation to Hop-tu-Naa. Although we know that the custom was brought to America by Scots-Irish immigrants, the ancestor of the trick-or-treating custom apparently withered out in its homelands while it flourished in America, and was only recently re-introduced to Britain. Indeed, many modern day journalists in Britain and Ireland have referred to it as an American custom, and it is reported to have only become popular in these countries the past 20 years or so.
How curious, then, that trick-or-treating among Manx children is described by Ms. Killip in her book, published in 1975! Halloween was also referred to as Hollantide Eve on the Isle of Man, and Killip explains that the children went door to door carrying their carved turnip lanterns singing the Oie Houney song about Jinny the Witch.
I think it is important to point out two things here. Firstly, ancient customs continue on much longer in rural, isolated communities such as the Isle of Man. Secondly, new customs from foreign lands catch on much later in rural and isolated communities than they do in metropolitan areas, especially in the days before the internet and cable television brought world cultures in such immediate contact with each other. Therefore, it seems very likely to me that trick-or-treating on the Isle of Man (although they may not have called it by that name) as reported in Margaret Killip's book, is more likely to be directly related to ancient Celtic customs of the region, and not an American import, whereas other parts of Britain have been re-introduced to the custom by way of America.


The Hop-tu-Naa Song

Manx children have been singing the Hop-tu-Naa song for so long that no one is quite sure how old it is.
The lyrics describe the night as one of cattle slaughter and feasting, which hearkens back to another universal aspect of the October 31st festival around northern Europe.
The dark and dreary months of winter in northern climes were associated with malicious spirits. Animals were brought indoors to protect them from whatever evil could be lurking.
Early November was slaughtering season. Large herds could not be fed through the long winters, and sick or elderly animals would not survive the cold. So it was time to thin the herd and keep the most healthy and hearty. And, of course, whenever there was a slaughter there would also be a feast.


A Manx Musical Trio


This custom is reflected in the first lines of the Hop-tu-Naa Song:
This is old Hollantide night; Hop-tu-naa.
The moon shines bright; Trol-la-laa
Cock of the hens; Hop-tu-naa.
Supper of the heifer; Trol-la-laa
Which heifer shall we kill? Hop-tu-naa.
The little speckled heifer. Trol-la-laa
The end of the song is reminiscent of trick-or-treating rhymes rehearsed by American children over the past 100 years:
If you are going to give us anything, give it us soon,
Or we'll be away by the light of the moon.


Jinny the Witch

Some regional variations on the Hop-tu-Naa song briefly mention a figure called Jinny the Witch. In other versions, the entire song is about her.
As it turns out, Jinny was a real person. Her name was Joney Lowney and she was tried for witchcraft on the Isle of Man in 1715. Like many witchcraft trial victims, the accusation was hurled at her due to an altercation with a neighbor, not because of any act of malice on her part.
Probably due to the late date (the witch craze in Europe was over by this point) and also due to the cultural climate of the island, Jinny was not killed and given a comparatively light sentence.
Although she may not have been very sinister in real life, Jinny the Witch has grown into a frightening character and quintessential part of Manx modern day Hop-tu-Naa celebration.


Other age old customs of Hop-tu-Naa included baking Saddag Valloo, or Dumb Cake. It was thus named because it would have to be eaten in silence. The custom of "dumb supper" appears to have also been present on mainland Scotland. The Oxford Index contains an entry on this custom as well.
Today, Hop-tu-Naa continues to be celebrated on the Isle of Man. Although, sadly, just as in America, the custom of going door to door seems to be dwindling in favor of indoor events where children dress up, carve their lanterns, and receive candy. These events are often organized by local town governments or even by large shopping centers. Yet, ancient customs like singing the Hop-tu-Naa song still prevail.


Short video of Hop-tu-Naa in Cregneash, Mann


Bibliography

I found much of my information in Margaret Killip's "The Folklore of the Isle of Man" and the following websites:

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

haiku~~~glow




glows beyond the panes
and he watches, and he waits
safe in his own glow





Monday, October 16, 2017

Summer music

After a walking in the cascade of falling leaves, the trees showing more and more of their branches each day, I knew it was long past summer, even though the  bees and bugs were busily flying past me, the sun was strong and it felt like a summer day until the wind picked up, summer was behind us, no matter how much I wanted it to be otherwise.   But it is also ahead of us.  And that is why I am posting this.   Enjoy!  

Friday, October 13, 2017

guest Blogger Mama Donna Henes on Friday the 13th

here are a few thoughts for you about Friday the 13, and the number 13 in general. both of which I have usually found to be varying degrees of lucky for me.


Considering the incalculable complexity of the universe, the sometimes cruel vagaries of nature, the capriciousness of circumstance, the sheer precariousness of existence, people have always thought it prudent to propitiate the powers that be. To invoke their protection and to seek the good fortune of their favor.
It is simply too dangerous to leave life to chance. To do so would be to invite disaster. Luck must never be taken for granted. One can never assume. It requires constant courtship, demands undivided devotion. Luck exacts unrelenting vigilance and expects a perpetual attempt to appease. Luck trucks no indolence.
The Latin proverb encourages, "Fortune favors the bold." In Sicily, it is bad luck to say, "Good luck." Theater people agree and say, "Break a leg" when they mean "Good luck" so as to trick fortune into smiling on them. "When fortune turns against you, even jelly breaks your teeth," goes an Iranian proverb; "When fortune calls, offer her a chair," counsels a Yiddish saying.        
Survival seems to depend on the ability to placate fate. So it is incumbent upon one to search for and respond to the subliminal signs, subtle portents, secret signals, and subconscious symbols sent by divine authority. It is essential to observe, interpret, and obey all omens, oracles, and other holy hints. Like milestone markers along the miracle trail, these are clear indicators of the almighty attitude of the moment - fortunate indulgence or fatal aversion.
The one sure thing about luck is that it's always changing. Like life itself, the only certainty is uncertainty. Still, throughout time and across culture, folks have devised complete systems of encoded behavior to ensure that their deities are kept satisfied. Methods, tested, tried and true, which seem to succeed in soliciting divine fortune are considered to be lucky. These magical formulas for fortune are the basis of myth, ritual, tradition, taboo, sanction, and superstition.
 
Lest we think that the currying of beneficent favor is quaint custom practiced by foreigners somewhere in the third, fourth, or fifteenth world, just take a good look at us. We knock on wood, step over cracks, and around open ladders. We tie ribbons around trees, knots around our fingers, and strips of silk around our necks when we go off to work. We carry the feet of small rodents in our pockets, and nail the footwear of horses onto our houses and barns. We close our eyes, hold our breaths, bite our tongues, and spit at our feet. We cross our fingers, cross our hearts and hope to die.
We throw salt over our shoulders and pick the petals off of flowers reciting love charm incantations. We put coins in our shoes and under our pillows, throw them into fountains, and toss them into the air to tell us what to do, which way to turn. We shun certain days, foods, colors, activities, plants, and animals. We balk when a black cat crosses our path. We think twice about opening an umbrella indoors or lighting three cigarettes with one match. We are convinced that bad things always happen in threes. We are wary of some numbers, yet bet our lives on others.
We especially steer scrupulously clear of 13 anything. 

Fear of the number 13 is the most prevalent superstition in the Western world. We even have a name for it: triskaidekaphobia. It is quite common for even the most ordinarily rational and otherwise exemplary person to refuse to sit in row 13 in the theater or on an airplane.  Most hotels and office buildings don't even have a 13th floor. That unlucky designation is often omitted because no one wants to be situated in such an inauspicious location.   
To sit 13 people at the dining table is supposed to be exceptionally unlucky, the consequences of which could be potentially catastrophic. It is commonly thought that this particular prohibition in Christian culture comes from the fateful, fatal outcome of the Last Supper: Jesus shared a meal with his 12 disciples and he died the very next day. Judas is generally considered to be the 13th diner. In Norse mythology, the mischievous and cruel Loki crashed a feast attended by 12 gods in Valhalla, the Viking paradise. During the course of the evening, one of the guests, Balder, the embodiment of conviviality, joy and gladness, was killed.
In Babylonia, 13 people were chosen to portray the god/desses at certain religious feasts. The 13th participant, seated on a throne to one side was executed subsequent to the ceremony. Interestingly, the 13th seat at the Round Table in King Arthur's court, was reserved for the fortunate knight who would one day succeed in finding the Holy Grail. In France, it is still possible, even at a moment's notice, to hire a quatorziƩme, a professional 14th guest, to ensure the safety and well-being of a dinner party which has been threatened by a dangerous number of cancellations or odd numbers of last minute guests.
 
When the 13th day on the month lands on a Friday, the culturally unfavorable attributes of each are multiplied by infinity. Friday is heavily charged with guilt and pain and death in the Judeo- Christian tradition. It was on a Friday that Eve served forbidden fruit pie at her legendary garden soiree. Friday was the day that Adam was expelled from Paradise, the day he repented, the day he died and the day he was cremated. And it was on a Friday - Good Friday - that Christ was killed on the cross. Friday, the day of original sin, the day Jesus died, the day of public hangings, in combination with 13, the number of steps on a gallows, the number of coils of rope in a hangman's noose, the number of the Death card in the tarot deck, is indubitably designated as a day of portent and doom.
Ironically, and in definite defiance of the laws of probability, the 13th day of the month, is more likely to fall on a Friday than on any other day of the week. The precisely aligned pattern of our calendar - days, weeks and months - repeats itself exactly every 400 years. In that 400 year period there are 688 Friday the 13ths. "Just our luck!" some might say.
And, though they would mean it facetiously, they would, indeed, be right. For up until the patriarchal revolution, both Fridays and 13s were held in the very highest esteem. Both the day and the number were associated with the Great Goddesses, and therefore, regarded as the sacred essence of luck and good fortune.
 
Thirteen is certainly the most essentially female number - the average number of menstrual cycles in a year. The approximate number, too of annual cycles of the moon. When Chinese women make offerings of moon cakes, there are sure to be 13 on the platter. Thirteen is the number of blood, fertility and lunar potency. 13 is the lucky number of the Great Goddess.
Representing as it does, the number of revolutions the moon makes around the earth in a year, 13 was the number of regeneration for pre-Columbian Mexicans. In ancient Israel, 13 was a sanctified number. Thirteen items were decreed necessary for the tabernacle. At 13 years of age, a boy was (and still is) initiated into the adult Jewish community. In Wicca, the pagan Goddess tradition of Old Europe, communicants convene in covens of 13 participants. Thirteen was also auspicious for the Egyptians, who believed that life has 13 stages, the last of which is death - the transition to eternal life.
Held holy in Her honor, Friday was observed as the day of Her special celebrations. Jews around the world still begin the observance of the Sabbath at sunset on Friday evenings when they invite in the Sabbath Bride. Friday is the Sabbath in the Islamic world. Friday is also sacred to Oshun, the Yoruba orisha of opulent sensuality and overwhelming femininity, and Frig the Norse Goddess of love and sex, of fertility and creativity. Her name became the Anglo-Saxon noun for love, and in the sixteenth century, frig came to mean "to copulate."
Friday was associated with the early Mother Creation Goddesses for whom that day was named. In Anglo-Saxon, Scandinavian, Icelandic and Teutonic cultures she was called variously, Freya, Freia, Freyja, Fir, Frea and Frig. Friday is Frig's Day, Frigedaeg, in Old English, Fredag in Danish, Freitag in Dutch. In Mediterranean lands, She reigned as Venus. In Latin, Friday is the Day of Venus, Dies Veneris; Vendredi in French,Venerdi in Italian and Viernes in Spanish.
Friday the 13th is ultimately the celebration of the lives and loves of Lady Luck. On this, Her doubly-dedicated day, let us consider what fortuitous coincidences constitute our fate. The lucky blend of just the right conditions, chemistries, elements and energies, which comprise our universe. The way it all works. The way we are. That we are at all. That, despite whatever major or minor matters we might think are unlucky, we have somehow managed to remain alive and aware. This Friday the 13th, let us stand in full consciousness of the miraculousness of existence and count our blessings. Knock on wood.
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With blessings of great good luck!

xxMD signature  



Familiars, with guest blogger Carolyn Emerick

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