all hallows eve

Finding the Pagan Way

November, 2015

We can not talk about paganism with mentioning Halloween at some stage. It is probably the most celebrated festival in the pagan calendar. It is certainly the most fun. Because of early attempts by Christian missionaries to absorb the festivals of the people they converted, this ancient Celtic feast is celebrated by many cultures around the world. Behind the masquerade and the carnival atmosphere, it is a time to work on our acceptance of the important role which death plays in the cycle of life. We prepare for winter’s barrenness and light the ritual bonfires to warm and protect us throughout the winter.

Even as a child, I can remember Halloween as being my favourite time of the year.

We would wander the neighbourhood in masks and costumes, knocking on doors with the call of “ Trick or Treat”, then sit around and tell ghost stories whist gorging ourselves on the fruit, nuts and sweets we collected. Somehow, in Dublin, it became confused with Guy Falkes night, which is traditionally celebrated on the 5th of November in the United Kingdom. So, often our “trick-or-treaters” would bring a pram around with them,- in which a dummy was arranged. Later that night it would be put on the bonfire. Sometimes a child would dress up in baggy clothes and a bonnet and be carried around instead. The childish fascination with all things ghoulish, was probably the inspiration for the poem that follows.

All Hallow’s Eve

Who is it hides behind the mask, each year at Halloween?

That special night when the ghouls and fiends can walk the night unseen.

Safe behind our festive costumes, tusks and tails and horns are safely hid.

While our imps are scouring every bin, and rattling all the lids.

Oh what fun to catch a drunken reveller,

Then tied and gagged, we stuff him in our carts and prams.

We shout, “A penny for the guy!”, and laugh and laugh until we cry

Then wandering door to door, we carefully conceal our furred or scaly arms.

Ah!, the warm and living smells as doors are opened and we peer inside.

Oh what fun to step inside invited, with no need to sneak or hide.

Entranced by beating hearts, and rich red blood that flows in soft white veins.

Oh! Sweet Halloween, another year must pass before you come again.

Patrick W Kavanagh 30/10/2014

Picture by: Boy So Blue Graphic Arts and photography.

I believe the most ancient association with Halloween or Samhain, is the thinning of the veil between the living and the dead. It is a night of divination and necromancy. It seems quite likely that mankind’s early cultures placed huge value on contacting those who had passed on, for wisdom and guidance. Those who had recently lost loved ones would be likely to try to contact them on this night, above all others. It was also widely believed that the dead could come back unbidden on this night and many people used spells and talismans to protect themselves from this eventuality. There are many folk tales based around the reappearance of the deceased on this night.



All Hallows Eve

The scratching on the kitchen door, the tapping on the window pane,
The sound of scuffling in the yard, The footsteps running down the lane,
It must be children at their pranks, you close your book and smile and shake your head,
It’s almost midnight , time to snuff the candle out and rest your weary head.

The creaking of the wooden stairs is almost deafening as you slowly climb,
You make a promise to repair them for the thousandth time,
But yet another of your many idle, ill-used days has passed,
This job could stay undone, for all you know, this night may be your very last.

The crumpled sheets feel cold and damp, the ancient mattress squeals and groans,
Its rusty springs can barely take the weight of your old creaky bones,
The grimy fireplace long unlit, A dusty mirror that reflects the gloom,
The little cobwebbed window scarcely lets, the light in from the moon.

No bed-time prayers, for prayers have long ceased to mumble from your lips,
Too many losses, to which, a broken heart could never get to grips,
Just one long sigh, perhaps a silent wish to die, you close your weary eyes,
And through the cracked and dusty window, the moon looks down in pity from the skies.

And did you sleep, and dream what happened next, the mortal world will never know,
You saw the spectre of your long lost love in shining robes as white as snow,
She takes your hand and leads you to a place with sunlit trees and flowers in bloom,
Your cast-off shell is left behind , a smiling face amongst the gloom.

Patrick W Kavanagh

The faeries are also associated with the spirits of the dead, so Samhain was also an excellent time to try to contact them, or perhaps even catch one and ransom them for wishes or faery gold. Usually these attempts ended badly, as the faeries are cunning and powerful beings with little patience for any mischief that is not of their own making. So if you wish to contact the Gentry on Halloween,- I would advise caution and politeness.

The King of the Faeries.

Sprite of foot and keen of eye,
With sombre beauty, I can scarce describe,
He never told the truth , but never really lied,
The music of his voice brought tears of longing to my eyes.

The labyrinth of his mind touched,mine and made me weep,
for all the wishes that my long lost childhood could not keep.
I stood amazed, entranced, but careful to maintain a steady glance,
My wishes were within my grasp, and yet, single blink might spoil my chance.

He bowed so low, he swept the ground,
his sparkling laughter echoed all around,
With promise of servitude, his smiling eyes belied,
he granted me my wishes with a gleaming, imp like look within his eyes.

A moments pause, I must remember karmic laws and wish with all my wiles.
“I wish for Health”.. and once again he gave that dreadful smile.
“Granted!, You shall die as healthy as you are today,-
Now two more wishes, and I shall be on my way!”

I shuddered as the icy chill ran down my spine, and silently I wished we had not met.
But still I had a chance to prosper here, for had I not still got two wishes left.
“I wish myself a long and happy life!”, again that awful smile that turned my heart to stone,
“ One hundred years I add unto your span, and you shall live it happily, though you may live it hungry and alone”.

I sighed, I cast my eyes down to the ground,- I knew I had but once last wish to turn my fate around.
“I wish, my Lord, that I had not been so bold, to try to draw upon your power,
I wish, my Lord, that I had not belaboured you at this late hour”.
“ I wish ,My lord, to leave you and this sacred place as it was found”.

He smiled again with warmth, My heart began to fill with joy.
“You had three wishes, but you added more and set me free,
Your kindly act has filled my ancient heart,once more, with childish glee.
I wish you well my friend, I wish you wealth and health and joy”,
And, as he faded back into the mist, he waved a last goodbye.

Patrick W Kavanagh

Art by Bill Oliver