Happy Halloween Stephen Rea

Rea

Oooh, Scary!

Stephen Rea, Irish Actor, born on Halloween in 1946.

The photo above shows Stephen in the role of Santiago, the Joker of the Vampires of Paris from the film “Interview with the Vampire”

In 1795 the poet John Keats was also born on Halloween.  As a Romantic I’m sure it was a dark and stormy night, full of terrors and brooding portents.

The Eve of St. Agnes; by John Keats

St. Agnes’ Eve—Ah, bitter chill it was!
The owl, for all his feathers, was a-cold;
the hare limp’d trembling through the frozen grass,
and silent was the flock in woolly fold:
Numb were the Beadsman’s fingers, while he told
his rosary, and while his frosted breath,
like pious incense from a censer old,
seem’d taking flight for heaven, without a death,
past the sweet Virgin’s picture, while his prayer he saith.

ARE YOU HOOKED:  Look up the full poem here

 

Sugar skulls

DeadK

Here in Ireland we prepare for Halloween and in Mexico they prepare for Nov 2nd day of the dead.  Start looking up those sugar skull recipes, or carving your turnip, or pumpkin.  What does it all have to do with today?

Born today 1942 Douglas Dunn, Scotsman, Librarian, Academic, Poet.

 

The Kaleidoscope: by Douglas Dunn

To climb these stairs again, bearing a tray,
might be to find you pillowed with your books,
your inventories listing gowns and frocks
as if preparing for a holiday.
Or, turning from the landing, I might find
my presence watched through your kaleidoscope,
a symmetry of husbands, each redesigned
in lovely forms of foresight, prayer and hope.
I climb these stairs a dozen times a day
And, by the open door, wait, looking in
at where you died. My hands become a tray
offering me, my flesh, my soul, my skin.
Grief wrongs us so. I stand, and wait, and cry
for the absurd forgiveness, not knowing why.

Guy Fawkes Day

King Billy landing at Torbay

King Billy landing at Torbay

Nov 5th is celebrated as Guy Fawkes Day in the UK.  These days many people simply call it “Bonfire Night” and in truth that is probably a better name for it.

The burning of bonfires was, and in Ireland still is, a tradition associated with Halloween.  Celebrated on Oct 31st in Ireland the original feast of halloween was the Celtic Pagan New Year.  The feast was celebrated on the third harvest.  Harvest 1 is the grain (Lughnasa) involving summer bonfires.  Harvest 2 (Fomhair) is the fruits, nuts and vegetables.  Harvest 3 is Samhain, the blood harvest, when the breeding stock were selected for over-wintering and the losers were slaughtered and preserved.  You can see how all this flowing blood translated into our modern view of Halloween.

The Christian church did its best to transmogrify pagan rituals into Christian counterparts.  One area where the Catholic church failed utterly was with Halloween.  It persisted as a pagan celebration despite the best efforts of the church.

In England the protestants had better luck subverting the pagan rites.  Two events contributed to this.  Firstly the Gunpowder Plot when Catholic rebels tried to blow up the houses of parliament on Nov 5th 1605.  The Catholic rebel Guy Fawkes was found in possession of the gunpowder, was arrested and tortured.  Sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered he avoided that terrible end by leaping from the scaffold and breaking his neck.

Fawkes became a protestant symbol for the catholic rebels, a convenient whipping boy.  Effigies of Fawkes were burned on the Halloween bonfires, making it a more protestant celebration than heretofore.  However, given the puritan nature of Protestantism at that time we must question how overt these celebrations could be,

Nov 5th became solidified as bonfire night when William of Orange landed in England on Nov 5th 1688 launching the Glorious Revolution.  Bonfires greeted William in his progress through the land, and the more relaxed mores of Britain permitted overt celebrations.

In Northern Ireland, by contrast, the bonfires are lit on the 12th of July, when William arrived there.

Digital Legacy

Last will and testament document

A good, if slightly macabre topic, for Halloween.  How will you handle your digital legacy?

Because the Internet is relatively new, and the population who engage on the web are relatively young, few of us have yet encountered the stress of cleaning up a digital legacy post-mortem.  When you die what will happen to your digital accounts?  How will they be closed down?  What messages will relatives and friends receive to inform them that you have passed away?

This is a very real issue.  I have encountered friends who buried parents, distributed the estate and began to return to a semblance of normality, only to be informed on an online site that a birthday was approaching and they might want to purchase a gift.  The grieving process can be set back months.

When you prepare your will you should document every email and internet account you have.  Facebook, Twitter, Amazon, Tumblr, Stumbleupon, think of all the social media sites you are a member of.  Then think of all your email accounts.  What do you want to do with them when you die?  This should be part of your instructions to the executor of your will.

For instance, I don’t want my Facebook account shut down until my family have a chance to copy all the photos I have stored in there.  My family may not want to close it down at all.  I don’t really want my wordpress site closed.  I see it as something that can remain after I depart.  But I may want to close it off with a final post, a post-mortem epitaph.

Solicitors & Lawyers need to update their procedures to take account of these kinds of instructions.  As things stand many solicitors don’t have a brilliant grasp of what is involved.  I can see a role for specialist lawyers who understand the digital world, and who know how it can be navigated in a sensitive manner.

When someone passes away there should be an option on Facebook/Amazon/Tripadvisor etc to move the account to a setting that indicates that this person has passed away.  This should turn birthday reminders into something more appropriate and perhaps capture the anniversary of the passing of the deceased.

The digital footprint of a person has the power to succeed them.  Let’s say that I campaign for a charity, maybe Cancer Research.  After I die I have the power to continue to influence charitable giving when an anniversary occurs.  My family and friends may value this opportunity to make a difference as a form of remembrance.  For non religious people a charitable contribution can often take the place of a prayer or a mass as a form of remembrance.

Websites and online accounts have the potential to become shrines to the memory of people. What digital legacy do you want to leave when you depart this world?

Happy Halloween!

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Crossing the bar; Alfred, Lord Tennyson

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Sunset and evening star,
And one clear call for me!
And may there be no moaning of the bar,
When I put out to sea,

But such a tide as moving seems asleep,
Too full for sound and foam,
When that which drew from out the boundless deep

Turns again home.

Twilight and evening bell,
And after that the dark!
And may there be no sadness of farewell,
When I embark;

For though from out our bourne of Time and Place
The flood may bear me far,
I hope to see my Pilot face to face
When I have crossed the bar.

Summers End

As we wind into the latter half of August the talk turns to school schedules, uniforms, books, study plans and the hopes and dreams of the year to come. It always seems to me that the Celts got it right, starting the new year at the end of the last harvest in Halloween. There is a natural feel of completeness to a year at the end of the summer, that is absent at the winter solstice.

The Academic year just seems more RIGHT as a way of ticking off time. We will shortly close up our summer bolt hole and go back to the ranch. Back to lift and dry the onions, harvest the turgid tomatoes and pick the plumbs. Look for the blackberries to ripen, with the promise of crumbles to come.

Autumn beckons with the promise of misty mornings, log fires and the hope of an indian summer.

The End of Summer; by Rachel Hadas

Sweet smell of phlox drifting across the lawn—
an early warning of the end of summer.
August is fading fast, and by September
the little purple flowers will all be gone.

Season, project, and vacation done.
One more year in everybody’s life.
Add a notch to the old hunting knife
Time keeps testing with a horny thumb.

Over the summer months hung an unspoken
aura of urgency. In late July
galactic pulsings filled the midnight sky
like silent screaming, so that, strangely woken,

we looked at one another in the dark,
then at the milky magical debris
arcing across, dwarfing our meek mortality.
There were two ways to live: get on with work,

redeem the time, ignore the imminence
of cataclysm; or else take it slow,
be as tranquil as the neighbors’ cow
we love to tickle through the barbed wire fence
(she paces through her days in massive innocence,
or, seeing green pastures, we imagine so).

In fact, not being cows, we have no choice.
Summer or winter, country, city, we
are prisoners from the start and automatically,
hemmed in, harangued by the one clamorous voice.

Not light but language shocks us out of sleep
ideas of doom transformed to meteors
we translate back to portents of the wars
looming above the nervous watch we keep

Happy Hallowe’en.

Image

Today is Hallowe’en.  This is one of the few failed cases of a pagan festival being hijacked by the Catholic Church.  The word “Catholic” means “all encompassing”.  If you have catholic tastes in reading it means you will read anything.  The Catholic church “encompassed” elements of pagan religions, and overlaid the pagan holidays and high-days with a similar Christian rite.  Mid-winter solstice became Christmas – the birth of the Christ.  Beltaine/ Oester, the spring fertility festivals, became Easter, birth replaced by re-birth.   Imbolc became St Brigets day, replacing a Celtic goddess with a Christian saint.

Samhain was the biggest of the Celtic Cross-Quarter days.  The Celts celebrated 8 significant dates – the Solstices, the Equinoxes, and the 4 cross-quarter days that lie between (Imbolc, Beltaine, Lughnasa & Samhain).  There were three harvest festivals in the Celtic calendar.

Lughnasa (the grain harvest) is a cross-quarter day, and traditionally bonfire night – now celebrated as St Johns Night in many rural areas.

Fomhair is the harvest of fruits and nuts, and aligns with the autumn equinox.

Samhain is the blood harvest.  The Celtic farmers had to choose the animals that would overwinter and be fed.  The other animals had to be slaughtered and the meat preserved.  Any meat that could not be preserved would be feasted upon as fresh meat.  So it was a huge celebration of eating.  People who were too poor to eat meat at any other time of year were bound to get something.

Because of the number of animals slaughtered villages were awash with blood and guts.  Hence the link between hallowe’en and things bloody like vampires, zombies or werewolves.  The Celts believed that so much blood attracted the souls of the dead, and this was a time when the boundary between life and death was thin.  You could commune with the dead.  Hence the association of Hallowe’en with Ghosts and Ghouls.

Finally, in the Celtic Pagan Calendar, this was the celebration of the New Year, the biggest feast day of the year.  They marked the year end by the success of the harvest, at a time of plenty and excess.  To this day children celebrate Hallowe’en by eating as much as they can possibly eat, of all the things they really love.  It is a day when adults step back and permit kids to eat all the “bad stuff”.

The Christians tried to take over Hallowe’en by tying into the element associated with the dead, and created “all hallows eve”, the night before the celebration of “all souls day”.  But they failed miserably.  The Samhain festival was too multi-layered for the Christians to subsume.  All they managed to claim was the name itself.

Puritans in England were more successful.  They cracked down on all pagan style dancing and drinking and celebrating in the 17th century.  When Guy Fawkes tried to blow up Parliament in 1605 in the Gunpowder Plot, he became a perfect distraction from Samhain.  The puritans converted the pagan feast into a bonfire immolation of effigies of the Catholic plotter.  They harnessed public outrage to kill off Hallowe’en and replace it with “Bonfire Night”.  Only in recent years is Hallowe’en making a comeback in England.

Mass immigration of Irish and Scottish to the USA in the 19th century brought the festival to the new world.  There it was commercialised, re-branded and sold back to Europe as an American holiday.

Here I give you a poem that gives a flavour of the dualism of Irish belief, a heady mix of the pagan and the Christian, with a strong fixation on ownership of land and kine.

The Banshee; by Alice Guerin Crist

As we came down the old boreen,
Rose and I – Rose and I,
At vesper time on Sunday e’en,
We heard a banshee cry!
Beyond the churchyard dim and dark,
‘Neath whispering elms, and yew-trees stark,
Where our star shone-a corpse-like spark-
Against the wintry sky.

We heard and shuddered sick with dread,
Rose and I- Rose and I,
As the shrill keening rang o’erhead
Where cloud-wrack floated high.
Our two young hearts long, sorely tried,
By poverty and love denied
Still waiting for some favouring tide,
And now! Death come so nigh.

‘Which of us two is called away
You or I-You or I?”
I heard my patient poor love say,
With bitter plaintive sigh.
‘Neither, dear girl,” I bravely said,
‘To Mary Mother bow your head,
And cry for help to Her instead,
Nor heed the Banshee’s cry’.

We raised our hearts in fervent prayer,
Rose and I-Rose and I,
Nor knew our troubles ended there,
Our happiness came nigh.
For ‘twas the grim old farmer, he-
My only kin, rich, miserly,
Who, dying left his wealth to me-
For whom the banshee cried.