Sunday, October 31, 2010


Artist Unknown

No matter if you call it All Soul's Night, Halloween or Samhain, this is the most mystical night of the year. And who better to provide background music for it than Celtic artist Loreena McKennitt:

"All Soul's Night"
by Loreena McKennitt

Bonfire dot the rolling hillsides
Figures dance around and around
To drums that pulse out echoes of darkness
Moving to the pagan sound.
Somewhere in a hidden memory
Images float before my eyes
Of fragrant nights of straw and of bonfires
And dancing till the next sunrise.
I can see the lights in the distance
Trembling in the dark cloak of night
Candles and lanterns are dancing, dancing
A waltz on All Soul's Night.

Figures of cornstalks bend in the shadows
Held up tall as the flames leap high
The green knight holds the holly bush
To mark where the old year passes by.


Bonfires dot the rolling hillsides 
Figures dance around and around
To drums that pulse out echoes of darkness
Moving to the pagan sound.

Standing on the bridge that crosses
The river that goes out to the sea
The wind is full of a thousand voices
They pass by the bridge and me.

(Chorus - 2 times)

Artist Unknown

For your delight this All Soul's Night, I present some of my favorite images of this most special Celtic holiday. In my mind, for it to officially be Halloween it has to be dark. But it must be lit by some kind of light, be it the traditional Celtic bonfire, lanterns, candles or the moon.

To be my favorites, the images must portray mystery, mystique and magic. They  must be ethereal, otherworldly. Scarcely anyone is about - just one soul, or a chosen few. It is a time when anything is possible. There are no dwellings, those creations of modern man. Just pagan henges and stones, burrows and hills, bare trees and crisp leaves underfoot.

Artist Unknown

"The Witch's Cat" by
Angela Jayne Barnett

Artist Unknown

"Samhain Night" by Terrauh Barrett

"Cernunnos" by Helene Grasset
(Cernunnos was the Great Horned God,
honored along with the Goddess on Samahin)

Artist Unknown

"Samhain" by Sue McKivergan

"The Witches of Samhein" by Heidi Darras

"Samhain", from Fairy Ring Oracle
by Anna Franklin and Paul Mason

Artist Unknown

Click on the link below to see this video of Loreena McKennitt's "All Soul's Night" from her "The Visit" CD.

Or this version, taped Live at the Alhambra:

Thursday, October 28, 2010


The older I get, the more dissatisfied I have become with modern-day Halloween. After my daughter grew up and left home, I no longer decorated my house and yard to the hilt with Halloween decorations. I was forced to sell most of my vintage Halloween postcards and other collectibles.

Hardly any trick or treaters ever come to our house. I'm too old to go bar hopping and see drunks in bizarre costumes. I have never, ever liked images of skeletons, ghouls, zombies, werewolves, mummies, Dracula, Frankenstein and the like. I would never, ever go to a slasher flick on Halloween or any time.

However, the more I studied my Celtic origins, the more I learned about Celtic Halloween, or Samhain. (And learned that modern Halloween borrows a great deal from the Celts.) Through my studies, I discovered new ways to celebrate this hallowed eve. As I wrote in my previous post, Halloween is a good time to honor The Crone. It is also a perfect time to honor our ancestors. In fact, sometimes this biggest and most important holiday of the Celtic Year is also called Ancestor Night.

Not everybody joining in the Celtic Samhain celebrations was necessarily human . . . or of our world. The supernatural was an ever-present force in the lives of the Celts. They made little distinction between the living and the dead.  And they believed that at Samhain, their New Year's Eve, the veil between these two worlds became the thinnest, the border flexible and open.

During this interval the normal order of the universe is suspended, the barriers between the natural and the supernatural are temporarily removed, the sidhe (fairy hills) lie open and all divine beings and the spirits of the dead move freely among men and interfere, sometimes violently, in their affairs.

Yes, not all spirits were benign. Even a departed human might come after you to discharge a debt. In addition to the mortal dead, there were the immortal fairies, who were mischievous and could spirit you away. The pooka was also said to roam free at Samhain. The pooka was a black, ugly horse with red eyes and the ability to talk. He had a penchant for kidnappings and copiously urinating on berries. (On the other hand a respectful contact with the pooka could show you the future.)

Not only was the pooka out and about, so was the horrid, screeching bean sidhe (banshee), harbinger of death. It was said that the banshee could be killed by humans on this night. Also, on Samhain, it was said that humans could drink with mighty heroes and bed their beautiful female companions . . .  as long as they didn't make any mistakes, break any rules or violate any taboo. The problem was that the chances to foul up far outweighed the chances of a good night out.

From the fear of dangerous, unfriendly spirits came our modern Jack O'Lanterns, Halloween costumes and trick or treating. Samhnag (turnips) were hollowed out and carved with faces to make lanterns. These were used to ward off harmful spirits, especially if one had to travel about in the dark. (The carving of pumpkins is associated with Halloween in North America where pumpkins are both readily available and much larger than turnips, making them easier to carve.)

The Celts fashioned ugly, frightening costumes (often of skins or furs) and masks to wear at Samhain. Their purpose was to disguise oneself, confusing wandering spirits into letting you alone, and thus avoid harm. In Scotland the spirits were impersonated by young men dressed in white with masked, veiled or blackened faces.

Where did trick or treating come from? Dating back to 700 BC, on the eve before Samhain, people would leave food on their doorsteps to stop hungry spirits from entering their homes.

It seems to me as if the Celts had to lead a merry dance indeed on Samhain, because they didn't want to ward off ALL spirits, just the harmful ones. For harmless spirits were welcome - the family's ancestors were invited into the home and honored. The Celts looked to their ancestors to bring them guidance for the coming year and hoped to commune with these spirits at Samhain.

At Samhain, souls of the recently deceased set out for their journey to the Otherworld. With the veil between the worlds now so thin and permeable, the spirits of departed kinsmen were thought to seek out the warmth and comfort of good cheer as the time for their leave-taking approached. These were not the ghoulish undead of our Halloween fantasies, but enlightened spirit guides and guardians of the wisdom of the tribe.

The same turnip lanterns that warded off the evil spirits for travelers also showed the way for these friendly spirits. Doors and windows were left wide open, and turnip lanterns or candles were placed in windows and on doorsteps as a sign of welcome, but also to cast a spell of protection over the household.

The huge bonfires that were an integral part of every Celtic Samhain were lit in in honor of the dead, to aid them on their journey, but also conversely to keep malevolent spirits away. In addition to those foods that were put out to appease angry, hungry ghosts, it was customary at Samhain to hold a huge feast and leave an empty chair and a plate of food for any dead guests.

I have decided that from now on Halloween will be my Ancestor Night, during which I will honor my forbears. In fact, I started this last year. I put on a jacket, lit a candle and went out to the backyard. I held the candle up to the moon and conducted a 15-minute impromptu conversation with my dearly departed - the ones I knew and the ones I wish I had known. Because it snowed yesterday, I will have to hold my celebration indoors this year. My celebration will be quiet and private, as my husband just wouldn't understand this new - old - Halloween.

But here are some suggestions that you could use:

1. If you are close enough to visit the graveyard of your ancestors, you could pay a visit at dusk, bringing along a wreath of fall foliage and flowers, and this poem:

"Dear Ancestor" (Author Unknown)

Your tombstone stands among the rest; neglected and alone
The name and date are chiseled out on polished, marbled stone
It reaches out to all who care
It is too late to mourn
You did not know that I’d exist
You died and I was born.
Yet each of us are cells of you in flesh, in blood, in bone.
Our blood contracts and beats a pulse entirely not our own.
Dear Ancestor, the place you filled one hundred years ago
Spreads out among the ones you left who would have loved you so.
I wonder if you lived and loved, I wonder if you knew
That someday I would find this spot, and come to visit you."

2. Prepare a Samhain feast. Include breads, wine, meat and fruit such as apples, but focus on the vegetables of the late harvest season, especially the ones that grow under the ground. Include autumn squashes, pumpkins, turnips, onions, potatoes and carrots.

3. Have a "Dumb Supper". Set an extra place with a plate of food for your departed guests. If you are honoring some people in particular, make the foods that they liked. You may choose to have dinner completely in silence, in order to reflect on your memories, or you may converse with the person or persons as if they were actually there. A third option is to ask the living participants to share a memory about someone who has died who was important to them. Light a candle or ring a bell for each person after you speak about them.

4. Decorate an "altar" or sideboard with marigolds, family photos and heirlooms. If you have a family tree chart, place that on there as well. Add postcards, flags, and other symbols of the countries your ancestors came from. If you're lucky enough to have a grave rubbing, add that as well. (From

5. Cut out or draw pictures of things the dead would like, then burn the image in a candle flame, saying something like, "Mary, I am sending you new clothes for your journey to the spirit world."

6. Look through scrapbooks and discuss fond memories of the people and events with your parents, siblings, friends or children.

7. Make a Soul Cake. Recipes here:

8. Drink a cup of red wine and think this thought as you lift the cup:

"This is the cup of remembrance.
I remember all of you.
You are dead but never forgotten,
and you live on within me."

9. The Celts buried apples along roads and pathways for their dearly departed to find on their way to the Otherworld. They also left bannock cakes on their front steps. You could put a tray of soul cakes and apples or pomegranates (both fruits of life), along with several candles, on a tray and set it on your deck or stoop as you recite this poem from The Celtic Connection website:

"Tonight as the barrier between the two realms grows thin,
Spirits walk amongst us, once again.
They be family, friends and foes,
Pets and wildlife, fishes and crows.
But be we still mindful of the Wee Folke at play,
Elves, fey, brownies, and sidhe.
"Some to trick, some to treat,
Some to purposely misguide our feet.
Stay we on the paths we know
As planting sacred apples we go.
This Feast I shall leave on my doorstep all night.
In my window one candle shall burn bright,
To help my loved ones find their way
As they travel this eve, and this night, until day.
Bless my offering, both Lady and Lord
Of breads and fruits, greens and gourd."

"Twilight" by Brian Froud

10. This is a poem to recite aloud or read quietly. I will read it for my mother, grandmother, two brothers, aunts and uncles.

"Upon Each Samhain" (David O. Norris)

"I miss you most upon each Samhain
When the boundary turns to sheer
I wait until the veil is parted
At the ending of the year.
Sweet spirit, as you walk among us
At the tolling of this eve
I see your face beyond the sunset
And hear your voice upon the breeze.
In the glowing of the candle,
From the shadow on the wall
I watch for you in every movement
And hear your footsteps in the hall.
Can you sit and spend the evening
As the portal opens wide?
Ancestral dead, I bid you welcome
Most recent dead, I pray, abide.
When you come I sense your presence
I put my hand out in the air
A moment, then, we stand united
Palm to palm while waiting there.
I miss you most upon each Samhain
When the boundary turns to sheer
We share these hours until the dawning
Then bid farewell until next year."


I had pre-written this post, and then I noticed that Leanne at Somerset Seasons/Dorset Days had published two wonderful ancestor poems, "Dear Ancestor" and "Upon Each Samhain", so I had to borrow them for my post. Leanne is writing a bunch of posts for Samhain so please do visit her (The link is on my sidebar.)

Tuesday, October 26, 2010


"Samhain Goddess: The Crone" by
Arwens Grace (Angela Jayne Barnett)

Our modern-day Halloween celebration comes from the ancient Celtic holiday called Samhain (SOW-en). October 31 was the Celtic New Year's Eve, the end of the year. This is the time of the season which the Crone rules.

The Crone is one aspect of the triple Goddess, made up of Maiden, and Mother and Crone. Essayist Christina Aubin says it is the Crone who "opens the Western gate for those who have departed to travel into Summerland. She rules areas of death and regeneration, occult sciences, healing, and the wisdom of the ages . . . . We use the Crone to assist us in transition from one life to the next, leaving one level of our existence and entering the next. This brings us into the Womb of the Mother to assist us in being reborn once again. For it is through Her Wisdom and guidance we learn lessons from experience past and begin life anew from the wisdom gained."

"Goddess of the Western Isles" by Iain  Lowe

According to Iain Lowe, artist of the painting shown above, The Goddess of the Western Isles is "a deity of great wisdom and mystery, one of the most ancient of forms of the Goddess in our islands. She is the guardian and mistress of the underworld. It is through Her that we must pass to seek rebirth after death. She has great power but also much love and understanding. We feel her touch when the wind blows from the northwest, hear her voice in the waves of the western ocean. She has a secret name, is a changer of shape, her power is greatest at Samhain. To love her is to discover a profound sense of the real beauty in the mystery of the wheel of the seasons, creation and the great Goddess."

"Crone Goddess" by Wendy Andrew

The Crone is known by many names. To the ancient Greeks, she was Hecate. With her black cloak whipping about her and her black dogs beside her, Hecate's territory was the wild night and the crossroads. She can manifest with three heads - lioness, mare and dog.

Cerridwen, "the bent white one", is a Welsh Crone Goddess. Cerridwen's name shows she's a moon-goddess. This Crone keeps the cauldron of inspiration and transformation. Into the cauldron the Crone throws many things, to mix and stew and come out changed.

"The Crone" by Lora Craig-Gaddis

"The Crone is a symbol of inherent wisdom that comes from experience. She has lived through love, sorrow, hope, and fear, coming out of it all a wise and confident spirit. Through these experiences she has learned the secrets of life and death and of the mysteries beyond this world. She has tasted death itself and watched those she loved make the journey before her. It is through her mourning that she faces death, grows to understand it, and becomes the gatekeeper between worlds...." ~ Lee Hutchings from Crone Wisdom Artwork by Lora-Craig Gaddis.

"Hecate" by Wendy Andrew

To the Irish and Scottish Celts, she was known as the Cailleach, the divine hag. She was described as having a blue-black face, one eye in the middle of her brow, and protruding teeth. In partnership with the goddess Brighid, the Cailleach is seen as a seasonal deity or spirit, ruling the winter months between Samhain and Beltane, while Brighid rules the summer months. Some interpretations have the Cailleach and Brighid as two faces of the same goddess, while others describe the Cailleach as turning to stone on Beltane and reverting back to humanoid form on Samhain.

According to writer Miriam Harline, the crone most closely connected with Samhain is the Scottish Carline wife, the "Old Woman." On Samhain Eve, Scots farmers made a Carline wife from the last stalk of harvested wheat and displayed her at each household in the neighborhood to protect from evil spirits. She is the ruler of winter and its storms, the keeper of the fires at home and in the smithy, the protectress of the forest and its animals.

Artist Uncredited

Whatever name she is known by, the crone is often portrayed with several symbols. As I mentioned before, she is often seen with a cauldron, a traditional accoutrement of crones. She is also often portrayed with one or more of her familiars, like an owl, a crow or a cat. A guardian of sacred thresholds, she also spins, weaves, and cuts our life threads.  Because of this, she is sometimes depicted as a spider or represented by a web.

The Crone is the Grandmother, the Old One, the Earth Mother, the Wise One we turn to when we need advice. She teaches us that sometimes we must let go in order to move on.

"The Crone" tarot card by Michele-lee Phelan

In myth the Crone is often seen as something to be feared. From Panthea, Journeys with the Goddess: "She is a representation of death and its mysteries. Things that are unknown are always feared, thus we work to know the Crone; to understand her wisdom and beckon her to impart the mysteries upon us. We surrender our fear and ignorance to the Crone and let her strike these overpowering influences down as a stalk of wheat with her shining sickle." -

Artist Uncredited

"Season of the Crone"
Poem by Gerina Dunwitch

Crone of Samhain's spellbound cold,
in Her cauldron of black are told
secrets ancient, truths and tales:
mystery Her light unveils.

She is wisdom, She is changes:
time and space She rearranges.
In Her hands, the card of Death,
for transformation is Her breath.

Crone of Samhain, Grandmother wise,
look into Her gargoyle eyes.
Let Her lessons teach you well:
life is but a magick spell.

Artist Uncredited

According to Susan Ann Stauffer, "A Crone is an older woman who has learned to walk in her own truth, in her own way, having gained her strength by acknowledging the power and wisdom of the totality of her experience. She is 'a wise old woman.' As a woman moves past youth and midlife into old age she consciously takes on the mantle of Crone - a woman who celebrates her survivorship, willingly choosing to continue forward in life with all the gusto she can muster. A Crone is a woman burnished bright by an inner fire that sharpens both her wit and her intensity, her passion and her power." 

Crone tarot card by Mickie Mueller

The modern version of The Crone is the mean, ugly old witch flying on a broom stick across the moon. With her cackling laugh, her stringy gray hair, hairy chin and warts, she frightens children everywhere.
After all, isn't she the Hag with the poison apple?

Writer Scott Cunningham suggests we look at the "ugly" Witch figures as symbols of the Crone: "See the blackness of the clothing as the blackness of the sky during the waning moon. See the hat as a symbol of her life: as the Maiden at its brim, as the Mother at its midpoint, and finally as the Crone at its top. See the broom, if any, as a symbol of the Crone's ability to travel backward in time to retrieve of experience. Her white hair represents the moon. The cat is her companion, a minion of the night.

"Most importantly, see within that face—however disfigured it may seem to be—her determination and fire, her caring for her children, and the wisdom and strength that she's acquired. If it's green, see it as the green of the Earth, the coming fertility of the Maiden and the Mother that she'll bear anew at the first quarter of the moon."

Yes, our new Halloween symbol should be The Crone, the Great Grandmother of us all. We salute her wisdom and experience, her calm and her grace, her steadfastness and her love. Though she is near the end of her life at this close of the Celtic year, this Samhain Season, she has much to give and teach us.

"Cerridwen" by Morgaine du Mer

Friday, October 22, 2010


I found the link to these funny pictures on Medieval Muse's blog. I thought I'd share some of the ones that tickled my fancy (there are hundreds of captioned classic paintings and old photos). I know the artist of the above painting is Toulouse Lautrec but I don't know the rest.

To check out these Historic LOLs for yourself, click on this link:

(Looks better when you
click on it to enlarge)

Thursday, October 21, 2010


Chesterfield cigarettes

Riverbird, please e-mail me your address so I can mail your prize! Eleanor, you have contacted me but I still need your address!

Here's more vintage Halloween for you - this time, magazine ads. As with the Halloween covers, I've chosen the older vintage ads - except for the cigarette and beer ads. You won't see these in magazines anymore! 

Budweiser beer

Minneapolis Knitting Works,
Minneapolis, MN

Karo was one of the companies that
exploited the famous first-ever  
surviving quints, the Dionnes of Canada

This is an ad for a Black Cat sucker,
although I don't think it says so.

Old Home Bread! This one is of a
bit newer vintage, but I love the art!

Look how long Jell-O
has been around!

Wrigley's Doublemint Gum

Luxite Hose

Thomas Edison's National Phonograph
Company - This one's old!

This ad is from the 1940s. When I
was a kid in the 1950s, Baby Ruth
and Butterfinger bars were only a nickel!

Woolworth's, what a great old store.
Look at the low prices! These toys
are now sought-after collectibles.