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154495.  Wed Mar 07, 2007 7:01 am Reply with quote

Hugh O'Donnell, a professor of language and popular culture at Glasgow Caledonian University, said in an interview that ''the main complaint is that it's just fun without any meaning behind it.''

''It's no longer got any relationship to anything -- not the old Celtic idea of the living and the dead, or the Christian tradition of Allhallows Eve,'' said Mr. O'Donnell, who this week is the host of an academic conference at the university examining Halloween. He plans to dress as Dracula for the official dinner.

Mr. O'Donnell said that when he was a boy in Scotland, he and his friends regularly went door to door, playing out an old Celtic tradition.

''It was called guising,'' he explained. ''You put an old sheet over your head and went to all the houses in the village, and you always had to do something, like sing a song or tell a joke.'' The children did not receive candy then -- just apples and, maybe, peanuts, he said. Since there were no pumpkins, they carved turnips.

They did not play tricks.

New York Times, 2006

Last edited by Bunter on Wed Mar 07, 2007 7:04 am; edited 1 time in total

154497.  Wed Mar 07, 2007 7:03 am Reply with quote

Folklore in the guise of good fun.
1073 words
31 October 2002
Evening News - Scotland
(c) The Scotsman Publications Ltd.
IT'S that time of year again. Suddenly days are shorter, shops are stuffed with skull and witch masks, and animals quiver at cracking fireworks. Then tonight it all comes to a head: we carve zigzag smiles in pumpkins and go to costumed parties, while at our doors kids demanding "trick or treat" are sent away with coins or sweeties, for fear of nasty reprisals.

But who really knows what it's all about? Why do we remember the dead and things that go bump in the night at Hallowe'en? Why do we dress as witches, set off fireworks and go "trick or treating"?

To understand the festival's origins, we must revisit times when humans had a stronger connection with nature. Nowadays, the majority of us live in cities where we notice the passing seasons in terms of the amount of clothes we have to put on, whether the car starts first go, how little sunshine we've had. But when most folk kept cattle and grew crops to feed their families, the changing seasons meant a great deal more to them.

In Scotland, many folk traditions date back to our pre-Christian Celtic ancestors. Late October was known as "Samhuinn", meaning "Summer's end" in Gaelic, the time of the "Little Sun" when the seven stars called the Pleiades rise at sunset and summer goes to its rest. By then the harvest was in, plants and berries gathered from the hedgerows, and cattle driven back to winter in the villages. So people would unite to celebrate with feasting and fires.

Samhuinn contrasted with the festival of Beltane six months earlier in the year when folk celebrated the return of the "Big Sun" and the Earth's fertility. At Beltane, two fires would be lit and cattle driven between them out to fresh pastures. This had the purpose of purifying them, because fire was sacred to the Celts.

AT both Beltane and Samhuinn, ritual "neid fires" were also made. This involved the extinguishing of all the villagers' hearth fires. Two special sticks were rubbed together to make glowing friction dust, which was placed in dry tinder to raise sacred fire. From this neid fire, hot embers - "clavies" - were then taken to relight all the hearth fires.

Like many people who live close to nature's rhythms, the Celts also had an animistic attitude to the world. So they found spirits inhabiting trees, waterfalls and rocks around them. These spirits later took on the forms of giants, hags and faeries, said to dwell in faery mounds or hills.

In Celtic myth, two kinds of faery exist: "seelies", mischievous, but good-natured, and the malevolent "unseelies" who fly through the sky in dark clouds. In later Christian Celtic mythology, the spirits of the unforgiven dead were also said to reside with unseelies.

Mortals rarely see faeries, but at the threshold between seasons, the veil is believed to be thin. Perhaps mimicking the cattle-droving move at Beltane and Samhuinn, the faery courts are thought to move in processions from one hill to another. And at these times of flitting, human eyes can sometimes spy them.

Another figure connected with Samhuinn is the Queen of Winter, the blue-skinned hag, the "Cailleach Bheur", or "veiled and hidden one". Closely associated with Scotland's landscape, she is still reflected in the Gaelic names of many wild Highland places.

Living in a cave, this bony old woman would, according to some myths, emerge at Samhuinn, travelling to the Corryvreckan. In this massive whirlpool, which Atlantic tides make most active in late October, the Cailleach washes her plaid until it's white, before spreading it as snow on the Marmor Hills.

From there, wherever she passes, she brings frost and ice, and with her come nine hag companions, bringing storms and icy winds, featured in the following verse by Sir Walter Scott: "For on Hallowmas Eve the Nighthag shall ride, and all her nine-fold sweeping on by her side; whether the wind sing lowly or loud, stealing through moonshine or swathed in a cloud."

Late October was thus long associated with fires and the supernatural. With the arrival of Christianity, many customs merged with the new religion.

But it was the early Christians who introduced to Hallowe'en the element of the dead, by establishing November 1 as Hallowmas, the day commemorating martyred saints. Thus with the eve of All Hallows (Hallows' Evening), Samhuinn and the Christian festival together became Hallowe'en.

Throughout the medieval period, Hallowe'en customs continued to develop. Amongst them were "Galoshins" plays, irreverent social satires with set characters, including Beelzebub, which were performed throughout Scotland. In them, youngsters wearing masks or "guises", carrying turnip lanterns and causing all sorts of mischief, often took part. And out of this grew the custom of "guising" or the modern "trick or treating".

HOWEVER, by the 16th century, the Reformation was eager to stamp out "the superstitious practices" of Catholicism. Under King James VI, son of the ill-fated Mary Queen of Scots, the divisions between the Protestants and Catholics reached fever pitch.

Himself a target of assassination by Guy Fawkes, King James ruled amidst popular paranoia. Many men and women keeping old traditions alive were branded evil witches and burnt at the stake on Castlehill, where the Witches' Fountain now commemorates them.

Thus by the late 18th century, many Hallowe'en traditions had disappeared. But in isolated pockets they survived even the ravages of the Highland Clearances. Scottish migrants took their customs to the United States, where they're now just as important as in Britain. In Aberdeenshire, as recently as 50 years ago, flaming torches were carried into the fields at Hallowe'en.

Nowadays, rekindling Scotland's traditions and Celtic myths is Edinburgh's Beltane Fire Society, which presents its Samhuinn procession on October 31 to mark the onset of winter. Synthesising the ancient with modern performance styles, the result is for some a vibrant alternative to jaded, commercial offerings.

Helen Moore is artistic director of the Beltane Fire Society's Samhuinn festival

154505.  Wed Mar 07, 2007 7:10 am Reply with quote

I could see, possibly, how you might burn a 'guise' on the bonfire from this:

Sir Iain Noble, owner of the hotel, said that one of the aims of the event would be to ensure Hallowe'en was not overshadowed by the purely English tradition of Guy Fawkes, the following week.

He said: "Hallowe'en is an important festival in the Gaelic calendar. "Guy Fawkes has no relevance to Scotland and is an anti-climax as far as we're concerned. "In fact, traditions have become confused over the years. For instance, bonfires traditionally happen on Hallowe'en, October 31, not November 5. "Also the word 'guising' actually means 'disguising' which is what the children do when they visit each other's houses and do turns for rewards of sweets or gifts

154508.  Wed Mar 07, 2007 7:13 am Reply with quote

At least we know for certain that 'trick or treating' should actually be 'do a nice party trick (or act) and get a treat in return.'

The next time some nuisance child walks up to my house on Halloween asking for sweets, I'll ask him to do his best Hamlet monologue.

That'll wipe a smile off the bugger's face.

154539.  Wed Mar 07, 2007 7:56 am Reply with quote

Flash wrote:
Mat, we really want to use this if we can, but Menocchio casts doubt on it - he says the OED gives "Guy Fawkes" as the origin, and that although there were guysers before 1605 he can't find any citation for their use as effigies on fires. I'm guessing you haven't looked behind the WDP clipping, but is there any way of chasing this one down and giving Menocchio the kicking he so richly deserves?

I’ll see what I can find.

154570.  Wed Mar 07, 2007 10:10 am Reply with quote

Hmmm ... the WDP piece turns out to be a cut-and-paste from a fireworks industry site
This is repeated, again cut and paste, all over the place. (One interesting claim it makes is that for at least 200 years after the gunpowder plot, there’s no record of effigies being burnt on bonfire night - which, if true, would be indicative.)

A possible origin for all this cut/paste might be “Light up the Sky: Halloween Bonfires and Cultural Hegemony in Northern Ireland” by Jack Santino
Western Folklore, Vol. 55, No. 3 (Summer, 1996), pp. 213-231
- miniurl

and “Two English Fire Festivals in Relation to Their Contemporary Social Setting” by Venetia J. Newall
Western Folklore, Vol. 31, No. 4, Festival Issue (Oct., 1972), pp. 244-274
- miniurl

Some epistemologists chat here:
<< I suspect even that the “baddies” being burned were always dubbed with the moniker “Guy” combined with their designated name. If some “god” or legendary figure was being burned, then that figures name was appended to the prefix “Guy,” because it was his effigy, or “guy”, that was actually being burned. Let’s say the local “baddie” figure was Mordred, then his effigy would be referred to as “Guy Mordred.” So it was with Fawkes. His name was appended to the prefix “guy” and thus Guido Fawkes became “Guy Fawkes.”
That is the simple explanation.>>

However, Michael Quinion is unequivocally in the guy coming from Guido camp: (There again, he also thinks that guy meaning bloke comes from Fawkes, which strikes me as hard to believe).

There are some other bits and pieces at
And there’s this: “The term 'guy' probably predates the actual Gunpowder Plot and derives from 'guyser,' referring to someone in disguise”
- miniurl

There’s certainly a debate going on out there, and I have to say it wouldn't exactly astonish me if the OED was wrong, but we would need something equally heavyweight in the opposite corner - and if it’s there, I haven’t been able to find it. So I suspect this one's dead as a question.

I have a horrible feeling this is going to turn out to be one of those things which is very quinteresting, but impossible to hammer into a panel game. Looking on the bright side, though, Flash, it does contain two of your very favourite things: etymology, and the answer “We don’t really know.” If I’ve brightened your day, it’s been worthwhile.

154638.  Wed Mar 07, 2007 2:22 pm Reply with quote

I remain tantalised (a word which refers to a geezer - now I wonder where that word comes from - named Tantalus, who ... oh, you know, the water and all that) and it looks to me as though there's something useable underlying all this, even if we have to enter a caveat. Thanks for the work, which must have seemed Sisyphean at times (he had to roll a rock up a ... oh, to Hades with it).

154640.  Wed Mar 07, 2007 2:24 pm Reply with quote

1885, variant of obs. Cockney guiser "mummer" (see guise)


154642.  Wed Mar 07, 2007 2:25 pm Reply with quote


"fellow," 1847, originally Amer.Eng.; earlier (1836) "grotesquely or poorly dressed person," originally (1806) "effigy of Guy Fawkes," leader of the Gunpowder Plot to blow up British king and Parliament (Nov. 5, 1605), paraded through the streets by children on the anniversary of the conspiracy. The male proper name is from Fr., related to It. Guido, lit. "leader," of Gmc. origin (see guide).

154651.  Wed Mar 07, 2007 2:45 pm Reply with quote

In Northern Ireland they burn a Lundy. He was:

governer of Derry at the time of the Jacobean siege. Lundy had attempted to come to terms with the troops who had a stranglehold on the city but was prevented from doing so by a band of apprentice boys. In Derry, these events are commemorated twice a year, in December and in August. In December, an effigy of Lundy is publicly set aflame, following a day of band parades. This day, the Saturday closest to December 16, is known as Lundy Day and is at least in part the occasion for the public display of anti-Catholicism.

(from the last site cited by Mat - (O.E. matte, from L.L. matta "mat made of rushes" (4c.), probably from Punic or Phoenician (cf. Heb. mittah "bed, couch"). Meaning "piece of padded flooring used in gymnastics or wrestling" is attested from 1903. Matted "tangled and lying flat" (of hair, etc.) is from 1613) - above).

154846.  Thu Mar 08, 2007 6:04 am Reply with quote

Flash wrote:
I remain tantalised .

Yes, must admit, so am I ... there’s definitely som-

Eponymous! That’s what we need - a thread (or Fred, in the original, no doubt) called “Eponymous,” in which guys and others can frolic merrily without fearing they might be boycotted by decent-minded folk, and without having to hide behind caveats.

154858.  Thu Mar 08, 2007 6:27 am Reply with quote

Eponyms: people who are named after themselves.

155573.  Sun Mar 11, 2007 6:04 am Reply with quote

I am still of the opinions that the originates from a common ancient French name "Guy" - promounced [ggee] - that with time came to denote first a French male (in a somewhat derogatory manner) and then a male in general (compare: Rusian "Fritz" for Germans).

162327.  Mon Apr 02, 2007 8:03 am Reply with quote

One of Humphrey Lyttelton’s ancestors (also called Humphrey Lyttelton) was executed along with Guy Fawkes.
- Western Daily Press, 22 March 07.

164250.  Mon Apr 09, 2007 3:50 pm Reply with quote

Still keen to make this one fly, so, for the notes:

the word geyser comes from the name of one particular hot spring in Iceland. 'Geysa' was Old Norse for 'gush'.

Icelandic joke: Man's car breaks down, he calls the AA. AA guy comes, says "It looks like you've blown a seal." "No no," says the man, "I just have frost on my moustache."


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