The Greatest Outdoors

Category: Events

The Day of the (Un)dead

This article is about the monsters which have taken centrestage during the Western celebration of Halloween.

Book it here. If you need to find out more, you may email hello@elementsschool.net.

Halloween street scene. | Halloween inspiration, Halloween street, Halloween  america
The OTTness of Halloween now only rivaled by Christmas

It is universally acknowledged that the macabre turn that Halloween has taken is entirely due to the commercialisation of the festival. Mostly by Americans. I don’t think there is any other way to put it. When it crossed the Atlantic Ocean with the Irish, it was a festival which marked the end of summer. When it came back it was a festival which was filled with eyeball candy, plastic pumpkins and jump scares.

At some stage (the middle ages), Samhain was co-opted by by Christianity, and transformed into All Hallows Eve, with All Saints Day falling on the day after Halloween. It was then followed by All Souls Day. This is a straight up day of honouring and remembering the dead.

Day of the Dead in Mexico in 2020 | Office Holidays
Sugar skulls make death ‘sweeter’

Remembering the dead is not unique to All Souls. This is carried out all over the world. The Day of the Dead with its pretty sugar skulls and many full length animated movies can attest to this. In Chinese culture you clean the tombs of your ancestors during Cheng Beng. In many immigrant Chinese countries the honour of the dead takes place over an entire month known as the Seventh Month (yes Halloween for an ENTIRE month.) This is followed by the Moon Cake Festival, which is the harvest festival.

In Ireland, this cross day was the marking of entering a darker time of the year and with that darkness, the thinning of veils, honouring of the dead… then somehow a practice which was meant to be in equal parts reverential and celebratory suddenly became an excuse for people to frighten the living daylights out of each other.

Shout out to the Monsters

American Halloween Traditions | HowStuffWorks

It is true that in order to come to terms with death human beings can do many odd things. One of the most extreme is to invent the idea of the undead – those non or no longer humans. The laundry list of these creatures long – from the barely living like the Golem and Frankenstein’s Monster – to Nosferatu, the vampyre and zombies. Then there are the subhuman, like the werewolf and changelings, and those which deal with dodgy magical practises such as witches and warlocks, voodoo witch doctors, which inevitably will perform their animal or human sacrifices, Black Masses and Satanic rituals. It would also seem that each and every culture has their equivalent.

Asian ghosts in particular are quite gruesome. In fact there is such a panoply of ghosts in Asia which are completely and utterly believed that Asian horror takes creepy and suspense to a new level.

15 Must-Watch Facts About The Ring | Mental Floss
The Ring, possibly the most terrifying horror show ever made

All of these do have quite serious origins – their stories each tragic and misunderstood or repressed. For instance witches were women who had been falsely accused of consorting with the devil. In an unprecedented act of genocide, thousands of women and men met with a grisly end. In St Andrews in Scotland in one particularly blood soaked year there was almost one death for every day!

Boo!

Then you have your straight up ghosts. Ghosts are beings who have unfinished business. Whether it is the unfinished business of the ghost itself or that lives in the mind of the one who has been left behind, ghosts occupy the liminal spaces warning us of our limits, the border between life and death which we cannot cross and which they have. They have powers which have come into their own since they have abandoned their bodies. They are able to defy time and space, warn or lure, exact revenge, restore a balance. There are many types of ghosts of course, far too many to go into here, but what they do share in common is that they, once upon a time, were alive. So you could have ghosts of people as well as animals.

The Haunting of Hill House follow-up Bly Manor will 'more frightening,'  creator says | EW.com
The Haunting of Hill House

It is such a shame that in the modern age we have allowed our lack of reverence to almost cheapen the meanings of each of these powerful archetypes and the longings they point to. The debt we owe each of these creations and how we have twisted and bent them so out of shape that they are unrecognisable as the shadows of our own minds.

Instead they now appear as the most hideous projections which as their grotesqueness increases seems to diminish their power. It is as if making our fears literal we have diminished their effectiveness.

Perhaps the greatest fears we have are really not the monsters out there, but the monsters which we must live with – the unrecognised, unacknowledged ones. The ones which walk beside us daily, that can torture us from time to time without anyone knowing.

Do join us for a peaceful Samhain

Whatever it is, it is not where we are going with our Halloween celebrations at the Quarries. The celebrations will bring a little balance between the secular and the sacred – the unseen and seen. It hopes to restore, a little, the mystery and wonder of this time of year. We hope you will be able to join us.

Book it here. If you need to find out more, you may email hello@elementsschool.net.

Be Warned: 9 Pantang Things You Shouldn't Be Doing During The Seventh Month
Hungry Ghost Festival

Offerings to the fairies

Nowadays we give children sweets – because, let’s face it, they don’t seem to want anything else and they have come to expect it, but this practice of giving something during Halloween originated with… you guessed it, the fairies.

If you’d like to celebrate Samhain with us and the other unseens, do come along. Book it here. If you need to find out more, you may email hello@elementsschool.net. There will be a shadow play, beautiful moonlit and candle walk and we will be making rowan amulets.

Do read on about the different offerings fairies would be given.

Part of the Broighter hoard, thought to have been part of a votive deposit – possibly an offering to Manannán
The Boighter Hoard – found on the shores of Lough Foyle, it was believed to be an offering to Manannan Mac Lir, sea sea god of the Celts (s senior Da Dannan)

Now that we have established that fairies have little to do with adorable harmless beings which grant wishes, but instead can grow and shrink at will, have fun with the wind and weather, play tricks on you and curse you viciously – or alternatively bless you lavishly – we understand why there was a long tradition in offering things to them.

6 Life Lessons from a Balinese Offering | MindBodyWise
Balinese offerings

There are a few days in a year when the veils grow thin and Halloween is one of them. During this time, offerings would be laid out for the wee folk in order to be in their good favour. If you were in with the fairies, your butter would always ‘take’ your cows would always give milk and your children would be safe.

Offerings still take place in many places in the world – in Bali elaborate ceremonies would be held in temples for ancestors and the many Hindu-Buddhist syncretic gods of the island. In China ancestor worship still occurs and people leave food around for Hungry Ghosts (those with no descendants). Even in Christianity, an offering is made at the high point of the service, where the sacrifice of Christ is recalled – his death takes away our ‘sins’.

Here are somethings which people did for the fairies.

Milk

Myths & Legends | Carlingford | Visit Carlingford

Cows used to play a massive part in the rural economy. Many things were measured according to cows. For instance, if you cut down a royal tree you would have to pay the offended party back in cows, calves and heifers. Probably the most famous war in ancient Ireland was started because of a cow – the Tain, which ends with the death of Cuchulain, began because Maeve wanted a bull to match her husband’s white bull. So it is no surprise that what they produced was often left for the fairies.

When you milked a cow, you would purposely spill some milk on the floor of the barn for the fairies. This practice was still quite common until recently.

Refurbished vintage oak butter churn on stand | Andy Thornton

Butter

Butter would often be left out. If you cut butter you would not clean the knife because the fairies would take the bits that were left on the knife. Bog butter was placed in a bog – sometimes it was thought for preservation, but possibly also as an offering.

Seaweed

“Produce of sea to land,
Produce of land to sea;
He who doeth not in time,
Scant shall be his share.

Seaweed being cast on shore
Bestow, Thou Being of bestowal;
Fruitfulness being brought to wealth,
O Christ, grant me my share!”

According to the website Tairis, seaweed would also be offered since it was plentiful and necessary to life, especially on the lough shore. Did you know that all seaweed is edible – as in it will not kill you. Some are less edible than others, but it is important that you look out for gutweed and not harvest there as it indicates the presence of sewage and pollution.

Bladderwrack: Benefits, Uses, and Side Effects
The gametes of bladderwarck can be pickled to make a really tasty snack!

Alcohol

In the past ale was the go to sacrificial liquid. You would either pour it on the ground, OR you could prepare a little table for the wee folk. In many parts of Asia this is till done. Food and alcohol is offered to spirits and then you partake of it after they have eaten the ‘essence’. People who do this SWEAR that the food has no more taste after the spirits have ‘eaten’ them.

Odin - Wikipedia

Being kind

You were never allowed to turn someone away. If a stranger came asking for a night’s lodging and food you had to give it to them because they could be a spirit in disguise and if you refused them they could curse you. Throughout all of history, stories are replete with this injunction. Even Christians have this as a central tenant to their practice. Muslims are not allowed to refuse anyone shelter and food. In ancient Greece you could not ask someone who they were until after they had eaten and drank and even slept i.e the next day.

The God here is Odin. It was one of his favourite tricks to wander about in disguise with a giant floppy hat to hide his missing eye – which he sacrificed to gain all the wisdom in the world.

Human sacrifice??

There is not a lot of evidence of the regular practice of human sacrifice. Bog men which have been ritually killed have turned up now and then, but the stories of killing prisoners, infants, etc may have been Roman propaganda. The druids never wrote of their practices since everything was passed down through word of mouth. The only person who writes about this most heinous of sacrifices (certainly to the Romans) was Julius Caesar – which is ironic seeing how he was responsible for the death of hundreds of thousands of people. It was thought that this was written in to justify the brutal repression of the druidic religion when the Roman conquered Gaul and later Britain.

Protection

You could also protect yourself from the fairies by using certain charms and amulets. The most powerful tree for this purpose was the rowan tree. It’s blood red berries and useful wood – used especially to build ships for this purpose – made sure that you were not harmed by nefarious intentions.

Rowan (Sorbus aucuparia) - British Trees - Woodland Trust
Rowan Tree – the most powerful protection against spells

If you’d like to celebrate Samhain with us and the other unseens, do come along. Book it here. If you need to find out more, you may email hello@elementsschool.net. There will be a shadow play, beautiful moonlit and candle walk and we will be making rowan amulets.

The beautiful unseen

Riders of the Sidhe John Duncan

In every human culture, except perhaps this current one, there has always been the recognition of the intelligent unseen world. A world which we have little control over, which has its own rules which very few are privy to, and whose residents have extraordinary powers. Quite often these powers were the ability to bend the two things we were unable to – space and time. They could tell the future. They could prevent accidents, or, in same cases, cause them.

The need to placate, respect and acknowledge this world – which exists outside the main religions of the world – still exists in many modern cultures.

In Ireland these practises are still part of the landscape. Leaving hawthorn or fairy trees in fields for instance. Or tying charms and simples to rag trees. In honour of Halloween, we will be honouring one of these beings everyday of the week till the 31st. Today we look a the Tuatha Da Dannan.

Fallen Angels or Immortal Guardians/Gods??

The da Dannan and their stories most commonly linked to the Celts. They were the Third Race which occupied these lands. The first were the Fir Bolgs, then the terrifying Formorians and finally, they defeated them to take their place. The stories of the da Dannan are where we get the myths about Lugh, the Dagda, Brigid and even Cuchulainn who was supposed to have been the son of Lugh – or at least related to him.

Were they angels or ancient Gods? Every culture has stories which have parallels. It would appear that they did appear out of the mists – on boats – and that they were so certain of staying in Ireland that they burned their boats. Apparently the island was thick with smoke from this for days.

The Da Dannan were here for thousands of years – more likely a couple of thousand – and then it was their time to go. Sometimes they are credited with origin stories, like the very creation of Ireland itself. Even the battles they fight shape the very land creating lakes, mountains and rivers. The are not unlike the Norse, Greek or Teutonic Gods. It is hard to say since so many stories do run into each other.

The Miliseans

The final race were the Sons of Mil – the Milesians who had to ask permission of the Da Dannan to occupy the land. If you read the stories, it sounds like they did come from the Iberian peninsula. The Milesian bard Amergin weaves such a compelling song that the land accepts them and the Da Dannan then agree to disappear into the very land itself. Its rocks and streams, its rivers, hills and so forth become theirs. We will always we there they say before they disappear. This is our land and we will always be watching and listening.

Halloween is the one time of the year – the Celtic New Year – when they emerge. There are all kinds of stories about the fairies. During the Irish revival in the last 19th century Yeats, Lady Gregory and others who were very interested in reclaiming and preserving these stories collected them.

Perhaps there is no more chilling and charming depiction of this time and the influence the fairies had than William Alligham’s poem, The Fairies:

Up the airy mountain,
Down the rushy glen,
We daren’t go a-hunting
For fear of little men;
Wee folk, good folk,
Trooping all together;
Green jacket, red cap,
And white owl’s feather!

Down along the rocky shore
Some make their home,
They live on crispy pancakes
Of yellow tide-foam;
Some in the reeds
Of the black mountain-lake,
With frogs for their watchdogs,
All night awake.

High on the hill-top
The old King sits;
He is now so old and grey
He’s nigh lost his wits.
With a bridge of white mist
Columbkill he crosses,
On his stately journeys
From Slieveleague to Rosses;
Or going up with the music
On cold starry nights,
To sup with the Queen
Of the gay Northern Lights.

They stole little Bridget
For seven years long;
When she came down again
Her friends were all gone.
They took her lightly back,
Between the night and morrow,
They thought that she was fast asleep,
But she was dead with sorrow.
They have kept her ever since
Deep within the lake,
On a bed of fig-leaves,
Watching till she wake.

By the craggy hillside,
Through the mosses bare,
They have planted thorn trees
For my pleasure, here and there.
Is any man so daring
As dig them up in spite,
He shall find their sharpest thorns
In his bed at night.

Up the airy mountain,
Down the rushy glen,
We daren’t go a-hunting
For fear of little men;
Wee folk, good folk,
Trooping all together;
Green jacket, red cap,
And white owl’s feather!

Poesie: Allingham's The Fairies – Denney Home Place
Arthur Rackham

Elements decided to bring a tiny bit of this fairy magic back to Halloween… come along and celebrate with us over the coming week.

Book here or email hello@elementsschool.net for more details.

Blessed Halloween!!! (Oiche Samhain)

JOIN US!

Book it here. If you need to find out more, you may email hello@elementsschool.net. What Halloween means to Elements…

Halloween is the Celtic New Year – during Halloween it was believed that the veils between the worlds thinned and the fairy folk, spirits past, and ancestors could return for that one night. It was when all space and time collapsed into that one day and to make it easier for the unseens to be seen and the living dressed up so that everyone could mingle freely.

At the Quarries the sense of the other world is never far. With its Hobbit house and Shrek toilet and the winsome woods which twine around the 200 year old farmhouse it is a living breathing relic which has reinvented itself to be relevant today.

In other words, it is the perfect place to stage a Halloween. And it is a Halloween which we would like to reclaim from the gore and mayhem which it has become as the descent towards the most pointlessly frightening. If you are looking for ‘brains’ and frankenstiens and gore, we have to say that will not be taking place here.

silhouette photo of a cat
Photo by Sašo Tušar, Unsplash.com

Instead, come along to celebrate this most blessed of nights with us in a socially distanced, outdoor environment as we observe the contemporary rules of the Covid unseen.

There will be a trail which takes you through time through stories – starting with the Druids of old and the protection they used against the mischievous Good Folk. Then you will hear tales of tragedy and wonderful weirdness as you walk along the candlelit path. Strange shenanigans and inexplicable occurrences. It culminates in a shadow play and ends at an open fire where you can, if you want to, make spiced apples.

selective focus photography of spiderweb
Nicholas Picard, Unsplash.com

Here are the deets:

We are running sessions from 27 – 31 October at the Quarries. See form for details and slot.

Groups will move in bubbles of up to 6. There must be at least one adult adult accompanying 3 children.

The session lasts for approximate 45 minutes to an hour.

Fill in the form, complete with the choices of dates and times and we will email you with what is free. Payment will then be taken at that point.

If you do not pay then we are unable to confirm the slot and it can be given to someone else.

It is outdoors and low lighting so please dress for the weather and make sure that you bring sturdy shoes. It is pram friendly.

It is £40 per bubble and you can book it here. If you need to find out more, you can email hello@elementsschool.net.

Hope to see you there. If you are interested in our weekly sessions you can go here to book them. Same email to find out more.

silhouette of tree with full moon background
John Sillman, Unsplash.com

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén