The dark season is the best time to start learning about the stories and rituals of the Middle Ages. On the edge of winter, the big mythical figures of both medieval Christianity and paganism start to take shape. We will look at this kind of thought in two ways: in the form of hagiography and in the form of literature and folklore. This study of differences is needed to understand what each tradition is about and to point out the things that these two traditions have in common.
In the old Irish calendar, November 1 was called Samhain, and the night of November 1 to November 2 is full of legends that come from an old store of myths that are still very important in some parts of the world today. This is the time when people from the Otherworld can visit the living for a short time and when people from the living can sneak into the Otherworld.
In Brittany, it wasn’t unusual to see the Cart of the Dead, which carried the souls of the dead to their next home. Anatole Le Braz has written a book called La Legende de la mort chez les Bretons armoricains. In it, he talks about all of the traditions surrounding this All Saints’ Day funeral cart. It was very important not to be on the same road as the cart, unless you also wanted to end up in the Otherworld with the scary flying hosts of the Wild Hunt. Breton folklore is full of stories about a strange noise that was heard on the night of November r. This is the sound of the cart that is pulling dead bodies and ghosts toward the next world. People say that the devil himself is leading this loud group of souls down to hell for good.
In Celtic mythology, the date of Samhain is often associated with change or passage. This is because this is when beings from the Otherworld come to visit people on Earth. It is also said that the hero Cuchulain went on a fairy hunt and killed two birds that were actually goddesses from the Otherworld who had turned into birds. 2 So, Samhain is a time when it is easier to talk to the sid, which is the Celtic term for “the Otherworld.”
Celtic myths and beliefs are built around the idea of the Otherworld. In many ways, it gives us the key to understanding the rituals and stories that go along with the calendar. Obviously, this “Otherworld” shouldn’t be viewed through a Christian lens, even though Christian ideas eventually crept in. The Otherworld is where ghosts like to go, but it is mostly the world of fairies. This is because Faery explains it, and Faery is just a less powerful form of divine magic. The Otherworld is a big part of Celtic literature, and medieval Arthurian literature puts it front and center.
Odilon, the fourth abbot of Cluny, started the Day of the Departed, also called the Commemoration of the Dead, on November 2, 998. By doing this, he was just bringing an old Celtic custom into Christianity. The Celts believed that this time of year was when souls moved on to their next lives. By putting a holiday for the dead on this day, he turned the ancient beliefs of Samhain toward Christian worship. This made the old beliefs of Samhain harmless, since they were now tied to a different view of the afterlife that offered the hope of heaven along with the threat of hell.
Because of when it falls on the calendar, the November holiday has become mixed up with Halloween, which is a holiday in Anglo-Saxon countries. This holiday might be best described as the Carnival of November. In fact, in Anglo-Saxon folklore, Halloween is a mix of old beliefs and rituals for talking to the dead. Of course, this day gives American kids the chance to dress up in all kinds of costumes, and at night, witches often run away in the moonlight.
On Halloween night, which is called “the night of the devil,” many people believe in magic and sorcery. The world of faeries crashes into the real world all of a sudden. That is, the world of myth crashes into the rules of everyday life, and supernatural forces are let loose to threaten humans. In a few of his movies, director Tommy Lee Wallace has brought up the sorcery-filled myths and mysteries of this American holiday tradition. In Halloween I, I, I, a man comes to a hospital in California confused and shaking with fear. A doctor notices that the man gets even more scared when he sees an ad for masks on TV. Soon after, a mysterious person walks into the hospital, kills the man, and then sets himself on fire. Even more well-known, in Steven Spielberg’s movie E.T., the extraterrestrial comes to earth on Halloween, like a fairy from the Otherworld coming to the everyday world. It is interesting to note that science fiction is often a safe place for a mythology that has been watered down and is based on the imaginary rhythms of old European myths that are mostly Celtic but not always.
First of all, Samhain and Halloween bring up the idea of an Otherworld, which is not the same thing as the world of the dead or hell or heaven. Fairies and revenants live in the Samhain Otherworld, which is where all the rites and stories of Samhain come from. Samhain and Halloween, like the other seven big dates on the calendar, make it possible to talk to the Otherworld. This is because they allow more or less dangerous magic linked to the changing of the seasons and a kind of break in time to appear.