Connie Archer is the national bestselling author of three Soup Lover’s Mysteries with a fourth due out in March. Learn more about Connie and her books at her website. Today Connie joins us to talk about one of her favorite holidays.
Halloween has to be one of my favorite holidays . . . there’s something about the season, the cooler air, the pumpkins, the red and gold of the trees and the macabre decorations of witches, skeletons, cobwebs and headstones that delights me. Horror films, ghost stories, trick-or-treating, bobbing for apples, haunted houses, corn mazes, and hayrides are just some of the things that mark this season. Costume stores have cropped up everywhere. In fact, in my neighborhood there’s one that’s open all year, just in case you have the urge to don some crazy gear for no good reason at all!
Hallowe’en, a contraction of Hallows Even or All Hallows Eve, is closely related to the Celtic Samhain (pronounced Sow-in). The Celts of the British Isles and Northern Europe celebrated this Druidic festival for thousands of years when the sun reached the fifteenth degree of Scorpio. It was the end of one year and the beginning of the next. In our century, this position of the sun actually occurs on November 7th.
At this time, those spirits must be comforted with offerings of food and drink to ensure the tribe and their livestock survived the winter. Wearing costumes of animal heads and skins, the people of the tribe attempted to tell each other’s fortunes. At a deeper level, these rites were observed in order to make contact with the spirits of the departed who were considered sources of guidance rather than sources of dread. Druid priests built bonfires and the community gathered to burn crops as sacrifices to their deities. At the end of the celebration, they re-lit the fire of their hearths from the sacred bonfire in the belief that this would protect them during the coming winter.
Mass immigration from the British Isles and Europe during the 19th century popularized the rituals we now know today. Immigrants brought their varied All Hallows Eve customs and a distinctly American version of Halloween began to emerge. In Ireland and Scotland, the turnip had traditionally been carved during Halloween, but immigrants to North America used the pumpkin, which was larger, softer and much easier to carve.
The American tradition of trick-or-treating most likely dates back to early All Souls Day rites in England during which poor citizens would beg for food and be given “soul cakes” in return for a promise to pray for the family's dead relatives. The soul cakes to the poor replaced the ancient practice of leaving food and wine for roaming spirits. This practice, “going a-souling” was eventually done by children who would visit houses in the neighborhood and be given ale, food, and money.
Samhain was a time for divination, and apples were often used to tell the future. An unmarried girl would peel an apple in one long strip and cast the peel over her shoulder. The peel was believed to reveal the initial of her future husband. Another practice involved cutting an apple into nine pieces while sitting before a mirror in a room lit by only one candle. Turning away from the mirror, the individual would eat eight pieces of the apple, ask a question and throw the ninth piece over his or her shoulder. The mirror would then display an image responding to the question.
But what is it about this date – October 31st? The eve of November 1? Or the time period when the sun reaches the fifteenth degree of Scorpio? It’s not the shortest day of the year; it’s not actually a time of harvest, yet so many cultures throughout the centuries acknowledge this night and day as significant.
In Poland, people are told to pray out loud as they walk through the forests so the souls of the dead might find comfort. In 19th century rural England, families gathered to burn straw on a pitchfork while kneeling in a circle to pray for the souls of the dead until the flames went out. In Spain, special pastries known as the “bones of the holy” are put on the graves of the churchyard. In Finland, visitors to cemeteries on All Hallows Eve light votive candles, referred to as the sea of light. Totenfest or Totensonntag is celebrated in some Protestant churches on this day. Kalan Gwav, also known as Allantide, is a pagan Cornish festival traditionally celebrated on this night. The Mexican Day of the Dead is marked by gathering to pray for the dead and bringing favorite foods of the departed to their graves. On the Isle of Man, Hop-tu-Naa, a Celtic festival, is observed. And in Scandinavian countries, a Norse ceremony called Alfablót involves sacrificing to the elves, meaning nature spirits or spirits of dead ancestors.
Samhain or Halloween will be upon us soon. This is a time to complete the old and prepare for the new in our lives. Consider the last twelve months. If there are matters unresolved, now is the time to complete them and begin to look forward to the new year.
And don’t forget your pets. Here’s a Samhain ritual designed to honor the spirits of both wild and domestic animals: [http://paganwiccan.about.com/od/samhainoctober31/ht/Animals_Samhain.htm]
A Roux of Revenge
Snowflake, Vermont, is known for its skiing in winter—and its soup all year round, thanks to Lucky Jamieson’s By the Spoonful. Autumn brings golden leaves, pumpkin rice soup, the annual Harvest Festival…and murder.
Lucky’s soup shop is busier than usual this October, with groups of itinerant travelers in town to work the Harvest Festival. One newcomer seems to take a particular interest in Lucky’s young waitress Janie, spying on her from across the street. Is the stranger stalking Janie?
After an unidentified man is found murdered in a van by the side of the road, simmering suspicions about the travelers are brought to a boil. But when Janie is put in harm’s way, Lucky must join forces with the travelers to turn up the heat on a killer…