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Folklore: Halloween and the 'thinning veil'

Phil Edwards 30 Oct 13 - 07:12 PM
Phil Edwards 30 Oct 13 - 07:20 PM
Jack Blandiver 30 Oct 13 - 07:36 PM
Jack Blandiver 31 Oct 13 - 04:19 AM
Les in Chorlton 31 Oct 13 - 04:33 AM
Phil Edwards 31 Oct 13 - 05:20 AM
GUEST,SteveT 31 Oct 13 - 05:32 AM
Will Fly 31 Oct 13 - 05:36 AM
Les in Chorlton 31 Oct 13 - 05:56 AM
Jack Blandiver 31 Oct 13 - 07:12 AM
Phil Edwards 31 Oct 13 - 07:32 AM
Phil Edwards 31 Oct 13 - 07:32 AM
Will Fly 31 Oct 13 - 07:40 AM
Phil Edwards 31 Oct 13 - 07:45 AM
GUEST,Jack Campin 31 Oct 13 - 07:51 AM
Jack Blandiver 31 Oct 13 - 07:56 AM
Jack Blandiver 31 Oct 13 - 07:59 AM
GUEST 31 Oct 13 - 08:26 AM
Jack Blandiver 31 Oct 13 - 08:41 AM
Jack Blandiver 31 Oct 13 - 08:50 AM
GUEST,Jack Campin 31 Oct 13 - 09:13 AM
Jack Blandiver 31 Oct 13 - 09:24 AM
Lighter 31 Oct 13 - 10:50 AM
Jack Campin 31 Oct 13 - 11:01 AM
Jack Blandiver 31 Oct 13 - 11:43 AM
Les in Chorlton 31 Oct 13 - 11:44 AM
Jack Blandiver 31 Oct 13 - 12:03 PM
GUEST,CS 31 Oct 13 - 12:34 PM
Les in Chorlton 31 Oct 13 - 01:12 PM
Jack Blandiver 31 Oct 13 - 01:44 PM
Les in Chorlton 31 Oct 13 - 01:48 PM
Phil Edwards 31 Oct 13 - 01:49 PM
Jack Blandiver 31 Oct 13 - 02:09 PM
Phil Edwards 31 Oct 13 - 02:14 PM
theleveller 31 Oct 13 - 02:20 PM
Les in Chorlton 31 Oct 13 - 02:21 PM
Les in Chorlton 31 Oct 13 - 02:29 PM
Jack Campin 31 Oct 13 - 02:32 PM
Lighter 31 Oct 13 - 03:01 PM
Jack Blandiver 31 Oct 13 - 03:24 PM
Phil Edwards 31 Oct 13 - 06:35 PM
Jack Campin 31 Oct 13 - 06:47 PM
Lighter 31 Oct 13 - 06:54 PM
Les in Chorlton 01 Nov 13 - 04:20 AM
Jack Blandiver 01 Nov 13 - 07:20 AM
Phil Edwards 01 Nov 13 - 08:00 AM
GUEST,SteveT 01 Nov 13 - 08:13 AM
Jack Blandiver 01 Nov 13 - 08:33 AM
Will Fly 01 Nov 13 - 08:50 AM
Les in Chorlton 01 Nov 13 - 09:15 AM
Lighter 01 Nov 13 - 09:30 AM
Lighter 01 Nov 13 - 09:50 AM
Richard Bridge 01 Nov 13 - 10:54 AM
MGM·Lion 01 Nov 13 - 10:55 AM
GUEST,Phil E 01 Nov 13 - 12:36 PM
Jack Blandiver 02 Nov 13 - 06:14 AM
Jack Blandiver 02 Nov 13 - 06:54 AM
GUEST,SteveT 02 Nov 13 - 07:05 AM
Lighter 02 Nov 13 - 01:18 PM
Les in Chorlton 02 Nov 13 - 01:24 PM
Anne Lister 02 Nov 13 - 02:54 PM
Phil Edwards 02 Nov 13 - 06:10 PM
Jack Blandiver 02 Nov 13 - 06:28 PM
Phil Edwards 02 Nov 13 - 07:32 PM
Jack Blandiver 02 Nov 13 - 07:41 PM
Phil Edwards 30 Oct 14 - 07:59 PM
GUEST,Blandiver (Astray) 31 Oct 14 - 07:52 AM
GUEST,Rahere 31 Oct 14 - 07:28 PM
LadyJean 31 Oct 14 - 11:53 PM
GUEST,Blandiver (Astray) 01 Nov 14 - 05:25 AM
GUEST,Rahere 01 Nov 14 - 05:53 PM
Lighter 01 Nov 14 - 06:48 PM
GUEST,Blandiver (Astray) 04 Nov 14 - 05:54 AM
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Subject: Folklore: Halloween and the 'thinning veil'
From: Phil Edwards
Date: 30 Oct 13 - 07:12 PM

On the Radio 4 current affairs programme PM this afternoon, a folklorist was asked about the origin of Hallowe'en. He suggested that there were three alternative origin stories: the Christian festival of All Hallows' Eve, the Roman festival of Pomona (the apple goddess) and mumble mumble Celtic, which people were doing two thousand years ago. Of the three, the folklorist said he liked the sound of the Celtic mumblety thing the best.

I thought all this was pretty confused - after all, Hallowe'en doesn't come from All Hallows' Eve, it is All Hallows' Eve; whether celebrations of All Hallows' Eve borrow from pre-Christian seasonal rituals is a separate question. As for whatever the Celts were doing 2000 years ago, to me this raises a number of questions: (a) do we know what they were doing? (b) no, seriously, do we actually know? (c) to the extent that we know anything, are we sure we're not cherry-picking (mistletoe-picking?) - that is, homing in on odd bits of lore that appeal to us precisely because they resemble our own traditions? and (d) how are these 2000-year-old rituals supposed to have survived no fewer than three changes of religion as well as the passage of, well, 2000 years?

But my wifty-wafty-o-meter really pinged when Folklore Guy said that traditionally (in Celtic mumble country) this was the time of year when the spirits walked abroad, and more specifically when the veil between this world and the next was at its thinnest. It's a very familiar image - which, given that I don't read much Folklore Studies, made me wonder.

Folklore people: where does this idea of a veil between the realms, which gets thinner at certain times of year, come from? Did a particular collector or folklorist bring it into circulation, and if so who?


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Halloween and the 'thinning veil'
From: Phil Edwards
Date: 30 Oct 13 - 07:20 PM

Following up to myself: the King James Bible refers to Heaven as "that within the veil" (in the modern English of the New International Version, "the inner sanctuary behind the curtain"), so the idea of a veil separating this world from eternity has been common currency for as long as the English-language Bible has been used in churches. Which pushes it back a bit, although we're still a good 1500 years too late for the Celts. Nothing about the veil getting thinner at certain times, OTOH.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Halloween and the 'thinning veil'
From: Jack Blandiver
Date: 30 Oct 13 - 07:36 PM

I was always taught about the two part year, the duality of dark & light, winter and summer, and that the dark half began at Samhain, a cross-quarter lunar day before being fixed to Oct 31st (half-way between the Autumn Equinox & Winter Solstice). This was the old New Year hence that thinning of the veil effect between one world and t'other and why many customs & games at this time of year involve similar confusion of given dualities : life / death, past / future, even male / female guising & divination.

I say taught, because a lot of this stuff was just there as part of the general Folk Thang, regardless of origin. Do we read it in Frazer? Or Robert Graves? Or Anne Ross? Or Dennis Wheatley? Or Janet & Colin Bord? Maybe we do. Certainly most of those ideas were common lore when I was a kid thanks to folksy teachers and parents and older siblings who were only happy to tell us the true meaning of our neep heeds & apple dookin' & witchery & general misrule which we all knew to be pretty weird anyway, which is why we did it. I was just nice to have it confirmed...

As in Folk Music, Folklore begats Folklore. That's Folk : it's as thin as the veil that divides the two worlds on the night of Hallowe'en. Ask too many questions and it'll vanish away altogether...


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Halloween and the 'thinning veil'
From: Jack Blandiver
Date: 31 Oct 13 - 04:19 AM

Then there's what WIKI has to say on the subject:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Samhain

Though at this time in the morning I didn't get very far - though there is a particularly fine neep heed on there which is presently inspiring a certain primal urge. For sure there is, as the poet says, '...nae finer reek than the catch of the candle in the lum o' a neep.'*

Alas! No such trad. folky fun 'n' games for me tonight, nonny lad - because we're off to Preston to see Hooky & the Boys (or is it The Light?) performing Movement and Power, Corruption & Lies in their entirety. Another ritual derived, no doubt, from the thinning of the veil between the one world & t'other in a ceremonial communion with long dead souls. Basically this'll mean a load of fat bald Joy Division grandads moshing it up to KW1 as though the last 30 years haven't happened - and I'll be in there!

* Me actually, just now.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Halloween and the 'thinning veil'
From: Les in Chorlton
Date: 31 Oct 13 - 04:33 AM

Now, down The Beech last night we played a number of tunes and sang a number of songs. I had Cob o Coalin ready in case nobody else sang it. Obviously appropraite on the last Wednesday before Bonfire night (A big day for Chorlton Celts).

As nobody did, I offered it up at about 10. 55. Intrestin because that thin veil twixt .......... erm ....... I dunno, has clearly enabled the remnants of an Easter-ish Pace Egging song to pass into a bonfire night children's begging song!

As I collected glasses and tune books the Beechists went into "A Perfect Day" by one Mr L Reed of NYC - revealing another veil through which stuff passes.

Wassail!!!!!!!!!! As somebody used to see.

And down at The Beech we pray for the return of Mr P Edwards and Mr & Mrs J Blandiver and burn we images of ..... erm .................


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Halloween and the 'thinning veil'
From: Phil Edwards
Date: 31 Oct 13 - 05:20 AM

I knew there was something I should have been doing last night! The ancient and glorious rite of the Fifth Wednesday! Curses.

Oh well, I'll be there next Wednesday - and this Sunday. You'll be sick of the sight of me...

If you look for "the veil between the worlds is at its thinnest" on Google Books you'll find lots of books using the phrase. Not one of them dates from before 1978. Maybe JB's post-punk indulgence is more relevant than it looks! It looks as if the source may be Herman Slater, proprietor of The Warlock Shoppe and author of The Hoodoo Bible.

Elsewhere I learned how to pronounce 'Samhain': it's pronounced SOW-ween, SOW-in, SAH-vin, or SAM-hayne, depending on what part of the celtic world you are from

I guess that last one would be the part of the celtic world where they only speak English.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Halloween and the 'thinning veil'
From: GUEST,SteveT
Date: 31 Oct 13 - 05:32 AM

It might be worth checking out what Prof. R Hutton (Bristol University) has to say. His book "Stations of the Sun" deals with the history of the British ritual year. He's usually quite good at debunking some of the wilder claims of authenticity that surround our "Celtic" heritage.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Halloween and the 'thinning veil'
From: Will Fly
Date: 31 Oct 13 - 05:36 AM

Celtic, schmeltic. Whenever I hear the word 'celtic' in relation to music or tradition, I reach for my gun...

Must read "Stations of the Sun"!


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Halloween and the 'thinning veil'
From: Les in Chorlton
Date: 31 Oct 13 - 05:56 AM

Do it do it Will - great book


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Halloween and the 'thinning veil'
From: Jack Blandiver
Date: 31 Oct 13 - 07:12 AM

Hutton's cool - but he's a total pagan / druid freak too. His observances of historical folklore do little to debunk any of it just because it's 'new' - just look at his recent C4 documentary on Gerald Gardner & Wicca; likewise his comments on season / ceremonial midwinter practise on The Victorian Farm, which could equally apply to Hallowe'en. It all comes down to primal impulse & personal experience rather than any sort of proven provenance per se. Certainly you won't read anything to contradict that in 'The Stations of the Sun', where the chapter on Samhain (sow-in according to Hutton) begins with the usual account of Celts, for whom :

'...Samhain was a time when the gates between this world and the next were open. It was a time of communion with the spirits of the dead, who, like the wild autumnal winds, were free to roam the earth. At Samhain the Celts called upon their ancestors, who might bring warnings and guidance to help with the year to come.' (The Stations of the Sun, Ch 35, p 360)

Typically, Steve Roud takes a more sober view in his brilliantly exhaustive 'The English Year' (2006) which is also worth checking out. I bought both from the same shop on the same day in Southport several years back, so they're sort of inextricably linked despite their differing viewpoints. I love different viewpoints, especially in realms of so-called Folklore, which is (mainly) academics trying to make sense of pretty basic instinctive usage in terms of Tradition and Origin. You might as well say eating and procreation are tradition folklore too!      

Whatever the case, the 'thinnig veil' is not just implied in Hallowe'en divining customs & assorted 'ritual inversions' but in ballads such as Tam Lin, of course, as well as numerous folk tales when encounters with the other world & the spirits of the dead are most noted.

Neeps oot for the lads!


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Halloween and the 'thinning veil'
From: Phil Edwards
Date: 31 Oct 13 - 07:32 AM

Adventures in Google Books, continued.

Before about 1885 nobody talks about "the veil between the worlds".

After that, Spiritualism gets going, with its belief in personal survival after death and the possibility of contacting 'the departed'. For the next 100 years, give or take, two groups of people talk about "the veil between the worlds" - Spiritualists (who believe the veil can be lifted) and Christians (who believe it can't). C. S. Lewis refers to God being able to make contact with people through the veil, but the idea of the veil being at all permeable is unusual.

In 1978, the New Age shopkeeper Herman Slater set out an elaborate Samhain ritual, including this:

"Consider that in ancient times this night marked the end of the year, and that on this evening the veil between the worlds was thin."

This seems to be the earliest reference to seasonal veil-thinning.

This from 1984 is interesting:

"If you're going to try your hand at the occult Halloween is the night". says the proprietor of The Sorcerer's Apprentice, Frater Marabas, a practising pagan. His mail-order-only shop (painted black of course) in Burley Lodge Road in Leeds is boarded-up to repel casual callers. Two thousand customers also subscribe to his Lamp Of Thoth magazine.

"The psychic veil between this world and the next is very thin at this time of the year. It's a time when you meet departed spirits and practise divination." Marabas says. He is bearded. aged 35 and peppers his speech with esoteric words and symbols.

"This was the time the ancestral spirits returned to the homestead. Winter begins and the Earth Mother is in retreat and the Horned God, the male aspect of the universe, takes over. In our Celtic syslem it's called Samhain. It is the time when the animals are brought in at the end of the summer.

"The ancient Egyptians fed their mummies at this time - our Celtic ancestors opened up the barrows, the long earth mounds they used as tombs, often removing their skulls and welcoming them back into the ancestral home for the duration of the festival. (this is believed to be the symbolic origin of the turnip lantern).


The veil+thin+Samhain combination had obviously entered the language by 1984 - and presumably it went back a bit before 1978, unless Herman Slater actually made it up. Maybe not much more, though. I've been looking at Ed Fitch's Magical Rites from 'The Crystal Well' (as you do); this is a book published in 1982 and bringing together a collection of ideas for rituals, originally published in a small magazine called The Crystal Well, which in turn was founded in 1965. Samhain appears once - in the index - and the veil is supposed to get thinner at the Full Moon:

"This is the time of the fullness of the symbol of our Lady, the Moon. All things wax and wane, and on this evening the powers of life, of magic, and of creation are at their highest. This is the time of building, of doing. It is a time when the veil between the mundane world and the strange and beautiful realms of elphame becomes thin indeed. On this night one may transcend the boundaries of the worlds with ease, and know beauty and enchantment."

(Yes, it's spelt 'elphame'. I don't know either.)

Funny to see that phrase 'our Lady' floating up in this context - in England, references to "the old religion" meant Catholicism for a long time before the New Agers got hold of it.

It's very much of its time. Here's how to prepare for the Full Moon ritual:

As the members of the coven arise, sweet incense shall have been lit

"What do you mean, as they arrive it shall have been lit? I was following along up to then!"

Ahem.

As the members of the coven arise, sweet incense shall have been lit, and numerous candles of light pastel colours shall burn about the area. Background music may be medieval music, cheery folk songs, or such as Gwydion's "Lord of the Dance" or "Spring Strathsby" [sic].

You know about Gwydion's "Lord of the Dance"? I didn't. This is Gwydion Pendderyn (Thomas DeLong to his parents), who wrote a celebration of male and female pagan deities called "Lord of the Dance". By a bizarre coincidence, it has the same melody, and about half the same words, as a song of the same name by Sydney Carter. Let's hope he cleared it with Stainer and Bell.

Dance, both formal and improvised, shall start the evening. Singing too shall be encouraged. When all have arrived, artificial lights shall be extinquished [sic] and all shall proceed out-of-doors where the High Priestess, and/or any other designated for the evening, shall perform a dance in the moonlight to begin building power. The dance shall be magical and sensuous. The music should be faint and, if possible, have a particularly elvish quality to it.

'Extinquished' is probably just a typo, but it goes well with all those 'shall's somehow. Candle, thou shall be extinquished!. I like the provision for the High P. to bale out of the sensuous magical dance if she's not in the mood ("designate Sandra, I should, she'll be well up for it - look how sensuous she got at the club the other night"). 'If possible' in the last sentence is a nice touch, too.

When the dance has been completed all shall adjourn within to begin the readings and meditations. "She walks in beauty" by Byron, "My love has wings" by Wayne, "Kubla Khan" by Coleridge, "High Flight", "Who rides the wind", "Helen" by Poe, Tolkien's "The road goes ever on", "Elbereth, Gilthoniel", "Goldberry", "Lorien" or such. Perhaps two or three minutes should pass between each reading, in order that the text and the implicit meanings may be absorbed by the listeners and the readers.

I can't trace "My love has wings" - there are several candidates (including one featured on Star Trek - surely not...) but none with a writer called Wayne. I like the idea of sitting in silence, reflecting on the implicit meanings of "Elbereth, Gilthoniel" - or "Kubla Khan" for that matter. (I once gave a seminar paper on the implicit meanings of "Kubla Khan". Nobody understood it.)

Anyway, it looks like veil-thinning around Samhain is a 1970s thing...


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Halloween and the 'thinning veil'
From: Phil Edwards
Date: 31 Oct 13 - 07:32 AM

Another thought, which I'll put in a separate comment. Over here, Halloween in its contemporary form dates from the 1980s - John Carpenter's 1978 film was the first time most of us had ever heard the phrase 'trick or treat'. I'm wondering if there was a noticeable rise in interest in/commercialisation of Halloween in the USA in the mid-70s - can anyone comment?


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Halloween and the 'thinning veil'
From: Will Fly
Date: 31 Oct 13 - 07:40 AM

When I was a kid in Lancashire in the 50s, there was no trick or treating - but there was a custom known locally as "mischief night", when gangs of kids would roam the streets doing modestly naughty things like taking a gate of its hinges...

When I lived in Glasgow in the immediate post-war years, hallowe'een was also a time of high jinks for all the family. Christmas was comparatively low-key compared with Hogmanay. My father often worked at the paper mill on Christmas Day but was always on holiday at New Year.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Halloween and the 'thinning veil'
From: Phil Edwards
Date: 31 Oct 13 - 07:45 AM

None of this is meant to pour cold water on seasonal traditions, ritual celebrations or doing stuff together in general, all of which I think are very important - they certainly beat sitting at home watching TV. And the idea of Halloween being a time when strange stuff happens and otherworldly influences seep into ours has got centuries of folk belief behind it.

You've got to dig an awfully long way down before you find anything non-Christian, though - and those veils seem to be much more recent than you'd think.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Halloween and the 'thinning veil'
From: GUEST,Jack Campin
Date: 31 Oct 13 - 07:51 AM

The idea that there might be a force field or the like keeping beings from the nether world out of this one (most of the time) has to be derived from conventional physics - specifically, Maxwellian electrodynamics. The occult folkore of "vibrational energies" comes from the same source. The occult didn't try to establish its credentials as a pseudoscience until there was some real science to compete with.

Older folklore about demons and the walking dead is quite a lot scarier because more personal. They'll stomp all over our world whenever they damn well please, and if they follow a calendar, that's their concern and not something we can expect to understand in a quasi-physical way as being driven by barriers with variable permeability. Dorothy Carrington's books on the folklore of Corsica and Carlo Ginzburg writing about Italian supernatural belief systems give a good idea of what it felt like to live in a world populated by such things. Not fun at all. The dead and the angelic/demonic order were basically like the Mafia (which more or less replaced them). You want them off your back? - pay up, the natural order of things is not on your side.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Halloween and the 'thinning veil'
From: Jack Blandiver
Date: 31 Oct 13 - 07:56 AM

Trick or Treat is another version of Mischief Night reported by Roud & others. This was another ritual inversion typical of many of the customs we had in SE Northumbria in the 1960s & earlier (though I must confess once the coks went back every night was Mischief Night). I remember guising around Backworth where part of the joy was old miners telling us the tricks they got up to at Halloween if they didn't get a decent reward for their guising. Guising to them wasn't just knocking on doors & begging a treat, it doing a turn - dancing, jokes, songs, routines... If they received short shrift then anything was possible - and acceptable by the wider community. I remember one in which a house had it's windows painted black with tar...

So Halloween is a lot older than 1980s! In the Scottish comic strips of Oor Wullie & The Broons from the 1930s Halloween (& all its attendant divinatory games, guising & inversions) is a major celebration. In one, I recall, the elders are telling their grandkids how they did it when they were young, so the implication of Tradition has always been part of it, likewise the implication of the Supernatural as Pre-Christian, which in Scotland at least still survives with the quarter-day significance, though much of that (I was told in my cot) got split off to Hogmanay.

As I said somewhere above, the 'thinning of veil' was common lore at the time of Tam Lin, & even if the term isn't used as such, the awareness of it in old songs, stories, ballads & folklore is very much in evidence. Folklorists come up with these terms to account for underlying beliefs implied by the practices, which are, in any case very old in the collective unconscious.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Halloween and the 'thinning veil'
From: Jack Blandiver
Date: 31 Oct 13 - 07:59 AM

Coks!


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Halloween and the 'thinning veil'
From: GUEST
Date: 31 Oct 13 - 08:26 AM

As I said somewhere above, the 'thinning of veil' was common lore at the time of Tam Lin

You may well have said it, but did you prove it?


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Halloween and the 'thinning veil'
From: Jack Blandiver
Date: 31 Oct 13 - 08:41 AM

You've got to dig an awfully long way down before you find anything non-Christian, though - and those veils seem to be much more recent than you'd think.

This isn't the same as dealing with the specific Fakeloric assumptions that lie behind (say) Green Men & Ring-A-Roses, because the truly feral nature of Halloween is born of a far darker impulse, the nature of which will always be as much a bane to Folklorists as it is a topic of total bewitchment, almost literally.

How that interacts with 'popular culture' is difficult to say - but go into the Seasonal Aisle at ASDA, look at the decals & DVDs on offer; all indicate a deep cultural & psychological fascination that is no mere fabrication. On the contrary, the fascination engenders the commercialism which many Ethnographers see in Folkloric terms anyway, and quite rightly so. The immediacy is but a measure of the ancientness of it all.

The mechanism by which such pagan / pre-Christian / Celtic belief persists into modern times isn't for me to say, just point out, as many do, that it does - even Prof. Hutton will tell you as much. Maybe it is a deep reaction to seasonal reality and the effect that has on our lives; somewhat less so these days, of course, but the psychology of Darkness and the Onset of Winter is pretty profound & a good deal more fundamental than the odd case of SAD. Even I might reach for my sunlamp & Martin Denny LPs once December kicks in; talk about ritual inversion...

The generality of this belief is revealed by the indicators found in folklore. Of course if you asked any of the kids who come banging on your door tonight what the historic & folkloric significance of their guising might be, chances are they'll just give you blank looks (though no doubt in Chorlton the kids are more in tune with the academic side o' life and tell you about Celts & Samhain) - BUT this isn't to diminish the implication of a core source which is born out time & time again in the writings of a myriad of folklorists this past 150 years or so.

1885 is close year zero for Folklore; before that few took any notice of these rude, crude customs and they might be survivals of. The Golden Bough was first published in 1890. The study of Folklore is modern, but the underlying practices exist almost in defiance of time. Our days of the month are named after Pagan gods, likewise our months; so these things endure as more than mere superstition, they're an integral part of our cultural make-up, after which it's all down to the individual, as far as such a creature might be said to exist at all...


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Halloween and the 'thinning veil'
From: Jack Blandiver
Date: 31 Oct 13 - 08:50 AM

You may well have said it, but did you prove it?

The ballad of Tam Lin is one exhibit in a whole bale of folkloric evidence in the case for the folkloric concept here called 'the thinning of the veil', which is a theory arising from such evidences. The theory was evolved to fit the facts of the case, which it does, hence its widespread & popular appeal.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Halloween and the 'thinning veil'
From: GUEST,Jack Campin
Date: 31 Oct 13 - 09:13 AM

What I had in mind there is that "thinning of the veil" is a drastic dilution of the more ancient model of the supernatural. It implies that there a secure barrier between the (mainly malignant) world of the dead and our own one, something we can count on for 364 days of the year. What you see in the reports of Mediterranean belief systems from Carrington and Ginzburg is quite different; there are no quasi-electromagnetic force fields keeping the ghouls, undead and bogle-bos out. They'll do their own thing and about all you can do is make feeble attempts to propitiate them with knotted bits of twig and saucers of milk in the doorway.

That's what animism is about; beyond the material world, reality is entirely animate, composed of conscious beings, not a domain of quasi-physical, lawlike processes. The "veil" idea is post-animist, and seems on the historical evidence to also be post-Christian, post-Enlightenment and post-Industrial-Revolution.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Halloween and the 'thinning veil'
From: Jack Blandiver
Date: 31 Oct 13 - 09:24 AM

The idea's positively Victorian, JC - but the reality isn't.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Halloween and the 'thinning veil'
From: Lighter
Date: 31 Oct 13 - 10:50 AM

I don't think a thinning "veil between the worlds" has any historical connection to Druids, Celts, Banshees, or Leprechauns. It seems to have everything to do with 19th century romantic mysticism.

A survey of probable sources traces the phrase itself back no earlier than the tortured syntax of Mary Jane Serrano's 1883 mystical poem "Destiny," where it has nothing to do with Halloween:

"...The veil
Between the worlds of Soul and Sense
Seemed in the solemn moonlight, pale
And softly bright, to grow less dense;
And dimly shone to mortal view
Of life mysterious glimpses through."

Serrano's veil is between the Real and the Ideal, not the Living and the Undead. Presumably the King James phrase inspired Serrano's thought.

In 1885, Isabella Fyvie Mayo's "Mystery of Alan Grale" waxed a little spookier, though she's still talking about the World vs. Christian Eternity:

"George Vivian had passed away in those hours between night and morning, when it seems as if the veil between the worlds is lifted, so that spirits may slip to and fro."

The presumably influential "Book of Pagan Rituals," by Herman Slater (1978), may be the first to connect the idea with "Samhain":

"Consider that in ancient times this night marked the end of the year, and that on this evening the veil between the worlds was thin."

Why that would be, Slater doesn't say.

It may be no accident that the association of Halloween and "the veil" seems to have taken off with the surge of Wicca in the 1980s.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Halloween and the 'thinning veil'
From: Jack Campin
Date: 31 Oct 13 - 11:01 AM

Serrano's veil is between the Real and the Ideal, not the Living and the Undead. Presumably the King James phrase inspired Serrano's thought.

The idea of veils between the self and God is an important idea in Sufism. Probably goes back to some form of Jewish mysticism.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Halloween and the 'thinning veil'
From: Jack Blandiver
Date: 31 Oct 13 - 11:43 AM

Why that would be, Slater doesn't say.

Simples. Because all the folkloric evidence tells us that it is. The thinning veil is a convenient folkloric metaphor for something which is found in customs, ballads, songs, stories, divinatory practise & games associated with this time of year.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Halloween and the 'thinning veil'
From: Les in Chorlton
Date: 31 Oct 13 - 11:44 AM

So, to sum up: Most people are afraid of the dark and the cold?


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Halloween and the 'thinning veil'
From: Jack Blandiver
Date: 31 Oct 13 - 12:03 PM

And terrified of death!


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Halloween and the 'thinning veil'
From: GUEST,CS
Date: 31 Oct 13 - 12:34 PM

Excellent thread topic Mr. Pip!


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Halloween and the 'thinning veil'
From: Les in Chorlton
Date: 31 Oct 13 - 01:12 PM

I think JB has moved over to the other side - The Far Side!


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Halloween and the 'thinning veil'
From: Jack Blandiver
Date: 31 Oct 13 - 01:44 PM

Or is that The Dark Side? This is the pure drop of human fear; on this night of all nights, the dread of the unknown and our utter terror of that which lurks in the shadows. It's what we have in common down 50,000 years of human cultural history and it lives on in every single one of us. It's right there & not without good reason.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Halloween and the 'thinning veil'
From: Les in Chorlton
Date: 31 Oct 13 - 01:48 PM

on this night of all nights ............ Gothic? Why Gothic?

Why not on old dark cold night?

I think as a teller of dark scarry stories you must declare an interest Sean


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Halloween and the 'thinning veil'
From: Phil Edwards
Date: 31 Oct 13 - 01:49 PM

Adult costumes seem to have caught on this year in a big way. I was in town, having the day off due to strike action (my own), and kept seeing people in various outfits. The first couple I thought "she probably works in a shop and they've made her put that on"... "he's probably going to a party tonight and didn't want to get changed"... After a while I had to concede that, in Manchester at least, adult daytime costume on October 31st is a thing - it's something people do. As the light dimmed and I headed home I saw one last guy, with a beard and a rustic-looking waistcoat, wearing a straw hat with a large dead leaf pinned to it. I looked at him and he looked at me - he was probably thinking "good effort with the beard, but what are the shopping bags meant to mean?"


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Halloween and the 'thinning veil'
From: Jack Blandiver
Date: 31 Oct 13 - 02:09 PM

I do declare an interest - an interest in religion, myth, ritual, the occult, folklore, ceremony... all of which are the work of humanity, every single stitch in the rare old tapestry.

Gothic? It's had a lot of associations down the years. I think the current usage derives from the Victorian lust for a certain medievalism which dominates our view of such things even to this day. Just go have a toddle round the Gothic glory that is The Rylands Library and see what I mean. Who knows? You might just find yourself standing face to face with Rylands Papyrus P52, which certainly gave me pause for thought and reverence when I first chanced upon it. It's a regular point of pilgrimage. Not for God, but for the pure perfect humanity of the thing which touches the divine.

Gothic, divine, God, veil - all just words that catch at the gist of what is, ultimately, unsayable; beyond words, where the real mystery lies in the dark unknown beyond the limits of perception.

To quote my old mate Hermione Harvestman : 'Ghosts are real, just as UFOs are real. How we interpret them is one thing - that much is open to objective debate - but how we experience them is quite another, for that is very much the reserve of the individual for whom such experience will always be real.'


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Halloween and the 'thinning veil'
From: Phil Edwards
Date: 31 Oct 13 - 02:14 PM

As for the broader topic of Halloween and fakelore, here's what I think (and you can cut this out and keep it to refer to again at Christmas, when people start banging on about the holly and the ivy, the boar's head or w.h.y.).

Firstly, it's dark out there, and it's getting cold. This experience has been a big important experience to most people in most centuries, and - to a much lesser extent - it still is for us. The turning of the year is important, and seasonal rituals are a way of responding to that - even really naff, plasticky, made-up-y seasonal rituals.

Secondly, Celtic religion went out in Britain when the Romans arrived. Roman religion took its place - including the worship of dead emperors. Then that was replaced by Christianity. Then that was replaced by the Nordic religions of the Angles, Saxons and Jutes (people always forget the Jutes). Then that was replaced by Christianity, again. Many years later, popular Christianity was replaced, although it was replaced by another variety of Christianity. Many years after that, there was electricity and Darwin and Freud, and we all gradually stopped believing in anything, with Spiritualism as a kind of rearguard action for people who wanted to believe in something but couldn't buy into Christianity any more.

My point - I have got one - is that anyone coming to this subject cold would expect English seasonal folk customs to be based on the Christian ritual year, perhaps with some survivals from the older forms of Christianity which went out with the Reformation. And they quite clearly are - there's basically nothing to explain. The chances of anything surviving from the Celts are minuscule, and the evidence that anything has survived is slim to none.

Thirdly, I think it's worthwhile - or interesting, at least - to study New Age beliefs as a form of modern folklore in itself. The idea of the worlds of the living and dead touching or interpenetrating is an old one, and the sense that it might be happening at this time of year is part of an appropriate ritual response to the season. But if you got in your Tardis and told a pre-Roman Celt that the "veil between the worlds grows thin at Samhain" they wouldn't have known what you were talking about. Come to that, if you'd run the idea past Lady Gregory or Gerald Gardner, they would probably have been baffled too (although I'm sure they would have jotted it down). It's a very modern idea.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Halloween and the 'thinning veil'
From: theleveller
Date: 31 Oct 13 - 02:20 PM

Seems like we're in Arthur Machen territory here. T C Lethbridge, in his book 'A Step in the Dark', has an interesting take on this gleaned from his archaeological work using pendulums.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Halloween and the 'thinning veil'
From: Les in Chorlton
Date: 31 Oct 13 - 02:21 PM

"'Ghosts are real, just as UFOs are real. "

Then you will have to redefine real


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Halloween and the 'thinning veil'
From: Les in Chorlton
Date: 31 Oct 13 - 02:29 PM

I'm with Phil all the way. And pretty well with JB - we have swapped ideas on and off and I think I know what you mean by:

"I do declare an interest - an interest in religion, myth, ritual, the occult, folklore, ceremony... all of which are the work of humanity, every single stitch in the rare old tapestry."

People can say and believe anything they want. But if they want to be taken seriously they have to be scholarly and consistant. Jumping from Jack in the Green via crystals to dead Celts is generally nonsense - that's ok if you don't want to be taken seriously.

As far as I know:

"T C Lethbridge, in his book 'A Step in the Dark', has an interesting take on this gleaned from his archaeological work using pendulums. "

is taking us no where - except up so old garden path.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Halloween and the 'thinning veil'
From: Jack Campin
Date: 31 Oct 13 - 02:32 PM

he was probably thinking "good effort with the beard, but what are the shopping bags meant to mean?"
[...a few posts later...]
Celtic religion went out in Britain when the Romans arrived. Roman religion took its place - including the worship of dead emperors. Then that was replaced by Christianity. Then that was replaced by the Nordic religions of the Angles, Saxons and Jutes (people always forget the Jutes).


There's your explanation. They were replaced by the Polythenes.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Halloween and the 'thinning veil'
From: Lighter
Date: 31 Oct 13 - 03:01 PM

> The chances of anything surviving from the Celts are minuscule, and the evidence that anything has survived is slim to none.

Correct. But the use of Celts (not usually real ones) and Druids and ghosts sells books and greeting cards and fashions and candies and....


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Halloween and the 'thinning veil'
From: Jack Blandiver
Date: 31 Oct 13 - 03:24 PM

The chances of anything surviving from the Celts are minuscule, and the evidence that anything has survived is slim to none.

Not true. The Celtic heritage remained on the fringes - that's what the Roman wall was all about. The Romans absorbed and took an interest in all aspects of Celtic Spirituality. The world has always been rich in the commerce of ideas with cross fertilisations coming in from all over the place. Thus - nothing is ever THAT clean cut. I think that's what Kipling was getting at with The Land - there will always be a continuity of folklore in the vernacular.

Christianity likewise enshrined a lot of pre-Christian ideas / festivals / concepts that remain with us into a new era of secularism. Plus ca change! And the evidence for that is all around you, just as the evidence for The Thinning Veil is in the very practise & endurance of Halloween itself; and the ballads, and the stories, and the songs, which testify to a deeper mystery that is born from the human philosophy of heaven & earth, as we experience it from one generation to the next.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Halloween and the 'thinning veil'
From: Phil Edwards
Date: 31 Oct 13 - 06:35 PM

If people act on things they believe to be real, those things are real in their consequences - and if holding a belief puts you in touch with something real, then that belief is real (for you). If an idea about a veil becoming thinner at this time of year works for people, then it's valid to the extent that it works.

It's still a very modern idea - older than crop circles, younger than UFOs, much younger than ley lines - which would have been alien not only to the ancient Celts but to an older generation of folklorists.

As for the Celts, it seems to me that any Celtic survival would be the cultural equivalent of a standing stone in a field - it would have been there in 400 CE, and in 900, 1400 and 1900. I can't imagine what would qualify.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Halloween and the 'thinning veil'
From: Jack Campin
Date: 31 Oct 13 - 06:47 PM

The Romans absorbed and took an interest in all aspects of Celtic Spirituality.

I don't believe there is any evidence whatever to suggest that. Once they arrived in Britain the only religious images they made were of the same deities they had back home. They may have had a certain anthopological curiosity about what the British got up to but they certainly weren't about to spend hard cash on sacrifices to British gods.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Halloween and the 'thinning veil'
From: Lighter
Date: 31 Oct 13 - 06:54 PM

> weren't about to spend hard cash on sacrifices to British gods

Or valuable time.

The Romans were so uninterested in Celtic religion that they usually described the local Celtic gods (including those of the Gauls) with familiar names like "Mars" and "Minerva," and let it go at that.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Halloween and the 'thinning veil'
From: Les in Chorlton
Date: 01 Nov 13 - 04:20 AM

I think the academic world - that group of people who actually study evidence, maybe constuct the odd hypothesis and so on - have a different view of who the Celts were, where they lived and what they did, than most of the people who lurk around places like this passing opinions on Celtic and pre-christian influences in folklore.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Halloween and the 'thinning veil'
From: Jack Blandiver
Date: 01 Nov 13 - 07:20 AM

The study of Folklore is like trying to hold water in a paper bag. This threads attempts a sort of study-of-the-study of folklore but is barely adequate for the purposes as it seems to have made its mind up from the off & is predicated on a confusion of FOLKLORE and THE STUDY OF FOLKLORE which are two very different things. Evidences have been offered, and roundly ignored. Before FOLKLORE was invented, there was still FOLKLORE; same as BIRDS predate the study of ORNITHOLOGY by several million years or so.

To reiterate : the thinning of the veil was a METAPHOR used by Folklorists to account of a number of indicators in folkloric usage which all seem to derive from a core belief born out in folktale, folksong, ballad, and customs both solemn and otherwise. The Folklorists sought to collect and analyse these things - as such they are the accumulated evidences that account for the Veil Concept. The concept is no older than Folklore itself, but the evidences for a belief in the confusion of given dualities are ancient. To quote Sherlock Holmes : 'When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.' And to quote Ronald Hutton (again):

For the Celts Samhain was a time when the gates between this world and the next were open. It was a time of communion with the spirits of the dead, who, like the wild autumnal winds, were free to roam the earth. At Samhain the Celts called upon their ancestors, who might bring warnings and guidance to help with the year to come.' (The Stations of the Sun, 1996. Ch 35, p 360)

Why should this surprise us? Like many others I regularly consult a ZODIAC which was ancient even when the PHARAOHS had it carved on their tombs. I have seen the same signs in medieval brass gleaming on the marble floors of Canterbury Cathedral wherein the wild imagery of the Romanesque hints at all manner of ritual vernacular misrule which even the mediaeval churchmen adopted as an essential ingredient for their own Ritual Reversals in the Feast of the Ass. You can see the same signs daily in The Mirror. The past is everywhere & defines everything that we are.   

*

The Romans are known to have taken many local deities & places of worship. On the Tyneside end of the Roman Wall (now in the middle of housing estate at Benwell) there is a temple to one Antenociticus - a horned God of Celtic origin. There are also decorated well-heads venerating local spirits (as mentioned by Graves in The White Goddess). Like the Borg, the Romans assimilated a lot of stuff on their travels, but things get assimilated anyway, it's the Brownian Motion of Cultures that negates precious notions of indigineity so beloved of racists. On account of its diverse and myriad borrowings Christianity has been called the most pagan religion of them all.

The Roman Church had a mission statement to take over local sacred sites & feast days to make their job easier in the supplanting of paganism. The very name EASTER is pagan - the fact that it's STILL a moveable feast (celebrated on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the Spring Equinox) is also an indicator of just how sacred this day was to the pre-Christian religions. Other moveable lunar feasts were nailed down to specific days (Samhain, Beltane, Imbolc & Lammas) - not so Eostre.

The fact that Christian churches were sited on pre-Roman places of worship tells us a good deal of what was still regarded as 'sacred' long after the Romans had ite domum. On the back of this we have LeyLines - a contentious theory, of course, but with many hill-mounted churches dedicated to that arch dragon slayer Saint Michael - from Saint Michael's Mount to that most sacred of hills Glastonbury Tor - then there must be something in it.

This is but part the hoary lore of Merlin's Isle of Gramarye that underwrites the visionary mystery of sacred Albion. So mote it be!


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Halloween and the 'thinning veil'
From: Phil Edwards
Date: 01 Nov 13 - 08:00 AM

Seasonal rituals are pretty well universal, and as old as civilisation (if not older!). Which seasonal rituals are practised, and what people think they're doing when they carrying them out, can change in as little as fifty miles or fifty years. But these discontinuities in practices and beliefs don't make the practices and beliefs any less worthwhile, and they don't make the needs they serve any less fundamental or real. I don't think there's much point in looking for pre-Christian cultural survivals, but more importantly I don't think there's any need - a 100% Christian spring ritual does the same work as a pagan one (if there is such a thing).

As for the point of the OP, ever since people started studying folklore a whole body of folklore-about-folklore has grown up, often stressing concepts of the Ancient and the Unchanging. So when people took a hobby-horse from door to door at New Year, that wasn't just a rural custom, coupled with a contemporary broadside ballad in a spirit of creative improvisation - it was Sleipnir, steed of Odin, who had obviously been commemorated in Yorkshire since before the priests got there. Part of the belief in folklore as unchanging is projecting the way we think about it now back on to the ancient past. In the case of the 'thinning veil', it works well for us as a metaphor, but we can be pretty sure it's not a description of what the Celts believed. Firstly, nobody talked in those terms before 1978; secondly, when people did start using that image, they were harking back to nineteenth- and twentieth-century ideas about reality and the spirit world being separated by a 'veil' - which in turn were based on a misreading of the King James Bible (the 'veil' of the temple was a pretty solid curtain).

Folklore about folklore keeps changing, but never reflects on it - because one of the key beliefs is that whatever we believe now is true, so it must be the same thing that earlier folklorists believed (not to mention the folk who had the lore in the first place). Ley lines are a great example. Alfred Watkins believed he'd discovered a network of tracks, which he called 'leys' ("the old straight track" indeed): not lines of power, not straight lines connecting high points on the map, but paths that the ancients used to walk down. Nobody now believes that; people who talk about "ley lines" now are talking about something very different from Watkins' original vision. They've entered the folklore of folklore, becoming something people believe in because other people have believed in them.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Halloween and the 'thinning veil'
From: GUEST,SteveT
Date: 01 Nov 13 - 08:13 AM

"When I was a kid in Lancashire in the 50s, there was no trick or treating - but there was a custom known locally as "mischief night", (Will Fly)

As I recall mischief night was "celebrated" on 4th November in my part of Cheshire. I don't recall any Halloween (31st Oct.) activity there at all when I was young although, of course, there were All Saints' and All Souls' days.

"It implies that there a secure barrier between the (mainly malignant) world of the dead and our own one, something we can count on for 364 days of the year." (Jack Campin)

According to Wimberly there is an Irish text for Tam Lin which puts the fairy processions as taking place on the 1st May. There are also plenty of folk customs based around May-eve which are based around contacting "spirits". There are also plenty of other ballads that have visitations, albeit mostly revenant ones, taking place on most nights of the week!

"Celtic religion went out in Britain when the Romans arrived. Roman religion took its place - including the worship of dead emperors. Then that was replaced by Christianity. ….. The chances of anything surviving from the Celts are minuscule, and the evidence that anything has survived is slim to none." (Phil Edwards)

"Christianity likewise enshrined a lot of pre-Christian ideas / festivals / concepts that remain with us into a new era of secularism." (Jack Blandiver)

I'm inclined to agree with Jack Blandiver here. I'm not sure that it's all that easy to remove people's underlying beliefs and the success of occupying forces in imposing a religion are questionable. So the arrival of the Romans, and the fact that they left evidence that they were still worshipping their own gods, does not mean that the rest of the population, away from the forts, followed suit. Christianity, being partly home-grown, is another story but we have plenty of evidence that the Christians, at least at the start, were more inclined to absorb many of the earlier practices and celebrations into their own than to banish them. (That seems to have been more of a 13th – 17th Century phenomenon). It's worth looking at Pope Gregory's letter to Mellitus (around 605) for contemporary evidence of this. Additional possible evidence for the survival of non-mainstream practices over time can be found in the Pellar tradition of West Cornwall, which, though I'm inclined to think that current "practitioners" are more likely to be influenced by Gardener and Crowley, was documented well into the 20th Century. There are also the interesting "witch pits" found in Saveock Water in Cornwall which seem to date from 17th Century to the 20th.

None of this, of course, has anything to do with "Celts" (a recent catch-all term useful as a sales pitch) but I think it would be wrong to assume that practices (and beliefs) that we now class as folklore cannot have an earlier origin than recent Christianity. To paraphrase Jack Blandiver, the metaphor "thinning of the veil" may be a recent one but the underlying idea, and the evidence for it, may date back a lot further.

(Sorry, I seem to be agreeing with Mr B a lot - a lapse I'll try to address as soon as I can.)


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Halloween and the 'thinning veil'
From: Jack Blandiver
Date: 01 Nov 13 - 08:33 AM

Vision is key to understanding Watkins' ley theory; when he first conceived of it he saw it in terms of lines of ancient interconnecting energies, something he famously omitted from The Old Straight Track - famous to us old woolly hatted ley hunters anyway. I have seen glowing leylines emanating from Glastonbury Tor - I saw one flash in a blaze of colour & pure shimmering drone across the distances to Wells Cathedral, and watched it rise into the skies to touch at the stars. Granted I was tripping out of my box at the time but the magic of psilocybin is a visionary potion that opens our Third Ear to sounds & visions we are otherwise deaf to on a conscious level because more mundane concerns. Watkins was a visionary, as was the late, great, John Michell. Thanks to them, LeyLore & Earth Mysteries are a crucial part of our cultural dreaming and provide a catalyst for the experience of something very ancient indeed - something which lay dormant for many hundreds of years.         

Otherwise, yes, by all means, but it's all there in all its diverse richness and no ritual was ever simply made up without close reference to what had gone before. Even the concept of ritual - like that of music and language - is an ancient one, defining of the ancientness of our humanity & the core concerns thereof. That we seek comforts from transience in The Ancient is part of how we operate collectively & as individuals, each according to their inner (mostly unconscious) visionary core.

All things have their time, and for very good reason : the Zeitgeist is that which grants us the wonder so we might better experience our primal urges in terms of absolute renewal but these things are older than history.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Halloween and the 'thinning veil'
From: Will Fly
Date: 01 Nov 13 - 08:50 AM

Celtic religion went out in Britain when the Romans arrived.

Modern theories, based on DNA group tests and other (historical) researches indicate that the presence of Celts in England was more or less confined to the south-west. Reason? Because, after the last ice age - some 16,000 years ago, tribes moved up from the "havens" in southern Spain up through the west - western Spain, western France, Cornwall, Ireland - but not mainland, eastern England. So who was in this part of England? Probably tribes who were more related to Germanic or Flemish or Scandinavian tribes across the water. I'm using modern geographical terminology rather crudely here. The reasons for all this are numerous and worth looking at, and if true, puts a different complexion on what we have been traditionally taught:

(a) that the invading Romans drove the Celts from England into Cornwall, Wales, Ireland, etc. No - because they weren't really there in the first place.

(b) That, after the Romans left Britain, any remaining Celts were massacred by invading Angles, Saxons, Jutes, etc. No - because the incomers were probably of the same tribal stock as the existing English.

I'm only touching on the subject here - the reasoning behind it all, based on DNA research, research into inscriptions (or lack of them), closer examination of Latin and early English texts, is too complex to quote in detail here. But worth a look if you're interested in the celtic "myths".


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Halloween and the 'thinning veil'
From: Les in Chorlton
Date: 01 Nov 13 - 09:15 AM

Hey Will, I have read that book too. Certainly unermines a lot of 'Celtic' nonsense.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Halloween and the 'thinning veil'
From: Lighter
Date: 01 Nov 13 - 09:30 AM


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Halloween and the 'thinning veil'
From: Lighter
Date: 01 Nov 13 - 09:50 AM

I> based on a misreading of the King James Bible

I'd call it an "adaptation" rather than a "misreading," but it's a minor point.

If anyone's interested, sometime in the '90s I heard a TV character mutter in a Halloween episode, "The *wall* between the worlds grow thin." Sorry I can't remember the series.

So if you want to believe in a wall instead of a veil, there's your source.

Here in the States, Halloween as a consuming fantasmagoria of trick-or-treat, candy and card sales, rented costumes, adult parties, etc., is a recent development.

Interestingly enough, the earliest known example of "Trick or treat!" comes from Alberta in 1927. According to the Lethbridge Herald of Nov. 4:

"TRICK OR TREAT IS DEMAND ... Hallowe'en provided an opportunity for real strenuous fun.
No real damage was done except to the temper of some who had to hunt for wagon wheels, gates, wagons, barrels, etc., much of which decorated the front street. The youthful tormentors were at back door and front demanding edible plunder by the word 'trick or treat' to which the inmates gladly responded and sent the robbers away rejoicing."

Costumes are not mentioned, but mischief is. Othee 1940s. The commercial holiday is very much a post-1945 development.

The Butte, Montana, Standard (Oct. 29, 1937) reported on a school-sponsored Halloween parade (to discourage vandalism). The parade featured home-made costumes, and the article mentions the demand of "trick-or-treat."

Other early examples are also from "out West," but they're rare before the 1940s. The commercial holiday is very much a post-1945 phenomenon.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Halloween and the 'thinning veil'
From: Richard Bridge
Date: 01 Nov 13 - 10:54 AM

Hmm, didn't the "old ways" (and the oral tradition due largely to a lack of writing) persist in Ireland until about 800-ish after which while England had the dark ages Ireland became cohesive with roads and learning and stuff? I only vaguely remember something about that, in the context of St Patrick. Then the Xtian writers put an Xtian spin on what they recorded of the old ways. Or is my memory scrambled?

More amazingly - Blandiver here asserts that folklore is anonymous and ancient, yet elsewhere denies the same of folk song. Is it just that the former is rooted in his occult vision?


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Halloween and the 'thinning veil'
From: MGM·Lion
Date: 01 Nov 13 - 10:55 AM

"1885 is close year zero for Folklore; before that few took any notice of these rude, crude customs and they might be survivals of. The Golden Bough was first published in 1890."

But long pre-empted, Jack ~~

"John Brand wrote Observations on the popular antiquities of Great Britain: Including the Whole of Mr. Bourne's Antiquitates Vulgares (1777), generally referred to as Popular Antiquities. (The incorporated work was the Popular Antiquities of Henry Bourne, published 1725, with Brand's own extensive annotations)" - wiki

~M~


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Halloween and the 'thinning veil'
From: GUEST,Phil E
Date: 01 Nov 13 - 12:36 PM

SteveT - interesting, and I'm willing to believe my 'slim to none' is overstated. I'm not sure if Gregory's letter to Mellitus is evidence of very much, though. If you take out all the old idols, reconsecrate the ground and dedicate the building to Christian worship (as Gregory recommended), and if the building is then used as a church for 1000 years, surely what you've got at the end of it is a 1000-year-old Christian church. (And a 1000-year-old Christian church is a numinous thing in itself, charged with all those years of everyday, taken-for-granted belief.)

Relatedly, I never said I was talking about "recent Christianity" (your phrase, emph. added). I'd argue that England at the time of the folklore collectors had an official religion (C of E) and an old religion (pre-Reformation Catholicism), mostly forgotten but lingering in odd pockets. It'd be more fruitful (as well as making more historical sense) to look at popular ritual and belief for vestiges of that Old Religion.

I confess, I'm not an out-and-out sceptibunker; my hidden agenda is to get folkies to take Christianity seriously. More specifically, to take it seriously as a weird magical belief system (Christians tend to lose interest at this point) - but one which was particularly powerful because everyone believed in it, not that long ago. Take it from Tam Lin:

"Well, come tell me now, young Tambling," she says,
"If an earthly man you be."
"I'll tell you no lies," says young Tambling,
"I was christened as good as thee, me dear,
I was christened as good as thee."


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Halloween and the 'thinning veil'
From: Jack Blandiver
Date: 02 Nov 13 - 06:14 AM

Blandiver here asserts that folklore is anonymous and ancient, yet elsewhere denies the same of folk song. Is it just that the former is rooted in his occult vision?

Many aspects of culture process can be seen as anonymous / ancient if you stand back far enough. A lot of folklore is like this, and a lot of folk-song too, but the MEDIUM through which it flows is comprised of human individuals. When these individuals are as idiosyncratically creative as we know a lot of Traditions Singers to have been then it would folly to ignore their genius, or the fact that all music is , ultimately, a product of the self-same quality. Same goes with storytelling - I have first hand experience of this from having worked alongside one of The Great Traditional Storytellers of our time, now, sadly no longer with us.

In The Imagined Village Georgina Boyes quotes Joseph Jacobs (no less!) on the ability of storytellers of old who were immersed in their idiom that they might free-style narratives within classic Indo-European folk-tale morphology. Jazz musicians do this as a matter of course, likewise Rappers, and traditional musicians / singers the world over.

As an aside, I once heard of a Song Competition in Turkey (I think) where traditional song masters put needles between their upper & lower lip so as to exclude certain phonemes whilst free-styling ballads. Give us a P please, Bob! Ouch...

Despite this creative input, The Idiom remains - like any other musical idiom - folkloric & traditional. There are always rules & conventions. Just browse through the Heavy Metal section oat your local HMV for a perfect demonstration of how conservative these can be.

No individual musician has ever made up their own musical idiom - even that arch maverick Harry Partch was drawing on aesthetic & technical ideas going back out of time. His microtonal 43-note octave was derived from Pythagorean theory so he could delight in using the Perfect Thirds impossible on the standard Western tempered scale - itself a product of much folkloric to-ing and fro-ing. In any case he is part of The Tradition of musical experimentation in the New World, Partch's place is assured in perpetuity.

The nature of any musical tradition is allow individual musicians to shine all the brighter.

As we have seen in this thread, the inherently Celtic folklore of Halloween is decidedly more - er - occult. The veil between the two worlds is a real as our relationship with our personal dead who, irrespective of whether we be religious or no, will forever be so close that they might look over us...

Hermione Harvestman : All Souls


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Halloween and the 'thinning veil'
From: Jack Blandiver
Date: 02 Nov 13 - 06:54 AM

These veils might be thin at other times too. Two examples : when Burd Ellen runs off widdershins around the church (a customary thing to do in my young day; indeed, at Earsdon, there was a fence at one of the church which we believed to be there to prevent such devilish practise, but it was no obstacle to we wee reprobates); & the bereaved lover in Cold Blows the Wind, predicated (according to John Kirkpatrick on the sleeve notes of ATMAATSWBARHCB) on the widespread belief the tears of the bereaved shed on a grave are enough to scald the dead. Talking of which, the funeral symbolism of The Veil is prevalent enough in graveyard sculpture these past 200 years or more.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Halloween and the 'thinning veil'
From: GUEST,SteveT
Date: 02 Nov 13 - 07:05 AM

PhilE –   I totally agree with you that your "Old Religion" is "a weird magical belief system". If Christianity started as a Jewish sect it has travelled a long way since and, leaving aside Orthodox Christianity of which I know nothing, it seems to have done much of that travelling in Western Europe, not least in Britain itself (look at the number of missionaries that originated from here in the "dark ages".) As such it is worth looking at what this western Christianity is built on. I'd argue that a lot of the "weird magical" practices, its iconography and relic veneration, its magical transubstantiation, its festivals and celebrations and even its version of heaven and hell owe a lot to the preceding beliefs of its followers.

"If you take out all the old idols, reconsecrate the ground and dedicate the building to Christian worship …. what you've got at the end of it is a 1000-year-old Christian church."   True it's a 1000-year-old Christian church but what has Christianity become during the 1000+ years? You remove the idols and replace them with "saints", many of whom scholars now believe were either total fabrications (St. Christopher) or real people who had grafted onto them the attributes of earlier deities (St. Bridget/Bridget of Kildare/Bride). (You also fill your churches with carvings of "green men") You also carry out your worship when and where the people would have been worshipping their pre-Christian deities. Although those people might nominally be practicing Christians, it makes you wonder how much their actual belief system, as opposed to the title under which they practiced it, had to change.

Perhaps, in addition, the two systems ran along side each other (as they seem to do today with some Catholics still happy to resort to fortune tellers, mediums etc.) As well as your example from Tam Lin, the author(s) of Thomas the Rhymer seem to have been quite prepared to accept a fairy realm existing in parallel to a Christian Heaven and Hell.

"Don't you see yon narrow, narrow road,
So thick beset with thorns and briars?
That is the road to righteousness,
Though after it but few enquire."
"Don't you see yon broad, broad road,
Lying lies across the lily leaven?
That is the road to wickedness,
Though some call it the road to heaven."
"Don't you see yon bonnie, bonnie road,
Lying across the ferny brae?
That is the road to fair Elfland,
Where you and I this night must go."

Wimberly notes that most "magic" in the Child ballads seems to act totally independently of Christian belief; for example in "Willie's Lady" the disenchantment involves a type of counter-spell rather than any recourse to priests, church or God. Even Tam Lin was not rescued by Christian "magic" or because he was Christian but by a type of counter-spell. Wimberly gives plenty of other examples in his chapters on enchantment and disenchantment which have little to do with Christian teaching or accepted Christian practice so we have both the adoption of "pagan" practices by the church (saints etc) and the parallel thread of non-Christian magic, both of which existed in the population and probably influenced its song writing.

I don't think for a moment that the songs we sing today, no matter how old, were created by anything other than "practicing Christians" of some sort or another and therefore include plenty of the belief system that Christianity evolved into but I think that that belief system contains fragments of its predecessors and that those Christians also carried on a number of their pre-Christian "religious" cultural beliefs and practices in parallel with their church attendance. I don't think we'll ever know for sure which bits are which any more than we'll know for sure who wrote some of the songs, when, where or why – I'm just glad they were written.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Halloween and the 'thinning veil'
From: Lighter
Date: 02 Nov 13 - 01:18 PM

Any pre-Christian "fragments and predecessors" like ghosties and goblins were left over at the level of fancy and superstition.

Christian doctrine (i.e., Christianity as taught in church) was developed by very unfolklike Church Fathers like St. Augustine of Hippo and St. Thomas Aquinas. They relied solely on what they considered to be Greek logic and Divine Revelation.

It's one thing to say that "pagan superstitions" have lingered for centuries, another to connect them directly to Christian observances.

They still believe in trolls in Iceland - more or less. But I don't see that as having any connection today with serious religious rituals.

In the clearly Christian "Beowulf," the Danes revert temporarily to paganism to cover all bases against the Grendel family. The fact that they could do so shows that the two systems were essentially distinct and that Christianity was still the norm.

What's more, it was a thousand years ago. The later church explained all earthbound supernatural creatures (like fairies) as fallen angels (i.e., demons) bent on deceit and destruction. (They explained pagan gods the same way.) Except perhaps for the reckless young, no sane medieval person would mess with them.

Even if they've been trapped by fairies, neither Thomas the Rhymer nor Tam Lin waste any time worshiping pagan gods.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Halloween and the 'thinning veil'
From: Les in Chorlton
Date: 02 Nov 13 - 01:24 PM

I think I am with you in general Sean, but

"As we have seen in this thread, the inherently Celtic folklore of Halloween is decidedly more - er - occult. The veil between the two worlds is a real as our relationship with our personal dead who, irrespective of whether we be religious or no, will forever be so close that they might look over us..."

abd specifically:

"The veil between the two worlds is a real as our relationship with our personal dead"

seems like storytelling - fiction which is not based is fact - yes I know they exist on some kind of continuum - bit the extremes are not the same.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Halloween and the 'thinning veil'
From: Anne Lister
Date: 02 Nov 13 - 02:54 PM

Just out of curiosity I checked with my copy of the Chambers Book of Days (which was published in 1875). There's a considerable amount in there on what was done then on 31st October in terms of mischief-making, fortune telling and so on, and the narrative clearly states that much of this is very old indeed. So, it was considered old in 1875 and much of it is still current. My Chambers Book of Days is an English publication. So let's not run away with the idea that the contemporary take on Hallowe'en is altogether a recent invention.
I'm not getting drawn into the rest of this discussion, though!


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Halloween and the 'thinning veil'
From: Phil Edwards
Date: 02 Nov 13 - 06:10 PM

I should think Halloween has been buzzing with weirdness for as long as there's been a Halloween; after all, it is All Souls' Eve - the night before the annual commemoration of all the saints who don't get a day of their own. The Night of Forgotten Saints - put that way it sounds positively Lovecraftian.

Ironically, I think my difference with JB is that I think popular ritual practices are much more creative and spontaneous - and hence much more variable over time - than he seems to allow. I think there's a deep human urge to Do Stuff - symbolic, excessive stuff - and the stuff attaches itself in different ways to different occasions and seasons. I've never done factory work, but I used to work with people who had done and I remember two guys reminiscing about the treatment meted out to the low man on the totem pole in the warehouse where they used to work. The detail about Shrove Tuesday sticks in my mind – if you were the youngest guy on the team, on Shrove Tuesday you would make yourself very scarce; if your workmates found you, you'd get your balls painted black with boot polish. Why Shrove Tuesday? Why black knackers? Why not? Perhaps the reason why people hunted a wren on Boxing Day was just that hunting a wren is something that seems loaded with meaning and Boxing Day is a significant occasion.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Halloween and the 'thinning veil'
From: Jack Blandiver
Date: 02 Nov 13 - 06:28 PM

Oddly I was just browsing a copy of Book of Days today in the Carnforth Bookshop...

*

seems like storytelling - fiction which is not based is fact - yes I know they exist on some kind of continuum - bit the extremes are not the same.

What I mean there, Les, is the relationship we have with those loved ones we have lost. I lost an dear friend through CF when we were both 22. I never mourned him because I never felt he'd left us; over 30 years later it still feels the same. If he came walking through the door now I wouldn't be at all surprised. When my old mother died 2 years ago I didn't feel any sense of loss (fair enough after 7 years of extreme stroke illness!) but a huge sense of release. I've lost loved ones who I've mourned bitterly, but there is always a strong sense of continuance. I guess I'm not alone in this.

Storytelling-wise the Irish Folk Tales volume (Henry Glassie ed.1985) in the Penguin Folklore Library as a great source of common-or-garden Ghostlore. Also, I recall a memorable conversation with the late, great Stanley Robertson who had a matter-of-fact view of the supernatural. To him it was as real as anything else & he regularly encountered ghosts. He told me if they were evil, the gooseflesh went up your spine, if they were evil, they went down.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Halloween and the 'thinning veil'
From: Phil Edwards
Date: 02 Nov 13 - 07:32 PM

after all, it is All Souls' Eve

All Saints' Eve, I should say - All Souls is the day after that.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Halloween and the 'thinning veil'
From: Jack Blandiver
Date: 02 Nov 13 - 07:41 PM

Today in fact...


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Halloween and the 'thinning veil'
From: Phil Edwards
Date: 30 Oct 14 - 07:59 PM

As the year turns again, this thread might be interesting to revisit!


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Halloween and the 'thinning veil'
From: GUEST,Blandiver (Astray)
Date: 31 Oct 14 - 07:52 AM

Was that Hooky gig a year ago? Bloody hell. No such luck this year! I'm too fecking ill besides, so a night in with an episode of Supernatural (1977) that BBC4 have been kind enough to show as part of their Gothic Season (most of which I've recorded but will no doubt get forgotten about in the coming weeks, apart from Life & Loves of a She Devil which has me hooked afresh!). Oh, & we've just got Season 3 of Grimm on DVD, so we'll have an episode of that tonight too, and maybe The Stalls of Barchester Cathedral for good measure, though I've still to watch Robin Redbreast.

Choices, choices...

Folklore? Well I've Very Happy Indeed that Sing Out! have selected one of our songs for Halloween on their Facebook page, which we'll now do as part of our set at The Heretics in Sheffield supporting Phil & Cath on the 13th. AND I did carve an ornamental gourd this year, which I've sat on top of our TV in readiness for the evening:

On the Telly Tonight...

Oo (and indeed) Er.

Sedayne.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Halloween and the 'thinning veil'
From: GUEST,Rahere
Date: 31 Oct 14 - 07:28 PM

The imagery of the diabolical comes from four human sources, firstly the Roman theology of damnation of the Early Fathers, something of a consolidation of the disparate facets of non-JudeoChristian creeds, expressed as a somewhat hypothetical likelihood, secondly the crystallisation of this into a putative reality in the wave of plagues of the second half of the 14th Century, thirdly the divergence of fundamentalist Protestantism from the Roman Counter-Reformation in the Wars of Religion 1560-1650, and fourthly the rise of satanism and neo-paganism from the 1890s onwards. Right, if you survived that lot, let's have the Veil: it's a reference to the Holy of Holies in the First Temple in Jewish Jerusalem, in the period between Solomon and Josiah. That inner sanctum was only accessed once a year and by the High Priest alone: the rest of the time the Seat fo God's Presence on the Ark was covered in a veil, to keep God apart from man. There is no evidence it was covered in the peripatetic years between Moses and Solomon, however. Although the Ark disappeared under Josiah, none the less a veil seems to still haave been used in the Holy of Holies, as it's completely split during the Crucifixion. According to the records, that is.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Halloween and the 'thinning veil'
From: LadyJean
Date: 31 Oct 14 - 11:53 PM

I could reccomend Katherine Briggs "British Folktales" and an account titled "Witches on Halloween". It describes an English farm family who spend Halloween night protecting their home from witches. This includes leaving a plate of sandwiches on the front steps, in case a witch stops by and wants a snack.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Halloween and the 'thinning veil'
From: GUEST,Blandiver (Astray)
Date: 01 Nov 14 - 05:25 AM

One would do well well to bear in mind the non-Western prototypes of Christian demonic imagery as recent research (MacDermott et al) into (so-called) Triple Hare & Green Man imagery has shown. The horrors on offer in the sculpture of the Romanesque for example (of which Herefordshire is particularly blessed, most notably at St. Mary's, Kilpeck) would seem to be woven from various strands of Norse and Hinduism.

Not convinced that the literal / orthodox Temple Veil has anything to do with the metaphorical / vernacular Twilight Veil under discussion here. A further example of the latter existed in parts of Lancashire where there existed numerous Purgatory Fields. It was here that the Teanlowe Fires were lit as Catholic families prayed to / for the souls of their dead, the notion being that at this time of the year Purgatory was a good deal closer than at other times; the veil at its thinnest. (See The Stations of the Sun (Hutton, 1996. Ch. 36, pp. 372-3).

In the merry glow of this, whilst seeing if there was anything about the Teanlowe Fires on-line I came across this news item from a few years back where Lancastrian roughs attempted to set fire to a shopping centre named after the long vanished custom. Rites & Riots!

Teanlowe Blaze : Three Held


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Halloween and the 'thinning veil'
From: GUEST,Rahere
Date: 01 Nov 14 - 05:53 PM

Jack, you miss the core of my posting, though, that the diabolical is entirely a human construct, partly as a matter of vested interest inside the Church (Fire and Brimstone and we're the only answer), partially as a reaction to it (OK, having tried it we now know buying that answer's worse than the alternative, let's try it).
Sartre was subtle about it: what happens if simply discovering how wrong you were means you create your own kind of hell yourself, custom made by you for you?

This starts to focus on the human need for masochism. Even if it is only looking like a commercialised sucker with no artistic capacity whatsoever. I'm not arguing not having a conscience, what I am suggesting is that the appropriate treatment for such jumped-up numpties is a punch in the bracket and if they come back for more, rapid escalation. Bible Belt take note.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Halloween and the 'thinning veil'
From: Lighter
Date: 01 Nov 14 - 06:48 PM

The Great Pumpkin: Friend of Man or Fiend of Hell?


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Halloween and the 'thinning veil'
From: GUEST,Blandiver (Astray)
Date: 04 Nov 14 - 05:54 AM

Ah, but from whence cometh our fear of ghosts if there are no ghosts to fear? Hence The Roaring Trade itself, no doubt - religion, magic, folklore, witchcraft, ghostlore, horror and all things ghastly that persist without a shred of objective evidence. And yet we all, even the most rational of us, have a Ghost Story, do we not? Such things become comforting in themselves even though we know not what they are, just that there is something that might betoken there is more to it, despite there being nothing to fear but fear itself... And what else is Fear but this nebulous, natural-born or otherwise atavistic capacity which culture has been swift to exploit for our general amusement simply because such things do scare us - even, if pushed, into objectivity...


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Halloween and the 'thinning veil'
From: GUEST,Rahere
Date: 04 Nov 14 - 04:15 PM

It's a fear of death, in particular nasty, brutish forms of death. That's why I associated the development of the diabolical with the events of the day, the fall of the Roman Empire and arrival of barbarian dark ages (for all that the study of the period has proved they were not as dark as was considered in my youth), the plagues of the end of the 14th century, the Wars of Religion and the plagues which followed, and the aftermath of the Industrial Revolution, with the ravages of disease seen in the late Victorian - the PR understates just how bad the death count of the 1850s actually was.

Each time, some cultural parasite (the Church, neopaganism) hooks into it. Let's not fall victim to it again, if ebola gets out of control.

For all I can see, the earliest use of the veil imagery in this sense goes back to Harriet Beecher Stowe in the mid 19th Century. She hooked into other forms of mysticism, in the Veronica veil, retained as a cult relic of the Crucifixion in one of Poussin's four iconastases of the St Peter's Baldaccino in the Vatican, and possibly the Milan shroud. This sense often occurs in the momento mori tomb effigies of the fourteenth century, showing the life form above and the shrouded skeleton underneath. That in turn moves into the shrouded form of "Fatso" ghost. However, that is a veil between the life form and the death form, not the spiritual form. The general sense in the Roman creed is studied here, which has nothing to do with the subject at hand: it serves to cover the angles one might look for in Aquinas and Augustine, however, in support of my hypothesis that the real roots lie in pseudo-Arthurian feminist texts typified by the work of Marion Zimmer Bradley, taking the work of the Victorian neogothicists on to the heart of the neowiccan and pagan imagery indicated.


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