Women: ruling Hallowe’en since forever

A little thing for Halloween by me for the brillian Women are Boring blog

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Where our witches at? Women Are Boring is donning its Hallowe’en hat for the weekend and getting SPOOKY. This piece, by Dr. Lucy Ryder, is the first in our two-part Hallowe’en series (the second is coming on Monday). Read on and learn all about where Hallowe’en originated, and how women have always been central to the festival.

10665389_10152821527398838_3608783368422652392_n We love you, Lisa Simpson

Where does Hallowe’en come from?

Hallowe’en is one of most secular of religious festivals, and possibly the most misunderstood. Deriving from the considerably more ancient Samhain (first recorded in the Irish tale Tochmarc Emire meaning ‘When the summer goes to rest”) the current fright night we now experience is a long way from its very ancient, but decidedly muddled, origins.

From an archaeological viewpoint, the period around Samhain (stretching from 31st October to, in some traditions, November 2nd) is difficult but not impossible to trace for the landscape…

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Unlucky three

My grandad used to say that bad luck came in threes, and to stop the trouble we needed to break a match.

It’s a little tradition I’ve taken into adulthood (and think of him each time), but as I caught myself carrying out the ritual tonight I stopped to think about it a little more.

I know that “three on a match” – that is three cigarettes lit from one match – was deemed unluckily in both the First and Second World Wars, and was thought to foretell the death of one of the triplet. It is suspected that the superstition may even go back to the Crimean War for its origin.

My grandad’s time in Monte Cassino during WWII would have certainly needed all the luck he could get, and is undoubtedly where our family superstition came from, if altered.

But what is it about the number three?

In the case of the match, it is sometimes thought that keeping a flame lit long enough the light 3 cigarettes would give the location of soldiers away to the enemy, but it’s bad luck connotations appear elsewhere.

Apparently three butterflies on a leaf is also unlucky, and an owl calling three times will bring misfortune.

On the flip side, it is seen as good insofar as it represents the holy trinity, and the stages of creation and life for cultures such as the ancient Babylonians and in the  Chinese tradition.

Whatever the reason I’ve broken my match this evening, as a positive action to move forward. Wish me luck 🍀…

Landscape of…. nothing?

I’m supposed to be writing, I mean ‘proper’ writing for an edited book. The problem with having a day job unrelated to my research is that I’ve have to write when time allows rather than when inspiration strikes.

So I have a chapter deadline looming fast, and my motivation has gone off to hide. As such I’m procrastinating; one such diversion is helping with some local history work of my village.

Everything is everso much more interesting when you’re trying to avoid the thing you need to do, and I’ve been happy to be pulled away on this tangent. But something is wrong. As a landscape archaeologist I have a standard toolkit of things to check first, which for my research also means delving into the local lore.

Except there isn’t any. There is nothing, not a pixie, ghost, or petrification in sight.

At first I thought I was just not looking in the right places, but hitting the internet to check more obscure gazetteers I was still drawing a blank.

How can a place have no narrative of it’s community? Is it down to the lack of existence or lack of preservation? If the latter,  why? Is there some reason, when surrounded by the Blackdown Hills that are filled with Willow-o-wisps, ghosts of dead rebels, dragons, and great battles of giants warriors and pixies there is nothing that sheds light of the beliefs of the villagers that lived here before me.

I have to admit, I am at a loss to explain, but it does elicit further distraction – I am determined to get to bottom of this odd deficit in my database.

 

#30DaysWild – Day 3 – Wild flower goodbye

wpid-wp-1434103563291.jpegWhat is Success?

To laugh often and much;

To win the respect of intelligent people
and the affection of children;

To earn the appreciation of honest critics
and endure the betrayal of false friends;

To appreciate beauty;
To find the best in others;

To leave the world a bit better, whether by
a healthy child, a garden patch
or a redeemed social condition;

To know even one life has breathed
easier because you have lived;

This is to have succeeded.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

In Loving memory RPW x

#30dayswild 2016 – Day 1 Moon Jellies

I’ve neglected my blog for a long time, a mix of time short and illness has meant that sitting down to write has been difficult. My target of a blog a week has well and truly gone out of the window.

But it’s June and I’m taking part the Wildlife Trust’s 30 days wild so I’m going to hijack my blog to post the 30 wild posts. To keep it vaguely relevant, like last year, I’m going to try and link the ‘wildness’ to landscapes, folklore, archaeology, or all three is possible!

So… Day one: as part of Little Un’s continued birthday celebrations (and half term break) we went to the National Marine Aquarium in Plymouth. I loved seeing the diversity of plants and animals from around the UK coast line (and further afield…) and little un truly loved the Shark tank….

But one of my favourite exhibits were the jellies – there was something about the beauty that was mesmerising.

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I found the Common Jellyfish or Moon Jellies fascinating – and as they are prevalent around the British coastline, I’ve chosen them for my first wild experience of 2016. If it hadn’t been for the wild ones I would have happily spent my time watching them…. 🙂

Unsurprisingly I guess, much of the folklore relating to jellyfish is Japanese (I found a lovely story here) – in Britain there isn’t much that i have come across, with the exception of modern ‘urban myths’ of jelly invasions of large swarms; many of which are based on fact.

So for Day One I’ll just have to be content with the wildlife itself – and that is probably enough.

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Who you gonna call…

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I’ve tended to shy away from ghosts within my landscape/folklore/archaeology research (with the obvious exception of the ‘haunting’ of Jacob Seley, which can be found here). This is not through lack of interest, more due to the fact that it is a pretty emotive subject.
Unlike tales of pixies, giants, and demons, the belief in ghosts (or lack of it) is not something that can always be approached objectivity, and in many cases belief, or the need to believe, in the existence of ghosts are tied up in personal experiences of loss and bereavement. By questioning validity takes away the needed link to a love one. Equally, by following up on stories could reflect back to a real person and/or tragic event.
Though the collection and mapping of folkloric stories across the South West of England I came across a number of visual places in the landscape held stories relating to ghostly occurrences (and I’m not referring to ‘sightings’ of famous and historical figures), but I’ve always been avoided further analysis of them. I think the reason comes from a personal observation of the danger of forgetting the people in the stories told (and I’m changing/omitting the names and location deliberately in this next paragraph).

A number of years ago there was an investigation of a haunting of a house next to a relative of mine.
Their new neighbours were experiencing supposedly ghostly interactions with the former occupant of the house who had passed away about 6 months before.
They described in detail the appearance and mannerisms, and suggested the activities were strongest in particular locations that reflected the habits of the person when alive.
A team of investigators arrived, and subsequently published the account in a book on regional ghost stories.

Consequently, and perhaps inevitably, despite changing the name, the details listed relating to the location and suggested haunter were such that a family member of the ‘ghost’ ended up finding out and recognising their loved one. Obviously, to find a relative is supposed to be haunting your childhood home is not something I think anyone wishes to know.

So, as I think a semiconscious result of this, I’ve deliberately avoided working in this area, and edged around the ghost stories in my database. That is until recently. Maybe my reputation as “the girl who talks about fairies” means that I appear more approachable, but I have been asked to undertake archaeological and landscape investigations a number of supposedly haunted buildings or places.

I’ve not been asked to prove or disprove the existence of ghosts, let me make that clear, nor am I undertaking any ‘ghost hunting’ of my own (I’ll leave that to those with the specialism and the fancy equipment!). But through documentary and map evidence, and clues in the landscape I have tried to piece together the background to a location, and suggest a reason for the story to occur and be tied in a place. In one case I was asked to research the siting of a school, and from a landscape perspective overlaying the modern building on to old maps, and discussing what is now a built up area before the urban spread, was fascinating. For another, I actually had a name to work with, and finding reference to it in the archives in the right place did come as a bit of a suprise!

That said, it could be argued it merely a straightforward piece of landscape research; being pragmatic by nature, it’s certainly the best way to approach it, and how I conducted it. But I’m conscious of the ethical issues relating to something that could uncover real people, and real tragedies, misremembered and the context lost and forgotten. After all, as Prof. Tolkien wrote “And some things that should not have been forgotten were lost. History became legend. Legend became myth…”

I’m continuing to look into the stories as a little distration from my normal day job and research, but fully aware of the veritable minefield of issues that come from it. Maybe I’m being over cautious, but I’m probably going to stick with pixies and petrification myths in the long term. After all, the likelihood of upsetting someone by investing fairy activities is much less likely than that of a tale of hauntings.