A thousand years, give or take, before Einstein predicted the fourth dimension the Celts were already celebrating the night when the past, the future and the present became one.
Samhuinn (SAH-vin) was the day when the Celts brought their animals into the winter fold. It was a time of thanksgiving to the gods for the return of safe cattle and a plea for a bountiful food supply in the following year. In this season of the earth’s decay, Samhuinn was also a feast of the dead.
Early Christians in Scotland transplanted the Feast of All Saints onto the existing Celtic festival and so Samhuinn became Hallowe’en, a night for guising, when people dressed in disguise so that they would not be recognised by the spirits of the dead and trapped by them in the limbo between this world and the next. When imported to the United States by Scots and Irish immigrants, the tradition evolved into trick or treating.
As a Scot, I’m a stickler for referring to this tradition as guising, but when it comes to making a Hallowe’en lantern, carving a pumpkin is a much more enticing prospect than spending hours scraping, gouging and hacking at the traditional Scottish turnip – a medium as yielding as your average boulder.
I went out guising every year when I was growing up in the 1970s. There were a few glamourous wee fairies and the occasional witch roaming the streets, but mostly it was hordes of wee tramps going from door to door dressed in their dad’s old gear. I was channeling Laurel and Hardy, the piece de resistance of my ensemble being a plastic bowler hat – a souvenir from a weekend trip to Blackpool.
This Hallowe’en I’ll be staying at home, cosied up by the stove, a glass of red wine to hand as I read a few of my favourite tales of terror.
Check out my list and please feel free to make a few recommendations of your own.
- The Tell-tale Heart, Edgar Allan Poe
- The Monkey’s Paw, W.W. Jacobs
- The Bottle Imp, Robert Louis Stevenson
- The Lottery, Shirley Jackson
- Zombiesque, published by Daw Books Inc
- Zippered Flesh: Tales of Body Enhancements Gone Bad, edited by Weldon Burge
- Night Shift, Stephen King
- Books of Blood, Clive Barker
- Under The Skin, Michel Faber
- Dracula, Bram Stoker
- The Road, Cormac McCarthy
- The Stepford Wives, Ira Levin