I've always been fascinated by it, but it wasn't until I learnt what this day was actually about in University that I fell in love with the day.
Today, you see, marks the return of ancestral spirits to their families. They come by to check on their loved ones and spend some quality time with their families. They are guided home with special lanterns carved from turnips (or pumpkins, in the new world), into which candles are placed. Special breads were baked this day, and left out for the ancestral spirits to munch on overnight while they visited.
I don't find the idea of spirits returning to visit loved ones to be spooky or scary. In fact, I think the idea is really very sweet. I adore the idea of greeting my grandmother, of smelling her soft, flowery perfume. I find great comfort in the thought that I might be able to have a chat with her, to tell her how I'm doing. I love the idea of a thread connecting myself with generations past, that I'm not ever really alone, that they'll be checking up on me every so often.
I also fully intend to haunt my family every Hallowe'en when I pass. Chances of having my own seem increasingly slim, so I will be haunting my sibling's children. Perhaps my godchildren. I don't think they'll be too spooked when I drop by.
Today is also one of those days that the Wild Hunt chases and captures the spirits of wrongdoers, or even beasts that have crossed the worldly divide what shouldn't have. If you've done no wrong, then feel comforted that this band of ancient heroes (King Arthur is rumoured to be in their number), and the otherwordly hounds, are patrolling the land, keeping you safe. It will also help your cause to light bonfire this night, as the flames will keep evil spirits and beasts at bay. If you see the hunter and his hounds, bow your head and show respect. It will not do to anger the Wild Hunt.
In Wales, you might come across Y Ladi Wen - the pale lady - who attends crossroads and graveyards, protecting travellers and guarding against other, darker spirits that may be there.
Anyway, whether you believe in ghosts or not, the idea behind Hallowe'en is lovely, and I'm all in on this day. It's not spooky or evil, but sweet and comforting. Even the Wild Hunt, while scary (but seriously, if you hear the hounds and the horn, bow your head as the hunt passes), is serving a protective role.
You know, I think I'm getting more witchy as I age.
I'm not mad about it.
Anyway, just dropping by to say that I can't wait to have a cup of tea and a chat with my grandmother this evening, and to wish all of you a joyous Samhain filled with sweet breads and lengthy visits with loved ones long gone.
(Spotted Loaf, traditionally served on Hallowe'en)
Place the yeast in the lukewarm water, add the teaspoon of sugar, stir, and set aside.
- 1 tablespoon dried yeast
- 1 1/2 cups water (lukewarm)
- 1/4 cup sugar (plus 1 teaspoon)
- 5 cups plain flour
- 1/4 cup butter
- Pinch salt
- 1/4 cup mixed candied peel
- 1 1/4 cup raisins
- 2 eggs (beaten)
Place the flour into a large, roomy baking bowl and add the butter and salt. Using your fingertips, rub the butter into the flour to form sand-like crumbs. Do not permit the butter to become too warm.
Add the peel, raisins, and the remainder of the sugar to the flour mixture and stir.
Make a well in the center of the flour mixture, then add the beaten eggs and the yeast mixture. Work the mixture together to form a soft dough.
Knead the dough on a floured worktop until smooth and pliable. Cover with a clean tea cloth and leave in a warm place until the dough has doubled in size.
Divide in two. Knead each half for another few minutes, and then form into two rounds.
Leave to rise for an hour.
Bake at 204C (400F) until golden brown.
Serve with tea and fresh butter.