The Customs & Traditions of Samhain-Halloween
It’s Punkie Night tonight
It’s Punkie Night tonight
Give us a candle, give us a light
It’s Punkie Night tonight.
One of the most important festivals of the Cunning Folk year is Samhain (pronounced Sow-en) or Halloween and, traditionally, each community throughout the country had their own rites and rituals on such a night. Upon this night we are brought closer to the dead; our forebears and ancient ancestors are said to walk the earth, and to appear to us in our dreams and magical workings, when the veil betwixt us and the other-world is at its thinnest.
The British Isles is richly blessed with such traditions. In Somerset it is known as Punkie Night and is still remembered in Long Sutton, Hinton St George and Castle Neroche, in the Blackdown Hills. There is also a tradition in Ireland where it is called ‘Pooky Night’; in Wales, as ‘Pwca’, and in Cornwall as ‘Bwcca’. This is the original name given by the Ancient Britons to the Fae or Fairies, as they appear on this night to make mayhem, and to lead the Merry Dance. But beware, should they invite you in, you must be ready with your circle and iron to protect yourself.
On this night, swedes and turnips are carved into Jack O’ Lanterns, rather than pumpkins which are very much an American tradition. The lanterns keep away the darkness and protect all from evil. On Bredon hill, there is a belief that on Halloween night spectres of all the people who are fated to die in the coming year walk through the graveyard. If the macabre procession is disturbed, then the person watching will join them. In Gloucestershire’s Forest of Dean, a similar fate is shared by those who witness ‘The Wild Hunt’ on Halloween. Sabina Maglioco says,
‘The (sic) Wild Hunt is a generic name given to numerous folk myths associated with ‘soul-ravening’ chases, often led by a god, goddess, or mythological figure, accompanied by a cavalcade of souls of the dead; opens awareness with the cyclical process of nature, through magical consciousness.”
The mythology of the Wild Hunt, as a language of magical consciousness, creates a framework to experience. This is the ‘throng of the dead’, consisting of anyone, from soldiers killed in battle to un-baptised children, and led by various mythological characters on a journey to the beyond.
Carlos Ginzburg refers to the re-enactment of this by,
“…hordes of children and adolescents who scrambled through the villages there, as a representation of spirits of the dead.” These children, during the night of Halloween (31 October), constitute living examples of parallel customs all over the UK.
The ‘Wild Hunt’ is also rooted in broader mythology and shares a common folklore theme. An example of this comes from Celtic Folklore of which Susan Greenwood says the ‘leader …Gwyn ap Nudd, who in Celtic folklore is a wild huntsman who rides a demon horse and hunts in waste places at night with a pack of white-bodied and red-eared ‘dogs of hell’, cheers on his hellhounds in a fearful chase…’[i]
Herne the Hunter is regarded as a magical wild wizard/huntsman living in the forest and is depicted wearing the horns of the Great God Cerne/Hern. The portrayal of Herne the Hunter in HTV West’s iconic 1980’s series ‘Robin of Sherwood’ has, in my opinion, never been bettered! The writers used the ‘Wild Hunt’ legends, along with Arthurian aspects, in the development of ‘Herne-the-Hunter’, to invoke a more spiritual, Pagan aspect to this great story. Herne, in this series, was depicted as the Merlin of old.
Fig 4.13 The cast of ‘Robin of Sherwood’ HTV series 1984-1986 filmed around the locale which ties in with Herne the Hunter and a Welsh Robin Hood Twm Shon Cati.
Photos from Robin of Sherwood, TV Series, relates to Herne-the-Hunter, both collected 07/05/2017
Herne the hunter from Robin Hood series http://robinhoodtree.blogspot.co.uk/2006/05/herne-hunter-from-robin-of-sherwood.html