October – 2021 (Vol. 45, Number 04)
The Banner Says…
Samhain-The ancient traditions of the Celts
October is the month of Halloween across the world and whilst most see it as an excuse for kids to trick or treat and for big and small kids to dress up it can actually trace its origins back to ancient Scotland.
Ancient Celts believed ghosts of the dead would walk amongst them on 31 October and the term Halloween or Hallowe’en was first used in 1745. Taking its name from All Hallows’ Eve, the night before the Christian festival of All Hallows or All Saints Day, it is possible to trace its origins back to the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain, which takes place on November 1st, which marked the end of summer and the harvest period with the beginning of the cooler winter and when people would light bonfires and wear costumes to ward off ghosts.
Halloween is still recognised today in Edinburgh at the ancient Samhuinn Fire Festival on top of Calton Hill on October 31st, as people witness the exciting standoff between the Summer and Winter Kings and the dying of the light and the coming of the dark. Edinburgh is of course also known as one of the world’s most haunted cities with some of the most known sites to include Greyfriars Kirkyard, Mary King’s Close, The Edinburgh Playhouse and even a headless drummer at Edinburgh Castle!
Of course, Edinburgh does not hold exclusive rights to ghostly sightings in Scotland. Did you know one of Scotland’s most scenic beaches is also meant to be haunted? Sandwood Bay in Kinlochbervie is a 1.5-mile beach filled with dunes, sandy coastline and stunning cliffs. Visitors to this beautiful bay may think they have the beach all to themselves, however they could be sharing the surroundings with ghostly apparitions better known as the ‘Dead Sailors of Sandwood Bay’.
Music fans may be spooked to learn that at Argyll’s Inveraray Castle a harpist has been playing tunes for nearly 400 years! The castle is home to the ‘Phantom Harpist’ who is believed to have been the harpist of a former Duke of Argyll. Other hauntings around the castle include a female ghost who is thought to have been killed by the Jacobites and a ghost ship which sails up Loch Fyne and disappears onto the land.
Scotland’s national instrument also has fans ‘on the other side’ as The Phantom Piper of Clanyard Bay can reportedly be heard playing the bagpipes on the coastline near Stranraer during the evenings. Legend has it a piper and his loyal dog entered a cave, the piper never returned, and his dog did manage to escape-but without any fur! Another piper is said to haunt Duntrune Castle near Crinan, the oldest continuously occupied castle on mainland Scotland.
In this issue
This month we caught up with Anna White who founded the Scottish retail business ScotlandShop in Duns in her beloved Scottish Borders. At the heart of their business is tartan, a fabric that shouts Scotland to all and one the nation can be so proud of and also one that goes beyond kilts, with so many items now available in your favourite tartan. Anna’s passion for Scottish products, culture and of course tartan is allowing her to take a leap of faith across the Atlantic and open a US chapter in Albany, New York.
For generations, Glaswegians have loved going down the Clyde coast aboard historic pleasure steamships. Many Glaswegians were doing ‘staycations’ well before they became a pandemic catchphrase. This month we go ‘doon the watter’ aboard some of the great steam paddlers and steam ships who sailed along the Clyde and were a highlight to thousands of people’s vacations and part of lifetime memories for many of summer in Scotland.
Scotland is full of castles, and many have a strong military history and are well known not just in Scotland but across the world. One that may not be as widely known is Dumbarton Castle, which is said to be the longest continually occupied fortification in all of Britain and is built on top of and into an extinct volcano. Unlike William Wallace and Mary Queen of Scots I have not yet visited this fascinating site and have found it a pleasure to learn more about this often-missed historic Scottish site.
Scottish traditions and folklore stretch back many years and what the world celebrates today with Halloween can trace back to a harvest festival, marking the final harvest of the year and the beginning of the onset of winter. Many of what we know as Halloween traditions came from our Celtic ancestors who would light bonfires and wear costumes to ward off ghosts.
To keep evil spirits at bay, carved neeps, or turnips, with scary faces were placed outside folks houses. The Scots tradition of Guising involved children going door to door dressed up as a scary spirit so that they can venture out safely and ward off evil ghosts.
As Scots emigrated to new lands far and wide, they took these traditions with them which has evolved to the Halloween we know today. So, beyond all that sugar and the outrageous costumes there is in fact a spiritual tradition which dates back to Pagan times and which marks the change of seasons and the respect of our ancestors and that is something not to be scared of but instead very proud of.
Do you celebrate any ancient Scottish traditions? Share your story with us! Do you have you any comments from the content in this month’s edition? Share your story with us by email, post, social media or at: www.scottishbanner.com/contact-us
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