Monster Mondays – Celtic Halloween Spirits
Earlier I wrote on Celtic origins of Halloween and the important changes that took place with the Holiday in America. Today for Monster Mondays I’m going to look at the early Monsters of Celtic Halloween. The traditional holiday bears little resemblance to the Halloween we know now. It was not a celebration of death, horror, and thrills, but a harvest festival and new years eve celebration. The most important practices involved fortune telling, making predictions for the coming year, and it was believed that on this day ordinary rules did not apply, and souls, spirits, and fairies could be present on earth. Most descriptions of what souls,spirits, and fairies visit earth are rather vague, but a few specific supernatural creatures are named. As is usually the case, the first at the party are the first to go, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen any of the Celtic Halloween monsters doing the Monster Mash or out trick-or-treating.
Cailleach Bheur -Also known as Cally Berry (no relation to Hallie Berry), Old Woman Winter, The Blue Hag, The Storm Hag, and The Veiled One. In all respects, the Cailleach is a god and not a monster. She is the embodiment of winter reborn every Samhain/Halloween and turned to stone, or to a tree, or to a young woman every Beltane. Her staff can freeze anything with a touch and she is the gaurdian of the animals. Some say she carvedthe Mountains of Scotland with a hammer and pick. She once fell asleep while pumping a well, flooding the valley and killing hundreds. That valley is now Loch Awe.
Aillen Trechenn, The Three Headed Monster. Also known as the Ellén Trechend. It emerges from it’s cave every Halloween to wreck havoc. It laid Ireland to waste with it’s fire breath and was killed not once but twice, by the heroes Amergin and Fion Mac Comhaill. Despite it’s appearance being an annual event and multiple heroes claiming to kill it. There’s a lot of disagreement on what it was. Somesay a three headed dragon, others a beast, others a bird, and some say it was not one but a whole swarm of three headed things.
Hwch Ddu Gota -The black swine or specteral pig. Some say this pig was the embodiment of the Devil. Long past midnight when the raging Bonfires of Halloween died down to embers, the black swine would be born from those embers to catch and murder any drunkards still lagging about at the festival. The ultimate blow off.
Stingy Jack – For the scoop on Stingy Jack, see my previous post on the origin of Trick or Treating
Cutty Sark is the nickname given to the sexy witch in Robert Burns’ classic1790 narrative poem Tam O’Shanter. The poem is not about Halloween per se, but at the same time sets a template for the American version of Halloween to come. Burns does have a poem called Halloween but it is much more in the Celtic Tradition of Bonfires, New Years, and Story telling, and little about the ghastly celebration we know as Halloween.
Tam O’Shanter however tells of a Scotsman out drinking (shocking right?) well past the witching hour. When he finally leaves the pub the streets are alive with horrors and the undead. He sneaks to the center of the horrors where he finds the devil himself dancing with a coven of witches. In their macabre merriment they cast off their clothes, but because they are all old hags,Tam nearly loses his lunch. In their midst though is one beautiful young witch wearing a “Cutty Sark” which I’ve found translated as short skirt, low cut top, or underwear. What ever she was wearing, it was given to her as a child and was now barely containing her bursting woman hood. Tam got so excited he hollared out, as drunks are prone to do at sexy women, and set the devil and all his witches chasing him.
Dancing, drinking, horrors and sexy costumes. Sounds like the Halloween I know.
Cutty looks good for being 219 years old.
From Tam O’Shanter
Inspiring bold John Barleycorn!
What dangers thou canst make us scorn!
Wi’ tippenny, [ale] we fear nae evil;
Wi’ usquabae, [whiskey] we’ll face the devil!
The swats sae ream’d in Tammie’s noddle,
Fair play, he car’d na deils a boddle,
But Maggie stood, right sair astonish’d,
Till, by the heel and hand admonish’d,
She ventur’d forward on the light;
And, wow! Tam saw an unco sight!
Warlocks and witches in a dance:
Nae cotillon, brent new frae France,
But hornpipes, jigs, strathspeys, and reels,
Put life and mettle in their heels.
A winnock bunker in the east,
There sat auld Nick, in shape o’ beast; [the devil]
A towzie tyke, black, grim, and large,
To gie them music was his charge:
He screw’d the pipes and gart them skirl,
Till roof and rafters a’ did dirl. -
Coffins stood round, like open presses,
That shaw’d the Dead in their last dresses;
And (by some devilish cantraip leight)
Each in its cauld hand held a light.
By which heroic Tam was able
To note upon the haly table,
A murderer’s banes, in gibbet-airns;
Twa span-lang, wee, unchristened bairns;
A thief, new-cutted frae a rape,
Wi’ his last gasp his gabudid gape;
Five tomahawks, wi’ blude red-rusted:
Five scimitars, wi’ murder crusted;
A garter which a babe had strangled:
A knife, a father’s throat had mangled.
Whom his ain son of life bereft,
The grey-hairs yet stack to the heft;
Wi’ mair of horrible and awfu’,
Which even to name wad be unlawfu’.
Three lawyers tongues, turned inside oot,
Wi’ lies, seamed like a beggars clout,
Three priests hearts, rotten, black as muck,
Lay stinkin, vile in every neuk.
As Tammie glowr’d, amaz’d, and curious,
The mirth and fun grew fast and furious;
The Piper loud and louder blew,
The dancers quick and quicker flew,
The reel’d, they set, they cross’d, they cleekit,
Till ilka carlin swat and reekit,
And coost her duddies to the wark, [cast off her clothes]
And linkit at it in her sark! [lookin' at her nekkid]
Cutty Sark became a popular motif for the figureheads of boats, then the name of the Clipper ship with the Cutty Sark masthead, then finaly the scotch whiskey with the clipper ship on the label. It’s the perfect scotch for drinking until you face the devil.