Sunday, 11 May 2008

Archive: Hallowe'en - F Marian McNeill

Hallowe'en: Its Origin Rites and Ceremonies in the Scottish Tradition
F Marian McNeill

Erynn commented on one of the reviews I just did that it's good to go straight to the sources that record customs closer to the time that they were actually practiced, before they developed or degenerated into something different (and I agree). This book was kind of the other side of the coin, because it relates much more to the surviving Hallowe'en practices of the time that McNeill was writing, and within living memory, and that in itself is interesting too because in some ways it's easier to relate to the traditions that were recorded because they're by and large practiced in a more urban setting that's relevant to most people these days, rather than an agricultural or pastoral setting that's pretty much the preserve of big business, barring a few brave souls that homestead and aim for self-sufficiency.

McNeill covered Samhuinn and Hallowe'en traditions in volume three of The Silver Bough, so to a certain extent most of this little book covers much of the same material, with a few added anecdotes that you won't find elsewhere. It's very short, so it's less in depth than The Silver Bough but it still manages to give a good overview of the main elements associated with the festival.

The main aim of the book is to provide practical ideas to put on a good Hallowe'en party according to Scottish traditions, so it makes for a good read for anyone looking for ideas this coming Samhuinn if you're going to be in a group. McNeill gives instructions for carving turnips, recipes for traditional Hallowe'en foods, pranks, divination rites and games to play, and covers other customs like guising and 'thigging' for apples, nuts and pennies around the neighbourhood (from which trick-or-treating evolved, I'd guess). For the divination chapter, McNeill omits the outdoor divination rites, saying that they've now fallen out of use for the most part, but these can be found in The Silver Bough.

All in all, the book's very straightforward and not too heavy on the detail. There's not really much on offer that you can't find in The Silver Bough chapter or (for the recipes) using the power of Google, but it does make for a handy quick reference because of its short length and simplicity. The directions for the games and rites are clearly stated and more practical considerations are accounted for as well, whereas these things have to be figured out yourself if you're referring to The Silver Bough. It's not difficult, but some people might appreciate the overall structure and flow to the proceedings that McNeill gives here.

Ultimately, not an essential tome for the bookshelf, but it's one I like having because of the much more modern focus on the customs as a comparison to other books that deal with the older ones.


Ancestral Gael said...

Hello Tairis,

Just wanted to let you know that F. Marian McNeill's "Silver Bough" books are still in print and can be purchased (relatively cheaply) from Stuart Titles. Just though you might like to update your reading list page on the main Tairis site.

Seren said...

Ahhh, thanks, I will do. Those are the volumes that I have, actually, but when I bought them they were only available second hand (and at slightly more than they're offered there). Good to know they're a bit easier to get hold of now.