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Celts

A Real Ghost Story For Halloween

two-halloween-ghosts-pumpkin

Halloween is a night for ghosts. Real ghost, also.

It is the night of Samhain, when the ancestors of the Celts walked the pathways between the living and the dead. The living were not so sure that the Dead might not want to take them back with them.

So, this is a true story for All Hallows’ Eve, although it did not happen on Halloween.

I was visiting the Bay of Fundy island of Grand Manan. I had booked a room in a bed and breakfast and arrived mid-evening. I went elsewhere for a meal, but did meet the owners, and noted there were a couple of others staying there. I returned around eleven, chatted to the owners and one guest, then went up to bed.

 

The room was top of the stairs and across a landing. Comfortably rustic with a radio. The bed was fine and I was not long getting to sleep. In the dead of the dark (no streetlights here) I was awakened by the touch of hands on me. I was sleeping on my left side. One hand was over my groin and the other on my chest. There was also the weight of a body next to me and the pressure of an arm across my side. I was initially surprised and confused but not frightened.

 

Time probably stretched but it seems to me I lay like this for ten or fifteen seconds. Then, the very first coherent thought which came to me was that someone laying behind me could not have both arms over my body. There could not be two hands placed on the front of my body. I got out of bed very quickly and did indeed experience fear. I turned on the overhead light but saw nothing. I heard nothing. The temperature was not unusual. I was frightened and certainly uncomfortable, but I can’t say that that aura was present.

 

I went to the bathroom across the landing. The house was silent. I returned to the bedroom, thinking both of leaving the light on and turning on the radio. But then I thought that that was just giving into fear, and might encourage the fear instead of ease it, so I did neither. I did not seem to take very long to get to sleep.

 

The next morning I went downstairs for breakfast. I heard the owner talking to two other guests as I approached the kitchen. Just as I entered she interrupted her conversation and turned to me. She said: “Let’s ask him. He’s the one sleeping in the haunted room.”

 

I don’t know if they had been talking about ghosts or if something else had happened in the night. I relayed my experience and the owner then told the story of the house. As with many buildings on the island it had been a farm house, with the owners also fishing. It was a century or more old and left to a daughter. When she herself got old and could not look after it, her family forced her to leave, something she fought against. The present owners then bought the building and started taking in guests. However, whenever they attempted renovations, they were discouraged by having paint cans overturned, new wallpaper peeled from the wall, ladders moved, hammers and such hidden.

 

The new owners’ daughter lived next door, and looked after the house when her parents went away (trips to Florida in the winter). She inevitably had to come over to the house and close doors, turn off lights, put furniture back in place. The old woman who was forced to leave had the reputation of being a mean and unpleasant person. I don’t know if she was taking a liking to me or not.

[Image]  http://www.mgtdesign.co.uk/webdesign/wp-content/uploads/2011/10/two-halloween-ghosts-pumpkin.jpg

Waiting For The Dead On Halloween

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It is Samhain, and we lay in wait for the dead.

Not to flee from them

Not to hide from them.

But to be prepared.

The moon is full and the trees are bare and the old year ends and they come to dust us with their cold hands. To seep away a little of our warmth. To have just a taste of the life they once had. Blood in their veins. Breath in their mouth. Tears in their eyes. From the cold.

Of course, we are fearful of their touch. We are told they might have the stench of the grave upon them. We are told their skin might slough off on our own. We are told their rotted clothes might fall from their bones, and we will see things to make us scream.

We are told the fresh decay of our parents and uncles and aunts and grand folk will be the worse. They have had their year in the ground and are beyond any excuse to linger. They are the most reluctant. They have the clearest memories of what it is like to live. They, more than all the others, want it back. They might wish, if they can, to suck life right out of us and feel warm once again.

It is best we disguise ourselves from them.

It is best if we hide our faces with masks and wear clothes not our own.

As a last resort we can fill frightening faces with flame and scare them away.

We are all prepared for that.

And when the day passes over into the night; and the full of dark, and the promise the cocks will again bestir themselves to start us into the cold of winter: we will light pyres of wood, and open the cask of ale, and have a feast with dance and song.

If we manage to get through the night.

[Image] 1.bp.blogspot.com/-f9TFFXhu8f8/UJFA-Bj2R4I/AAAAAAAACCQ/pMvabFcW3d4/w1200-h630-p-k-no-nu/115116d1339798513-vintage-halloween-photos-5277724533494196_ewnwqjb0_c.jpg

The Celts Reach Past Samhain To Halloween

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This morning, on a regional radio show, the host told us – with surprise – that he recently learned the folk in Newfoundland & Labrador hollow out, and carve faces on, turnips for Halloween, instead of (or, in addition to) doing so with pumpkins. Had he pursued this knowledge further, he would have found that the ancient Celts, who created the original Samhain from which the Christian All Hallows (Halloween) comes, did this very same thing.

I don’t know if I have any direct connection to the Celts. My Scottish grandmother had an ancestor who was classed as a “Herb Doctor”, well versed in the healing ways of nature. Oddly (very oddly) I have such a character in my first published novel,  A LostTale, dealing with the Celts and Druids and their supernatural ways. I wrote it long before I knew of my “Herb Doctor” ancestor. In my novel, she is just referred to as “The Old Woman”.
I have another odd connection to the Celts. During the Second World War, my father guarded Stonehenge. And he did so on Midsummer Day.

During the Second World War, it was feared that Germany would invade England. Many of the Canadian soldiers stationed in England were spread in a wide circle around London. An outright invasion would be a do-or-die situation, and Canadian soldiers had it been known to them – without direct orders – that no prisoners were to be taken.

One of the areas put under guard was Stonehenge. Though less so now, at that time Stonehenge was surrounded by vast planes. It was feared that the Germans might use these open areas for paratroopers, and also gliders full of troops. Thus the area was defended.

My father was part of this protection, and it so happened that he stood guard duty near Stonehenge itself on Midsummer Day, and watched the sun rise over the monument. He was aware of the significance of both time and place, as many of his comrades might not be. Indeed, when he informed them that the Celts, at one time, sacrificed virgins on altars at Stonehenge, they expressed – in more earthy soldier language – what a waste.

Though I have not been to Stonehenge itself, I have written three novels about Celts and Druids, one of them set during World War Two. I’m happy to believe that, in the supernatural realm, there is some ethereal connection.

With Halloween upon us, and it having become a major festival in the last few decades, let us give thanks were thanks is due. With some grudging recognition to the Christians.

[Image]  z.bp.blogspot.com/-PyK4hGSbA9w/Umf_tzo39ZI/AAAAAAAAAb0/EoM1vWXqAd8/s1600/Jack_turnip.jpg

The Summer Solstice Could Be Bad For Virgins

Thousands Gather To Celebrate Summer Solstice At Stonehenge
I have an odd connection to the Summer Solstice, and it is via Stonehenge. My father guarded the structure, and did so on Midsummer Day.

During the Second World War, it was feared that Germany would invade England. Many of the Canadian soldiers stationed in England were spread in a wide circle around London. An outright invasion would be a do-or-die situation, and Canadian soldiers had it been known to them – without direct orders – that no prisoners were to be taken.

One of the areas put under guard was Stonehenge. Though less so now, at that time Stonehenge was surrounded by vast planes. It was feared the Germans might use these open areas for paratroopers, and also gliders full of troops. Thus the area was defended.

My father was part of this protection, and it so happened that he stood guard duty near Stonehenge itself on Midsummer Day, and watched the sun rise over the monument.

He was aware of the significance of both time and place, as many of his comrades might not be.

Indeed, when he informed them that the Celts, at one time, sacrificed virgins on altars at Stonehenge, they expressed – in more earthy soldier language than I am going to use – “What a waste.”

(Image)https://timedotcom.files.wordpress.com/2015/06/summer-solstice.jpeg

When Jesus Walked The Roads At Easter

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Unicorns are mentioned eight times in the Holy Bible. So – there they were. The list is below.

Therefore, when I have Druids, and their affiliated unicorns,  go to Jerusalem in my novel A Lost Gospel, to make sure Jesus gets crucified, I feel I was on solid ground. And when one of my druids, Ogma,  has the following experience, I believe it possesses a symmetry of Biblical proportions.

Unicorns are mentioned in the following places of The Bible:

Numbers 23:22

God brought them out of Egypt; he hath as it were the strength of an unicorn.

Numbers 24:8

Deuteronomy 33:17

Job 39:9-12

Psalm 22:21

Psalm 29:6

Psalm 92:10

Isaiah 34:7

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From A Lost Gospel

“Are you lost?”

“No.”

Ogma was taken by surprise, but he did not turn toward the speaker. He had no desire to start a conversation, he just wanted to be left to himself.

“Yet you are a traveller to these parts.”

“Yes.”

Ogma knew only too well the interest local people had for strangers in their midst. It was an interest which could easily turn into suspicion. He was alone, and he did not want to have trouble in this unknown land.

“I had business in Jerusalem.” Ogma shrugged. “The desire came upon me to feel earth under my feet, not paving stones.”

“And you find yourself here.”

“I turned from the main road at a whim.”

“What did you in Jerusalem?”

“I do not intrude thus in your life.”  Ogma kept a steady gaze across the field, though he could not keep irritation from his voice.

“Yet you do intrude – for here you are.”

“If I’m on your land, I apologise. I thought it was a common road. There is no barrier in place to warn me otherwise.”

Ogma wondered if it was time to leave the way he had come, or to stay and talk. Despite the words spoken, the other man’s voice displayed no anger, or annoyance.

“Do you find no peace in Jerusalem?”

“I’ve had a troubled time in your grand city.”

Ogma suddenly realised he had things he wanted to say, which he could not discuss with the other druids. He finally turned to the man, wondering if he should explain further.

“By the gods of death!” Ogma stood back in fear. “This is not possible.”

“There are no boundaries to what is possible.”

“I saw them hang you up.”

“You saw flesh. And blood.”

“Then what do I see now?”

“More than a man of sorrows.”

“Glarus was right.” Ogma began to move further away, but stopped himself. “I’m not to fear you, or the change you bring.”

“Truth deserves acceptance, not fear.”

“Do you know of my burden?”

The other man raised his arm and pointed. Ogma turned to follow the outstretched hand. He saw the two unicorns standing close together among the trees.

“Have they brought me here?”

“They have led you to a place you sought yourself.”

“You know of Glarus.” Ogma stopped abruptly, and his voice lowered. “The gods I understand believe in trade. Take me instead of her.”

“You care so much?”

“I know the worth of things.” Ogma stared directly at the other man. “It is better to have her alive than me.”

“No man knows his own worth.” Yeshua touched the small man, then held him close. “My father’s love does not barter.” He released Ogma with a smile. “Return to Jerusalem. You travel with companions.”

“The beasts accompany me?”

“Thou hast heard me from the horns of the unicorns.”

(image)Unicorn Tapestries at the Cloisters – New York, New York https://assets.atlasobscura.com/media/W1siZiIsInVwbG9hZHMvcGxhY2VfaW1hZ2VzL2VmYjZmYmVkZjk1MzNhMDgyZV9GOTNBMjc5My5qcGciXSxbInAiLCJ0aHVtYiIsIngzOTA-Il0sWyJwIiwiY29udmVydCIsIi1xdWFsaXR5IDgxIC1hdXRvLW9yaWVudCJdXQ/F93A2793.jpg

Christmas Married To A Pagan Feast

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[ABL photo]

“The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
and the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath.”

~ Clement Clarke Moore

 

The first serious snow is falling. Outdoor Christmas lights across the street melt through a cover of snow – a sight I particularly enjoy.  So, I’ll reprint this – albeit edited – from a few years ago. Maybe it will become a tradition.

Christmas is a fake that has taken root like the holly, and it survives tenaciously. It has become a goodies grab fest, and helps keep our commercial society stable. Perhaps reason enough to exist.

The wily Christians conquered the outnumbered Celts, and supplanted their winter festival with the birth of their God. The wily pagans live on in the numerous traditions the Christians stole, so perhaps it is a fair trade. And no doubt those wily pagans chuckle over their cups o’mead, noting that this celebration of reverence has become a surfeit of greed.

I have been no fan of Christmas for decades, but its mixed legacy encourages me not to abandon it. My Christian background enhances my enjoyment of the music and traditions. Most commercial intrusions can be muted or turned off. I do have some personal traditions I follow religiously.

I do not even rail against Santa Claus. I heard his sleigh bells one Christmas Eve, when I was four. I saw his sleigh runner tracks in the snow a couple of years later.

I have even been mistaken for Santa a couple of times. Once, in the line-up in a bank near Christmas, a two-year old pointed at me. Unfortunately, my presence terrified him, and he started to scream and cry. I was wise enough not to go Ho Ho Ho. Another time – but this happened in early fall – a family approached me as I walked in a park. A boy, who looked to be six or seven, stopped in his tracks, then ran back to his parents. “Santa Claus!”  He pointed. Happily he did not cry. They walked past me in silence.

Also, for decades, I lived close to a residence where one of the very first recitations of ‘Twas The Night Before Christmas happened. The author of that stirring piece, Clement Moore, who wrote it in 1822, sent a copy to his godfather, the Rev Johnathan O’Dell, of Fredericton New Brunswick. However, the poem was not published until 1837.

To be fair to myself, I’m not a total Scrooge, as I have written some Christmas tales.  Here is a wee segment from The Elephant Talks To God:

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“I want to see you,” said the elephant, and the words raced from his mouth. “I don’t have to see you, you know that. I’ve believed even before you talked to me. But I want to see you, it would mean so much. I wasn’t around for the Baby, but cows and sheep and things got to see Him. I can’t explain but it would … ”

“Go home,” said the cloud.

“You’re not angry with me?” said the elephant.

“No.” The cloud started moving away. “It’s an honest request.” The rain stopped falling. “Thank you for coming.”

“You’re welcome,” said the elephant.

“Sing some carols,” the voice was distant. “I like them.”

The elephant turned and started through the woods. He ignored the tasty leaves within easy reach and the tall grass near the brook. He wanted to get home as quickly as possible so he could join the singing he knew was happening later in the evening.

He turned along the trail, snapping a branch here and there in his haste, when he noticed the stillness, the hush which had overtaken the forest. He slowed down and the stopped in his tracks. He turned his head, his small eyes squinting into the brush. There was movement coming toward him, and when the trees parted, he went to his knees with a gasp. Tears rolled from his eyes, and a golden trunk gently wiped them away.*

*Last line edited from an error in the book.

 

The Druids Prepare For All Hallows As The Dead Approach

 slide_336017_3406844_freeThe Celts knew every celebration has its risks.

The Druids taught them this, and the Druids are correct. Samhain is a festival of the harvest; the end of summer; the preparation for the winter to come. Samhain is a juncture. 

As they all know, junctures lead to sundry places. There is both the leaving and the coming. A time of disquiet. A time of danger for those unprepared.

It holds the magic and the power of midnight. Midnight is a powerful time because it is the juncture of two days. Midnight of Samhain thus holds double the power. It can not be avoided. It must be met with all the power mortal man can muster. It must not be met alone.

On the Eve of Samhain, the border between Life and the OtherWorld is breached. A door swings invitingly open, but it is not inviting those who live. It is inviting  those who have died. The Dead who still miss their lives. The long Dead who still are curious.The distant Dead who get a whiff of fresh air, and have their memories stirred.

So the Dead approach.

The Dead approach. The living must prepare to meet them, just as they prepare for the vicissitudes of winter. The same threatened cold holds sway over both. The living assemble the treats and threats that will assuage the longings of the Dead.

Because the living have a healthy fear of death, they equally wish to avoid the Dead. The Dead can prove to be envious, and attempt to relieve the living of their lives. Lanterns from the earth are hollowed out of turnips. Their light will guide the dead to safer places (safer for the living). Candles will shine through carved faces. Some faces are friendly and welcoming. Some are ugly and fierce, to give aggressive Dead a pause.

There will also be treats to entice the Dead – apples and pastries and savouries and some roasted game fresh from the bonfires. There will be ale and other spirits to keep the Spirits at bay. The living will wear costumes and masks to disguise themselves from those Dead who might wish their company to be more permanent.

They will remove the masks if the Spirits are friendly.

They will dance and sing and raise a right ruckus to entertain the Dead.

The boneyard is on the outskirts of town. Revellers approach with noise and caution. A bonfire is set. The moon hangs from the trees. The gated fence stands closed and latched. The living pause and watch. And listen.

Is it the wind, or do the hinges scrape the stone?

(image)i.huffpost.com/gadgets/slideshows/336017/slide_336017_3406844_free.jpg

On Guard At Stonehenge For The Summer Solstice

salisbury-stonehenge

I do find it grand to have such this connection to the Celts, about whom I have written three novels.

During World War Two, my father had the unique experience of guarding Stonehenge. Not by himself, of course, there were other members of the Canadian Army with him.

The vast plains around Stonehenge were utilised by the military in both world wars. During the First War, the area was a training ground for troops from various countries. There were many encampments for recruits, with both basic training and preparations to train for the trench warfare awaiting on the continent. There were thousands and thousands of men, and huge amounts of supplies.

During the Second War, the area was used as staging ground for the D-Day invasion. There was great security, and as much secrecy as possible. Soldiers were in place to guard the perimeter.

So, my father found himself not only guarding Stonehenge, but doing so on Midsummer Morn, when the sun rose over the monument.
He was a learned man – a school teacher – and versed in the history of the place. He knew of the Celts and the Druids and some of the mythology. He knew this was sacred ground and that Midsummer Morn was especially important.
He might have paused and tried to look into the past, and see more in the morning mist than was actually there. I do not know.

He did, however, when their shift was over and they got to eat, tell the other soldiers of the history of the place.
He mentioned that, during such celebrations by the Celts, the Druids might have a virgin killed to appease the gods.
They were aghast.

“What a waste,” said one
.
DE
(image)//media-cdn.tripadvisor.com/media/photo-s/02/e1/1d/c3/salisbury-stonehenge.jpg

 

Ogma Meets A Unicorn (for National Unicorn Day)

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Twitter and many other parts of the world are awash in comments and observations about National Unicorn Day. Since so much of it seems frivolous, here is an excerpt from my novel, A Lost Gospel, where unicorns are as real as the fingers on your hand.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“You want us to think like the unicorn?” Ogma was irritated, and spoke with deliberation. “The ways of the beasts are even beyond the girl. At her best, I believe she just follows.”

“There are times, Ogma, when the worth is not in the accomplishment, but in the attempt.”

“I’ll be a better man by trying to think like the beast?”

“You can’t help but be a better man, Ogma.”

“Well. That’s spoken like a Head Druid.” Although Cowin could not see his actions – perhaps because Cowin was unable to see him – Ogma held out his hand and rubbed his fingers together. “Here, beastie, beastie. Uncle Ogma has a wee treat for you.”

“Is that what you think a unicorn thinks?”

“But if you come up to Uncle Cowin,” Ogma’s voice now had a sing-song tone. “Just jab him in the arse with that big horn, for he doesn’t have anything for you at all.”

“A least I promise nothing.” The Head Druid had finally deduced what Ogma was doing. “But what will be the reaction of those very sharp teeth when your hand is found to be empty?”

“What?” Ogma hesitated.

“Does the unicorn possess your sense of humour?” Cowin did not try to suppress a chuckle. “Or will your empty hand be empty even of fingers?”

Ogma momentarily considered the question, then quickly raised his hand. He was about to make an obscene gesture, but instead turned in the direction of a distant noise. He could feel by the brush of Cowin’s cloak that the Head Druid did the same.

“We’re being approached without hesitation.” Ogma whispered the words.”By more than one, if the sounds don’t play tricks.”

“That isn’t possible in this fog.” As the oncoming noise shifted, Cowin turned slightly. “I don’t suppose you have a knife under your cloak?”

“No, Head Druid.” Ogma stared into the dark. “Like most, I rarely carry arms while on the Island.”

“The times are changing.” Cowin looked at the vague shape of his companion. “Keep no more than a few strides distant.”

“We’re not prepared for a fucking invasion.” Ogma got into a crouch and flanked the Head Druid.

“Maybe they won’t see us.” Cowin leaned toward the approaching noise.

“I think that’s a false hope.” Ogma moved into his fighting position, bracing for an attack. “They’re aiming right in our direction.”

“The fog will give some protection.” The Head Druid also crouched into a combat stance. “Let as many as possible go past, then jump the ones at the rear. If they’re armed, we might wrestle a weapon from them.”

“Or a body to use as a shield.” Ogma wrapped his cloak around his arm to help deflect a thrusting sword.

“Nothing fancy.” Cowin dug his heels into the earth. “We have to go on this voyage – nothing is more important. If we’re overwhelmed, we must try to escape.”

The fog seemed to muffle noises which were close, yet make distant sounds crack like a whip beside their ears. This aided to the druids’ confusion, and they couldn’t tell who was approaching, or from where. It was Ogma who spoke first, using an oath which held traces of fear around the words.

“Something’s brushing against me.”

“What do you – ”

“Curse Manannan’s damn fog – it’s at my legs.” There were sounds of commotion, and then of a body rolling on the earth. “Fucking sword of death.” Ogma’s voice was high.

“Where are you?” Cowin stared uselessly through the fog.

“By the gods of hell. Get it away from me.”

“Ogma.” Cowin moved toward his voice. “I can’t even – ”

“It’s the beast.” Ogma shouted. “The damned beast.”

“Beast?”

“The unicorn.” Ogma was sputtering in anger. “It’s pulling my clothes with its teeth, and that horn has come inches from – ” Ogma’s voice moved. “Oh, for fuck’s sake.”

“Ogma.” The Head Druid was both concerned and relieved. “Don’t struggle – it’s not going to hurt you.”

“You don’t think being frightened can’t hurt you?” Ogma’s voice was sharp, but the rage was ebbing from it. “I’m stopping, you bag of shit. I’m sitting on my arse and not lifting a hand, so get your head away from me.” There was a pause, filled only by the heavy breathing of the unicorn. “This damn thing is bigger than you’d think, Head Druid.”

“Do you still have all your fingers?” Laughter surrounded Cowin’s words. “Or does the unicorn look upon you with a smile?”

“This was its game?”

“Be thankful.” Cowin walked toward the other man’s voice. “You found out the unicorn has a sense of humour.” He reached his hand to help Ogma to his feet.

“The beast does not go after your fingers,” complained Ogma.

“I don’t tease him.” Cowin rubbed the animal’s neck. “Nor do I speak of him in such a rough manner.”

“You think it understands me?”

“Not the words – but the intent.” Cowin felt the unicorn become tense under his hand. “The girl approaches.”

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