The #Halloween Legacy of Ireland’s Witches

It’s a popular enduring image of Halloween. How many little girls will be donning black, and a wide-brimmed pointy hat, painting their faces green, and gluing rice crispies to their noses to represent warts tonight? And when all those little girls are lying asleep in bed, faces scrubbed clean, how many older little girls will be sallying forth on the high street, brooms in hand, adorned with green face paint and the addition of mini skirts and high heels in a not-quite-so-traditional version of the Halloween witch?

Most people today don’t believe in witches, although among the pagan community there are groups who call themselves witches; they practice a nature based faith called Wicca. However, it seems more than likely that witches and witchcraft were a lie originally invented by Christianity to control powerful, knowledgeable women, and have people scurrying to the church for protection. That the notion of the witch struck such fear into people’s hearts that they were willing to collude in accusing any woman of the crime if it meant saving their own skins.

The punishment for women accused as witches was barbaric: burning, or drowning were common as anti-witchcraft fervour swept Europe, usually after torture and humiliation in order to extract a confession. In Ireland, however, common law dictated that women accused of witchcraft should be hung, although this did not happen in all cases.

black-hoursIf you want to know more about the persecution of witches, you should read this book. The Black Hours by Alison Williams is a no-holds-barred, powerful account of a real event based on real people. The research is meticulous, and the writing flawless and engaging. I found it very disturbing to read, and it stayed with me for a long time afterwards.

The first woman in Ireland to be officially denounced as a witch was Dame Alice Kyteler in the thirteenth century. By all accounts, she was quite a character, and did not at all fit into the social norms for women at that time. With hindsight, it’s perhaps not surprising that she was singled out for retribution.

The daughter of wealthy Norman immigrants who came to Kilkenny in Ireland in the mid thirteenth century, Alice met and married William Outlawe, a local banker, and bore him a son, also named William. When her husband died suddenly a few years later, leaving her all his wealth, she quickly remarried.

Her second husband, Adam de Blund of Cullen, also died suddenly and unexpectedly within a few years of their wedding, leaving her the full extent of his fortune. Not one long for grieving, Alice married Richard de Valle, and it wasn’t long before he too died suddenly.

Alice was by now an extremely wealthy woman in her own right. She ran a very popular inn, staffed with a bevvy of beautiful young women. This was seen as questionable at the time, and many people were jealous of her wealth and popularity. She married local landowner, Sir John de Poer, but he became ill shortly after. Just before he died, he amended his will, making Alice and her son, William, his sole heirs.

Sir John’s family were outraged that Alice had cheated them out of their inheritance. They accused Alice of witchcraft and sorcery, claiming she bewitched him to rewrite his will. The families of her previous husbands jumped on the bandwagon, hoping to win a slice of her fortune for themselves.

The Bishop of Ossary, Richard de Ledrede, was a zealous man obsessed with church law and morality. When the families of the dead husbands brought their complaint to him, he vowed to eradicate witchcraft from Ireland. In addition to poison and sorcery, he accused Alice of denying the Christian faith, sacrificing animals to demons at crossroads, holding secret gatherings in churches at night to carry out black magic rituals, sleeping with a familiar, Robin Artison, a demon of Satan, and the murder of four husbands… quite a list, huh?

Richard tried to have her arrested, but instead, he himself was thrown in jail by  Sir Arnold le Poer, Seneschal of Kilkenny, who was related to Alice through her husband, Sir John. On his release seventeen days later, the Bishop wrote to the Chancellor of Ireland, Roger Utlagh (Outlawe) demanding Alice’s arrest, but the Chancellor, who was also related to Alice through her first husband, William, ordered Richard to drop the case. Ledrede, however, was on a mission to stamp out witchcraft in Ireland, and had no intention of backing down.

Alice fled the country, supposedly to London, and was never heard of again. Meanwhile, the Bishop rounded up all her less fortunate friends and servants and had them tried for witchcraft and heresy.

Alice’s son, William, confessed and repented; he was forced to attend three masses a day, and give aid to the poor. Alice’s maid, Petronella de Meath, was tortured until she confessed and implicated her  absent mistress, Dame Alice. She was then publicly flogged and carted around the city streets as an example to the city folk.

Finally, on the 3rd of November 1324, poor Petronella was burned at the stake. As if she hadn’t already suffered enough. Compare this to the punishment William, a man, received. Um… yeah, no comparison at all, really, is it?

Petronella was the first woman to be burned at the stake in Ireland for witchcraft and heresy, but she wasn’t the last.

In 1710,  on Islandmagee, on the east coast of Antrim, eighteen-year-old Mary Dunbar accused eight local women of witchcraft and causing her to be demonically possessed. This was the last recorded witch trial in Ireland. As with Alice, these women did not fit into accepted notions of female behaviour; they drank, smoked and were old and hag-like, some of them were actually disabled. The women weren’t burned, so far as we know; records show that they were jailed for a year, and pilloried four times, as it was a first offence. What happened after that is not known, as  the public records office holding many Church of Ireland records was burned down during the Irish Civil War between 1922-1923.

Poor Bridget Cleary is often cited as the last witch burned in Ireland, but this is not true. She was murdered by her deranged husband in 1895, who claimed that when she became ill, she had been abducted by fairies, and a changeling left in her place. So he set her alight and burned her to death.  Hmmm… nice guy. Bridget had never at any point been accused of witchcraft. Michael Cleary was found guilty of manslaughter and imprisoned for only fifteen years, after which he emigrated to Canada.

Incidentally, Alice’s inn is still going strong to this very day… it’s now known by the name of Kyteler’s Inn, and is reputed to be frequented by Alice’s ghost.

To get the full Alice Kyteler story, you can download a FREE copy of A contemporary narrative of the proceedings against Dame Alice Kyteler : prosecuted for sorcery in 1324, by Richard de Ledrede, bishop of Ossory


Want to know more about Halloween and Samhain? You might find something of interest here…

Samhain | The Original Halloween

For our ancient ancestors, the day began not with the arrival of dawn, but with the fall of dusk. Therefore, Samhain (pronounced sau-win, and believed to derive from the Old Irish sam, meaning ‘summer’, and fuin, meaning ‘end’) began on the evening of 31st October, and continued until dusk on November 1st. Similarly, their New Year began with the arrival of the dark season, Winter, not halfway through it, as ours does today. Some say this equates with a belief that life is born into the light from the darkness of the womb.


 

om

Tlachtga | Goddess of Earth and Fire

At Tlachtga, I felt a great sense of peace. I know you will say it’s because it all happened so long ago, in fact, probably never happened at all, because these are just ancient stories. But I think forgiveness washes a place clean, floods it with peacefulness and makes it wholesome again.

It didn’t even feel like a hill, but as I walked out onto the summit, I was amazed at the wide open 360* panorama which unfolded around me. From here, other famous ancient sites can be seen, if you know where to look, such as Tara (19kms), Loughcrew, Slane (23kms) and Teltown (12kms).


Magh Slecht, Site of Human Sacrifice or Holy Massacre?

The legend of Crom Cruach is a sinister one. The ancient texts of the Metrical Dindshenchas claim that the people of Ireland worshipped the God at Samhain, by offering up their firstborn child in return for a plentiful harvest in the coming year. The children were killed by smashing their heads on the stone idol representing Crom Cruach, and sprinkling their blood around the base. This stone idol has been identified as the Killycluggin Stone.


An Irish Ghost Story for Halloween | Sabina of Ross Castle

My father was not known for his kindliness; the Black Baron, they called him, and with good reason. He couldn’t abide lawlessness, demanded obedience, and ruled with an iron hand.

That grim, grey castle was not the place for a young girl to grow up in. For the most part, I was left alone, save for my poor governess. I was always tricking her with false errands, that I might escape her sharp eyes and those unforgiving walls.


 

Samhain Legends | Donn, Lord of the Dead

As far as we can tell, the ancient Irish people  never had a God of the Dead. The Otherworld was said to be the domain of Manannán, God of the Sea, but the myths and legends do not tell of him being a God of the Dead. However, there is someone, a mere mortal, who has come to be associated with this role.


Aillen of the Sidhe sprays fire from his mouth upon the roof of Tara.A Samhain Story | Fionn mac Cumhall and the Sidhe-Prince of Flame

“Tomorrow is the eve of Samhain,” whispered the Filidh, the High King’s Royal Bard. The crowd stilled, straining to hear through the smoky atmosphere of the King’s hall.

It was the night before Halloween. As always, the High King had invited all his favourite nobles to celebrate the festival at Tara. They crowded his hall, feasting at his table. The air was thick with smoke from the hearth fires, the scent of candles, the aroma of roasting meat, chatter, music and song. Now, when bellies were full and hunger sated, folk sat back and turned to their cups. It was time for the storyteller to weave his magic.


A Witches LamentA Poem for Samhain | A Witches Lament

They hide the truth,
these gaudy costumes,
the carved lanterns,
the trick or treat…


A Samhain Poem | The Princess on the Hill

She lies upon the hill, ragged and torn,
Borne of the night her three sons bold.
Told a story heartless and cruel,
Fuel for revenge of an act most foul…


warrior-2A Samhain Story| Lugh, Master of All Arts

Lugh hammered loudly on the palace gates, his men gathered about him. They had been travelling many days, and darkness would soon be falling. They had no intention of spending yet another night sleeping on the hard ground with just their cloaks to warm them.

“Be off with you!” someone shouted down to them from the shadows atop of the palisade wall. “The gates to the King’s palace are closed for the night. We are accepting no visitors this Samhain Eve.”


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Or try one of these…

Halloween or Samhain?

girl vampire in retro dress, in a black cloak, in the forestI recently watched a video on Youtube where the expert in the film kept pronouncing Samhain as it looks… Sam-hain. An easy mistake to make, you might think, and I would agree. But not if you profess yourself to be something of an expert on the subject. Then you have a duty to get it right. He should have known better.

If you don’t already know, it’s pronounced like this… sau-win. Don’t you think it sounds so much better?

I’ve written about Halloween and Samhain so many times, but don’t worry, I’m not going to repeat myself again. But for all my new followers, here are links to the existing posts, which you probably haven’t as yet read. On the big day itself, I will have something new and spooktacular for you, I promise.

Enjoy the season, and Happy Half-Term, if you’re off! 😜


Samhain | The Original Halloween

For our ancient ancestors, the day began not with the arrival of dawn, but with the fall of dusk. Therefore, Samhain (pronounced sau-win, and believed to derive from the Old Irish sam, meaning ‘summer’, and fuin, meaning ‘end’) began on the evening of 31st October, and continued until dusk on November 1st. Similarly, their New Year began with the arrival of the dark season, Winter, not halfway through it, as ours does today. Some say this equates with a belief that life is born into the light from the darkness of the womb.


om

Tlachtga | Goddess of Earth and Fire

At Tlachtga, I felt a great sense of peace. I know you will say it’s because it all happened so long ago, in fact, probably never happened at all, because these are just ancient stories. But I think forgiveness washes a place clean, floods it with peacefulness and makes it wholesome again.

It didn’t even feel like a hill, but as I walked out onto the summit, I was amazed at the wide open 360* panorama which unfolded around me. From here, other famous ancient sites can be seen, if you know where to look, such as Tara (19kms), Loughcrew, Slane (23kms) and Teltown (12kms).


An Irish Ghost Story for Halloween | Sabina of Ross Castle

My father was not known for his kindliness; the Black Baron, they called him, and with good reason. He couldn’t abide lawlessness, demanded obedience, and ruled with an iron hand.

That grim, grey castle was not the place for a young girl to grow up in. For the most part, I was left alone, save for my poor governess. I was always tricking her with false errands, that I might escape her sharp eyes and those unforgiving walls.


Human Skull with silver Crown

Samhain Legends | Donn, Lord of the Dead

As far as we can tell, the ancient Irish people  never had a God of the Dead. The Otherworld was said to be the domain of Manannán, God of the Sea, but the myths and legends do not tell of him being a God of the Dead. However, there is someone, a mere mortal, who has come to be associated with this role.


Aillen of the Sidhe sprays fire from his mouth upon the roof of Tara.A Samhain Story | Fionn mac Cumhall and the Sidhe-Prince of Flame

“Tomorrow is the eve of Samhain,” whispered the Filidh, the High King’s Royal Bard. The crowd stilled, straining to hear through the smoky atmosphere of the King’s hall.

It was the night before Halloween. As always, the High King had invited all his favourite nobles to celebrate the festival at Tara. They crowded his hall, feasting at his table. The air was thick with smoke from the hearth fires, the scent of candles, the aroma of roasting meat, chatter, music and song. Now, when bellies were full and hunger sated, folk sat back and turned to their cups. It was time for the storyteller to weave his magic.


A Witches LamentA Poem for Samhain | A Witches Lament

They hide the truth,

these gaudy costumes,

the carved lanterns,

the trick or treat…


A Samhain Poem | The Princess on the Hill

She lies upon the hill, ragged and torn,

Borne of the night her three sons bold.

Told a story heartless and cruel,

Fuel for revenge of an act most foul…


warrior-2A Samhain Story| Lugh, Master of All Arts

Lugh hammered loudly on the palace gates, his men gathered about him. They had been travelling many days, and darkness would soon be falling. They had no intention of spending yet another night sleeping on the hard ground with just their cloaks to warm them.

“Be off with you!” someone shouted down to them from the shadows atop of the palisade wall. “The gates to the King’s palace are closed for the night. We are accepting no visitors this Samhain Eve.”


Want more mythology straight to your inbox? Sign up to my mailing list.

COMING SOON: Conor Kelly’s Guide to Ireland’s Ancient Places, an exclusive free gift for all newsletter subscribers, featuring all the sites and locations upon which The Tir na Nog Trilogy is based. WANT ONE? It’s FREE, and coming to a newsletter near you soon! All you have to do is sign up to my Marvellous Myths newsletter.

Or try one of these…


The Ancient Babylonians Invented New Year’s Resolutions!

Happy New Year! www.aliisaacstoryteller.com
Happy New Year!
http://www.aliisaacstoryteller.com

Seeing in the New Year seems to be one of our best loved and most popular public holidays, marked with breath-taking firework displays as the stroke of midnight enters different time zones around the world.

It seems the most natural thing in the world to usher in the New Year with festivity and merriment. Yet I always wondered why the evening prior was considered more important than the actual day itself. Considering that our ancient ancestors began their day at sunset, it seemed a distinctly pagan thing to do, and so naturally, I wondered about its origins.

It seems the earliest people to celebrate new year were the Mesopotamians of Babylon, in what is now known as Iraq, around 2000BC, only it wasn’t in January, but in mid-March at the time of the vernal equinox (when day and night are of equal length; vernal denotes Spring.).

It certainly makes more sense to me, that the beginning of the New Year should start at Spring.

The Babylonians celebrated with a religious festival called Akitu which lasted eleven days. Atiku also commemorated the victory of the Babylonian sky god Marduk over the evil sea goddess Tiamat.

They are also credited with establishing the custom of making  new year resolutions; apparently, they made promises to their gods, such as repaying their debts and returning borrowed tools, in order to earn the gods’ favour in the coming year.

In contrast, the Egyptians began their new year around mid July, when the Nile was prone to flooding, which ensured the fertility of the land, and the star Sirius was rising after its seventy day absence. They called their festival Wepet Renpet, which means “the opening of the year”.

They weren’t the only ones; the Phoenicians and Persians began their new year at the autumn equinox, while the Greeks celebrated at the winter solstice. The first day of the Chinese new year began on the second moon after the winter solstice.

This all sounds very confusing; how is it that we have now come to celebrate the New Year in the middle of winter at the beginning of January?

Well originally, there never even used to be a month of January… or February, for that matter! The early Roman calender, which according to mythology, was created by Romulus, Rome’s founder, in the C8th BC, only had ten months and 304 days, and began with March.

The evidence for this can be seen in some of the names of our months; for example, September, which is our 9th month, comes from the Latin septem, meaning 7; October derives from octo, which is 8;  novem is 9, and decem is 10.

Around 700 BC, Numa Pontilius, second King of Rome added the months of January and February to the calender.

The first month, January, was named after the god of gates, doors and beginnings, Janus. He was said to have had two faces, one which looked forward into the future, and one which looked back into the past. He was thus the perfect deity to dedicate the first day of the New Year to, and so it was that the celebration switched to the first day of the new calender.

Romans would celebrate by making offerings to Janus in the hope of gaining good fortune for the new year. Well wishes and gifts including items such as figs and honey would be exchanged. According to the poet Ovid, most Romans would work for part of the day, as idleness was seen as a bad omen for the rest of the year.

However,  as time passed, the calendar fell out of sync with the sun, and in 46 B.C. the emperor Julius Caesar decided to take matters into his own hands. He invented his own Julian calender, in which he added 90 days to the original, thus realigning the calender with the sun.

Celebrating the new year was seen as pagan and un-Christian across medieval Europe, so much so that in 567 the Council of Tours abolished January 1 as the beginning of the year.

In 1582, Pope Gregory XIII abandoned the traditional Julian calendar. By the Julian reckoning, the solar year comprised 365.25 days, and the introduction of a leap day every four years was intended to keep the calendar and the seasons aligned.

Now here’s the science part; the solar year is actually 365 days, 5 hours, 48 minutes and 46 seconds = 365.2422 days), and this miscalculation caused the Julian calendar to slip behind the seasons about one day per century.

Pope Gregory corrected this by advancing the calendar 10 days. The change was made the day after October 4, 1582, and the following day was established as October 15, 1582.

Weird, huh? Everyone got ten days older overnight! Especially as the actual difference by then was fourteen days and not ten. But he was the Pope, and I guess he had his reasons; something to do with the meeting of the Council of Nicaea, which took place over a thousand years earlier.

Most Catholic countries adopted the Gregorian calendar at once, but not all. The British Empire, for example, still celebrated the new year in March until 1752 AD.

Those who consider themselves ‘true’ Christians do not, apparently, celebrate New Year, because it is not ordered by God in the bible. They blame early Roman Christian leaders for being unable to stamp out the mid-winter festival of Saturnalia, and simply adopting and adapting it into Christian doctrine as the celebration of the birth of Jesus, and the twelve days of Christmas. Interestingly, nine months ahead of December 25th, Jesus’s birthday brings us to round about the Spring equinox in March, the new year celebration which was adopted as the Christian date of the Immaculate Conception; March 25th is called the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and celebrates the the Archangel Gabriel announcing to Mary that she was about to become the mother of Jesus.

In Ireland, of course, the New Year was not celebrated by our ancient ancestors in March, or in January, but at the end of October, and was known as Samhain. This festival was taken over by the Church, and over time blended with All Souls Day and All Saints Day to become what we know and love today as Halloween. You can read more about Samhain in my post, Samhain, the Original Halloween.

Around the world

Ethiopia New Year is called Enkutatash and is celebrated on September 11. Ethiopia uses its own ancient calendar based on the Julian calendar. The new year begins at the end of the summer rainy season.

China New Year is celebrated on the first day of the lunar calendar and is corrected for the solar every three years, (please don’t ask me, I cannot explain!) falling between January 20 and February 20. It is celebrated with food, families, lucky money in red envelopes, lion and dragon dances, drums, and fireworks.

Wales In the Gwaun Valley, Pembrokeshire, the new year is known as Hen Galan, and is celebrated on January 13, based on the Julian calendar. The Calennig, gifts of small copper coins were given to children.

Arabia New Year in Islam is called Ras as-Sanah al-Hijriyah. It moves from year to year because the Islamic calendar is lunar based. The first day of the year is observed on the first day of Muharram, the first month in the Islamic calendar.

Israel Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year, is celebrated by Jews in Israel and throughout the world. The date is not set according to the Gregorian calendar, but falls during September or October, and is celebrated by religious services and special meals.

India In Hinduism, different regions celebrate new year at different times. In Assam, Bengal, Kerala, Nepal, Orissa, Punjab and Tamil Nadu, the new year is celebrated when the Sun enters Aries on the Hindu calendar, normally April 14 or April 15. Elsewhere, the Vikram Samvat calendar is followed, when new year’s day is on the first day of the Chaitra month,  which is the first month of the Hindu calendar, first fortnight and first day. Falling around the Spring equinox, it is celebrated by paying respect to elders in the family and seeking their blessings, and exchanging good wishes for a healthy and prosperous year ahead.

Scotland The Scots are famous for celebrating Hogmanay on New Years Eve, which was anciently celebrated by the lighting of huge bonfires, rolling blazing tar barrels down hill and tossing torches. Animal hide was wrapped around sticks and lit; the smoke produced was thought to be very effective in warding off evil spirits. This smoking stick was known as a Hogmanay.

Friday FREAKY Flash with Ed Mooney, Geoff le Pard and Jane Dougherty

Friday FREAKY Flash http://www.aliisaacstoryteller.com

Last week, it being the season that’s in it, I called for ghost stories. This was your prompt…

Give me your greatest, gruesomest, gory, ghoulish ghost story. have you got what it takes to frighten the life out of me?

Well, the short answer is yes, without a doubt! First up I am so delighted to welcome lovely blogger friend, awesome photographer and Ruinhunter, Ed Mooney, to the challenge…

The Hunter

Many years ago we lived under the sun. The land and sea provided us with everything we needed to live. Times were simple back then, but people were happy and life was good.

Then the darkness came, and with it, a cursed evil, like a pestilence that plagued the race of man. No one was safe, neither man, woman or child could escape it. Even the Sun and the Stars went into hiding.

It started with just a few, but as their thirst grew, so did their attacks. Farms, villages and eventually whole towns were over run and decimated. The lucky ones were drained and died. But as time went on, mankind began to defend itself and fight back. This was no war, it was a battle for survival. Then they began to turn their victims whom joined the ranks of the unholy walking dead.

As the enemy grew, the leaders of man made a pact with the vile creatures, and a truce was made, but at what cos. People were herded like cattle to the slaughter, sold out by their fellow man. The attacks continued but this time by the humans.

I never knew my family, for most of my life, all I have known is the hunt. It is all I know, and I am good at it. It does not matter to me, be they an Evil one or a human conspirator, when I find them, they will die…

Some may call it a curse! This was a path chosen for me, a lonely life. But it is my cross to bear and I shall bear it gladly. Who else can take a stand against this evil? Why should it not be me?

Ed Mooney, Ruinhunter. The man behind the camera. www.edmooney.wordpress.com
Ed Mooney, Ruinhunter. The man behind the camera. http://www.edmooney.wordpress.com

Creepy story, huh? I think Ed has the beginnings of a novel here. Thanks, Ed… I hope this is the first of many stories you will share with us. You can find Ed and his beautiful images of ancient Ireland, along with their legends, on his blog, Ed Mooney Photography.

Next up, it’s the effervescent, energetic, prolific Geoff le Pard, who is no stranger to this challenge or this blog. Last week’s story was macabre enough, but wait till you read this one…

A Question of Position

I’m very rational. Of course I can be startled, surprised and I’ll be the first to admit there are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio.
But ghosts? Spirits from beyond? Give me a break. Sure weird stuff happens but it’s only weird because we haven’t worked out how. There’ll be some modification of Newtonian physics, some subtle exception that explains it.
And then there’s the man at Victoria station, who, I’m about to meet.
It started on Monday. The station was chaos. They’re doing these rebuilding works. It was while I watched the indicator board, hoping my train would show as being on time. That is when I saw him.
I was in my favoured spot, near to the farthest left hand gate. The works have meant I’ve not been able to claim my spot but, happily, today I could. The works have moved.
I was staring up at the board when I saw him. For a moment I was sure he was hanging, and I must have gasped because the chap next to me asked if I was ok. He’s stood next to me for ever and that was a first. Name’s Gerald apparently.
I started to explain, but when we looked the man has gone, replaced by a workman in a hiviz jacket. I thought I must have been mistaken.
The next day, and the next I saw the man. Just glimpses. By the Maccy Ds. Going into the gents. It’s odd – it’s like he wants to look at me but is forcing himself not to.
Thursday, he was on the platform – no one else was there. He must be an employee, though the heavy blue coat looks like one of those old pictures.
I asked Gerald if he’d seen this fella but he said no. He made a joke about it, accused me of seeing a ghost.
When we reached the station on Friday, all sorts were going off. They’d cordoned the spot where I stand. Apparently they’d found a body. Seems like he had been buried there for decades and the ticket bloke said he’d heard he’d been buried deliberately.
We were all moved around, because three platforms were out of use. I saw him, as I knew I would, by my spot. I knew Gerald hadn’t seen the man even though he was there plain as anything. That’s when the man turned. He looked deformed, one side of his face damaged.
Even though the station was its usual noisy self I heard him say, ‘You!’
Like he knew me.
The weekend, I was anxious. The papers said he’d been buried alive. They did a mock up, in the uniform he was wearing. They said his face has been smashed. Like the man I saw.
I knew I’d see him on Monday. I knew we’d speak. I was responsible somehow. Maybe standing on top of him upset him. Or maybe there’s no logic to how ghosts choose those they seek to haunt.

Spooky story, well, I did ask for it! Thanks Geoff. Geoff has recently published his new book, My Father and Other Liars. You can read an excerpt from it here, when he stopped by my blog a couple of weeks ago. His first book is called Dead Flies and Sherry Trifle,  and you can buy them both here. You can catch up with Geoff on his blog.

And so we come to our final story from the very talented wordsmith, Jane Dougherty, who has another eerie, spooktacular tale for us today which she claims to be absolutely TRUE!

Dolly Mixtures

I noticed them up ahead, the young man in a dark-coloured hoodie, and a tiny tot dressed up like a dolly mixture. The tot was weaving unsteadily between the trees, chasing starling chicks. Light flickered between the tree trunks. Light but no sound. The man sat down on the steps by the side of the path and beckoned to the child. She sat down next to him, quiet and obedient, as he got out his tobacco and ciggie papers.

Tiny tots have an unsettling habit of running towards big dogs, shrieking with pleasure and their arms outstretched to give the cuddly thing a huge hug. Their parents generally follow at top speed, also shrieking, in terror. If you want to freak out a nervous dog, there is no better tactic. Not wanting any accidents, I bent down to clip the lead back on the dog’s collar. When I straightened up, the man in the hoodie was rolling up his cigarette, but the child was nowhere to be seen.

There was no reason for me to be curious, no reason to walk the ten yards to where the man was sitting with his back to me, head bent over his fingers as they flicked over and over. No reason, but a strong, morbid compulsion. I looked down the steps where he was sitting, up and down the cycle track beyond. A cold, damp sensation crept along the bare skin of my arms. There was nobody there. No child with her hair tied in a little blonde fountain on top of her head, no pink tee shirt and shorts, no pink sandles. Nothing. In front and behind the view was barred with the trunks of ornamental trees, tidy and neat, of the strip of parkland. To the right, behind a wall too high for a child to climb, lay the overgrown bank of the river.

I turned, a question ready on my tongue, but the hoodie was bent over his roll up, his face in darkness.

He’ll think I’m mad. Or a child abductor.

The dog whined and tugged on his lead. I walked away, troubled. At the end of the path I turned. He was still there, hunched over his cigarette. Alone.

Three days later, returning from our walk on the same path by the river, the dog slunk back to me, head down, whimpering unhappily. Voices came from the park benches ahead, irritated, loud. A young couple having words. She looked tired. Her hair was wild; a tiny baby in her arms was crying. He sat on the edge of the bench rolling a cigarette. The hood of his jacket obscured his face. A few yards away a tot dressed like a dolly mixture was chasing the pigeons.

A cold damp sensation crept over my skin, like water rising around the refuse trapped in the mud of the river bank.

Hmmm… I can feel a cold damp sensation creeping over my skin just reading that! Thanks, Jane. Jane is the author of The Green Woman Trilogy, and Grá mo Chroí, Love of My Heart, Love Stories from Irish Myth (which is FREE on Smashwords, btw!), which she co-wrote with yours truly, as well as numerous poems and short stories published in various fine magazines and anthologies. You can check them out on her blog, and buy them on Amazon.

Thanks everyone for being such good fun and sharing your fabulous stories with us. For this week’s Friday Fantastic Flash writing challenge, I want you to write about a building which has significance for you…

Friday Fantastic Flash Writing Challenge http://www.aliisaacstoryteller.com

Tell me about a building which is important to you; are its walls ancient and crumbling, or modern shining glass and cold steel? Does it mean home to you, or prison? What happened here? Why do you care?

You can submit here, I will include links to your blog and books. Entries must be under 500 words, but please remember that I write YA, so there may be young people on this site… please keep it family friendly. Please send to me by next Thursday 5th November @ 12:00pm. I really hope you will join me and take part in the craic!

 

Samhain Legends Donn, Lord of the Dead

Donn, Lord of the Dead www.aliisaacstoryteller.com
Donn, Lord of the Dead
http://www.aliisaacstoryteller.com

Last year, this was my most popular Samhain/ Halloween post, so I’ve reposted it here, in case anyone missed it.

Halloween is almost here, houses and shop windows are already decorated, children are planning their trick-or-treat costumes, and the pumpkins in the shops are selling out as people turn their skills to lantern carving. It’s a fun time of year, but few are aware of the festival’s origins, and the true meaning has been all but lost to commercialism and Christian interpretation.

Halloween is the Christian overlay of a celebration far more ancient, a pagan Celtic festival called Samhain. It is a time when the dead and the undead, and all manner of creepy ghouls and mischievous souls are thought to walk the earth, bringing havoc  and fear to the living.

As far as we can tell, the ancient Irish people  never had a God of the Dead. The Otherworld was said to be the domain of Manannán, God of the Sea, but the myths and legends do not tell of him being a God of the Dead. However, there is someone, a mere mortal, who has come to be associated with this role. 

Donn was a leader of the Milesians, who invaded Ireland and defeated the Tuatha de Denann roughly four thousand years ago, or thereabouts. The Milesians were a race of mortal men, not supernatural beings like the Danann. There are conflicting versions of Donn’s story… well, this is Irish mythology we’re talking about, nothing is quite what it seems, and part of its allure is that the truth of it can never be pinned down.

When the Milesians arrived off the coast of Ireland in their mighty fleet of ships, a great storm blew up, scattering the ships up and down the breadth of the island. Many of the ships perished, along with all those on board. Some say it was the Denann Druids who raised the storm, in an attempt to protect their land. In any case, Donn was lost at sea, along with twenty four of his companions.

It is said that Donn met his death at Bull Rock, which lies just off the western coast of Dursey Island, Cork. It’s an impressive, craggy lump of rock jutting out out of the foaming ocean, which now has a light-house on it. Here is an amazing picture of Bull Rock. However, his body was supposedly buried at the nearby Skellig Islands.

As the first of the Milesians to die in this invasion of Ireland, and being of high status, Donn’s position soon became elevated to Lord of the Dead. It was said that the Lord made his home at the place of his death, and called it Teach Duinn. It was said that he also had a home in the land of the living, at Knockfierna in Co Limerick. People believed that on stormy nights, he rode across the sky on a white horse, and they would say, “Donn is gallopping in the clouds, tonight.”

In later years, it was believed that after their deaths, the dead continued to walk in the land of the living as ‘shades’ until they heard the sound of Donn’s horn at Samhain, calling them to Teach Duinn, from where they travelled west over the sea to the Otherworld. The Christians, however, claimed that these were the souls of the damned, lingering at Bull Rock before passing on into Hell.

It’s interesting that the places so closely associated with Donn lie so near to Valentia Island. Valentia was said to be the home of the powerful blind sorcerer, Mogh Ruith, father of Tlachta who gave birth to triplets before dying on the Hill of Ward, a place named after her and associated with the great fires of the Samhain festival. Mogh Ruith was also thought to be a sun-deity. As such, he would have been seen as the opposite to Donn’s darkness.


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A Poem for Samhain Witches Lament

A Witches Lament | A Poem for Samhain www.aliisaacstoryteller.com
A Witches Lament | A Poem for Samhain
http://www.aliisaacstoryteller.com

I wrote this poem for Samhain last year, and decided to re-post it, because it fits with the season so well, and also with the atmosphere of last week’s poem, The Princess on the Hill.

They hide the truth,

these gaudy costumes,

the carved lanterns,

the trick or treat.

Reality is macabre,

glossed by lies and pretence.

They fear the truth.

*

Once, I was revered.

Earth’s power rose within me,

I cured, I foretold,

I held in my soul

the key to life’s mystery,

and the Goddess spoke through my voice.

Once, I was adored.

*

In those days I could fly…

Yes, really.

But superstition and ignorance

stripped me bare.

Instead, I turn away

and I hide.

Oh, but I could fly!

*

Fires honoured the dead,

they blessed summer’s end,

witnessed the birth of a year

dark and terrible and new.

They brought light, warmth, hope

to where the darkness was.

Now, they consume the living.

*

Women like me,

we burn in the flames,

we drown in the bog,

held down by the weight

of our skills, misunderstood.

They hunt us, they hate us,

women like me.

*

What once made us powerful

thus renders us weak.

The old ways can’t prevent

the onslaught of

the new convictions.

The danger of zealots

makes us only fearful.

*

I was beautiful, then.

With youth on my side,

and the knowing of the universe

filling my heart.

I was invincible, or so I thought,

until I watched them suffer and die.

I am withered and empty, now.

Tlachtga, Goddess of Earth and Fire

Tlachtga, Goddess of Earth and Fire www.aliisaacstoryteller.com
Tlachtga, Goddess of Earth and Fire
http://www.aliisaacstoryteller.com

“My name is Tlachtga, daughter of Mog Ruith. This hill is my place, my heart’s home. Only a few bones remain of what once stood here, for mankind has wrought his destruction upon it, as he did also upon my flesh. In those days, I rode the skies with my father in the great wheel of light, a rare magic known only to few, and folk would watch and fall to their knees in fearful prayer, claiming we commanded the sun. For long years after my suffering, great fires were lit in my honour. But time eroded understanding, and the people forgot why. The priests of the new religion came and wrote me out of history, for they were not fond of powerful women, and my name drifted like a lost whisper on the breeze. I have been grievously wronged, but should you come to me, I will receive you gladly. You will not feel my pain. You will see what I saw when I walked this earth, Eire’s green and fertile beauty. You will feel my power throb beneath your feet, for it is my heart still beating. And you will feel my peace, despite what happened here, for I am at rest now in my hollow hill piled with stones.”

When I go somewhere I know violence has taken place in the dim and distant past, I always expect to get some sense of darkness, or brooding, as if the memory of such awfulness remains etched into the very fabric of place, the stones, the earth, the grass, the trees, all these are witnesses of what once occurred.

At Tlachtga, I felt a great sense of peace. I know you will say it’s because it all happened so long ago, in fact, probably never happened at all, because these are just ancient stories. But I think forgiveness washes a place clean, floods it with peacefulness and makes it wholesome again.

It didn’t even feel like a hill, but as I walked out onto the summit, I was amazed at the wide open 360* panorama which unfolded around me. From here, other famous ancient sites can be seen, if you know where to look, such as Tara (19kms), Loughcrew, Slane (23kms) and Teltown (12kms).

Google Earth view of Tlachtga.
Google Earth view of Tlachtga.

In terms of archaeology, the site consists of the remains of a quadrivallate ring fort, which means it has four banks with a diameter of roughly 140m, and ditches between them. This is highly unusual, signifying a site of great importance. Sadly, there is severe damage, for which much of the blame is levelled at Oliver Cromwell, who camped his army there for a while in 1649. I suspect farming has had a large part to play too; on the day I visited, fields in the area were being ploughed.

Recent archaeological work is discovering a large complex of other monuments in the area, almost erased from the landscape, but still visible using technology such as LIDAR (“remote sensing technology that measures distance by illuminating a target with a laser and analysing the reflected light” according to Wikipedia). It was clearly a busy and thriving area in ancient times.

The fort was quite overgrown on the day I visited. It was difficult to get any meaningful pictures. The banks did not appear as high in the images as they did when I stood beneath them, nor the ditches as deep as when I stood in them. Interestingly, the fort looks most impressive from the air. So I grabbed a screenshot from Google Earth to show you.

I found myself walking the ditches as if drawn along them, almost as if they were processional walkways, rather than defensive structures. The experience left me feeling dizzy and head-achy. It was much like walking through a maze. In the ditches, the banks are still high enough that the view is completely obliterated. There was nothing to do save look at one’s feet and think. Or meditate. Or contemplate. Until one gravitated to the top of the central mound and was smacked in the chops with that view over the land.

So who was Tlachtga, and what is her association with the hill? Her name derives from the old Irish tlacht, meaning ‘earth’ and gae, meaning ‘spear’. This could imply a mother earth type deity, but it has also been surmised that the spear could represent lightning being hurled at the earth. She could possibly have been an ancient fertility Goddess local to the hill. Some think she may have been one of the Tuatha de Danann, others that she was a solar deity on account of her connection with Mogh Ruith. She is mentioned in two poems in different Irish texts, the Banshenchas, or ‘Lore of Women’ (must get my hands on a copy of that one!), and the Dinsenchas, the ‘Lore of Places’.

Her father was Mogh Ruith, a powerful blind Druid and possible sun god, whose name means ‘devotee of the wheel’. There is some debate over timescales here; some stories associate him with Cormac the Wise, High King of Ireland, and Fionn mac Cumhall, c. C3rd AD. The Lebor Gabála Érenn, an ancient Irish text, claims he died in the reign of Conmael, nearly two thousand years before Cormac.

However, both he and his daughter were also said to have travelled together to Italy, where they studied with Simon Magus, a sorcerer and heretic who lived during the time of Jesus. Simon Magus was said to have the ability to levitate and fly. It was he who helped them build their flying machine known as the Roth Rámach, which means the ‘rowing wheel’. And it was his three sons who raped Tlachtga.

She fled back to Ireland, where in time she gave birth to three sons on the Hill of Tlachtga. It was a long and difficult delivery during which all her energy ebbed. She was buried where she died, and the area took her name. Her sons were Doirb, Cuma and Muach, and one of the older versions of the story says they went on to rule the provinces of Munster, Leinster and Connacht, and that while their names were remembered, no harm would ever come to Eire.

It is interesting to note that a burial mound is indeed located at Tlachtga, but it is unknown who was lies within it. It is also interesting that the complete skeleton of a baby aged between seven and ten months and found to be 3000 years old was discovered there. It is not thought by archaeologists to be the victim of ritual death or sacrifice.

Like so many of Ireland’s women of mythology, Tlachtga was a tragic heroine, who suffered and endured, and died for her suffering. Some say her rape and death were later Christian inventions, an example of the kind of punishment women could expect if they did not keep to their proper station in life. But I prefer to remember her as an icon of female success, a mother, and a woman of strength, power and magic so revered, that her name has endured in the very shape of the landscape, thousands of years beyond her death.