Author Interview – Havelah McLat

So, I thought I’d do something different on my blog. I thought I’d interview a few authors and artists! Of course, shock-horror, this isn’t a new thing… lots of people do this… even non-authors! But, it’s new to me and… I will admit, I’m a little scared!

To start this adventure off… I reached out to Twitterverse (here’s my profile) to see if any of my fellow authors wanted to be test subjects… I mean, interviewees, and I got a few replies, which I am very grateful for! So, here is my first Author Interview with Havelah McLat!

If you like this post, please do like, comment and share. And don’t forget to follow my website for updates on future posts!

About Havelah McLat

Havelah is a young author and artist from Ohio, USA. She is a multi-genre author with three collections of young children’s stories already under her belt, along with a published short story and flash fiction. Here is her website: havelahmclat.com.

All three of her young children’s books are free (you can find them on her website), and I had the privilege to read her most recent book ‘The Promise’ (I wrote a small review below), which is Christian children’s book. She also has two other children’s books which are fantasy.

Havelah is also a beautiful artist, which you can see her work on her website. Certainly, my favourite is this:

Shared with the permission of Havelah.

Review of ‘The Promise’

When I first started reading ‘The Promise’, I will admit, I was a little sceptical at first, it is based heavily in Christianity and I am the least religious person ever (I even start blog posts with ‘hello, my little demons’, which you will notice I removed from this one out of respect). However, I do love learning about religious history and hearing other’s interpretations, and I actually enjoyed reading this story!

Without giving too much away, Havelah tells the story of Jesus’s crucifixion and resurrection through the eyes of three young kids, but they are Jewish and Roman/Christian. I feel the main take-away from this story is tolerance and love, which you will understand when you read it.

However, the story did have a few grammatical errors and spelling mistakes, making it a little difficult to read, but it certainly has all the makings of a great story and a talented writer!

Interview with Havelah

What got you into writing?

Okay, I started writing about nine and half years ago. I asked my older sister to write a story about us as fairies. Then I was into fairies, which still I am, and she wrote one. At that point, I grew interested in writing my own stories. She inspired me to write. I wrote my first fairy story a year later and from there I continue to grow in writing.

Where do you get your ideas?

During my first year as a newbie writer, I used copying other peoples’ stories. I would use Disney Fairies characters, and Barbie movies, but now I realized they helped me to find my writing style. So, I started not using the characters but using the inspiration. Sometimes I get ideas from movies, musics and books. I learned that using other peoples’ stories like copycating is wrong. But it is not wrong that they inspired you and helped you find writing style.

Have you always wanted to be a writer?

To be honest I didn’t see myself as a writer till later in my life. Before then I would draw pictures and fairy characters. When I watched my sister write a story, I wanted to be a writer. I felt writing stories gives me the opportunity to share my creativity and imagination.

Do you have a schedule when writing? Or do you try to fit it in when you can?

I don’t really have the schedule when it comes to writing. However, I do have a goal when I want to finish it. Other than that, I write when I feel like it.

How long does it take you to write a book?

That depends on the story. Before I started writing longer stories I used to write short stories under 1k or 2k. It will take a day or week. I learned writing a story takes time.

What’s the main theme in your most recent book, “The Promise”?

In this one I want the reader to know that we don’t have to earn our way to heaven, or have to be religious. More about building a relationship with Him and knowing Him because He loves us. God has given us a gift to believe Him. He is not forcing it but it is up to us to accept the gift or not.

Do you prefer writing fantasy or Christian books?

I like writing fantasy because it is really fun to do. I love writing fairy stories and creating their world and their adventures. However I am open to try different genres. Fantasy genre is probably my favorite thing to write.

How do you deal with criticism? 

I have my moments. I just have to remind myself that every story I write isn’t for everyone. One person may not like it because it isn’t for them and the other loves it. Plus I learned taking criticism can be a good thing if they share both sides. Positive and negative. I guess every writer handles this situation differently.

Which one of your works is your favorite?

Haha, I have to say it is Key to a Journey A Retelling of a Classic (Anastasia story) Why? Because I had so much fun writing it because I got to write Anastasia (inspired by the animated movie and the Broadway musical) in a fairy world. 

Are you working on anything at the moment?

I’m working on a crossworlds fantasy novel Transport of Troubles. The inspiration started two and half years ago. I wrote the story last summer but I wasn’t too happy with it. A year later I decided to rewrite it in a longer story. I’m really happy with this story. I am in the second draft. I hope one of these days it will be in the reader’s hands. 

~~~

A big thanks to Havelah for being my first test subject on this new blog post. Please do give her website a look havelahmclat.com. And watch this space for more interviews with other talented authors soon! 🙂

Be My (Dark) Valentine? – Valentine’s Day Special!

Hello, my little demons!

I wanted to write a new blog post, this one I wanted to discuss one of the days I dislike… Feburary the 14th.

Valentine’s Day.

This blog is in two parts; the first part I want to explore with you guys the history behind Valentine’s Day, who is St. Valentine? When did it start? And, of course, exploring the dark side of it (because I do love a bit of darkness every now and then). The second part, is the concept of Valentine’s Day, and why I dislike it.

What is Valentine’s Day and where did it come from?

Most of us, at least those in the Western World, will know about Valentine’s Day. The day of love. Valentine’s Day cards, chocolates in heart-shaped boxes. Buying wilting sevice station roses in cheap red glass vases in a mad rush to get something for a loved-one because you forgot all about it… Ahem…

But the real origins of Valentine’s Day is actually a little hazy, even Historians are a little unsure. There isn’t one ‘definitive’ answer, instead there are a number of theories. This blog post will explore these a bit more.

Is Valentine’s Day originally Catholic/Christian?

One of the issues with understanding where Valentine’s Day comes from, is that there are numerous martyrs called ‘Valentine’, and there are many sources that appear to mix them up. (So, bare in with me if I get something wrong!)

Valentinus comes from the Latin “Valens” which means ‘to be in good health’, and was unfortunately a common name in ancient Roman times [2].

However, one source suggests that two holy martyrs of the same name was recorded on the 14th of February [2].

But, the problem is, when I dig into these names I found, there are many different versions. I guess this is the problem with having a popular name, and the power of the internet; facts get mixed up. And to avoid being part of the expanding problem; giving false/mixed facts, I’ll instead just mention the names and the different versions and let you make up your own mind. I think this topic is something historians and archaeologists spend decades researching and a simple novice and her blog simply cannot delve into in a day or two!

Aside from this, however, most sources talk about at least two Valentines.

Saint Valentine of Terni (c) Melanie Renzulli.
Img src: https://www.italofile.com/saint-valentine-terni/

One story is about Valentine of Terni, it suggests he performed marriages for young lovers in secret [1]. He did this because the Emperor Claudius II outlawed marriages for young men, suggesting single men made better soldiers than those with wives and families. Claudius found out, of course, and ordered Valentine to be put to death. The source suggests that that many hagiographers (a writer of the lives of the saints, and yes, I had to look up that word!) agree that this was the ‘real’ Saint Valentine.

Another story, which again is mentioned in the same source [1], but I found mentions in other sources [2, 3], talks about a ‘Valentino falling in love with the daughter of the prison guard (Asterius) when he was imprisoned in Rome’. It talks about a note which has ‘Your Valentine’ or ‘From your Valentino’ (you have to remember the issues of translating languages), which was left before his death. One source even suggests that he performed a miracle of restoring her sight [2]! Valentino was apparently beheaded on the 14th of February 273 [2]. The issue is, within the first source [1] it is unclear whether the author actually talks of two different Valentines.

Another issue is that source [3] not only talks the Valentine that married soldiers when marriage was outlawed, but the source then continues to talk about another Saint Valentine… of Terni, as if this Valentine was seperate from the marriage Valentine. The line “he, too, was beheaded…” suggests this Saint Valentine of Terni was a seperate Valentine to the second. However, it doesn’t really seem to suggest this other Valentine was the imprisoned one from the previous paragraph (You can begin see my confusion with researching for this blog post!)

To backup source [3], Saint Valentine of Terni being a seperate Valentine to the Valentine that married soldier’s, another source talks about Valentine or Terni ‘debating a potential convert’ and he too ‘was beheaded’. But unfortunately not much else is given in this source for this version of Valentine of Terni.

One line I found from source [4] suggests the two Valentines decapitated were in fact different versions of just one saint, which appeared in both Rome and Terni. This would offer an explaination as to why sources appear to confuse the two. Source [5] also offers this as a suggestion too.

Wikipedia [6] also talks about two seperate Valentines; Saint Valentine’s of Rome and Saint Valentine’s of Terni. Which could be another name(s) for the two most common Valentines. However, I always take what I read on Wikipedia with a very large pinch of salt, anyone is able to make changes to pages on Wikipedia, and I have always been told in my past university professors to not use wikipedia as a reference in essays and other university work.

Just to confuse things even more, some sources talk about other ‘Valentines’. Source [1] also explains (which the author admits doesn’t ‘buy’) that Valentine ‘offered roses to a fighting couple and told them to love each other as if they had only one heart’. I would have to agree, this story seems a bit too far-fetched and not strong enough to be ‘written’ and thus become a legend.

Source [4] also talks about another ‘Valentinus’, apparently the earliests of Valentines, who died in Africa along with 24 soldiers, but the source says there isn’t much more information about him, other than birth and death dates, which also makes me consider isn’t enough to turn into a Valentine’s Day.

It is also worth noting that February the 14th became an official holiday associate with romantic love around the 14th and 15th centuries [5, 6]. One source talks about the oldest mention of ‘valentine’ from the 15th century, Charles d’ Orléans, who was held in the Tower of London after his defeat at the Battle of Agincourt (1415). He addressed his wife with “I am already sick of love, My very gentle Valentine” [2]. However, another source explains it was the poet Geoffrey Chaucer in the 14th century who linked love with St. Valentine for the first time in his works “The Parlement of Foules” and “The Complaint of Mars”, the source then suggests Chaucer invented Valentine’s Day as we know it today [7].

Another note here is that, if St. Valentine’s Day originated from one two martyrs, these would have been many centuries before these first mentions of the ‘Valentine’s Day’ above.

Or… was it actually originally Pagan?

But (get ready for the darkness), the [7] source previously also talks about February 14 also being considered the first day of spring in Britain or more generically, has it’s roots in paganism.

A few sources talk about the feast of Lupercalia [7, 8]. From February the 13th to the 15th, men sacrificed a goat and a dog, then whipped women with the hides of the animals, beliving this would make them fertile.

Although, again, sources make these references in history a little fuzzy. One source explains it was the Romans who celebrated this feast [8], whereas another explains it’s a pagan ritual (I’m sure the Roman’s were Christians, not pagans…)

Source [7] also talks about another tradition at this time, where men selected women’s names at random to ‘couple’ with them for either the duration of the festival or longer, if the match was right.

Source [7] goes on that it was Pope Gelasius I who combined St Valentine’s Day with Lupercalia to expel the pagan ritual, so like a previous post I have written (Samhain), it was the Christian’s way of ridding of paganism but combining pagan festivals with Christian ones.

And lastly, Source [8] mentions the Norman’s celebration of Galatin’s Day. Galatin meant “lover of women”, and it could be possible that the two days were confused.

To conclude, therefore, it isn’t definitive as to where Valentine’s Day originated. It could be that it was from one of the martyred Valentines (or it could be that this was indeed one man), it could be a pagan festival whether it was murged or not by the Church, or it could have come from the Norman’s Galatin’s Day. Or, it could have come from the other lesser known stories of Valentine’s I mentioned, or something else entirely.

Why don’t I like Valentine’s Day?

No, it’s not because the last five years I have spent Valentine’s Day alone. I’m not that cynical. I’m actually very happy being single! And trust me, I feel the same when I am in a relationship.

One reason is that, like many holiday’s celebrated in the United Kingdom; Easter, Christmas, Halloween, it’s heavily commercialised. Of course, if it was just commercialised and it didn’t affect my everyday life, I probably wouldn’t care. It’s up to those who want to celebrate it. But, it does affect my everyday life.

It restricts my ability to go out for a meal, not only is it difficult to just go and find a table anywhere, but some restaurants deliberately put the prices up knowing they’ll have people willing to pay it. It can also make things busier, not just restaurants but take-away deliveries too.

Another issue is if you went out with a friend of the opposite sex (of which I have many friends from the opposite sex), it’s immediately assumed they are your partner. Of course this tends to happen to me frequently regardless of whether it’s Valentine’s Day or not, but it’s more prevalent on Valentine’s Day.

Another issue is that shops, such as supermarkets, move items on their shelves to fit in the Valentine’s Day gifts and cards. Sometimes this can mean stock isn’t available, given me less options, and I already have a dislike for supermarkets in this country (that’s a rant for another day!) I will admit, this is more of an issue at Christmas time rather than Valentine’s Day, as there are usually rows and rows at Christmas, yet Valentine’s Day isn’t as commercialised as Christmas, but this still pays a small factor into it.

And, of course, the commercialism from companies that promote Valentine’s Day, not only profiting from it and giving more rise to consumerism (given more power to companies) but making it more of a thing, giving it more social construct and thus giving rise to the guilt people can feel when they don’t conform to the holiday. This is one of the reasons why I didn’t use the day to promote my romance books, as I’d be a hypocrite if I did!

I also dislike the way it makes single people, those who have recently lost love ones, those who generally feel low/depression/isolated and those who are in violent relationships, feel worse. The day is thrown in these’s people’s faces.

And of course, lastly, the one that I constantly tell everyone… why do we even have Valentine’s Day? One day of the year that is devoted to love? Those who are in relationships shouldn’t be using the one day of the year to confess their love!

Rather than celebrating love on one day of the year, let’s remember the reason why we even have Valentine’s Day…

…If we could just remember the reason!

References:

[1] https://www.italofile.com/saint-valentine-terni/

[2] https://www.italyheritage.com/traditions/calendar/february/14-san-valentino.htm

[3] https://www.history.com/topics/valentines-day/history-of-valentines-day-2

[4] https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/gory-origins-valentines-day-180968156/

[5] https://www.britannica.com/topic/Valentines-Day

[6] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Valentine%27s_Day

[7] https://www.countryliving.com/life/a46353/history-of-valentines-day/

[8] https://www.npr.org/2011/02/14/133693152/the-dark-origins-of-valentines-day

Happy Birthday! But why do we celebrate?

Hello my little demons!

For those of you who know, it was recently my 31st birthday!

I remember for a friend’s birthday one year, in true Penny tradition, we had the discussion of where birthday cakes came from (although I cannot remember the details), and wondering over other birthday traditions.

Since my birthday was recently and I was deliberating options of a blog post, I thought it fitting to talk about where the celebration of birthdays came from

birthday-party-for-cute-child-royalty-free-image-700712598-1552358033

So I did a little bit of research.

Birthday celebrations isn’t Christian!

… In fact, the Church considered celebrating birthdays evil!

Forgive me if this is inaccurate, as I am by no means well versed when it comes to the bible. But I happened across an interesting article [1].

In the bible there are a few mentions of celebrating birthdays. In the book of Genesis, the Old Testament, the first mention was of a Pharaoh, the Egyptian king. It is said that God told Joseph in a dream, that the Pharaoh’s butler and baker would lose his life. Three days later, on the Pharaoh’s own birthday party, the Pharaoh hanged his baker at the party.

The second account, this time in the New Testament, Herod the tetrarch made a promise at his birthday party which he did not want to keep, this resulted John the Baptist loosing his life.

The third and final account is found in the book of Job. Job’s seven sons “went and feasted in their houses, every one his day; and sent and called for their three sisters to eat and drink with them”. During the birthday party of Job’s oldest son, God allowed Satan to kill all ten of Job’s children with a tornado.

The article then continues to discuss that Job spent his time cursing his birth, the author says “his words make plain that there is nothing good about the day of a man’s birth”.

What is interesting is that these were interpreted by the writer in the article from the bible, s/he continued to explain “the central lesson of each of these accounts” and that those familiar with the accounts “ignore Job’s comments”.

Of course, this is just a single article, writen by a single human person on a website, a clearly religious and devote Christian and is just his/her interpretation of what is in the bible.

In fact, another website [2] explains that there is no hint that it was wrong for the Pharaoh or Herod to celebrate their birthdays, not does Scripture discourage Christians from celebrating birthdays.

But it is said that birthday’s weren’t celebrated by Christians until the 4th century. This was because birthdays were tied to “pagan” gods, and due to the belif that humans were born with “original sin”. [3]

Of course, it’s possible Christians changed their minds about celebration and began celebrating the birth of Jesus (hello, Christmas!) and let’s not even get into the idea that the Church may have done this to cover up the Pagan celebration of Saturnalia.

So, when did celebrating a birthday first start?

Actually, I’ve technically already answered that question.

The first mention of a celebration of a birthday was in the bible! The Pharaoh’s birthday! Around 3,000 B.C.E (before common era).

But, it’s interesting to note here, that this birthday was not the birth of a man, but birth of a god. In Egypt, when a man was made Pharaoh, it was believed that he was reborn a god. And of course, what is more important than a man’s birthday but a god’s birthday? It’s therefore possible this reference to the Pharaoh’s birthday was actually his coronation.

Where did birthday cake come from?

Celebrating birthdays with cake was first found in Germany in the 15th century. Typically single layer cakes and typically for first birthdays, called Kinderfesten.

The birthday cake would have a candle for each year they’d been alive, and an extra one (usually in the centre of the cake) to symbolize the hope of living for at least one more year. A wish would also be made upon blowing the candles out.

Using candles on cakes, however, didn’t begin in Germany, this tradition dates back to ancient Greece, where they represented the goddess of the moon, the hunt and chastity; Artemis. The round cakes were a symbol of the moon with the candles a symbol of light.

The first birthday gift

Much like the first birthday celebration, the tradition of gift giving on a birthday is hard to trace back, and there are a few theories on where it originated from.

Of course, us humans have been avid gift givers for many many years, you could probably go back as far as the cavemen! But since there was no calendar back then, you couldn’t say this was for birthdays!

One theory is that the first birthday gift exchanges were seen in the first century AD with the Romans, “showering the emperor with gifts”.

Another theory is that birthday gift giving originated in Europe (although I’m unsure what time period). People believed evil spirits haunt a person on their birthday, and the way to ward them off was to present them with gifts (gifts were symbolic tools).

And of course, many Christians believed birthday gift giving began with Jesus Christ, the three wise men offering frankincense, gold and myrrh to Jesus when he was born (which can also be linked to celebrating and gift-giving at Christmas!)

Birthday Traditions across the globe

One thing that has interested me, as I know many people across the globe, including my brother’s girlfriend who is Thai, is that birthday celebrations are different in many different countries.

My brother’s girlfriend, for example, doesn’t typically receive gifts for her birthday (although she got a little something from Scotland from myself and my parents!) but she does celebrate the day.

Top-10-Travel-Birthday-Traditions-Blog-Image-1024x683

Typical birthday here in the UK

Here in the UK – at least from my own experience – children are given gifts of toys, books, chocolates, sweets, sometimes clothes and other foods as birthday presents. They might have a day out to celebrate their birthdays or a birthday party at home or at a venue with family and/or friends.

As we get older, not much changes, although many people aren’t so bothered about celebrating lavishingly. Usually the 16th, 18ths, 21st are big birthdays. Including any new decades such as 30th, 40th, etc.

Smashing cakes and sweet sixteens in the US

In the United States, it’s similar to the UK, although they do a few things differently. One such difference is the sweet sixteen birthday party, originally a party to celebrate a girl’s coming of age. Although sometimes a young boy can celebrate. These birthday parties can range from the smaller quieter ones to the large one with DJs, make-up, expensive gowns and ballrooms.

Smashing cakes is also a typically US tradition, where extra cakes are baked specifically for children to destroy.

Candy filled Pinata in Mexico

Another common one is hitting a pinata (usually a colourful horse shape made out of papier-mache) filled with candy and small toys. Originating from Mexico, the birthday boy or girl hit the pinata blindfolded with a stick. I’ve seen this celebrated in the US at times too.

A country-celebrated birthday in Vietnam

In Vietnam, they do things very differently. Rather than each individual celebrating their birthday on the day they were born, the country has a day called ‘Tet’. This day allows the country to celebrate their birthday on one day, regardless of their actual birth date, they add one year to their age. Children typically get a red envelope containing “lucky money” (li xi) by their parents on the morning of Tet. What’s more, Tet is also Vietnam’s New Year.

Strange scare and pie in Switzerland

I certainly wouldn’t want to visit Switzerland for my birthday, as parents will hire an evil looking clown to scare the birthday boy or girl. After a day of stalking and tormenting, sometimes for a few days, the clown will put a pie in their faces. Supposedly all this is meant to bring health and happiness!

Reverse gift giving and bad luck in Russia

In Russia, rather than the birthday boy or girl getting gifts, it’s a tradition that they instead are the ones to give the gifts. It’s also seen as bad luck to celebrate their birthday before the birth date, it’s thought that you are most weakened and vulnerable on the eve of your birthday.

Long noodles in China

A chinese tradition for a birthday person is to eat a plate of long noodles, they are meant to symbolize longevity; the more you are able to slurp into your mouth before biting the longer you are thought to live.

There are many others, from ambushing celebrators with butter on their noses in Canada, to upside-down birthday bumps in Ireland. Each country certainly celebrates differently!

I know I have a few places I’d like to go to on my birthday now (and a particular day, in the case of Vietnam) and at least the one place to avoid (Sorry Switzerland!)

The Queen has two birthdays!

91HFbz2gu0L._SX425_

Her Majest Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland (and other commonwealth realms), has two birthdays!

One birthday, April the 21st, is the Queens real birthday, usually celebrated by a series of gun salutes around London (Hyde Park, Windsor Great Park and the Tower of London!) but other than this, it is mostly celebrated privately.

Her other birthday, her “official birthday”, usually the first Saturday in June, is also on ‘Trooping the Colour’, this is a large birthday celebration, where the Queen and other members of the Royal Family parade through London on horseback and carriages. The display closes with a fly-past organised by the RAF, watched from the Buckingham Palace balcony.

It’s not just Queen Elizabeth II either, it’s a tradition by many British monarchs, originally started by King George II in 1748, who had the misfortune of being born in November (I feel you King George!). Rather than having his subjects risk getting ill, he combined his birthday celebration with the Trooping the Colour.

How did I celebrate my birthday?

This year I celebrated my birthday with my mother in Edinburgh.

My parents bought a night stay in a hotel for myself and my mother, so on the Friday we travelled into Edinburgh (I actually had a job interview that day in Edinburgh, killing two birds with one stone, as they say) had a lovely meal in a Thai restaurant in the city in the evening, went back to the hotel for a drink in the bar and had something for desert (not many options in a Thai restaurant!). The next day my mother and I were up, went for breakfast, did a little bit of shopping along Princes Street, walked up to the castle along the Royal Mile, back down and found a pub called “The World’s End” and had “The World’s End” bitter, before heading to Marks and Spencers for something for dinner (and to-go lunch) before heading to Waverly station to get the train home.

All photos are my own. Copyrighted to myself, Penny Hooper.

If you liked this post, don’t forget to check out my other blog posts!

Remember, Remember, the 5th of November…

Samhain, All Hallows Eve and Ghost Stories – Halloween Special!

Douglas, South Lanarkshire – A Hidden Gem

Living in Australia – Part 1: Breakup from hell and Brisvegas

Best places to visit in South Lanarkshire

The HALO Trust: Safe Steps – Challenge Complete!

I won! I came first in the Earnesty Writer’s Awards 2018 Paranormal Genre!

My Normal – A Short Story by Penny Hooper

Rose Garden Sanatorium – Prologue

References:

[1] The Restored Church of God: https://rcg.org/articles/abcc.html

[2] Should Christians Celebrate birthdays: https://www.gotquestions.org/Christian-birthdays.html

[3] GoodNews, Celebrating Birthdays: https://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/entry/history-of-birthdays_n_4227366?ri18n=true

The Connected Traveller, Birthdays around the world: https://www.travelsim.net.au/blog/2016/10/06/top-10-birthday-traditions-from-around-the-world/

Cool Traditions around the globe: https://www.bustle.com/articles/136530-11-cool-birthday-traditions-from-around-the-world

Seven traditions around the world: https://www.mentalfloss.com/article/52335/7-birthday-traditions-around-world

The Origins of Birthday Candles: http://www.mebondbooks.com/2017/01/23/the-origins-of-birthday-candles/

Why do we give gifts on birthdays: https://giftsforsomeonespecial.com/why-do-we-give-gifts-on-birthdays/

How do Russians Celebrate birthdays? https://weirdrussia.com/2015/05/17/how-do-russians-celebrate-birthdays/

Birthday celebrations are not special for everyone: http://silverinternational.mbhs.edu/v163/V16.3.04a.birthday.htm

The Queens two Birthdays: https://www.mentalfloss.com/article/64887/why-does-queen-have-two-birthdays

Trooping the Colour: https://www.royal.uk/trooping-colour

Samhain, All Hallows Eve and Ghost Stories – Halloween Special!

Some of my close friends will know, Halloween is my favourite holiday! It’s the one time of year that the majority of people dress up as something ‘scary’ and in a way celebrate the dead and all things weird yet wonderful. Why do I like this? Well, only a select few will know that not only have I got a few ghost stories of my own, as well as been able to predict a few things, but I have a fascination with parapsychology.

For those who don’t know, or probably think they know but are a little misinformed, parapsychology is a study of paranormal psychological phenomena (such as telephathy, psychokinesis and clairvoyance). It’s not to be confused with paranormal investigators! (But ghosts and spirits can be a part of it). And, as far as I am concerned, parapsychology is a little more ‘science’ based than paranormal investigators. There are even legitimate research laboratories set up around the world for the study, one of my favourites is the Koestler Parapsychology Unit based here in Scotland, at Edinburgh University (link at the bottom of the blog post). I am interested in one day completing at least the online course for interest, but have also been considering a PhD and conducting real research (plus, wouldn’t it be a cool talking point to say that my PhD was in parapsychology? I’ll call myself Dr Spooks!)

Continue reading and there might be a few spooky stories of my own!

Where did Halloween Originate from?

Halloween is an annual holiday celebrated each year on October 31st. This year it falls on a Thursday. Many people around the world celebrate it; United Kingdom, Ireland, Canada, United States, Mexico, Australia, New Zealand, Germany, Greece, even China and Japan.

Some people believe Halloween originated from the pagan religious festival ‘Samhain’, others, however, believe that Halloween is a solely Christian celebration.

Samhain

Let’s start with Samhain.

the-festival-of-samhain-is-celebrated-in-glastonbury

Photo from: https://www.history.com/topics/holidays/samhain

Samhain (pronouced “sow-in”), is a Gaelic word for “summer’s end”. It is a typically ancient Celtic spiritual tradition, possibly originating in Ireland 2,000 years ago (the Celts also lived all over the United Kingdom and parts of northern France), celebrated from the 31st October to 1st November (the mid point between autumn equinox and winter solstice) to usher the “dark half of the year” and to welcome the harvest. The Celtic New Year was November 1.

After the harvest, the community began celebrations around a wheel that, due to friction, would create sparks and flames. This is said to represent the sun. Cattle were sacrificed and people would take a flame back to relight their fire in their own homes.

The Celts also believed that a barrier between worlds was breachable during Samhain, believing that this time of year was associated with death and also believed the dead would cross over during this time.

By 43 A.D., the Celtic territories were conquered by the Roman Empire, and over 400 years, two Roman festivals (Feralia, a day in late October for commemorating the dead and day to honor Pomona, the goddess of fruit and trees – probably where the tradition of bobbing for apples came from) were combined with Samhain.

It’s possible that Samhain was merged with these two days to eradicate the original pagan festival, as there was a Persecution of paganism under Theodosius I in 381 A.D., who reigned as co-emperor of the Roman Empire. Theodosian created “Theodosian decrees” which meant practicing paganism was banned, visits to temples forbidden, and remaining pagan holidays were abolished, among others. He also declared that pagan feasts that had not yet been rendered Christian ones to now be workdays.

Christian Halloween

The name “Halloween” comes from “All Hallows’ eve”, which, “hallows” means saints. November the 1st was a day to celebrate all the saints and martyrs, originally called All Saints’ Day. October the 31st just so happened to be the eve, which, of course, was also important day of celebration.

But, All Saints’ Day was originally on the 13th of May, originally to celebrate Martyrs, but Pope Boniface IV changed it to the 1st of November and incorporated a celebration for all saints.

In 1000 A.D. the church also made November the 2nd “All Souls’ Day” a day to honor the dead. It was celebrated similarly to Samhain.

All three days are collectively called Allhallowtide.

Pumpkin Carving

On Halloween, pumpkin carving is a tradition, sometimes called Jack O’Lanterns in America. This is where a pumpkin is hollowed out, a face calved into it’s side and then a candle being placed inside to light it up.

This tradition originated from Ireland, but it wasn’t pumpkins that were originally used, as they weren’t native. Originally turnips, potatoes and other root vegetables were used, it wasn’t until Halloween made it’s way to America that pumpkins were used, as it was found they were easier to calve than root vegetables.

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Original Jack O’Lantern, Turnip Carving.
https://www.irishcentral.com/roots/history/jack-o-lantern-turnips-ireland

The name ‘Jack O’Lantern’ is also from an Irish folktale. According to the story, a man called Stingy Jack invited the Devil to have a drink with him, but Stingy Jack didn’t want to pay for his drink, so he convinced the Devil to turn himself into a coin so Jack could use to buy their drinks. But Jack decided to keep the money and put it in his pocket, next to a silver cross, which prevented the Devil from changing.

The Devil was eventually freed, under the condition he would leave Jack alone for one year, and should Jack die, he would not claim his soul.

The next year, Jack again tricked the Devil into climbing a tree, Jack carved a cross into the tree so the Devil could not come down until he promised Jack he would not bother him for another ten years.

When Jack died, God didn’t allow Jack into heaven for his actions, but the Devil also didn’t allow him into Hell. Instead, Jack was sentenced to roam Earth with only a burning coal to light his way. Jack put the coal into a carved out turnip and became a ghostly figure called ‘Jack of the Lantern’, which eventually was shortened to ‘Jack O’Lantern’.

Trick or Treating

It is suggested that the practice of trick or treating originated from the custom of “Souling”, baking and sharing soul cakes for all christened souls. Groups of poor people, often children, would go door-to-door during Allhallowtide, collect soul cakes in return for a prayer for the dead.

Soul cakes, or soulmass cakes, were often market with a cross, much like the Easter/Lenten hot cross buns.

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Picture from: https://www.instructables.com/id/A-Witchs-Afternoon-Tea-Celtic-Style/
(includes a receipe if you’d like to recreate them yourself!)

Of course, the phrase ‘Trick or treat’ wasn’t used back then, the first mention of this phrase can be dated back to 1951 from a Peanut Comic Strip, but the actual origins are unclear.

Now, trick or treating has become a tradition for children to go knocking on local doors in exchange for sweets, usually dressed up as something scary!

Dressing up

The act of dressing up on Halloween can probably be dated back to Samhain, where villagers would disguise themselves in costumes made of animal skins to drive away unwanted visitors/spirits.

It was also a tradition shared with Christians, who believed Allhallowtide was the last day for the dead to seek vengeance on their enemies before moving on. People would dress up to avoid being recognised from being a target of this vengeance.

Now, the act of dressing up is left to parties and children who take part in trick-or-treating.

My Own Spooky Experiences

Something doesn’t feel right

A few years ago, probably around 2013, I took a trip to Conwy, Northern Wales (home to the smallest house in Britain) with my partner at the time. We both lived in Warrington so getting to Northern Wales was easy.

It was a cold day, which made for a good day exploring as there weren’t many people about, and so we took a trip to have a look around Conwy Castle.

conwy01
Photograph from www.castlewales.com/conwy.html

At first, it was great, hardly any tourists, because it was the wrong time of year, it was cold but dry and I always love my little days out visiting new sites, so I’m happy exploring too. We had just seen the smallest house in Britain and now we were having a wander around the castle, I was snap happy with my camera. As always.

But as I got closer to one of the towers, I had a very unsettling feeling towards it. I hadn’t had that feeling anywhere else so far in the castle except that one tower. I told my partner I couldn’t go near it and he just looked at me oddly. He was a sceptic (I didn’t hold it against him, but I did hate the looks he used to give me). But he started to read out the board next to the tower, and told me why couldn’t go near…

…it was the prison tower.

Imaginary Friend

This is a story that I will be turning into a book eventually, so I won’t go into too much detail, but I will explain a little about it.

My experiences with all things paranormal started when I was a child. When I was very young, probably still at primary school (ages 5 to 7), my brother and I had an imaginary friend; Sammy.

I don’t remember much about this because I was still quite young, so most of my memories have gone, the only memories I do have was remembering telling my mum that my missing hairbands were probably lost because Sammy hid them.

My mum told me that this imaginary friend, Sammy, used to live in the corner of our ceiling and would hide things for fun.

My mother at the time was a sceptic, and she believed my brother and I were just blaming things going missing on an imaginary friend, not wanting us to get into trouble. My brother also had a very vivid imagination when he was young, mum would get teachers from school worried about some of the stories he used to tell. Mum still to this day remembers the story about the Tiger in the backgarden. I’m suprised my brother never followed in my footsteps and became a writer!

But her scepticism quickly vanished after what she thought my brother and I had outgrown our imaginary friend became a lot more than just an imaginary friend…

She used to work at the primary school my brother and I went to, and because of such, became friendly with a few of the other mothers. One lady had approached my mum asking her for advice, asking if my brother and I ever had imaginary friends. After my mum gave her advice that “don’t worry, they grow out of it.” The mother proceeded to tell my mum that her son had an imaginary friend…

…called Sammy…

…who lives in the ceiling…

…and hides things.

My mum told me this a few years ago, and I can’t say I was surprised, after all the other things that had happened to me over the years… she also explained that the other mother’s son told her that Sammy was looking for his parents. Somehow we figured out that Sammy had died in an accident, car accident or something similar.

But I have tried to search for information on such an accident in the area I grew up (near Laws Woods/Park, in Swindon, Wiltshire) and I couldn’t find anything in any records. Although, a lot of locals have had ghostly encounters in Lawns Woods, my mother and I have heard a few stories in the area, a woman in white searching for something, ghost animals, even amature ghost hunters went to the area and believe they saw a woman in white being carried.

Lawns Woods used to be home to the Goddard Family, with remains of an old church and graveyard apparently for the family’s pets, an old ice house up on the hill, remains of an old sunken garden, a site where Tutor Mansion used to sit, then an 18th Century Mansion, both no longer there. But with so much history in the area, I wouldn’t be surprised if there were a few ghostly goings on in the area. Including the ghost of Sammy that used to haunt the children in the area. I just wish I could find more information about it.

References:

Here are a few links if you’re interested in reading more about some sites I mentioned in this blog post:

Koestler Parapschology Unit

Lawn Park

Goddards in Swindon

Paranormal activity in Lawns Park

History of Halloween

History of Samhain

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Keeping in theme of the spooky, check out these links below.

New Story idea! – Butterfly House
Rose Garden Sanatorium – Prologue
New Story Idea – “I fell in Love with a Psychopath”
My Normal – A Short Story by Penny Hooper

If you’re interested in my other travel/historical posts, check these out:

Remember, Remember, the 5th of November…
Douglas, South Lanarkshire – A Hidden Gem
Best places to visit in South Lanarkshire
Living in Australia – Part 1: Breakup from hell and Brisvegas

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And feel free to comment with any of your spooky stories!