The Blessings of Otters
Happy Halloween & Samhain
from all of us at Bumblehill

For Halloween: At the Death of the Year

Twilight by Brian Froud

In Celtic lore, October 31st is Samhain (All Hallow's Eve, or Halloween): the night when Arawn, lord of the Dead, rides the hills with his ghostly white hounds, and the Faery Court rides forth in stately procession across the land. In ancient times, hearth fires were smothered while bonfires blazed upon the hills, surrounded by circular trenches to protect all mortals from the faery host and the wandering spirits of the dead. In later centuries, Halloween turned into a night of revels for witches and gouls, eventually tamed into the modern holiday of costumes, tricks and treats.

Trolls by Brian Froud

Although the prospect of traffic between the living and the dead has often been feared, some cultures celebrated those special times when doors to the Underworld stood open. In Egypt, Osiris (god of the Netherworld, death, and resurrection) was drowned in the Nile by his brother Seth on the 17th of Athyr (November); each year on this night dead spirits were permitted to return to their homes, guided by the lamps of living relatives and honored by feasts. In Mexico, a similar tradition was born from a mix of indigenous folk beliefs and medieval Spanish Catholism, resulting in los Dias de Muertos (the Days of the Dead) -- a holiday Death by Brian Froudstill widely observed across Mexico and parts of the American South-West. The holiday varies from region to region but generally take place over the days of October 31st, November 1st, and November 2nd, celebrated with graveyard gatherings and Carnival-like processions in the streets. Within the house, an ofrenda or offering is painstakingly assembled on a lavishly decorated altar. Food, drink, clothes, tequila, cigarettes, chocolates and children's toys are set out for departed loved ones, surrounded by candles, flowers, palm leaves, tissue paper banners, and the smoke of copal incense. Golden paths of marigold petals are strewn from the altar to the street (sometimes all the way to the cemetary) to help the confused souls of the dead find their way back home.

According to Fredy Mendez, a Totonac man from Veracruz: "Between 31 October and 2 November, past generations were careful always to leave the front door open, so that the souls of the deceased could enter. My grandmother was constantly worried, and forever checking that the door had not been shut. Younger people are less concerned, but there is one rule we must obey: while the festival lasts, we treat all living beings with kindness. This includes dogs, cats, even flies or mosquitoes. If you should see a fly on the rim of a cup, don't frighten it away -- it is a dead relative who has returned. The dead come to eat tamales and to drink hot chocolate. What they take is vapor, or steam, from the food. They don't digest it physically: they extract the goodness from what we provide. This is an ancient belief. Each year we receive our relatives with joy. We sit near the altar to keep them company, just as we would if they were alive. At midday on 2 November the dead depart. Those who have been well received go laden with bananas, tamales, mole and good things. Those who have been poorly received go empty handed and grieving to the grave. Some people here have even seen them, and heard their lamentations."

(Go here for Stu Jenks' Guest Post on the Day of the Dead festivities in Tucson, Arizona.)

The Elfin Maid by Brian Froud

In Greek mythology, Persephone regularly crosses the border between the living and the dead, dwelling half the year with her mother (the goddess Demeter) in the upper world, and half the year with her husband (Hades) in the realm of the dead below. In another Greek story, Orpheus follows his dead wife deep into Hades' realm, where he bargains for her life in return for a demonstration of his musical skills. Hades agrees to release the lovely Eurydice back to Orpheus, provided he leads his wife from the Underworld without looking back. During the journey, he cannot hear his wife's footsteps and so he breaks the taboo. Eurydice vanishes and the pathway to Land of the Dead is closed. A similar tale is told of Izanagi in Japanese lore, who attempts to reclaim his beloved Izanami from the Land of Shadows. He may take her back if he promises not to try to see Izanami's face -- but he breaks the taboo, and is horrified to discover a rotting corpse.

When we look at earlier Sumarian myth, we find the goddess Inana is more successful in bringing her lover, Dumuzi, back from the Underworld; in Babylonian myth, this role falls to Ishtar, rescuing her lover Tammuz: "If thou opens not the gate," she says to the seven gatekeepers of the world below, "I will smash the door, I will shatter the bolt, I will smash the doorpost, I will move the doors, I will raise up the dead, eating the living, so that the dead will outnumber the living." During the three days of Ishtar's descent, all sexual activity stops on earth. The third day of the drama is the Day of Joy, the time of ascent, resurrection and procreation, when the year begins anew.

The Rune of Journeys by Brian Froud

Coyote, Hermes, Loki, Uncle Tompa and other Trickster figures from the mythic tradition have a special, uncanny ability to travel between mortal and immortal realms. In his brilliant book Trickster Makes This World: Michief, Myth, & ArtLewis Hyde explains that Trickster is the lord of in-between:

"He is the spirit of the doorway leading out, and the crossroads at the edge of town. He is the spirit of the road at dusk, the one that runs from one town to another and belongs to neither. Travellers used to mark such roads with cairns, each adding a stone to the pile in passing. The name Hermes once meant 'he of The Rune of Stewardship by Brian Froudthe stone heap,' which tells us that the cairn is more than a trail marker -- it is an altar to the forces that govern these spaces of heightened uncertainty. The road that Trickster travels is a spirit road as well as a road in fact. He is the adept who can move between heaven and earth, and between the living and the dead."

Trickster is one of the few who passes easily through the borderlands. The rest of us must confront the guardians who rise to bar the way: the gods, faeries, and supernatural spirits whose role is to help or hinder our passage over boundaries and through gates, thresholds, and liminal states of mind. In folk tales, guardians can be propitiated, appeased, outwitted, even slain -- but often at a price which is somewhat higher than one really wants to pay.

On Samhain, we cross from the old year to the new -- and that moment of crossing, as the clock strikes the midnight hour, is a time of powerful enchantment. For a blink of an eye we stand poised between two years, two tales, two worlds; between the living and the dead, the mortal and the fey. We must remember to give food to Hecate, wine to Janus, and flowers, songs, smoke, and dreams to the gate-keepers along the way. Shamans, mythic artists, and fantasy writers: they all cast paths of spells, stories, and marigold petals for us to follow, keeping us safe until the sun rises and the world begins anew.

Leaf Mask by Brian Froud

The art above is by my friend and neighbour Brian Froud, from The Land of Froud, Good Faeries/Bad Faeries, The Runes of Efland (with Ari Berk) and Trolls (with Wendy Froud). Some related posts full of spooky tales for All Hallow's Eve: Death in Folklore & Fairy Tales, The Wild Hunt, and Following the Hare.


Persephone on the Border

It is the crossing time of the year.
She holds the old king's hand,
then steps through the red and gold
of fallen leaves, fallen lives,
to the other side.

There are no guards to stop her,
no candles to greet her,
only the soft murmuration
of empty trees stripped and bare.
She does not hesitate, has no fear,
only a muse at what new life
awaits her.

A cold winter
and an early spring.

©2016 Jane Yolen all rights reserved

Thank you- I enjoyed reading this blog- and wonderful images.

A great post also love the poem very much!

You really have the best blog. I get so much enjoyment from your posts <3

Especially during this time of year, I am drawn to the lore, history and fate of the so called Salem witches. During the 17th century in Colonial America, any woman who seemed odd, too intelligent, too talkative or simply striking with certain beauty marks and reddish hair, became suspect of practicing magic. This poem is the lament of a young woman who faces that possibility and is gifted ( or cursed) with visions, auburn hair and innate knowledge of an old country with Druid rites/spells/traditions.

The Suspect

( Salem, 1691)

A broken pitcher on the hearth
and water spilled across the wooden floor,
in its sudden mirror I see
my pale countenance and so much more
as flames leap off the hawthorn log
and raw wool waits to be spun.
I see a woman on the hill
strung up for deeds she's never done.
The owl cloaked in his tartan plumes
laments someone or something in his call,
and I pray I am not the one
seen in the pool, heard in the leaves of Fall.
I've hid my gift of visions strange
and the autumn fire in my hair
twisting and tucking it beneath
a linen cap with painstaking care.
Priest and prophet have defined
this shade as a sign of womanly sin;
but it's the shade of reddish broom I say
that blossoms in the hills of my kin
or the embers of sun flickering
through the rafters of shadow and loft
when evening settles under the roof
of sky and cottages on the croft.
In fear, I have strayed from the crowd
of women gossiping on the green,
kept away from cats and gathered herbs
roots, kindling, and mushrooms unseen
along with memories of an ancient place
where we danced inside a circle of stones.
The grass swabbed our maiden feet with dew,
the wind blew sea and seal song though our bones.
And deep thought, I broke a pitcher;
its water spilled across the wooden floor --
so let me spill into that distant time
becoming the girl I was centuries before.

Hi Jane

There are no guards to stop her,
no candles to greet her,
only the soft murmuration
of empty trees stripped and bare.
She does not hesitate, has no fear,
only a muse at what new life
awaits her.

I love this poem of Persephone crossing the threshold of seasons along with darkness/light, life and death. Even in that time of cold darkness, there is something awakening in the restive imagination, ideas and dreams still bloom and inspire. Thank you for sharing this, it is beautifully poignant and so well voiced.

Take care,

Note -- I should mention the vision of a woman hanging on the hill refers to Gallows Hill where suspected witches were hung. Those condemned in Salem, Massachusetts, were not burned but died by rope; and in one known case, a man accused of practicing the craft, was stoned to death in an open field.

Such wonderful information and reminders. I always look forward to this post, Terri! Blessings this Samhain to you and yours.

Thanks as ever, dear Wendy.Persephone is one of those Me Too! Moments done bad in Mythology. People focus on her and her silence when they shoud always remember her mother's loud cries.Think that needs a poem, too.


Big grinning thanks, Angela.


Wow--and it rhymes, too. Why not send it to either Coffin Bell or Sycorax journals, both online poetry journals dealing with dark fantasy and women's issues.

I have had luck with both. Tell them I reccoed it to them.


Hi Jane

Thank you so much for reading this poem and for the info. And yes, I will send this one out to the mags you have suggested. I really appreciate your help and thoughtful consideration. It means a great deal!!

Take care
my best always

Here's a fun song for you about Persephone. It's by Cheshire Moon:

Lyrics are here:

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