Victoria Jelinek


Halloween

Cambodia Pchum Ben RitualModern Halloween can be traced back to the Celtic Festival of Samhain (Sow-in), which took place two thousand years ago in Ireland, Scotland, and Northern France. Samhain marked the end of summer and the harvest, as well as the beginning of the dark and cold months. For these cultures, winter intuitively symbolized death, and this has remained the case in the arts and literature today. Two thousand years ago people commonly believed that the boundary between the worlds of the dead and the living were blurred at this time, which made it easier for Druids to make predictions about the coming year.

Prophecies such as this were an important source of comfort and direction for these tribes during the long, dark winters. However, the same was true of all societies at this time, who were equally dependent on a volatile, natural world. Celebrations marking the end of the growing season and a heralding in of the winter months, as well as folk traditions that told of the day when the boundaries between the living and the dead were lifted, were common everywhere. The manifestations of the celebrations differed slightly from country to country, from festivals, parades, bonfires, and costumes, to gatherings of families and loved ones in cemeteries to pray for the dead, to feasting or fasting, but the concept remained the same. The ancient celebration of the contrast between life and death, the living and the departed, is intuitively experienced when the changing of the seasons occurs. In parallel to Samhain, there was, and is, the “Dia de Muertos” in Mexico, born of the Aztecs; “Ged Gede,” a voodoo festival from Haiti; “Chuseok” in South Korea, born from an ancient Shamanistic ritual; “Tutti i Morti” in Italy; “Pitru Paksha” in India; “Dzien Zaduszny” in Poland; and “Pchum Ben” in Cambodia, for example.

The fact is that on a subliminal level, societies throughout the world recognize the magical possibilities inherent in the natural world, particularly at this time of year. In my opinion, the questions that follow are why it is that the Gallic rituals dominated to become our modern idea of Halloween? And, will the modern world return to these tribal rituals dominating culture – the consulting of priests, the convening with spirits, the sacrificing of animals – now that we are once again dependent on a volatile natural world?

Advertisements


The Winter Sea

The Winter Sea book reviewIn 1708, a fleet of French and Scottish soldiers almost succeeded in landing the exiled Stuart prince in Scotland to reclaim his crown. In the present day, author Carrie McClelland wants to turn this story into her next bestselling novel. Settling into the shadows of an ancient castle in the highlands of Scotland, she creates a heroine named after one of her own Scottish ancestors, and begins to write the tale. Soon after, she finds that the details she’s intuitively including in the book are factual, and she ponders whether she’s dealing with ancestral memory, making her the only person alive who knows the truth about what happened over 300 years ago.

I was skeptical about reading what looked like a tome of historical fiction, but my doubt was quickly allayed. The concept is great – a writer has characters and their actions, circumstances, and dialogues, coming to her as memories, blurring the lines between fact and fiction. The locale is vividly, but not overly described, and the Scottish landscape is romantic. The characters – both in the present day and during the 18th century – are compelling. The story is suspenseful (and there’s a twist at the end that I didn’t see coming). Finally, without being drawn into tedious text-book-type writing, I learned a great deal about the Jacobites, the feuds between Scotland and England, and the alliance between France and Scotland, which is immensely interesting and explains a lot about the social politics between these three countries today.