Sunday, December 7, 2008

The Festival of the Dead

The celebration of the dead is found throughout the Celtic world and lasts from Halloween to New Year. In pagan times, mid winter was always associated with spirits and monsters that were on the prowl. The Celts believe throughout the mid winter the dead walked with the living from Halloween till New Year. Many ancient superstitions surrounding Yuletide were concerned with the darkness and the evil it was thought to harbour. During the Feast of the Dead (Hogmanay) Druid priests cut down mistletoe which grew in sacred oaks with golden sickles. These were used medicinally and helped infertility. That is why, to this day, we kiss under a sprig of mistletoe. Christmas, although a Christian festival is also a traditional pagan festival and many superstitions are connected to religious beliefs. Yule logs for example were burnt on the Christmas fire and many people keep a piece on the log from the previous year, as a lucky talisman. The superstitious believe it is extremely unlucky if the Yule log is touched by a barefooted woman or a squint eyed man. A visitor to the house who has flat feet whilst the log is burning is sufficient is also a bad omen. In Sweden it was believed evil trolls roamed the countryside between cockcrow and daybreak on Christmas day. Superstitious people never give shoes for Christmas gifts. The old wives tale is if you give a friend a new pair of shoes then they are sure to walk away from you. Kissing under the mistletoe is thought to be an ancient Druid (Celtic) tradition. Drinking of wassail (alcohol) is another Celtic tradition. The Vikings used to slaughter a boar at Yule time in honour of the god, Freyr.

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