Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Halloween: Origins

Halloween: Origins

“From ghoulies and ghosties
And long-leggedy beasties
And things that go bump in the night,
Good Lord, deliver us!”
Traditional Scottish prayer


            Most sources agree that Halloween started as a Celtic festival called Samhain (pronounced Sah-ween) in the Celt language. The Celts were spread far and wide, from northwest Spain (Galicia and Astoria) to northern Europe, and from Ireland to Anatolia in the first millennium before Christ. Their spiritual beliefs were tightly bound to the natural world and its cycles. Samhain was their most important festival. It marked both the beginning of winter, when herds were brought in to winter pasture, and the end of the harvest: the end of one annual cycle and the start of the next.
            The Celts believed that in this time of endings and beginnings, around November 1 by our calendar, the boundaries between this world and the otherworld weakened. Spirits of the dead traveled to the otherworld, and so could mingle with the living as they passed. People made sacrifices and lit bonfires to honor them, and also to help them find their way to the otherworld so they would not stay among the living. It was truly the time when “ghoulies and ghosties” were abroad in the darkness.
            Christian missionaries who came to spread the faith to the Celts were instructed by Pope Gregory to turn pagan belief and custom to the service of Christ. One of the ways this was done was to use days sacred to pagan belief for the celebration of church holy days. The church judged Samhain demonic, and its spirits not just dangerous, but malicious, intent on doing harm. The otherworld of the Celts was identified with the Christian Hell. The Church proclaimed this day to instead be celebrated the feast of All Saints. It hoped the Celtic peoples would abandon their pagan gods for the saints.
But ancient beliefs long held are hard to destroy. Some people continued to follow the old ways; they were often accused of witchcraft. The Celts accepted the saints, but the characteristics of the old gods were seen in some saints. The pagan deities themselves, though diminished, survived,  remembered as fairy or leprechaun.
            The powerful symbolism of the wandering dead endured. An abstract feast honoring remote saints needed something more to attract the energy of the old Samhain tradition, so the church established All Souls Day, a time for praying for the souls of the dead, on November 2.
            All Saints is also called All Hallows (hallowed means “sacred” or “holy”), making October 31 Hallows Eve. On Hallows Eve, human and supernatural are likely to meet each other; the wandering dead are about, but the church convinced its followers that the supernatural was evil. The cross was protection, but as insurance, the spirits were bribed with gifts of food and drink to pass and leave people unharmed. The term “All Hallows Eve” itself evolved, becoming first Hallow Evening, and later, Hallowe’en.



Here you are an interesting document about questions. It was written by Susan. Thanks again, Susan

Monday, 10 February 2014

Valentine's Day: What's in a Heart?

Valentine Day is coming! For some cultures, it’s a day of romance, of hearts and flowers. For others, it’s a Day of Friendship. The day is Saint Valentine’s feast, and many cards and flowers will be exchanged (as well as chocolates and other gifts).
       The day has several symbols. One of the most popular is the heart, which represents love and caring. The heart is used in any number of expressions. Below is a list. See if you can think of why “heart” is used to describe these ideas.
1.    “She has a heart of gold” means that she to cares about other people.
2.    “He has a big heart” means the he is a giving, generous person.
3.    “She is cold­-hearted” means that she doesn’t feel sympathy for other people.
4.    “He wears his heart on his sleeve” means he shows everybody how he feels about someone (or something).
5.    “Cross your heart and hope to die” means that you swear something is true or that you promise to do something.
6.    “She cried her heart out” means that she cried a lot because she felt really
badly about something.
7.    “They are eating their hearts out” means deep sadness about something.
8.    “Eat your heart out!” is a sarcastic expression meaning “Too bad you can’t [be someone][do something].”
9.    “I sympathize from the bottom of my heart” means that I feel really deep sympathy.
10.  “He had a change of heart” means that he changed his opinion or his mind about something.
11.  “Have a heart!” means “Be compassionate, be understanding.”
12.  “My heart was in my mouth!” means I was very nervous or I was scared.
13.  “Try to set your heart at rest” means to try to relax or stop worrying.
14.  “She’s really soft-hearted” means she’s sympathetic or compassionate
15.  “He really took the Broncos’ loss to heart” means he was very disappointed by the loss.
16.  “She’s learned the poem by heart” means she has the poem in her memory.
17.  “He is a football fan, heart and soul!” means he’s a very enthusiastic fan of football.
18.  “In her heart of hearts, she doesn’t believe that” means in her most private thoughts, she doesn’t believe something.
19.  “He lost his heart to Mary” means he fell in love with Mary.
20.  “She has her heart set on going to China” means she really really hopes to go to China.

Monday, 3 February 2014

Pete Seeger: A Song-Full Life

        Pete Seeger died on January 27, 2014. You may not have heard of him, but you’ve heard his work. A classic Spanish language version of “If I Had a Hammer” adapted and translated to Spanish by Victor Jara is still played (you can find it here:
Pete Seeger was basically a simple man. His parents let him introduce himself to music. They left different kinds of instruments around his house for him to play with. He chose “fretted stringed instruments,” as he described them in an interview. He started playing and collecting folk songs in the 1930s. His life's work focused on local, historical musical influences and showing how folk music expresses culture.  He played 12-string guitar. He also was master of the 5-string banjo and literally wrote the book on how to play it. He saw the music as important for itself, but as a potent tool for   political activism, as well; he said once said he'd like to be remembered as someone who “made up songs to try and persuade people to do something,” not just say something.
One song he collected and adapted was “We Shall Overcome.” (you can hear him sing it and see the words at It was the anthem of the U.S. Civil Rights movement in the 1960s. It has been used to express non-violent protest against war and oppression throughout the world.
         “Where Have All the Flowers Gone” was inspired by a song quoted in the novel And Quiet Flows the Don by Mikhail Sholokhov. Two more verses were added by Joe Hickerson in 1960, resulting in the peace song known in more than 20 languages today. This song is an example of what Seeger thought songs should do: grow and change with the conditions that surround them. (You can hear a version here:
          Seeger influenced many younger singers and with Woody Guthrie can be said to have started the folk music revival of the 60s and 70s in the US. Bob Dylan and Joan Baez were among the young singer-songwriters he influenced in the 60s, but he continued to inspire singer-songwriters throughout his life. He believed in music as a unifying force that can change the world person by person. On his 5-string banjo, he wrote the words: “This Machine Surrounds Hate and Forces it to Surrender.”
           Yet his most lasting legacy may be a river.
           In the 1960s, Seeger co-founded Hudson River Sloop Clearwater, Inc. A sloop is the sailing vessel that once carried goods and passengers on the Hudson River that flows between New York and New Jersey.  The Hudson River in the 60s was so polluted it was said that Caribbean ships would sail into its waters so the poisons could kill the bore worms in their wooden hulls. Seeger set out to clean the river up. Everyone said it couldn't be done.
            A new sloop, the Clearwater, was built with money raised by volunteers and through benefit concerts. She was launched in South Bristol, Maine in 1969 and sailed to the South Street Seaport Museum in New York City.  Then she started to travel the Hudson.
            She still sails the river, after more than 40 years. The Hudson is much improved, thanks in large part to the help of the organization Pete Seeger helped found and supported.  You can now swim in water once so poisonous it could clean ship hulls of parasites. The Clearwater carries volunteer and professional crew members; her main job is to teach school kids about the river's ecology.
Pete Seeger plays his 12-stringwith
 Clearwater behind him.
Pete Seeger was a simple man. Ten days before his death, he was still chopping wood outside the modest home he and his wife had built in upstate New York. His wife, Toshi, died last year; they were married almost 70 years. On their 69th wedding anniversary, Pete Seeger took a couple of hours to go to a protest meeting and lead neighbors in singing a song or two. It wasn’t a big deal. He believed you had to stand with your neighbors when they needed you, so he went.
          Bob Dylan once said of Pete Seeger, “He had this amazing ability to look at a group of people and to make them all sing parts of the song … he’d make an orchestration out of a simple song with everybody in the audience singing whether you wanted to or not and you’d find yourself singing the part and it’d be beautiful.”
          So was Pete Seeger and the life he lived.
An excellent documentary film about Pete Seeger was produced in 2007; you can watch it at:
You can learn more about the Clearwater project at: