Guising – A Celtic Tradition

Guising - A Celtic Tradition By Lilian Anderson

Trick or Treating, is that not an American tradition? I see people on social media every day claiming that Trick or Treating is just another sign of the over Americanisation of our children’s lives and I guess in some ways they are right. But in so many other ways they are totally wrong! 

Guising in Scotland has its roots deep in the 1800s if not earlier, and the traditions of Halloween are a mix of both Pagan and Christian history.

Samhain (and you can check out my piece on that by clicking here) is the Pagan name for Halloween, and is one of the few Sabbats which is celebrated on the same day as the Christian equivalent. In Paganism, the between times are very special, and Samhain celebrates the cross between the fruitful and warm days of summer and the dark, cold and bleak days of winter. This celebration of the point between dark and light also means that the veil between life and death is at its thinnest and as such spirits and ancestors can travel between worlds. 

Christian belief states that the saints offer protection and help to all believers and while most saints have their own day of celebration, the 1st of November is a particularly powerful day, known as All Saints’ Day (also known as All Holy Day, which is where All Hallows Eve and thus Halloween gets its name) and so on the night before, when the Pagan tribes believed spirits walked the earth, the Christians waited for the saints protection.

Or if you can’t beat them, join them? The tradition of dressing up as a spirit or creature of the night began with the idea that the spirits cannot harm you if they think you are one of them. 

The party atmosphere was further encouraged as the guisers (those in disguise) went door to door and performed a party piece, such as a song, dance, poem or joke in return for a treat; traditionally an apple, nuts and later a toffee apple or tablet (make sure and look out for a traditional Scottish tablet recipe coming soon).

Sharing the bounty of the final harvests, remembering loved ones that are gone, asking for advice and fortune telling are all traditions associated with late October and all contribute to our modern traditions for Halloween.

In things like Trick or Treating, there are also shadows of other traditions such as wassailing, where farmers would sing and give offerings after the last harvest to ensure a peaceful winter and for continued and prosperous crops in the future.

Whatever you do however, have a safe and happy Halloween and remember that strange child in the really good costume might not be all they seem.

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