Friday, October 24, 2014

A visit to All Hallows Eve in the 18th Century, by Diane Scott Lewis

To celebrate the coming of Halloween, and for my historical novel Ring of Stone, I researched ancient customs in Cornwall. Here is an abridged excerpt where my heroine, Rose, slips out in the night with her brother on All Hallows Eve to witness the rising of the spirits:

Rose opened the back door to the inky black. A lantern winked not far off. "That should be Mr. Poldeen." Her heart skipped and she stepped out into a cold breeze that whipped her face. Her brother Michael rushed past her toward the lantern.

The caretaker, Mr. Poldeen, tipped his hat when she came close. "Are you ready, Miss Rose?"

"Of course, let us proceed." She walked beside him. The lantern bobbed a circle of light as they approached the stream. Poldeen took her hand and helped her over it. Such a casual, polite gesture, yet her skin heated at the touch of his strong callused palm.

"Hurry!" Michael ran ahead, beyond the light.

"Your brother is quite anxious to find out about the spirits this night." Amusement filled Poldeen’s voice.

"I’ll be honest with you, Mr. Poldeen. I haven’t been very daring when it comes to this stone circle. But I’ve yet to understand why." She listened to make certain she still heard her brother’s footsteps.

"It comes from the same feeling as in St. Petroc’s. You should know, as like there, the ring has secrets, but is not evil."

How could rocks and stones have the same aspects as human beings? A tiny part of her worried that they’d experience nothing tonight, and the ring held no magic.

"Well, I’m here, and intend not to demure." She stumbled over a stone. He grasped her arm and held it. Again, she had that urge to lean into him. What had come over her with this man?

They reached the field. The breeze ruffled the grass. The ocean surf slapped the cliffs in the distance, like a living entity, breathing in and out.

"Michael, stay with us," Rose called when her brother, a murky outline, started to tramp over the grass. "Mr. Poldeen, please tell us some of tonight’s custom, won’t you?"

He waited until Michael rejoined them. "This be the end of the old year, or Samhain, meaning summer’s end, an’ the beginning of the new. The Celtic god straddles the two, and hopes to pierce the veil to see what comes."

Rose stared toward the cliff outline where the ring stood shrouded in darker shadows.

Poldeen set down the lantern. The light spread over their shoes. The salty wind flapped their coats like night birds. "The living can travel to the underworld, but all must return to their rightful place at cockcrow. If you have faith in the legend, this be the perfect time for your ancestors who died here to search for you."

"Senara died somewhere else. But Mrs. Trew insisted she was buried here." Rose shivered as the wind cut deeper. The darkness pressed in around her.

"Let’s walk over to the stone." Michael hopped up and down, rubbing his hands together.

"Let us do that, if you wish, Miss?" Poldeen picked up the lantern and crooked out his arm. Rose took it and they stepped across the damp grass. Michael again hurried ahead.

The cliffs were framed against the starry sky. Poldeen lifted the lantern until a blot of light trailed over the crags and across the stone circle, which looked quiet, innocuous.

"I read," Rose absorbed the heated closeness of his body, yet his nearness made her jittery—or maybe it was the unusual situation, "that the ancient Celtic view of time is a cycle. So tonight, this eve of the new year represents a point outside of time, when the natural order dissolves back into primordial chaos, and prepares to reestablish itself in a new order."

"’Tis true. The Celts see tonight as the time when they can view any other time, past or present. But the church, now they say not to hold a feast for the unblessed dead, only those hallowed, made holy. That’s why she’s All Hallows Eve." He halted. They stood only a few yards from the ring. The wind whistled through it like a flute.

Rose inhaled a deep, slow breath when the whistle turned to a moan.

"Can you hear that?" Michael leaned forward. "Is it Malscos calling to Senara?"

"Of course it isn’t. I want to step closer to the circle." Rose slid her foot forward in the grass. Hand fisted, this was her moment. She’d touch the ring and banish her qualms.

A flapping noise sailed over her head. Rose blinked and stared up. A bird or bat of some kind—wings fluttering in the shades of blackness. Her bonnet slapped at her cheeks and she stifled a gasp.

A figure, hunched over, hair flying, moved along the cliff top. A loud laugh sounded. Or was it more of a cry?

More rustling sounded, then feet running. Rose squeezed up against the caretaker before she realized she’d done it.

"It’s a woman." Michael ran up and grabbed her other hand. His fingers felt cold and trembled a little. "Senara! Is that you?"

Footsteps raced by, leaving the scent of herbs. Poldeen swung up the lantern.

The figure darted closer. Hair streamed in wisps about a round face, an arm thrust up to shield their eyes.

"They were here! The spirits have gone back now!" rasped a voice. "You be too late."

To find out what happens, purchase Ring of Stone.

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