Christmas In Ritual & Tradition - online book

The Observance Of Christmas In Various Lands And Ages.

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PAGAN SURVIVALS
Again, there are numerous Hallowe'en fire customs, probably sun-charms for the New Year, a kind of homoeopathic magic intended to assist the sun in his struggle with the powers of darkness. To this day great bonfires are kindled in the High­lands, and formerly brands were carried about and the new fire was lit in each house.4° It would seem that the Yule log customs (see Chapter X.) are connected with this new lighting of the house-fire, transferred to Christmas.
In Ireland fire was lighted at this time at a place called Tlachtga, from which all the hearths in Ireland are said to have been annually supplied.4* In Wales the habit of lighting bonfires on the hills is perhaps not yet extinct.42 Within living memory when the flames were out somebody would raise the cry, " May the tailless black sow seize the hindmost," and everyone present would run for his life.43 This may point to a former human sacrifice, possibly of a victim laden with the accumulated evils of the past year.44
In North Wales, according to another account, each family used to make a great bonfire in a conspicuous place near the house. Every person threw into the ashes a white stone, marked ; the stones were searched for in the morning, and if any one were missing the person who had thrown it in would die, it was believed, during the year.45 The same belief and practice were found at Callander in Perthshire.46
Though, probably, the Hallowe'en fire rites had originally some connection with the sun, the conscious intention of those who practised them in modern times was often to ward off witchcraft. With this object in one place the master of the family used to carry a bunch of burning straw about the corn, in Scotland the red end of a fiery stick was waved in the air, in Lancashire a lighted candle was borne about the fells, and in the Isle of Man fires were kindled.47
Guy Fawkes Day.
Probably the burning of Guy Fawkes on November 5 is a survival of a New Year bonfire. There is every reason to think that the commemoration of the deliverance from " gunpowder
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