September 17, 2021
Halloween is coming soon. As a result, it is a good time to look at the wide range of practices that can be found in a wide range of places. To name an example, there are some people who believe that Halloween started out as something purely Christian, but it is more common to see people who believe that it can trace its roots to Celtic harvest festivals. Since the Welsh are Celtic, it should come as no surprise to learn that the Welsh version of Halloween has some unique practices.
For starters, it is important to note that the Welsh celebrate November 1 as Calan Gaeaf, which is considered to be the first day of winter. The night before that is called Nos Galan Gaeaf, an Ysbrydnos or a "spirit night." This is pretty much exactly what it sounds like, which is why the Welsh believe in staying away from churchyards, crossroads, and other places where spirits are believed to gather.
Here are some other examples of Welsh traditions regarding Nos Galan Gaeaf:
This refers to a practice in which a family would either write their names or otherwise leave their mark of ownership on stones. These stones would then be put either in a fire or around a fire. After which, the family would go to sleep. In the morning, if a stone had been burned clean, it was believed that its owner would enjoy good luck in the coming year. Unfortunately, if a stone went missing, that was much more serious because that signalled that its owner would die in the coming year.
Yr Hwch Ddu Gwta and Y Ladi Wen
Speaking of which, there was a similar practice in which the inhabitants of an entire village would do much the same thing with much the same interpretations around an outdoor bonfire. However, when the bonfire started dying down, they would rush home as fast as possible. This was because of the fear that they would encounter one of two potential horrors. One was Yr Hwch Ddu Gwta, which was supposed to be a black sow without a tail accompanied by a woman without a head. The other was Y Ladi Wen, which was supposed to be a ghostly woman who could appear either with or without a head. Both horrors were quite unwelcome, not only because they were signs of ill omen but also because of stories that they could eat souls.
Ground ivy was apparently to be avoided because it could cause people to see witches while they slept. However, there were ways for the clever to turn it into a tool for seeing the future in their dreams. Boys were supposed to cut 10 leaves, throw one leaf away, and then put one beneath their pillow. Meanwhile, girls were supposed to grow a rose, train it around a hoop, slip it through the hoop three times, cut the rose in total silence, and then put the rose beneath their pillow.
Certain professions were considered to be magical in their own right. Blacksmiths are a well-known example, which is why there are so many stories about blacksmiths getting the better of the Devil. However, local lore in Glamorgan apparently attributes witchcraft to tailors of all people, meaning that is one more profession to be extra-respectful around.
Featured image © Andrew Hazard
December 30, 2023