Hallowe'en is a time to confront the reality of our mortality, a reminder from the ancients that there is a spirit world that can intersect with our everyday life. Pre-industrial culture had a well-developed sense of this other world, and taught us about it with songs and rituals that we still honor today, perhaps without even realizing it. Join me this Friday morning for a journey through the spooky, the macabre, and even the humorous, with some songs and stories of Hallowe'en.
In this hour and a half we'll hear a few recurring themes. One is encountering the devil; how do you handle an encounter with the devil, as the clever child does in the song "The False Knight Upon the Road?" Or how do you even recognize the devil, as the unfortunate woman belatedly does in "The House Carpenter?" Is "Reynardine," that handsome fox of a man, really the devil?
True love pops up unexpectedly in Hallowe'en songs, too; there is the maid who sits on her true love's grave for a year before he speaks to her in the song "The Unquiet Grave." "Tam Lin" seems to be about holding onto your lover as he inexplicably changes form through time. And "Sweet William's Ghost" is about recognizing when it is time to let go of your love.
There are also songs that warn about the perils of going over to the dark side (or as we might say, taking a short cut). "Auntie Ketyll" makes a deal to protect her son, but she messes up the magic with tragic consequences. Similarly, "The Wife of Usher's Well" sends her children off to learn magic, and they come back... changed, and probably not to her liking.
There's more to the program, but I'll leave to draw your own conclusions now!