They came for her just before midnight.
The darkened sky stained orange by the burning torches clutched in their calloused work-worn hands. Voices unified as one. Chanting: ...burn the witch...burn the witch...burn the witch....
For a time she couldn't move, paralysed by her fear, then of a sudden she sprang into action, grey skirts and petticoats swirling around her legs. Her eyes darted frantically, looking in every direction at once, hunting for somewhere to hide. But there was nowhere. Her dwelling was too small. She knew if she made a run for it, a mad dash into the woods, they would see her.
She was trapped.
Hastily she doused the candles, the smell of wax and smoke permeated the air like a musk. Above her fireplace, suspended from the beams, was a wooden rack. It was here she hung her herbs to dry, and it was here now she scrambled, balancing precariously on her table as she wriggled her body into the shadows between ceiling and thin boards.
The whole rack creaked as it took her weight. She prayed through trembling lips that it would hold, that it wouldn't tip her to the floor like a corpse.
The chanting had stopped.
Her door burst open. It hit the wall with a thud and rebounded with a groan of warped wood.
Her breath caught in her throat.
A huge dark figure was standing in the doorway: a black shadow silhouetted against the orange firelight without. It was the village blacksmith. A mean looking forging iron hung down from his right fist.
His eyes glinted white as he eyed up the single-roomed dwelling.
He grunted: "She's not here. The bitch must have heard us coming."
Other voices joined his: "The wood! She must be hiding in the wood!"
And they were gone. As swiftly as they had come.
She waited until the orange had left the sky. Until the last of the footfalls had faded to a whisper. Then, and only then, she slipped from her hiding place.
She gasped. A sharp intake of thin breath.
A small girl, no more than seven or eight years old, was standing just over the threshold.
She knew the child. Only two days ago she had removed a splinter of green poisoned wood from the girl's finger, soothed it with the salve she always kept in the pocket of her petticoat.
She was safe.
She held out a hand towards the child.
The girl held her gaze for two whole seconds, then turned on her tiny heels and stepped out into the night. Her voice belied her size: "She's here. The witch is here. Come back. Come back. The witch is here."
A cry of triumph exploded from the trees in a blaze of orange flames.
Two weeks ago when I was at school, one of the children came up to me and asked why we celebrated Halloween? What was it all about?
I was stumped. I sort of knew the reason. Vaguely. But not in any great detail. So the pair of us went to the nearest computer and hit google.
I was fascinated with all the facts me and my ten year old sidekick found out.
I will share -
2,000 years ago Ireland, Great Britain and France, celebrated their New Year not on January 1, but on November 1. This day marked the end of summer and the harvest, and the beginning of the dark, cold, harshness of winter. It was a time of year that was often associated with human death and sacrifices. It was believed that on the eve of the New Year: Oct 31st, the boundary between the worlds of the living and the dead became blurred; overlapped. It was believed that the ghosts of the dead returned to earth for one night only(this is where I became interested!). During this time the evil spirits would cause all sort of damage to crops and animals, but also, it was thought, that these spirits made it easier for the Druids and Celts to predict the future; gifts were given for 'good' prophecies (Trick or Treat!).
To commemorate October 31st, New Year's Eve - which was then known as Samhain (pronounced sow-in) - huge sacred bonfires were built, where the people gathered to burn crops, animals, and witches, as sacrifices (gifts) to the Celtic deities.
During this celebration the people often wore costumes, typically consisting of animal heads and skins, and attempted to tell each others fortunes. When the celebrations were over, they re-lit their hearth fires (which they had extinguished earlier that evening), from the sacred bonfire, to help protect them during the coming winter months.
By the 800s, the influence of Christianity had spread into the Celtic lands. November 1 was declared All Saints' Day. A time to honor saints and martyrs. It is believed that the pope of the day was attempting to replace the old Celtic festival of the dead with a related, but church-sanctioned holiday. The celebration became known as All-hallows (Alholowmesse meaning All Saints' Day in Middle English), thus the day before became known as All-hallows Eve, and eventually Halloween. It was still celebrated with big bonfires, but now the people dressed up as saints, angels and devils.
Thus ends my lesson for today.