The Month of October

Artist’s impression on the eve of the Battle of Agincourt

And Crispin Crispian shall ne’er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remember’d;
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition:
And gentlemen in England now a-bed
Shall think themselves accursed they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.
(King Henry Vth, Act IV, scene 3)

The month of October derives its name from the Latin Octo, meaning the 8th year in the Roman Calendar which begins in March. The old Celtic season of Samhain or in the later Christian calendar, namely All Hallow’s Day (Halloween) ends the pagan year. The beginning of the end that led to a “new beginning” was usually a time of great celebration and festivity in the Celtic year and originally took place in Ireland on the 1st of November. It was followed by “All Soul’s Day” since 1,000 AD. The foundation of All Souls’ Day for a general intercession on November 2 is due to Odilo, abbot of Cluny, who died in 1048. The observed date, which became essentially universal before the end of the 13th century, was determined to follow All Saints’ Day. After celebrating the feast of all the members of the church who are thought to be in heaven, on the next day, the body of Christ shifts to remember and pray for those souls suffering in purgatory. As the 2nd November was considered “hallowed” meaning holy, and to the Celts as Samhain, which was preceded by All Hallow’s Eve, although this festival period began on the 31st October and continued until the 8th November. In the churches and abbeys prayers were offered for the newly departed, vigils and requiem masses were held to honour those who have died as martyrs or saints until the church bells finally fell silent. In celebration of the 1st quarter of the yearly round and considered the start of the Celtic New Year it was an opportunity to commune with the Spirits or Souls of the Dead. It was a time to revere the ancestors and those souls who have departed to heaven, hell or purgatory. Being equivalent to Candlemass or All Saints Day in the Christian calendar, it also heralded the departure of the faery sprites, until the occasion of Beltane at Springtime. However, bonfires were lit on the hilltops or Tors in honour of the Sun’s passage through the coldest period of the year. It was also a time of elemental chaos and unexpected reversal with the natural order of things. The people consulted their oracles, propitiated the tempestuous or evil spirits and made their sacrificial offerings. These were usually of apples and nuts, similar to some extent to the Roman Pomona, where the apple is a symbol of immortality and a gift of the goddess to the victorious solar hero who has successfully completed his quest. Animal sacrifice of pigs, geese and cattle were also undertaken in celebration of the Anglo-Saxon black sow-goddess (Annis) equivalent to the “Black Madonna” of Spain. Sacred and secular dancers wore their masks and colourful costumes presented on the back of carts pulled by horses, followed by processions, feasting and musical contests.

An artist’s impression of the mythical Black Annis

This festival usually followed the old Druidic rite when a bough of mistletoe was cut with a golden sickle at midsummer. This was the customary occasion when “quit rents” were paid to the Lord of the Manor by those independent tenants who chose not to work on the Lord’s estates but instead to rent their own lands or fields. This now only occurs in two estates, in the Moors of Eardington, Shropshire and at the Forge in St. Clement Danes in London and involves the cutting of a bundle of hazel rods and the presentation of six horseshoes including 61 nails. October the 5th was the anniversary of the Jarrow Marchers who left Tyneside in 1936 to march, two hundred strong to the Houses of Parliament to protest against poverty during the depression. Cheered by crowds of supporters and well-wishers they bore a petition signed by 11,000 inhabitants of the town which they presented to the House of Commons (See Jarrow Crusade).

Scenes from the Jarrow Crusade, 1936, Marchers from Jarrow in the North East of England, walk to London where they will hand in a petition to the House of Commons in a plead for more work as the depression and starvation of the 1930’s hits hard creating unemployment on a large scale with many industry’s perishing, As marchers walked through towns and villages on the journey, local people would show them hospitality by providing them with food, warmth, and a hot bath where needed (Photo by Popperfoto via Getty Images/Getty Images)

“Come on follow the Geordie Boys,
They’ll fill your heart with joy,
They’re marching for their freedom now.
Come on follow the Jarrow Lads,
They’ll make your heart feel glad,
They’re saying now, yes now is the hour!”

The traditional Jack o’ the Green Festival at Hastings

Generally speaking, but not as an absolute rule, comedies were especially favoured by audiences and playwrights for Yuletide, tragedies and satires for All Hallows, romances and tragedies for Easter and histories or riddle plays for midsummer. Mummer’s plays were local travelling theatrical productions that featured mythical characters such as George and the Dragon, Beelzebub, or Jack of the Green, that occurred in the 15th century and were revived sometime in the early 19th century for the amusement of adults and children. They appear to be a revival of some older pagan rituals that were designed to take place at specific times of the year and were of three basic types; the swaggering hero and anti-hero, the Sword Dance and the Wooing of Two Lovers. An example of the latter can be found in Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream in the cameo version entitled “Pyramus & Thisbe” who are obliged to continue their romantic yearnings through a chink in a wall.

Apples ripening on their boughs

Contrary to many chroniclers writing about Shakespeare’s Literary Sources, the Italian Commedia d’elle Arte never visited the British Isles and any similarities may hark back to an earlier period in English cultural history when the Greeks and Phoenicians made trade visits to the British Isles. The name for these wandering players in England varies considerably from any known locality, sometimes they were called guisers, jonny jacks, soul-cakers, and pace-eggers, although in Norfolk and Suffolk none exists whatsoever. Nevertheless, strictly speaking the term “mummers” means to perform in total silence ie: using facial expressions such as a grimace or mime, and perhaps the wearing of masks or taking on of disguises to remain anonymous. We do know that productions featured scripts in poetic couplets or quatrains with each performer stepping into a horseshoe shaped circle to do their carefully rehearsed part. The traditional village Morris Dancers, as the name suggests, are just another English form of “mummers”, probably of the sword dance or stick-hitting tradition. The most popular times for these ritual re-enactments being the Winter Solstice, Easter, Midsummer and late Autumn.

Morris dancers of York

In his poem “The Wasteland” T. S. Eliot writes:

Because I do not hope to turn again
Because I do not hope
Because I do not hope to turn,
Desiring this man’s gift and that man’s scope.
I no longer strive to strive towards such things
(Why should the aged eagle stretch its wings?)
Why should I mourn
The vanished power of the usual reign?
Because I do not hope to know again
The infirm glory of the positive hour;
Because I do not think,
Because I know I shall not know
The one veritable transitory power.
Because I cannot drink
There, where trees flower, and springs flow, for there is nothing again
Because I know that time is always time;
And place is always and only place.
And what is actual is actual only for one time
And only for one place;
I rejoice that things are as they are and
I renounce the blessed face
And renounce the voice,
Because I cannot hope to turn again.
(T. S. Eliot, “The Wasteland”)

Important liturgical festivals for this being the Feast Day of St. Francis which takes place on the 4th of October. Another would be that of St. Ethelreda or St. Audrey on the 17th which takes place in Ely while St. Luke’s Day is celebrated on the 18th. The latter was formerly known as Charlton Horn Fair which was held in the heart of London until 1872. At this important fair all manner of goods made of horns were sold such as shoe-horns, trumpets, loud hailers and toasting cups. On October the 4th saw the institution or birth of the United Nations in 1945 just after the end of the 2nd World War, among the signatories to its charter were the United Kingdom, the United States of America, the USSR, France and China. Moreover in China they will be celebrating the occasion of the founding by Mao-Tse Tung of the Chinese People’s Republic on the 1st October 1949 although in England it was the day Winston Churchill made his first public broadcast in the United Kingdom and in America the day Walt Disney opened his first film studio in Florida. Historically, the 14th of October is the anniversary of the Norman Conquest of 1066, where the English King Harold was killed, apparently by a stray arrow in his left eye during the invasion named the Battle of Hastings, this incident is recorded in the Bayeux Tapestry. William the Conqueror as he was subsequently named was crowned King of England on Christmas Day, 1066.

Winston Churchill

The prayer of St. Francis (made famous by Margaret Thatcher on becoming Prime Minister):

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
And where there is sadness, joy.

Medlars ripening late Autumn

In the agricultural regions this was a time for apple picking and cider making as the full moon of this month heralded the end of Autumn and the onset of winter. Fields were cleared of windblown debris or weeds and prepared for next year’s early growth. This time was known to the Anglo-Saxons as Wynmonath or “Wine Month” if the weather was dry and warm it was euphemistically called an “Indian Summer” although still a rare event in the British Isles. The last of the barley grain was usually stored around this time to prepare the malts for beer-making too. As a tribute to cider-making and the revival of the apple orchard in all its splendid varieties October 21st was called “Apple Day”. Old Michaelmass Day, also known as “Dog-Whipping Day” was confined to some parts of Yorkshire and takes place between the 10th – 18th of October (St. Luke’s Day, 18th October) celebrating the day a dog stole the consecrated communion wafer during the service at York Minster. This event was later suppressed by the police in 1853 when it became a public nuisance. Stray dogs were usually rounded up and publicly whipped by the “dog-rappers” who were paid to perform such cruel public service. St. Luke, the evangelist was a Greek physician, a disciple of St. Paul and a key figure in the early Christian Church and of course the patron saint of physicians, apothecaries, surgeons and artists. He is usually depicted accompanied by a horned ox for some peculiar reason. Some chroniclers have suggested the ox represented sexual prowess or fertility (see Charlton Horn Fair or Cuckold’s Point), but as in Abbots Bromley Horn-dance in Staffordshire it might have a Phoenician or Cretan origin.

18th century painting of Nottingham Goose Fair

“Hey, Ho for Halloween
All the witches to be seen,
Some in black and some in green
Hey, Ho for Hallow’s Eve.”
(traditional rhyme)

Nottingham Goose Fair, which dates back to 1541 is held around the first week in October when the geese were brought out from the Fens, slaughtered and sold at local markets. This may be a remnant of St Matthews Day, formerly the 21st September which was moved to the 2nd of October after the calendar reform of 1752. Many other fairs such as Ivy Day in Ireland, Pack Monday Fair in Sherbourne, Dorset were similarly re-dated in accord with the Julian calendar. Pack Monday Fair was originally an agricultural event but later featured side-shows, stalls of produce and a funfair of rides and other amusements and was intended to coincide with Michaelmass Day. It celebrates the termination of the pacts made by tenant farmers to the Lords of the Manor, and usually involved moving their rags and belongings to another location (“Pack-Rag Day”) and was known in Yorkshire as “Pack & Penny Day” (Old Martinmass Day). However, “Pack Days” also refers to the numerous travelling pedlars and household repairers selling their wares or services from their carts, banging their metal wares and creating a big din in the neighbouring towns and villages. Similar fairs occurred at Weyhill near Andover, in Hampshire from 1377 (see Langland’s “Piers Ploughman”) with rides, funfairs and staged shows around the 11th of October. A similar agricultural fair of arcane origins is Bampton Fair, near Tiverton, Devon which may date back to as early as 1212 AD. It traded in sheep, cattle, pigs and more importantly horses and ponies but also held craft workshops, auctions, art exhibitions and funfairs.

An inspiring selection of Pumpkin Lanterns

“Oh, the Moon is clear and bright,
Dispelling fear or fright,
So tell your sons and daughters,
It’s Punkie Night tonight.

On such a starlit night,
The zombies take delight,
To scare your sons and daughters,
On this our Punkie Night.

Well, the bats have taken flight,
Our pumpkins are alight,
So tell your sons and daughters,
Tonight is Punkie Night!

It’s Punkie Night tonight,
It’s Punkie Night tonight,
Give us a candle, and give us a light
Oh, tonight is Punkie Night!”

The Annual All Hallow’s Eve Festival at Whitby, Yorkshire

Of some interest when discussing the origin of some customs and traditions is “Punkie Night”, where in certain towns and villages in Britain, for example Somerset in the villages of Hinton St. George and Lopen, participants hollowed out turnips (mangold-wurzels) which are then made into lanterns placed on sticks and paraded around the streets at night. This custom was said to have originated from the nearby Chiselborough Fair where drunken men were, for a small fee accompanied safely home by someone bearing a lantern. In some parts, north and south it is also known as “Mischief Night”, which is where the Halloween custom of “trick or treat” is derived and still celebrated particularly in the United States where it has gained considerable notoriety. There, children are encouraged by their parents to dress up as witches, zombies, bandaged mummies, ghosts, wizards or vampires and call on their neighbours, door to door offering residents either a treat or a trick. At some point in history the turnips were exchanged to the now familiar orange pumpkin which is perhaps easier to carve and hollow out. These were placed outside doorsteps presumably to ward off evil spirits and not to aid drunken folks back home safe and sound. Similar remnants of this custom have actually been recorded at Blacko, Lancashire where children perpetrate practical jokes on their parents and relatives such as front doors being turned upside down, knocking on doors then running away to hide, or garden gates being removed and their chimneys being blocked, but these originally took place on May Day Eve and the tricks were subsequently transferred to Halloween and Guy Fawkes Eve by the early 1950’s when the jokes were deemed as community vandalism by the police of Yorkshire and Lancashire. It was known there as “Miggy Night”, when parents told their children that they could not be arrested or prosecuted by the authorities if they performed any illegal acts on that night. They were of course being misled by their parents and were often suitably reprimanded for their “impish behaviour”. For the recent burgeoning Gothic community of the famous seaside resort of Whitby, in Yorkshire, where apparently Count Dracula first set foot on English soil, Halloween has become a major festival occasion frequented by countless tourists and visitors. Coincidentally, in the Arthurian Festival Cycle October sees the emergence of Princess Morgana and her step-brother Mordred who challenge King Arthur to take part in the final battle between darkness and light at Camlan on the 29th of October. Lying wounded the next day Arthur instructs Sir Bedivere:

Sir Bedivere comforts Arthur before his final departure

“Take thou Excalibur and cast it into the lake nearby”. And, as we all know, Sir Bedivere hesitated and returned twice before he had the courage and wisdom to do it. “And lo! A hand and an arm, clothed in white samite, rose from the water, and caught the sword, and brandished it twice, and then withdrew it beneath the surface. When he heard this Arthur gave a long sigh, and stretched himself out on the earth as if he would die.” Morgana meanwhile betrays Merlin by invoking the magical words that entomb him forever in the Web of Wyrd.

Because I do not hope to turn again
Because I do not hope
Because I do not hope to turn,
Desiring this man’s gift and that man’s scope.
I no longer strive to strive towards such things
(Why should the aged eagle stretch its wings?)
Why should I mourn
The vanished power of the usual reign?
Because I do not hope to know again
The infirm glory of the positive hour;
Because I do not think,
Because I know I shall not know
The one veritable transitory power.
Because I cannot drink
There, where trees flower, and springs flow, for there is nothing again
Because I know that time is always time;
And place is always and only place.
And what is actual is actual only for one time
And only for one place;
I rejoice that things are as they are and
I renounce the blessed face
And renounce the voice,
Because I cannot hope to turn again.

The 20th October sees the staging of the Colchester Oyster Fair (Sea Harvest Festivals), originally a relatively small civic luncheon that enlarged itself to an attendance of more than 300 dignitaries. This was usually followed by the Trafalgar Day annual commemoration on the 21st of October celebrating Admiral Nelson’s victory over Napoleon Bonaparte in 1805. Other notable feasts were that of St. Crispin the patron saint of shoemakers of Faversham, Kent which dates back to 285 AD. He is mentioned in Shakespeare’s famous play of King Henry Vth; a speech given by the King on the eve of the Battle of Agincourt during the One Hundred Years War (25th October, 1415).

A scene from Shakespeare’s King Henry Vth

“This day is called the feast of Crispian:
He that outlives this day, and comes safe home,
Will stand a tip-toe when the day is named,
And rouse him at the name of Crispian.
He that shall live this day, and see old age,
Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours,
And say ‘To-morrow is Saint Crispian:’
Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars.
And say ‘These wounds I had on Crispin’s day.’
Old men forget: yet all shall be forgot,
But he’ll remember with advantages
What feats he did that day: then shall our names.
Familiar in his mouth as household words
Harry the king, Bedford and Exeter,
Warwick and Talbot, Salisbury and Gloucester,
Be in their flowing cups freshly remember’d.”

Amarita Muscaria, the Walt Disney mushroom which is deadly poisonous and highly hallucinogenic

In the countryside hedgehogs usually begin to hibernate around this time, autumn is approaching, the leaves are turning to rich browns, reds, orange and yellow. If you have the time and experience it is also a good time for truffle-hunting and mushrooms that decorate the woodland floor. Now, the deciduous woodlands are ablaze with colour as their leaves display their dying colours on the forest floor like a multi-coloured carpet. Horse Chestnut trees are dropping their “conkers” and Hazel trees are rich in nuts which are sought after by squirrels and brightly coloured jays. The Horse-chestnuts, sweet chestnuts and acorns are ripening on the boughs and are a rich source of protein and carbohydrates for hungry wood pigeons as well as pigs, squirrels, and badgers.

Literary Sources:

Brewer’s Phrase & Fable; revised by Adrian Broom (Cassell Publishing Group)
Chamber’s Book of Days; R. Chambers (Chambers Harrap Publishers)
The English Year; Steve Roud (Penguin Press)
The Arthurian Book of Days (Brockhampton Press, Caitlin & John Matthews)

The links to my current publications, on the Shakespeare Authorship Controversy; “Shakespeare’s Qaballah” and an anthology of poetry “Parthenogenesis” are as follows:

https://www.amazon.com/dp/8182537193
https://www.cyberwit.net/publications/1721

Website: www.qudosacademy.org

Published by Leonidas Kazantheos

For as long as I can remember I have been passionate about the arts, social change and the sustainable environment. After more than thirty years of voluntary and professional involvement commuting between Yorkshire and Lancashire while working in those areas I finally relocated to Buxton in 2013. This was after the birth of our son Gaspard and to further the career of my French partner, Francoise Collignon who is currently seeking work in the tourism sector. In 1988 I became the Regional co-ordinator for the National Artists Association in Manchester and helped promote the artistic revival in the region. At the turn of the millennium in 2001, while pursuing my vocational interest in symbolism and the natural world, I became involved in environmental conservation and the protection of green space in W. Yorkshire. I was elected editor for Calderdale Friends of the Earth, a monthly postal and online newsletter. In my spare time I was preoccupied as a writer, natural archivist and amateur poet. Over a period of five years I also worked briefly as an architectural technician, landscape designer and mural artist near Holmfirth where I gained invaluable insights into restoration and the development of Green Field and Brown Field sites. In my mid-forties I relocated from Halifax, W. Yorkshire to Manchester where I worked as an artist and freelance set designer for several photographic, film and video companies. My work recieved reviews in Hotshoe International, Avant Magazine, NME, The Face, the Big Issue and one shot (The Wolf) became a best-selling poster for Athena Posters. In the late 80’s I became an active member of the National Artists Association and a subscriber to the Design & Artists Copyright Society. I assisted in the instigation of the first Multi-cultural Arts Conference and the first Black Arts Forum in Manchester. I became editor of a quarterly Arts Magazine concerned with promoting and supporting artist’s initiatives in the region. Nevertheless, in my spare time I wrote numerous articles on the natural world and researched aspects of Dream Symbolism and the study of semiotics and gestalts in literature and art. I was involved as facilitator for the local allotments and helped set up a local nature reserve at Hough End. Finally, I was encouraged by a close mentor in America to write more seriously about the work of the literary genius William Shakespeare and to pursue a role as a poet. Although somewhat reluctantly over the past four years I have given poetry performances, workshops and readings in Manchester. I have recently published an anthology of my poetry entitled “Parthenogenesis” and a companion to Shakespeare studies entitled “Shakespeare’s Qaballah”. I am currently working on a screenplay entitled “Not Without Mustard” about the life of Edward de Vere.

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