Gunpowder treason and plot.
We see no reason, why gunpowder treason,
Should ever be forgot”
Yesterday, 5th of November, was the day when everywhere in the country children and adults alike, celebrated Bonfire Night. With spectacular fireworks displays, I confess I too watched and marveled at the fantastic pyrotechnical shows.
But as a foreigner, do you ever – like me – wonder what Bonfire Night is about? Of course you do! Well… this is the day when people in the UK commemorate the failed plot to blow up King James I.
If commemorating a failed plot is not to your liking, you might like to know that the tradition of Bonfire Nights reaches far beyond Guy Fawkes’ plot in 1605.
Indeed our ancestors, whether in England, Ireland, India or among the Celts, Germans or the Hittites, celebrated many major “fire festivals,” so called because to the ancient Celts in the British Isles, as well as to their Indo-European cousins, fire was a physical symbol of divinity, holiness, truth, and beauty. Sacred fires were kindled on every important religious occasion.
“Samhain,” celebrated at the end of October / beginning of November is often said to have been the most important of the fire festivals, because it may have marked the Celtic New Year. The Celts, like many cultures, started every day at sunset of the night before. “Samhain” became the “evening” of “All Hallows” (“hallowed” = “holy” = “saint”) which was eventually contracted into “Hallow-e’en” or the modern “Halloween.”
“Samhain” was the beginning of the winter or Dark Half of the Year. The day before was the last day of summer (or the old year) and the day after was the first day of winter (or of the New Year).
Being “between” seasons, “Samhain” was considered a very magical time, when the dead walk among the living and the veils between past, present and future may be lifted in prophecy and divination. Many important mythological events are associated with this time, having to do with the temporary victory of the forces of darkness over those of light, signaling the beginning of the cold and dark half of the year.
Over time, the Christian Church has moved to replace “Samhain” and other pagan holidays by Christian “holy” days such as our “All Saints’ Day”. But to this very day, all over the world and across many religions, festivals of light remain commonplace, such as the Hindu festival of Diwali or the Christian burning of candles during Holy Mass.
Written by Gennaro de Borbon, Revenue Manager at The Abbey