Ghost and Hauntings


15/06/12

Summer Calendar - magical fires, evil stars and the return of the dead

Filed under: Ghost Stories — loretta @ 01:26:27 pm

This is the second installment of festivities and traditions in the calendar which have an association with ghosts or magic. I thought that the coming three months of summer would not yield very much but casting further afield there turned out to be a surprising number.

21st June - Midsummer or 23rd June - St John’s Eve - Traditionally midsummer was celebrated on the eve of St John’s although astronomically it falls on the 21st/22nd June. In Scandinavia and countries around the Baltic, bonfires are lit; they have a cleansing quality as celebrants are encouraged to jump over the fires to rid themselves of sin or disease. In Denmark effigies of witches are burned in them. The bonfires had been lit on Midsummer Eve in the UK but the practice was suppressed by the puritans in the 17th century.(2;5)
St John’s Eve is supposedly a witches Sabbath, Mussorgsky’s composition Night on a Bald Mountain is set on this night.
The time is said to be particularly successful for divination, especially love divination, such as baking a dumb cake. This is an unpleasant confection which is made cooperatively and in silence in a ritual which if successful will conjure the wraith of the lady’s future husband. Also on this night if you waited in the church porch at midnight you could watch those who would die in the coming year enter the church. (A tradition also found at All Saints’ and St Mark’s Eve.) (2;3)

22-24 June 2012 - Phi Ta Khon is the ghost festival celebrated in Dan Sai, Loei province in Thailand and is celebrated over three days (sometime between March and June, the date being selected annually). The origins of the festival are ascribed to a tale of Lord Buddha’s last in incarnation as Prince Vessanda when he returned to his city, it was such a joyous return that even the dead joined in the welcome. A colourful, vibrant procession is the central focus of the celebration; young men dress up as spirits in long trailing costumes with hideous masks as a re-enactment of the story. They carry square cow bells around their waists and wield wooden phalluses; mingling among the spectators the fun loving spirits wreak havoc. (4;6)

Late July - Mid August - In the third millennium BC in ancient Mesopotamia, the fifth lunar month of the Sumerians called Abu encompassed a festival of ghosts when the spirits of the dead arose from the Netherworld to return to the living, the duration of which lasted around three weeks. Abu means the mound over the passageway to the netherworld and was sacred to Gilgamesh. The Rites of Abu commemorate and care for the departed and were conducted in the presence of funerary figurines, the festival included a torch lit ceremony for the shades of the dead. A ceremony of exorcism to drive off evil spirits or witches could also be used during this month. (1) The month of Abu fell during the hottest time of the year when there were droughts and plants and animals died. (The association of this month with the dead may be linked to the equivalent Hebrew month of Av which also has three weeks of mourning, ending with a daylight feast.)

3rd July - 11th August - Dog days. The period, in which the Dog Star rises at the same time as the sun, it is believed to be the hottest and most unwholesome time of year. It was regarded as an evil time when malign influences were abroad, dogs ran mad and people became ill. The actual dates are hard to define as they can be calculated on either Sirius or Procyon (the lesser Dog Star) and will vary depending on latitude. The dates most often kept are the 3rd July to the 11th August as used in ancient Rome. (3)
In a quote from Frances Kilvert’s diary, 8th August 1878, Mrs Meredith said she was very ill “‘Tis the dog star” she said “I shall not be better till Saturday when the dog days end. ‘Tis an evil star.” (3)
Though not explicitly referred to, MRJ’s An Episode of Cathedral History appears to have elements of the Dog days in his story.

31st July - Lammas Eve is the night before a church festival celebrating the first harvest of wheat. It is supposed to be another witches Sabbath although most important (often religious) dates in the calendar were associated with such Sabbaths on their eve, perhaps underlining the significance and power of these dates.

17 August - 15 September 2012 - Ghost Month in China and the Far East. (The specific traditions and activities associated with this festival vary across the regions.) On the first day of the seventh lunar month the Gates of Hell are opened to allow ghosts and spirits to visit the world of the living, returning to their families or looking for victims. On this day ancestors are honoured with offerings of food, incense and ‘ghost money’, the day is known as the Hungry Ghost Festival. If the feast is sumptuous enough it can bring luck and will also placate more unpleasant spirits who might cause harm. This is considered a dangerous time when malevolent spirits are looking to capture souls. Not unexpectedly then, it is considered an inauspicious month for travelling, moving house and starting a business. Even swimming should be avoided as many spirits inhabit the water. Taoist and Buddhist priests perform ceremonies to ease the suffering of the dead at this time.(7; 8)
On the last day of the month the gates of Hell close. The chants of the priests let the dead know it is time to return. Water lanterns are set outside people’s homes to light the way back to the underworld, when a lantern goes out it means that a spirit has found its way. (7; 8)

Sources
1. George, A.R., (2003) The Babylonian Gilgamesh Epic: Introduction, Critical Edition and Cuneiform Texts, Vol 1, Oxford
2. Simpson, J. & Roud S., (2000) Oxford Dictionary of English Folklore, Oxford
3. Roud, S., (2006) The English Year, London
4. Pee Ta Khon Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pee_Ta_Khon May 2012
5. St John’s Eve Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St_John’s_Eve May 2012
6. Phi Ta Khon Retrieved from http://www.thaifestivalblogs.com/festivals-of-thailand/phi-ta-khon-festival.html May 2012
7. Ghost Month Retrieved from http://mandarin.about.com/od/festivals/a/ghost_month.htm April 2012
8. Ghost Festival Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ghost_Festival April 2012

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