Samhain Commentary

As a lover of gothic literature and horror films, I was genuinely excited about writing this tale. I knew exactly what I wanted from this story; I wanted it to be scary! In recent years, I have been lucky enough to visit New England at Halloween. The Massachusetts landscape is particularly evocative during the fall; foggy New England forests seem to bristle with sprites and ghouls. I really wanted to set my Samhain tale in those forests and opted for an early American settlement where I could isolate the characters and create further tension for the reader.

In terms of the story, two tales appealed to me. Firstly there was the development of the Jack O’Lantern, which has become so ubiquitous with Halloween. This is an ancient Celtic tradition which seems to have found resonance in America where they could carve larger gourds, such as pumpkins, rather than the turnips carved in Europe. I also became interested in the idea of the wild hunt and planned to bring the two stories together.

The primary influence on my writing was the work of Washington Irving, in particular his story The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. His writing is so evocative of the world I was trying to create; you can hear the crunch of leaves and smell the wood smoke in his prose. More specifically, it helped me work through the somewhat difficult conclusion to the piece. I wanted the story to be scary but could I really finish it with the protagonist meeting a gory end? Inspiration from Irving’s tale helped me create a more ambiguous conclusion.

As I wrote, I began to feel that I was avoiding many of the traditional elements of Samhain for the contemporary sense of Halloween. As Samhain is primarily a celebration of ancestry I decided to develop the root imagery early in the piece, exploring how difficult people find it to move away from their ancestral homelands. I also wanted to ensure that I brought a “harvest” element to the tale, with Samhain marking the harvest of the animals. Many people slaughtered their animals prior to Samhain so that the spirits of the animals would be taken to the underworld during the wild hunt.

The final important element of this tale is the presence of Hobbamocke. As I had deliberately set this tale in early European settled America, I wanted to acknowledge the roots of the Native people who were there before them. When in New England I had visited Plimouth Plantation, a recreation of the original settlement, and found out about the Wampanoag people who lived in North East America for centuries. I began to research their tales and found Hobbamocke, a spirit of death. Although Hobbamocke is a more chaotic figure than that of Nuada, who leads the Celtic wild hunt, his role here is to remind readers that, even if they are not ours, there are cultures and traditions deeply rooted in the earth beneath our feet that we should respect.

Photograph by Karin Brown at Imbolc Photography (https://brownkcd.wixsite.com/imbolc)

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