Interview with Dr. Jenny Butler: The Celtic Folklore Traditions of Halloween

Dr. Jenny Butler

By popular demand, we are re-featuring this exclusive interview with Dr. Jenny Butler, originally published in October 2013.

The ancestry of modern Halloween, which needs no introduction here, leads on a straight line back to Samhain, the Celtic feast day of the Dead. One of the four annual feast days of the Celtic world, Samhain was such an important feast day that it did not escape the notice of Julius Caesar as he ravaged Celtic Gaul who remarked that the Celtic god of death and winter was worshipped on this day.

Samhain was the principal feast day of Celtic Ireland prior to the arrival of Christianity. Over time, the Christianisation of Celtic religious belief re-made Samhain into All Saints Day, a principal Holy Day of the Catholic Church, which as the name of the Holy Day suggests, gives a nod to its roots as the Celtic feast of the dead. The smooth transition from Celtic Samhain to the Christian holiday honouring dead Christian Saints is just another example of how expert were St. Patrick’s missionaries in weaving Celtic myth into Christian belief making it seem as if the new religion was really an extension of the existing faith in the Gods of the Celtic Pantheon.

Transceltic are honoured to have had the opportunity to interview Dr Jenny Butler on her insights into the origins of Halloween. Dr Butler is a folklorist based at University College Cork's Folklore and Ethnology Department with a PhD thesis on the topic of Irish Neo-Paganism. Dr Butler’s principal interests are in the areas of mythology, belief narratives, folk religion, ritual and festival. A member of The Irish Society for the Academic Study of Religions (ISASR), she has numerous articles to her credit. Dr Butler is currently working on a book about Irish contemporary Paganism.

Ankou: Breton Halloween Story


The night's celebration of Kala Goany (the Celtic festival of Halloween) had been good. A walk home on this crisp autumn night on the outskirts of Belle Isle en Terre, Brittany gave the opportunity for Morgyn to clear her head. The wine had flowed freely all night and everyone had entered into the spirit of things, dressing in costumes and of course, it being Halloween, the more gaudy and macabre the outfit the better. Midnight had arrived; people had listened attentively to the ghost stories being told around the crackling log fire, alternately frightened and amused. That was the way of things on Kala Goany, a traditional celebration with an undercurrent of respect for the supernatural. Morgyn loved Halloween; there was a special magical atmosphere on this night that gave her a feeling of closeness to her Breton ancestry and Celtic identity.

Levant Mine Disaster, Cornwall 20th October 1919

Levant Mine

A member of 'Kernow Matters To Us' (KMTU) lost two ancestors in the Levant disaster. Their wives were evicted within a couple of weeks being unable to pay the Bolitho Bank of Cornwall the rent for their cottages and ended up in the Penzance Union Workhouse. 

Here's the background to that fateful day:

The cliffs of St Just provide a dramatic backdrop the for the scene of one of Cornwall's worst mining disasters in recorded history.

Perched on the edge of the cliffs remain several buildings which offer insight into the work of the men and women who risked their lives at Levant Mine; commonly known as 'Queen of Cornwall's submarine mines'.

Hidden beneath the sea is a labyrinth of tunnels which stretch a mile out, once used to extract tin and copper from the earth.

The mine was operational between 1820 and 1930 and produced 130,000 tonnes of copper, 24,000 tonnes of tin and around 4,000 tonnes of arsenic. The earliest records of copper being mined at the site date back to 1670. It was a lucrative business, with some £2.25 million returned.

The Remarkable Irish Monastery of Sceilg Mhichíl

Skellig Islands (Irish: Na Scealaga)

Ireland's Skellig Islands (Irish: Na Scealaga), are two small spectacular pinnacles rising out of the Atlantic Ocean just over 12 km (7 miles) southwest of Valentia Island, County Kerry (Irish: Dairbhre, Contae Chiarraí). The largest of the islands is Skellig Michael ((Irish: Sceilg Mhichíl). The smaller is Little Skellig (Irish: Sceilg Bheag). The islands each have their own beauty and significance. Sceilg Bheag for its significant and important bird population. Skellig Michael, also an important site for seabirds, for its early Christian monastery that is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Skellig Islands (Irish: Na Scealaga)

Given that the Skellig Islands are such significant features, rising as they do so dramatically out of the Atlantic Ocean close to the Irish coast. It is difficult to imagine that they did not play a part in the mythology of pre-Christian Ireland. Although there is no record of the islands being inhabited prior to the construction of the monastery, folklore has it that Ir, son of Míl Espáine, was buried on the island. In Irish ancient legend, Míl Espáine is the ancestor of early inhabitants of Ireland, the Milesians. In the collection of writings in the Lebor Gabála Érenn, the earliest version of which was compiled in the 11th century, the Milesians agree to divide Ireland with the Tuatha Dé Danann, a supernatural race in Irish mythology. They take the world above, while the Tuatha Dé take the world below known as the 'Otherworld'. There is also a text dating from the 8th or 9th century which states that Duagh, King of West Munster, escaped to "Scellecc" after a feud with the Kings of Cashel.

Kindrochit Castle And The Mystery Of The Kindrochit Brooch

The remains of Kindrochit Castle (Scottish Gaelic: Caisteal Ceann na Drochaid) are in the centre of the village of Braemar (Bràigh Mhàrr). A Castle was built here in the second half of the 11th century by King Malcolm III of Scotland (Malcolm Canmore). Malcolm (Gaelic: Máel Coluim; c. 1031 – 13 November 1093) was King of Scots from 1058 to 1093. The castle's Gaelic name Ceann-drochit can be translated into English as Bridge Head and a bridge was built here across the River Clunie. The stronghold held a strategically important position as the meeting point of the great passes across the Mounth, crossing Glen Cova east of the Clunie water and Spital of Glenshee on the west.

County, Duchy, Nation or Country? The Case For Cornwall



FOR many decades, Cornwall has been the poor relation in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.  It vies with the west of Wales as being the poorest region of northern Europe, has the UK’s lowest average income and among the UK’s highest domestic overheads.  Although its citizens pay the same proportion of their income in taxes as anyone else, Cornwall has been scandalously underfunded by London for far too long.  In 2002, it was reliably calculated that the UK Government takes £300 million a year more from Cornwall than it gives back (‘Business Age’ magazine).  Cornwall was once a proud independent Celtic kingdom but through historical events which lay outside both democratic and legal process, it has been counted, by London, as part of England since the mid 16th century; its people labelled as “English” and, since 1889, it has been administered as though it were a mere county of England.

Cornwall is much more than that.  It is still home to an indigenous people with a 12,000-year history – with the Welsh, the oldest peoples of Britain - and who are genetically distinct from the inhabitants of England.  It has an ancient and surviving language whose history can be traced back for 5,000 years.  It also has a unique and quite remarkable constitutional status within the UK, which has long been subjected to official and media concealment.  It retains, intact, a legal right to govern itself (also, for the most part, concealed from the public eye); and, for some 700 years, it even has a separate Head of State.

Pentre Ifan - Siambr Gladdu Pentr Ifan

Pentre Ifan

This large burial chamber is made up of three large stones with a capstone and there is a solitary standing stone close by. The site, which is thought to date back to 3500 BC, is about five miles southeast of Newport (Welsh: Trefdraeth which can be translated into English as "town by the beach"), in Pembrokeshire (Welsh: Sir Benfro). Pentre Ifan is off the A487 and within Pembrokeshire Coast National Park (Welsh: Parc Cenedlaethol Arfordir Penfro).

Skara Brae - The Storm That Lifted the Cloak From Europe’s Best Preserved Stone Age Village

Skara Brae P

Orkney (Scottish Gaelic: Arcaibh), is an archipelago made up of 70 islands, 20 of which are inhabited, that lie 10 miles (16 km) from the coast of Caithness (Scottish Gaelic: Gallaibh) in northern Scotland.

During the winter of 1850 a severe storm lashed the islands including the largest island in the group called Mainland. Beneath the sand dunes on the Bay of Skaill the combination of wind and some very high tides stripped the grass from a large mound, then known as "Skerrabra" and revealed a long hidden secret. One of the most remarkable archaeological sites in the world was discovered that year, when after many centuries nature lifted the cloak that had covered  the 5000 year old preserved village at Skara Brae.  Local laird, William Watt of Skaill, began an excavation of the site in 1868. Four ancient houses were unearthed before work at Skerrabra was abandoned. The settlement remained undisturbed until 1925 when a further storm was seen to threaten the site and a sea-wall was built to preserve the remains. Construction of this led to the discovery of more ancient buildings.

Between 1928 and 1930 further excavations uncovered the dwellings visible today. Subsequent radiocarbon dating point to the village having been occupied for about 600 years from 3100 BC to 2500 BC. This was a time in the Neolithic or New Stone Age period before the discovery of metal. Eight dwellings can be seen, linked together by a series of low, covered passages. The buildings, along with their contents, are well-preserved, with the walls of the structures still standing, and alleyways roofed by their original stone slabs. Tools, furniture and artwork found on the site give clues of how the ancient inhabitants lived their lives. Due to coastal erosion, Skara Brae now stands right by the shore of the Bay o' Skaill. However, during its lifetime the village would have been some distance from the sea.  Over time the encroaching sand dunes led to the village’s gradual abandonment.

Interview with interview Margaret Sharpe, the Convenor of the Celtic Council of Australia

The Australian Standing Stones festival at Glen Innes

The Celtic Council of Australia was formed on 24th March, 1982 after a public meeting organised in Sydney by a number of representatives of resident Celtic communities in New South Wales. The key instigator and driving force behind the Celtic Council project was the late Mr Peter Alexander, then of the Scottish Heritage Council, and he was elected as the first Convenor of the Council. Since its formation the Celtic Council has encouraged Celtic activities, including establishing the Australian Standing Stones at Glen Innes along with the local community. The Australian Celtic Festival, in Glen Innes, was started in 1992 and has grown from strength to strength since that time. The Celtic Council was also involved in the launch of the Australian Celtic Journal as well as the development of academic courses at universities and other learning centres
The Council has continued through the support of many individuals and organisations from within the Celtic communities. The current Convenor is Mrs Margaret Sharpe, who has held the position for the last nine years, but will be standing down this year. Margaret is a previous President and now Vice President of the New South Wales Manx Community. 
Recently, Transceltic's Alastair Kneale had the pleasure of interviewing Margaret Sharpe, the Convenor of the Celtic Council of Australia.
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