The evil powers that came out at Samhain lived the rest of the time in the cave of Cruachan in Connaught. This cave was called the “hell-gate of Ireland,” and was unlocked on November Eve to let out spirits and copper-colored birds which killed the farm animals. They also stole babies, leaving in their place changelings, goblins who were already old while still in the cradle, possessing superhuman cunning and skill in music. One way of getting rid of these demon children was to ill-treat them so badly that their people would come for them bringing the right children back. Another alternative was to boil egg-shells in the sight of the changeling, who would declare his demon nature by saying that in his centuries of life he had never seen such a thing before.
Brides were also stolen.
“You shall go with me, newly married bride,
And gaze upon a merrier multitude;
White-armed Nuala and Aengus of the birds,
And Feacra of the hurtling foam, and him
Who is the ruler of the western host,
Finvarra, and the Land of Heart’s Desire,
Where beauty has no ebb, decay no flood,
But joy is wisdom, time an endless song.”
“Land of Heart’s Desire” – W. B. Yeats (1865 – 1939)
Ailill and his queen Medb lived in the first century BC. As they were celebrating their Samhain feast in the palace, they offered a reward to the man who should tie a bundle of twigs about the feet of a criminal who had been hanged by the gates. It was dangerous to go near dead bodies on November Eve, but a bold young man named Nera dared to do it and tied the twigs successfully. As he turned to go he saw
“the whole of the palace as if on fire before
him, and the heads of the people of it lying on
the ground, and then he thought he saw an
army going into the hill of Cruachan, and he
followed after the army.”
“Cuchulain of Muirthemne”, Augusta, Lady Gregory (1852 – 1932)
Nera was married to a fairy woman, who betrayed her kindred by sending Nera to warn King Ailill of the intended attack upon his palace the next November Eve. Nera went to see Ailill bringing summer fruits with him to prove that he had been in the fairy sid. His purpose was to warn the king so that he could defend his people. However, the next November Eve, when the gates were opened Ailill entered and discovered the crown, took it away and plundered the treasury. Nera never returned again to the homes of men.
Nera was not the only one who married a fairy woman. In her previous life, queen Medb, the wife of Ailill himself, was Princess Etain of the race of the Tuatha and wife of Midir. She only remembered little of the land from which she came, and was never quite happy in her new existence.
“But sometimes–sometimes–tell me; have you heard,
By dusk or moonset have you ever heard
Sweet voices, delicate music? Never seen
The passage of the lordly beautiful ones
Men call the Shee?”
“Immortal Hour”, – William Sharp (1855 – 1905)
Another story of about the same time was that of Angus, the son of a Tuatha god. He dreamed of a beautiful maiden. He wasted away with love for her, and searched the country for a girl who should look like her. At last, he saw in a meadow among a hundred and fifty maidens, each with a chain of silver about her neck, one who looked like the beauty of his dream. She wore a golden chain around her neck. She was Princess Caer, the daughter of King Ethal Anbual. King Ethal’s palace was stormed by Ailill, and he was forced to give up his daughter. On Samhain, Caer changed from a maiden to a swan, and back again the next year.
When the time came Angus went to the loch, and he saw hundreds of white birds there. Angus stood at the edge of the loch and he called to the girl, “Come and speak with me, O Caer!”
“Who is calling me?” Caer replied.
“Angus calls you,” he said, “and if you do come, I swear by my word I will not hinder you from going into the loch again.”
She came to him. Angus changed to a swan and they flew away to King Dagda’s palace, where every one who heard their sweet singing was charmed into a sleep of three days and three nights.
In Derbyshire, England, torches of straw were carried about the stacks on All Souls’ Eve, not to drive away evil spirits, as in Scotland, but to light souls through Purgatory. Sometimes, one may briefly see the image of their lost loved ones.
“‘Why do you wait at your door, woman,
Alone in the night?’
‘I am waiting for one who will come, stranger,
To show him a light.
He will see me afar on the road,
And be glad at the sight.’
“‘Have you no fear in your heart, woman,
To stand there alone?
There is comfort for you and kindly content
Beside the hearthstone.’
But she answered, ‘No rest can I have
Till I welcome my own.’
“‘Is it far he must travel to-night,
This man of your heart?’
‘Strange lands that I know not, and pitiless seas
Have kept us apart,
And he travels this night to his home
Without guide, without chart.’
“‘And has he companions to cheer him?’
‘Aye, many,’ she said.
‘The candles are lighted, the hearthstones are swept,
The fires glow red.
We shall welcome them out of the night–
Our home-coming dead.'”
“Hallowe’en”, Winifred M. Letts (1882–1972)