And pleasant is the fairy land,
But, an eerie tale to tell,
Ay at the end of seven years
We pay a tiend to hell;
I am sae fair and fu o flesh,
I’m feard it be mysel.
But the night is Halloween, lady,
The morn is Hallowday;
Then win me, win me, an ye will,
For weel I wat ye may.
In 609 Pope Boniface IV pronounced November 1 All Saints’ Day. It was a day to commemorate all the saints of the church. In 837 Pope Gregory IV formally ordered the observance of All Saints’ Day.
All Saints’ Day n.
November 1, the day on which a Christian feast honoring all the saints is observed. Also called Allhallows (AHD).
In Medieval England the day was known as Allhallows, or All Hallows’ Day; the evening before was known as All Hallows’ Eve, or Halloween. Hallow is a verb meaning:
1. To make or set apart as holy.
2. To respect or honor greatly; revere (AHD).
Hallow is fairly early, and cognate with holy; it’s derived from Old English hālgian, derived from Old English hālig or “holy,” and cognate with German heiligen and Old Norse helga (AHD).
The relationship between Halloween and the Celtic harvest feast of Samain/Samhain isn’t clear; it’s not unreasonable to assume that one of the reasons Pope Gregory specifically sanctioned the November first date is that there was a Pagan feast day with precedence, and one associated with the dead, and the Otherworld of the Sídhe, or the fairies to English speakers.
We see this association with the Otherworld in the ballad of “Tam Lin,” in which the mortal Tam Lin is taken by the Queen of Fairies to dwell with her. He fears he is to be the sacrifice, the teind or tax to hell, unless his mortal lover Janet can save him on Halloween. There are many versions of the ballad of Tam Lin; my favorite is probably from the album Liege and Lief by Fairport Convention, featuring the amazing vocals of Sandy Denny.
There are several novels inspired by “Tam Lin” as well multiple musical versions. The first one I read, and still one of my very favorite’s is Elizabeth Pope’s The Perilous Gard. The Perilous Gard is a YA set in Elizabethan England. The heroine is one of Elizabeth I’s ladies-in-waiting, removed from Hatfield “for her own good,” and placed in the guardian ship of a minor noble in Derby, near the location of the Blue John fluorspar mine in the caverns at Treak Cliff near Castleton in the Derbyshire hills. Pope’s novel is not a retelling of the ballad, but the ballad is a thematic touchstone for the novel, one that the characters refer to.
Pamela Dean‘s Tam Lin is set in a small liberal arts college, with Janet an incoming freshman. It too is a fabulous book, with a lovely and very different take on Tam Lin. Dean’s Tam Lin is rich with literary allusions that are a joy if you recognize them but that aren’t intrusive.The ballad is a source, and a touchstone for Dean’s novel, but again, this is not a mere retelling. Dean’s Tam Lin is also a super female bildungsroman, or coming of age story, and the heroine Janet has a believable voice.
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