1st November 739. Paganism and Christianity.

Welcome to the Month of November.

November-The ninth Roman month from the Latin for nine when in 44 BCE the calendar changed to that based on the solar cycle. It had 29 days in Republican and 30 in the Julian calendars. It was Anglo-Saxon the wint-monath-month of wind.

Autumn leaves. Pic by Author

Autumn leaves. Pic by Author

Of all the months November is the least likely to be dry. If we define a very dry month as having less than an inch of rain there have been only three such Novembers in the last 275 years, compared with nine Octobers and ten Decembers. The driest November on record, was in 1945 when the average over England and Wales was just 0.67 inches (17 mm), whilst Fleetwood, Lancashire, had none, the only record of a rainless November.

On 4th November in 1946 the highest November temperature recorded in the UK, under standard conditions, was 21.7c (71f) at Prestatyn, Flintshire, when the foehn wind descended the lee slope of the Welsh hills. Exceptional warmth in the month is almost always imported, being delivered from sub-tropical latitudes by a strong south-westerly or southerly wind.

Acers at Westonbirt Pic by Author

Acers at Westonbirt, Gloucestershire taken by Author.


November sunshine is normally so feeble so it contributes little to temperature on relatively warm days. England’s warmest (none foehn related) temperature was on November 5th 1938, when 70f (21.1c) was recorded at several sites in East Anglia and the South East.


In Shakespeare’s Two Gentlemen of Verona, Speed refers to Halloween as the time when: ‘The special marks of a man in love, is to speak puling [whining], like a beggar at Hallowmas’.

It was Pope Boniface IV (608-15), who replaced the sacrifice, augury and prayer of the Roman Lemuria held in May, for the lost souls of the dead, by designating May 13th, the last day of Lemuralia, as All Saints Day.

However the date was later moved by Pope Gregory III Today in 739, when he officially designated 1st November as All Saints’ Day (or All Hallows’ Day).

The Celts, pre-dating Christianity, called it Samhain. (pronounced sowan), the Celtic ‘summer’s end’ to return at Beltane or May Day. It was a solar festival to mark the end of harvest and the onset of winter, with associated fire rituals, reflecting the need to propitiate the gods, nature spirits and dying sun, to ensure the survival of livestock and indeed the harvest cycle.(1)

Samhain was thus a time when the veil between the worlds of the living and the dead was thought to be thinnest, souls which needed sustenance with offers of food: ‘soul-cakes’.

Thus in the later Middle Ages arose the custom of  ‘Souling’, associated with the notion of purgatory and All Souls’ Day, 2nd November, the day after All Hallows, when the sharing of a ‘soul-cake’ with the poor helped the rich to buy some respite from purgatory. Thus poor children and youths would visit houses begging ‘soul cakes’ in return for saying prayers for the dead.

After the Reformation the Church of England in its 39 Articles 1563 rejected the Romish doctrine of prayers for the dead and purgatory: one was now condemned to either heaven or hell.(2)

It wasn’t until the early 19th century Catholic revival Oxford Movement that prayers for the deceased again appeared in some Anglican Churches.

The medieval custom of ‘guising’, dressed as hobgoblins and witches was an attempt to confound and placate evil spirits, on the premise that ‘if you can’t beat them join them’ which developed into the custom in Ireland and Scotland of visiting houses with lanterns scooped from turnips in exchange for money, fruit or cake.

However as with all things juvenile merrymaking degenerated eventually into the blackmail of ‘trick or treat’, with underlying reasons completely lost.(3)

(1) J.G. Frazer says there is doubt whether the bonfires were for purification from evil spirits, or to ensure regrowth, however could it have been a mixture of both? (Author).

(2) It was denounced in Homily on Prayer Part 3 which rejected the observance of All Souls, though church continued to be so named.

(3) Recorded in 1895 in F. Leslie’s Popular Monthly, Vol 40 November 1895. Google Books result.

(a) Also in 1891 the Rev.M.P.Hulme of Tattenhall Church collected ‘souling’ songs from local children.

Ref: Mannion M, Francis Anglican View of Purgatory 16.10.2011.

Ref: wikipedia.co.uk/samhain. Wikipedia/soul_cakes.

Ref: Studies in Magic and Religion. Frazer, James George. Ch 63 Interpretation of Fire Festivals.

Ref: catholicculture.org.

Ref: Gregory E David 2010 Late Victorian Folklore Revival, Scarborough Press P.315.

Ref: Death and Afterlife,Richard P Taylor P.163.





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About colindunkerley

My name is Colin Dunkerley who having spent two years in the Royal Army Pay Corps ploughed many a barren industrial furrow until drawn to the 'chalk-face' as a teacher, now retired. I have spent the last 15 years researching all aspects of life in Britain since Roman times.

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