Inca Autumn and Victorian Halloween – a few traditions

But where’s my apple?
In one of my first blog posts, I mentioned that, being a woodsmoke-and-gluhwein kind of girl, I was a big fan of autumn. It isn’t quite woodsmoke season yet (it’s a balmy 23 degrees at my desk) and pregnancy will mean a little less of the mulled wine for me this year, but that doesn’t change the fact that autumn is just around the corner.

When I was a child, autumn brought a new pencil case and a stiff, yet-to-be-worn-in pair of school shoes. I haven’t purchased the former in a decade, but the season is still full of promise to me. Now it means spicy bean soups, scary films watched from beneath a blanket, and cider at rugby matches in the cool (and, most likely, wet) air. It also means BACK TO SCHOOL, or rather, back to my self-editing and my blog.

This time last week, I was working on my chapter summary in a swimsuit, with a glass of fruit juice and a view of the Adriatic and its myriad islands. Today, it’s Helly Hansen hoodie, cup of mint tea and loooong to-do list scrawled across my desk whiteboard. So in the back-to-school spirit, and before I slog on with my chapter summary, I thought I would steal an idea from my springtime blog post and write about Victorian and Inca autumnal traditions.

Victorian autumn – skulls and sliced apple

  • Bonfire Night, or Guy Fawkes Night as it was known back then, has changed relatively little since Queen Victoria’s reign – fireworks, bonfires and blazing effigies all played a part then and still do today. Effigies of Jack the Ripper were particularly popular during the autumn of 1888, around the time of his infamous killing spree.
  • In contrast, Halloween (one of my favourite celebrations) has evolved over the last century and a half. True to form, many people living in the Victorian era, especially in Britain, preferred a highly sanitised festival, more about matchmaking and marriage than ghosts and ghouls. Across the Atlantic, Halloween retained a little more of its Samhain-derived creepiness.
  • Should you have attended an American party on October 31st in the late 19th century, you might have found yourself (if you were a young maiden at least) eating apple segments in front of a mirror at midnight. If you were lucky, the face of your suitor might have appeared next to your own reflection. If you were unlucky, you might have seen a skull instead, a sure sign of impending death as opposed to an upcoming marriage.
  • If apple-eating didn’t appeal (no pun intended), you could have hitched up your skirts and jumped over a candle flame. Should the flame remain, good luck was yours for the year to come (notwithstanding any skulls seen in mirrors, of course).

Inca festivities – ear plugs and hair hangings

  • My post on the Inca festival of the moon mentions llama sacrifice, deceased guests of honour and saliva-fermented corn beer, none of which were unusual aspects of an Inca festival at any time of year. But what else might you have expected to see during autumn in Peru (March – May) in the 16th century?
  • Pacha-Pucuy (broadly, March) saw the potato harvest. Shamans would contact “the other side” to ensure a good crop, and men would purify their souls by staying away from salt, fruit and their own wives.
  • Inca Raymi (April) was time for a festival (yes, another one) honouring the emperor (more llamas were sacrificed, naturally), including feasting, chicha-drinking, throwing games and ear piercing. The inhabitants of the Inca empire favoured huge ear piercings made even wider through the use of ear plugs – the larger the hole, the more noble its bearer.
  • During Aymoray Quilla (May) the corn was ready for harvesting. Reason enough for a festival? Of course. It wasn’t all fun and games during this month though – everybody was expected to contribute charqui (jerky), fabric, meat and crops to the empire’s vast stores, and failure to do so resulted in prompt punishment. Given that the Inca favoured such punishments as hanging by the hair over precipices, I think this was probably best avoided…

Back in the 21st century, autumn 2016 is only just kicking off, and I’m hoping for plenty of feasting and fireworks, plenty of ghost stories, but a little less of the ritual sacrifice.


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