Fuarag and Faerie Plates: New Scotland's Traditions of Samhain
Article ID: 14247
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Posted: October 24th. 2010
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Nova Scotia, which means New Scotland, is an ancient land in terms of the regions of North America. It was one of the first places on the continent to be settled by Europeans. Only Newfoundland, the province north of here, has an older European history as the Vikings settled it unsuccessfully about a thousand years ago. Being an old land, Nova Scotia is blessed with several old cultures rich in elder and eldritch tradition. There are the Mi'kmak (pronounced Mic*Mah) , the aboriginal folk of the region. There are the Acadians, the earliest settlers who were French in origin and were effectively abandoned here for fifty years by their homeland, during which time they developed their own culture and lived at peace with the Mi'kmak. And there were the Gaels of Scotland who came to this land seeking a new start after the economy and hospitality of Scotland were wrecked during the English clearances of their homeland. All these cultures shared amazingly similar beliefs, including a very similar faerie faith and ancient magical practices based on nature. One might call their practices shamanism, but I have great trouble distinguishing shamanism from naturally-based traditional witchcraft.
The Gaels, being of Celtic lineage, had especially strong faerie beliefs and magical practices which are still extant on rural regions of Nova Scotia and it's adjoining isle of Cape Breton to this very day. Two beautiful traditions have to do with the faerie faith and are particularly important upon Samhain (or Halloween) , and we practice these traditions each year at our wooded homestead in the Nova Scotia highlands where we endeavor to honor the Old Ways by keeping the skills and magical traditions of the ancestors alive. One is the keeping of the faerie plate and the other is the drinking of fuarag.
The Faerie Plate
Among the Celts of various lands there was an ancient tradition of leaving out small offerings for the Good Folk, known here among the Acadians as "les fey" and among the Mi'kmak as the Little People. Among the Gaels, the tradition of the faerie faith was quite strong until only a generation or so ago. Even today, reports still trickle in of odd pranks happening to rural dwellers, sightings of fey lights in the woods, and of horses' mains being braided by night in their stables (all of which I myself have witnessed at our homestead) .
The tradition of leaving small offerings to these diminutive spirits who could be of real substance and were strongly rooted to this green world goes back millennia. These faerie plates usually consisted of a bit of porridge with butter, or bread and honey, and often a drop of ale. Leaving these things out for the faeries was considered an act of courtesy, and the faeries admired courtesy and rewarded the persons who set out the faerie plates with good luck and sometimes even more material rewards.
Ideally, the faerie plate should be left out each night, especially if one believes the barn or garden shed has a resident Little Person, or if one is lucky enough to have a brownie near the house. But the tradition becomes especially important as one approaches the season of harvest, when good things are abundant. A few apples are to be left in the apple trees for the Apple Man. A little corn in the field for the wandering faeries. And with the richness of the harvest coming in, the faeries become persnickety if they aren't allowed a drop of ale or even a bit of cake from time to time.
At our homestead, Twa Corbies' Hollow, when Samhain comes, we always leave a few apples in the trees, and we keep goats and always give the first squirt of milk to the earth for the Good Folk, but upon Samhain we are especially careful to leave out a small plate with the goodies of the earth upon it. It needn't be elaborate, but it should be good, honest food. A slice of our homemade bread with a bit of honey and a sliver of cheese, and a small bit of our excellent homebrewed ale in a tiny mug. In this way, when Samhain comes and the veil is thinnest, we assure the faerie folk know we remember them and care for them.
Does it help to leave out the faerie plates? We always seem to enjoy good luck in the Hollow. This year while our neighbors’ gardens struggled ours flourished, and so it has been for many years. And our goats produce an amazing abundance of milk, which becomes our cheese. And happiness and richness always seem to reside on our land in plenty. So I would say, yes, the faerie plates help. They honor the little spirits of the earth and the spirits return the favor.
Fuarag: A Taste of Halloween and the Harvest
Halloween, known in Gaelic as Samhain (pronounced "SAH*win" or SAH*vawn, depending on which dialect of Gaelic is used) is easily my favorite time of the year with its crisp autumns, hints of spooks and the nearness of the Otherworld, only a thin veil away. On our Roman calendar it falls on October 31, but in the old Celtic folklore it followed a lunar calendar and was actually a three-day season that happened during the time of the November full moon. It marked the death of the old year and the birth of the new.
Fuarag (pronounced "for*rak") is a drink of Samhain, of the richness of the season of the harvest. It is a last moment of decadence before the old year passes into a season of cold and dark, awaiting renewal. The Gaels of Scotland traditionally served Fuarag on Samhain. It was once a rich beverage of oats and water, probably with honey and spices, drunk mainly in north Scotland. It is rarely drunk in Scotland anymore, but it remains popular for Samhain here in Nova Scotia around Cape Breton and the northeast of the lower province where the Gaelic culture is still living, strong and very traditional.
A divination game is often played with fuarag when served at Samhain. Throw in a coin, button and wishbone. Whoever finds the coin shall come into wealth. Whoever finds the wishbone shall attain his hopes. Whoever finds the button, alas, shall come into poverty.
Fuarag has become more of a custard than a drink over time. There are many recipes for this ancient, traditional recipe. The one below is my favorite:
1/2 cup fine oatmeal
1 1/4 cups fresh heavy cream
3 tbs honey
3 tbs Scotch whiskey
1. Roast the oatmeal in a skillet or under a broiler till it is golden brown.
2. Whip the cream until very stiff.
3. Stir in the honey, Scotch and charms.
4. Place layers of cream and toasted oatmeal in a large glass bowl and set in a fridge to cool for an hour.
5. To serve traditionally, give everyone a large wooden spoon and let them dip out a heap for themselves.
Fuarag is like custard and a drink and a stiff belt of Scotch all at once. In other words, it's wonderful! And in drinking it you'll taste something our ancient forbears of the Celtic traditions knew and loved and relive a lovely Old World custom of the magic of the Samhain season.
Location: Antigonish, Nova Scotia
Author's Profile: To learn more about Cliff - Click HERE
Bio: Cliff Seruntine is the author of The Lore of the Bard, a study of the ancient magical bardic tradition of the Gaels, and An Ogham Wood, a novel of redemption by the faerie folk, by Avalonia Press. His new book, Hedge Crosser, on living with wild magic, is currently in the works. He has been a frequent contributor to Llewellyn's Witches' Calendar and has published many articles elsewhere. He lives on a forested homestead in the highlands of Nova Scotia where he practices traditional skills such as horse training and keeping dairy goats and devotes himself to deep ecology and wild witchcraft.
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