Halloween Blue Moon
The moon will be full tonight on Halloween, the last night of October. This is a rare occurrence only witnessed once every19 years or so, owing to the Lunar cycle; the last Halloween full moon took place back in 2001 and the next will be in 2039.
Tonight's full moon will be the second of the month of October 2020 (the first occurred on 1st October) making the Halloween full moon also a Blue Moon. The late October full moon is also known as a Hunter's Moon, the next full moon following the Harvest Moon which, this year, took place on 1st October, leading many to refer to tonight's full moon as Hunter's Blue Moon on Halloween.
Halloween or Hallowe'en (All Hallows' evening) is celebrated every year on 31st October. The tradition is said to have originated with the ancient Celtic fire festival of Samhain. With the harvest gathered this day marked the end of summer and the onset of the dark half of the year when animals were slaughtered to provide meat for the winter months. However, we know from cross-quarter day (mid-way between equinox and solstice) solar alignments at some megalithic passage tombs in Ireland (such as Loughcrew cairn L) that the significance of this point in the calendar is is indeed ancient.
Samhain was a celebration of the dead and seen as the night when the veil between this world and the next was breached by the spirits of departed ancestors. In can be no coincidence that the following day became a Holy day in the Christian calendar to counter this night of pagan spiritual activity.
Pope Gregory III designated 1st November as a day to honour all the saints back in the 8th century. The evening before was known as All Hallows Eve, and later Halloween and began to incorporate some of the traditions of Samhain. In modern times Halloween has evolved into a day of spooky activities like trick-or-treating, carving jack-o-lanterns and gatherings at fire festivals.
Exceptionally, this year the full moon falls on the night of Halloween. And of course the full moon is associated with the werewolf. So for Halloween here is an Arthurian werewolf tale. Parts of the story are very similar to that found in the anonymous 12th-century Breton lai Melion and Le lai du Bisclavret by Marie de France, which demonstrates the persistence of the man-beast myth though the ages.
Arthur and the Werewolf
The tale of Arthur and Gorlagon begins with a banquet at Arthur’s court on Pentecost, where the king impulsively kisses his Queen leaving her rather shocked at his inappropriate behaviour. She accuses Arthur of never having understood the heart or mind of a woman. He sets off on a quest, vowing not to taste food or drink until he finds understanding.
On his journey Arthur encounters three kings. On visiting the first two he breaks his vow and joins them for dinner and of course learns nothing. When he arrives at the third king, named Gorlagon, Arthur refuses food and drink although repeatedly tested. In response to Arthur’s questions about understanding women, Gorlagon tells him a tale about a king whose queen tricks him into revealing his secret.
The story concerns an unnamed king who has a tree in his garden that was planted on the day of his birth. The story goes that if one cuts down the tree and touch the king with its branch, saying the words “be a wolf, have the mind of a wolf” then the king will turn into a wolf.
The queen has a lover and learns the secret of the tree and uses it to dispose of her husband, the king, by turning him into a werewolf so she can reign with her lover. The queen having touched her husband with the branch said “be a wolf”, but instead of then saying “have the mind of a wolf" she said “have the mind of a man” and consequently the king transformed into a wolf in body but retained the reasoning and intelligence of a man.
The werewolf lived in the forest doing much damage, and his queen married her lover. The wolf failed to avenge himself and shelters with a foreign king who he finally wins over, becoming his faithful servant, sleeping in his bedchamber. At this point the story of Gorlagon then follows the legend of St Guinefort, the dog saint.
The king recognises his goodness and human intelligence, and restores him to his manhood and monarch of his kingdom. The king's men follow him back to his own country and learn from the people the truth about the reigning queen and king. The queen’s lover is condemned to death but the queen’s life is spared.
When Gorlagon has finished telling his tale he tells Arthur that he has now learned the mind and nature of a woman. Arthur asks who is the woman sitting opposite him who has spent the time kissing a severed head spattered in blood in a dish at the table. Gorlagon reveals that she is the queen of his tale who betrayed her husband and the head is that of her lover; and he himself was her werewolf husband. Her punishment is to have the severed head constantly before her and to kiss it every time Gorlagon kisses the wife he has married in her place.
Arthur returns to his court full of wonder.
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