Those of us of a certain age who still follow the Old Ways or are Northern (in my case both) will know that tonight 4th November – not Halloween nor Bonfire Night – is the most important night in the mid-autumn folklore season.
Why? Because tonight in Mischief Night, aka Miggy Night or Punkie Night.
It was like Halloween trick-or-treating but without any treats and with tricks verging on minor acts of vandalism and anti-social behaviour as we school kids peddled forth on our bicycles to inflict a reign of terror on the Good Citizens of my home town of Scarborough. You know... dropping lighted fireworks through letterboxes, ringing doorbells and running away before they were opened (known as Knock, Knock Ginger), lifting garden gates off their hinges, and ordering taxis to call at the homes of hated schoolteachers.
And, it wasn’t just in Scarborough, as Mischief Night was celebrated across all the Northern counties of Yorkshire, Lancashire, Cheshire, Derbyshire and as far south as Nottinghamshire and Lincolnshire. One suggestion is the 4th of November was the night Guy Fawkes got up to his mischief in the undercroft beneath the parliament building in Westminster. But, given the strong Viking heritage of these counties – all part of Danelaw from the mid 8th to mid 10th centuries – is there also a connection with Loki, the Norse trickster god, at work here?
The 4th November was also the night we lit our lanterns. Called Punkie lanterns, they were carved out of turnips or swedes rather than pumpkins and lighting them was accompanied by reciting the rhyme:
Give me a candle
Give me a light
If you don’t
You’ll get a fright
And yes the local hospitals A&E department was full of boys who'd cut, stabbed or sliced themselves with carving knives and potato peelers trying to carve out rock hard turnips.
Mischief Night was already in decline by the 1970s – about the same time as local authorities started gentrifying Bonfire Night by encouraging organised, communal fireworks displays, rather than allowing everyone to do their own thing (explosives, petrol, and fire – what could possibly go wrong) – and was subsequently swept away by the retail shopping festival that is Halloween.
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Barrister and Reuters correspondent turned writer, award-winning tech journalist, radio presenter, podcaster, and sometime werewolf-hunter Charles Christian chronicles his adventures in the worlds of writing, radio, geek, tech, media, marketing, music, and the weird. The site also has links to all Charles Christian's books including fiction and nonfiction, plus the latest reviews.
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Episode 37 (11th October 2018) of the Weird Tales Radio Show podcast (available now on iTunes, Spotify, YouTube etc) looks at the folklore surrounding bird migration in autumn – do Barnacle Geese really come from barnacles? We go urban mythbusting as we examine the demonic legend associated with Bleeding Heart Yard in London. And we have four Practical Magick Spells for the Autumn.
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