“It was the start of the year in our old Celtic lands, and we’d be waiting in our houses of wattles and clay. The barriers would be down, you see, between the real and the unreal, and the dead might be looking in to sit by our fires of turf.”
That spooky monologue spoken by the character Conal Cochran in the movie Halloween 3: Season of the Witch is where I learned that the Irish and their kin were actually responsible for most of the traditions that Halloween is built on. In Wales, for example, the first day of winter is called Calan Gaeaf and the night before is Nos Calan Gaeaf meaning winter night. In Wales this is thought to be the beginning of what we know as Halloween. This is the night when spirits walk abroad. On stiles, or entrances to footpaths, ghosts of dead persons are said to appear at midnight. In some parts of Wales, the ghost was often the Ladi wen (white lady), but in the north, it was usually the more frightening Hwch ddu gwta (tail-less black sow) also known as the Cutty Black Sow that appeared.
The Cutty Black Sow is a demon or monster that is believed to steal the souls of it’s human victims on Halloween. It often appears as black female pig with glowing eyes that walks upright on it’s hind legs, like a human. Sir James George Frazer documents the Cutty Black Sow in his book, The Golden Bough. From page 348;
“Down to the present time the saying is current in Carnarvonshire, where allusions to the cutty black sow are occasionally made to frighten children.”
“According to Sir John Rhys, the habit of celebrating Hallow’een by lighting bonfires on the hills is perhaps not yet extinct in Wales, and men still living can remember how the people who assisted at the bonfires would wait until the last spark was out and then would suddenly take to their heels, shouting at the top of their voices, the cropped black sow seize the hindmost!”
From such remarks it is evident the Cutty Black Sow was a local bogey-man figure, perhaps even perceived as a devil, or the devil, in the form of a black sow and not a separate entity.
There was even an episode of the series Tales From The Darkside was dedicated to the legend, though the episode gives the monster a Scottish origin instead. Once I learned about this truly terrifying folktale I realized I had been seeing it all my life in film and stories. The Amityville Horror has Jody the Pig and even the Saw movies have the characters dress in a pig costume. Now go share this morbid tale with your children and have a Happy Halloween!