Last night was Saint Mark’s Eve. There is an old tradition in the North of England which required parishioners of certain churches to hold a vigil through the night, watching for apparitions of themselves. Those who saw themselves enter– as rotting corpses or marching coffins– were sure to die in the coming year. Fair warning; time to prepare.
Though I now live in a city that makes a good deal of its living off the undead, and the myriad ghosts of this little walled town outnumber us, I am not jaded. It is easy to see how death walks with us, here, despite the garish morbidity of all the ghost tours on offer, with their own inoculation to this mystery. With that said, I have never seen on heard a ghost in York. (What will usually send a shiver are recordings I find, actively look for trolling about on the internet– either supposedly photographic or EVP or Electronic Voice Phenomenon. Perhaps what is more disturbing is the medium, and the necessity of contact rather than the contact itself. But that is a topic for another post.)
Perhaps the vigil of Saint Mark’s Eve is a version of an older custom on Walpurgisnacht, or the Eve of the Feast of the English Saint Walpurgis, who is a Christian manifestation of an older harvest Goddess. Walpurgisnacht was held on the night of the witch’s sabbath, May 30th, when the doors between worlds were open for spirits to pass between. Probably the best time to hold such a vigil!
Older still at this time, were rituals involving cakes and dreams of love in the night. Bake a bannock in silence. Put it under your pillow. In the night you will see his face. Come morning, eat the bannock; sweep the crumbs from the bed.