Margaret Fay Shaw (1903-2004) was a Scottish-American folklorist, photographer, and ethnomusicologist who in 1929 moved to the tiny farming village of South Lochboisdale on the island of South Ulst in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland. Shaw was in search of a "pristine Gaelic folksong." Among other traditions, she observed the local children celebrating Halloween (aka "Night of tricks") and documented their wonderfully freaky costumes. Video below.
"Her film and photos are a rare record of these children in their sheepskin garb, haystack wigs and rope scarves," explains the National Trust of Scotland. "This was a time before 'scary movies', mass-manufactured fairy and monster outfits, and 'trick or treating' … these are real gìsears or guisers! Guisers who 'dooked for apples' and ate treacle scones on strings. Guisers who ate 'fuarag – thick cream and oatmeal in which was put the silver sixpence, the thimble and the button' to bring luck. Guisers who foretold future loves by burning nuts in the fire to see if they exploded together or away from one another. Sheepskins – including the scraped-out skull and ears – were commonly used to hide the identity of a guiser. The gìsears would carry lit peats to guide them from house to house, where they gave a song or told a fealla-dha (joke) in return for a treat, usually a scone or a bannock."
Margaret and her husband, Gaelic scholar John Lorne Campbell, bought the Isle of Canna in 1938, donating it to the Trust in 1981. Their collection, archived at Canna House, includes images and film of Halloween, or Samhain, festivities in South Uist.
The roots of Halloween in Scotland go back to the Gaelic festival of Samhain. 'There are lots of theories about the origins of Samhain, but the overriding idea is that it was a time when the boundary between this world and the other world could be crossed,' says Canna House archivist and manager Fiona Mackenzie.