It’s finally October, and we all know what that means…. SPOOKY SEASON! My dorm door has been decorated, the costume has been bought and now for the festivities. Before we head into this important holiday, though, I was interested to learn about the superstitions around Halloween.
A popular Halloween decoration is a black cat. For ages, people have believed that if a black cat crosses your path, it’s a sign of bad luck. Way back when the world was switching from the Pagan religion to Christianity, the church deemed witchcraft as evil. It was already a common belief that cats were paired with the witches, some theories going as far as to say that cats came from the devil. Then, when witch hunts began to happen, many cats were tortured and killed because people believed witches could turn into cats.
Spiders are also a well-known decoration. Along with cats, they are associated with witches. They also have their own superstitions, like if a spider falls into a candle flame it means witches are nearby. Another is that if you see a spider on Halloween it means that one of your dead relatives is nearby. I don’t know if people still believe these superstitions, but the tradition of spiders and black cats are still around.
Then we have carving pumpkins, also known as jack-o-lanterns. This is an interesting tradition because I doubt many people know where it originated. In summary, a guy named ‘Stingy Jack’ tricked the devil a few times. For each trick, he made the devil promise to leave him alone for one year, then for ten, and then made him promise not to condemn him to hell. The devil was angry about those tricks but kept his promise. Afterward, heaven and hell would not take Jack, the devil gave Jack a coal and sent him to wander the earth. Jack put the burning coal into a carved turnip to light his way. In Ireland and Scotland, they carved out turnips and potatoes to ward off Jack of the Lantern and other evil spirits. When the Irish came to America, they found pumpkins to be the perfect food to carve, hence today’s tradition of carving pumpkins.
Another animal that is associated with Halloween is bats. Bats don’t have a connection to witches or the devil, they basically got a bad rep from townspeople. There is a species of bats nicknamed ‘vampire bats’ that have scared people in the past. Most species of bats eat insects and nectar, but vampire bats eat the blood of animals. That scared enough people that when Dracula came out, it depicted the vampire turning into a bat. Besides the bad rep, myths have said that if a bat flies around your house three times it means someone inside will die, and another myth said that if a bat flies into your house, a ghost had let it in. Bats are another popular Halloween tradition, but there’s really nothing menacing about them.
There’s also a lot surrounding witches and their tools. Witches came from a goddess called the “All-Knowing Crone”. She was also known as “Earth Mother” and symbolized wisdom, change and turning of the seasons. Obviously, that image has been obscured over the years. Another image that has changed was the cauldron. The witches cauldron was actually the Earth Mother’s womb. Pagan Celts believed that all souls went to the cauldron to be reincarnated. Now, the cauldron is depicted as a steamy, bubbling, pot with a green potion made by the witches. The last tool is the witch’s broomstick. The same women that were accused of being witches could not afford horses, so they used sticks to help them walk through the woods. There was also an English folklore tale that said witches used a numbing ointment that made them hallucinate and believe they were flying. A lot of the traditions regarding witches we use today are just distorted images from old tales.
There are way more Halloween traditions I could talk about, but this article would be pages long. If you would like to know more, I am leaving links to the websites I used at the bottom of this article. Feel free to share the origins of our Halloween traditions while enjoying the holiday festivities!