I’ve always loved Halloween. As a holiday, people have mixed reactions to it. Some religious sects don’t like it partly because it originated as a pagan festival and its association with the undead. Some religious groups christened it All Saints Eve. It was a time to mark the onset of frost and the cold months before the heavy snows of winter. For some it was a festival of the dead and a time to commemorate and placate those spirits. Ghosts, spirits, skeletons, and witches came to symbolize the occasion. The Day of the Dead is celebrated in Mexico and elsewhere and some link it to an Aztec goddess and human sacrifice. In other areas, creatures such as fairies, elves, hounds, bats, and vampires have joined the spirits and witches.
The Irish and Scottish once carved turnips as lanterns with candles inside to scare off evil spirits, but the pumpkins found in the New World were easier to carve. Large bonfires served a similar purpose--a few scholars claim the fires attracted insects and, in turn, bats to eat them. Wreaths of garlic could ward off vampires.
Begging or giving of food items on Halloween has a long history. Once special cakes were baked called soul cakes for the poor to induce them to pray for the souls of the dead spirits of the house. The food offerings also placated the spirits and prevented nasty tricks. Now the children trek from house to house for candy and other treats.
Two useful websites for brief histories of Halloween are: www.en.wikipedia.org and www.loc.gov/folklife/halloween.html
Things have changed over the years, but like our ancestors we celebrate with bonfires, cider, bobbing for apples, pumpkins, and treats for the children rather than a somber festival of the dead. It’s interesting to note that Halloween and Easter, roughly six months apart, are times we give children candy. Easter is a celebration of rebirth, while Halloween favors death and dying. Easter has rabbits and Halloween has bats.
The mists of autumn and the shorter days make belief in spirits and ghosts easy. The mists could conceal anything, including shape shifters. Halloween provides with a long tradition and fascinating lore.
Wes Craven and others have used Halloween symbolism in movies. Spooky publications for both children and adults accompany Halloween. Writers now use symbols once mainly associated with Halloween year round. I used Appalachian lore and legends in my short story, Teaching Man that begins on Halloween.
Our current Halloween celebration allows us to face our fears and place them in a context where they do not harm us. Writers of horror allow us to view dangerous creatures and worlds and yet remain apart from them. In horror, the protagonist may not always survive, but does in most such novels and stories by finding some way to outwit seemingly all powerful creatures. Simple unsophisticated stories present the monsters as wholly evil, while others explore more complex creatures with mixed natures.
The magic of Halloween is that it provides a place and time to imagine other beings and other worlds far beyond the ordinary. We can be fairies, monsters, ghosts, witches, vampires, or anything we wish for one special night.
For short fun read this Halloween check out the Corpulent Chiropteran by Nell DuVall. When a naïve, chubby young man meets a beautiful woman, He doesn’t recognize her true nature. When he does, it’s too late. He learns to survive, but must eventually confront her.
Nell DuVall is the author of several time travel romances, a science fiction novel, Halloween stories (Teaching Man and Other Tales), a mystery, and is looking for a home for a paranormal romantic suspense trilogy. www.nellduvall.com