Candy Love in the Time of Covid-19

Come join us!

Today’s blog entry was written by Kathleen Corcoran, a local harpist, teacher, writer, editor, favorite auntie, and lover of candy, costumes, horror films, and shenanigans.

Officer GoodBoy is here to investigate some claims of silly string.

Amid the daily terrors of 2020, it’s only natural to celebrate additional terror by adding candy and costumes. Halloween in 2020 will (hopefully) be different than other years, but I’m sure that won’t stop the rational, thoughtful, and calm citizens of the USA from marking the occasion in a restrained fashion.

There have always been rules about Halloween, enforced to a greater or lesser extent depending on time and place.

I’m not sure I want one, but they’re on sale…
  • Puritans in early North American colony towns outlawed Halloween altogether, claiming it was witchcraft and Satanic.
  • The state of Alabama forbids anyone to dress up like a nun, rabbi, priest, monk, or any other religious figure, on threat of spending a year in jail.
  • The French town of Vendargues prohibits people over age 13 dressing like a clown on Halloween or at any time in November (a very sensible rule, in my opinion).
  • Silly string is outlawed in Hollywood on Halloween; mischief makers can be fined simply for carrying silly string.

Before 2020, many areas had laws governing masks on Halloween. Banks and retail clerks got tired of not knowing whether the masked person coming up to the counter was on the way to a party or in the middle of a robbery.

Macaulay Culkin knows how to be terrifying without trying.

Things are a little different this year. Instead of forbidding masks, many places are requiring them! Fortunately, many Halloween costumes are perfect for masks.

The CDC does not recommend using regular Halloween masks in place of a medical face covering. Plastic Halloween masks are less likely to prevent the spread of infectious droplets. Masked superheroes, ninjas, fuzzy animals, nurses, doctors, and fire fighters will probably be very popular this year.

Trick or treating will be different as well. Gone are the hordes of tiny monsters dressed as children running from house to house as fast as possible to get the maximum sugar haul.

Social distanced trick or treating may require a bit of creativity.

This could have been put up by a student or a teacher. It’s a toss-up as to who hates online schooling more. Perhaps a parent…

The insanity of 2020 has certainly inspired some interestingly creative displays and work-arounds. Several costume companies have been called out for selling particularly tasteless get-ups. Customers are no longer able to purchase the means to disguise themselves as rolls of toilet paper, Corona-19 beer bottles, or the corpses of celebrities and politicians. If Halloween revelers are truly determined to be offensive, they’ll have to create those costumes themselves.

Or you could just stay home and read a book.

For more details about Halloween safety, look at the CDC holidays website, the WHO website about the pandemic, or your local community or news website. Curfews, gathering limitations, costume regulations, trick-or-treat restrictions, etc. vary from place to place.

The Canadians are confusing.
Tuesday after Halloween!
Vote Safely!

PUMPKIN SEASON

Connecticut field pumpkin

When my three children were young, we always  carved three Jack-O-Lanterns on Halloween.  (FYI: The traditional pumpkin for American Jack-O-Lanterns is the Connecticut field variety.)  If my family of origin had a crest, our motto would be “Waste Not, Want Not.”  Of course, I couldn’t just throw away perfectly edible food!  This combination of personality and plenty resulted in lots of pumpkin for our table.

Culinary Uses

The day after Halloween, we “dealt with” those pumpkins. At the time, this meant chunking them up, baking the pieces, pureeing, and freezing the pulp in two-cup freezer bags.  (Full disclosure: Jack-O-Lantern pumpkins are far from the best eating ones. Sugar pie pumpkins or Long Island Cheese pumpkins are preferred by pumpkin connoisseurs.)  The bounty led me to cut recipes from can labels, ask for favorite recipes from family members, and buy cookbooks like this. 

Between then and now, I’ve learned just how narrow my culinary use of pumpkins had been.

Sooooo sick of pumpkins!

In word associations tests, “pumpkin” is almost certain to be followed by “pie.” And sure enough, I have at least a dozen excellent pumpkin pie recipes. And then there is pumpkin bread, pumpkin stew, pumpkin curry, pumpkin lasagna, pumpkin beer, pumpkin butter, pumpkin muffins, pumpkin pancakes… Pumpkin smoothies are a current favorite.

FYI: Pumpkin can be substituted for other winter squash in virtually any recipe. In fact, the FDA does not distinguish between pumpkins and other varieties of squash. When you buy a can of “pumpkin” from the grocery store, it’s just as likely to be acorn or butternut squash inside.

Pumpkins grow worldwide. Antarctica is the only continent that can’t grow pumpkins.  (Those poor penguins…)

  • Blossoms cooked with duck were and are a Chinese delicacy 
  • Small, green pumpkins can be treated like summer squash
  • Leaves can be eaten by themselves or dressed in a salad
  • Whole pumpkins stuffed and baked (sweet or savory)
  • As a complement to meat in stews (especially in Native American, African, and South American recipes)
  • Slices fried with apples, sweet herbs and spices, and currants
  • With corn and beans as succotash (Native American)
  • Dried/dehydrated; sometimes pounded into powder for baking
  • Seeds:
    • Popular with pre-Columbian people of Mexico and Peru; now available in most grocery stores
  • Oil from seeds
  • Butter (like apple butter)
  • Beer/fermented drinks
  • As a hard times substitute for other ingredients
    • E.g., pumpkin syrup for molasses, pumpkin sugar)

Pumpkin shells can even be used a type of slow-cooker. After the stringy guts have been scooped out, they can be filled and buried in ashes or baked in an oven. Armenian rice pudding baked in a pumpkin shell is a particular holiday delicacy.

Native Americans (Iroquois in particular) had Four Sisters of agriculture: pumpkins, corn, beans, and squash, interplanted so each vegetable provided sustainability and nutrients for the others to grow. The four sisters of agriculture allowed the survival the earliest colonists. The ubiquity—and importance of pumpkins is clear in this old New England doggerel:

From pottage, and puddings, and puddings, and pies,
Our pumpkins and parsnips are common supplies.
We have pumpkins at morning, and pumpkins at noon;
If it were not for pumpkins, we should be undone.

Non-Culinary Uses

  • Stacked on thatched roofs to provide stability
  • South Africa soap
  • As a medium of currency (1 pumpkin for 4 cocoa beans, etc.)
  • Food for livestock, from chickens to pigs
  • As an offering to deities in China during the season of the Fifth Moon
  • As a dietary supplement for cats and dogs that have certain digestive ailments such as hairballs, constipation, and diarrhea
  • In Native American medicine to treat intestinal worms and ailments
  • In Germany and southeastern Europe to treat irritable bladder and benign prostatic hyperplasia
  • In China for the treatment of parasitic disease and the expulsion of tape worms
  • Hollowed out and lighted with candles, as lanterns to light the way after dark

And Then There is Halloween

The tradition originated with the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain, an important day for Druids, when the veil between this world and the afterlife was particularly thin. People would light bonfires and wear frightening costumes to ward off ghosts. All Hallows Eve (the night before All Saints Day) transmuted to Halloween—holy or hallowed evening.

Historically, in Britain and Ireland lanterns were carved from turnips or other vegetables. In the New World, pumpkins were a substitute, and even better because they are bigger and easier to deal with. Although other vegetables are still popular in Scotland and Northern Ireland, Britain purchases millions of pumpkins for Halloween.

In 1837, the term Jack-O-Lantern appeared in several Irish newspapers as a term for a vegetable lantern. The association with Halloween was documented by 1866. Additionally, in popular culture there’s a connection between pumpkins and the supernatural. Jack-O-Lanterns derive from folklore about a lost soul wandering the earth, searching for his missing head.

Festivities

Annually, Circleville, OH holds a Pumpkin Festival, complete with marching bands, a queen, all sorts of fair foods made with pumpkin, and a prize for the biggest pumpkin. FYI, the largest pumpkin in North American history was grown by a New Hampshire man and tipped the scale at 2,528 pounds. You can find other festivals and pumpkin contests online.

Then there are contests, often including baked goods. More actively, there are games like pumpkin throwing and pumpkin chunking. Chunking involves machines like catapults, trebuchets, ballistas, and air cannons. Some pumpkin chunkers breed and grow pumpkins specifically to improve the pumpkin’s chances of surviving a throw.

Folklore and Fiction 

We all know a couple of examples

  • Peter, Peter pumpkin eater   
    Had a wife and couldn’t keep her.   
    Put her in a pumpkin shell   
    And there he kept her very well.
  • Cinderella’s coach for the ball was carved from a pumpkin in many versions
  • In some versions of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, the Headless Horseman has a pumpkin in place of a head
  • Pumpkin in the Jar

Overall, in the U.S., pumpkin folklore tends to be light and humorous (though keeping a woman in a gourd root doesn’t sound very nice), often involving the biggest, the fastest, the most fantastic. Pumpkins can talk, or someone hit by a pumpkin thinks he’s dead. Southern American folklore often stems from tall tales told by the descendants of West African slaves in which pumpkins—and pigs—meet magical realism.

In other cultures, pumpkins are often elements of different genres of myths.

  • Creation myths
    • Laotians believed that all the people of Indo-China came from a pumpkin.
  • Magical transformation
    • Turning into or giving birth to strange creatures, evil doers, beautiful princesses
    • Because it ripens later than most fruits and vegetables, between summer and winter, the pumpkin is often seen as a symbol of change.
  • Rebirth
    • In many West and Central African cultures, pumpkins stand for rebirth, when a pumpkin grows from a dead mother’s grave.
  • In Ukraine, a pumpkin was traditionally given to a suitor to symbolize that there was absolutely no chance of marriage.

Pumpkin History

Some sources, like Wikipedia, claim pumpkins are native to North America (northeastern Mexico and southern U.S). This assertion is based on evidence paleobotanists offer of cultivation as early as 7,500-5,000 BCE. Clearly, the use of pumpkins preceded the cultivation.

The Chinese grew pumpkins in the 6th and 7th centuries. Africa claims to have a pumpkin variety that preceded European or American contact. Pliny the Elder, in first century Rome, described something that seems to have been a pumpkin. Pre-Columbian Peruvians made pottery in the shape of pumpkins—suggesting that pumpkins were both prominent in their gardens and important in their culture. Conclusion: pumpkins were everywhere, very long ago!

Bottom line for writers: surely your plot and/or characters can use some tidbits about pumpkins!

All done. No more pumpkins. Can we go home now?

OCTOBER IS FOR HORROR: VAMPIRES

Drawn by shamad

A friend recently told me that the horror villains we fear are subconscious stand-ins for things we’re afraid of in real life.  Vampires stand for a fear of change; zombies for a fear of crowds or strangers.  Fear of clowns is a sign you’re a normal, well-adjusted, perfectly rational person.

 

The anthropomorphic personification of EVIL!

Inquiring minds want to know!  I started with vampires—and I never got past vampires!

 

When I went online to learn what it means if we fear vampires, what popped up was an article by Ralph Blumenthal, “A Fear of Vampires Can Mask a Fear of Something Much Worse.”  He was writing in 2002 about villagers in Malawi believing that the government was colluding with vampires to collect human blood in exchange for food.

 

Mobs of vampire hunters killed dozens in Malawi

At the time, Malawi was in the grip of starvation, a severe AIDS epidemic, and political upheaval.  He cited Nina Auerbach, author of Our Vampires, Ourselves, to the effect that stories of the undead embody power ”and our fears of power.”

David J. Skal, author of The Monster Show: A Cultural History of Horror claims that a fixation on demons often accompanies periods of national stress.  “In times of social upheaval, the vampire asserts itself.”

 

 

In nearly every culture in the world, there is a legend of some variation of vampire-like creatures—the dead who reanimate and come back to feed on the living.  And there is general agreement that the roots of vampire legends are in the misunderstanding of how bodies decompose and of how certain diseases spread.

 

The Chinese Jiangshi hunts by “hopping” because of rigor mortis.

In an October 26, 2016 article in National Geographic titled The Bloody Truth About Vampires, Becky Little wrote, “As a corpse’s skin shrinks, its teeth and fingernails can appear to have grown longer.  And as internal organs break down, a dark ‘purge fluid’ can leak out of the nose and mouth.  People unfamiliar with this process would interpret this fluid to be blood and suspect that the corpse had been drinking it from the living.”

Paul Barber, author of Vampires, Burial, and Death: Folklore and Reality, made several telling points in the introduction to his book.  One is that there is little similarity between the vampires of folklore and the vampires of fiction.
Modern images of vampires are pretty stereotyped: fangs that bite the necks of victims; drinking human blood; can’t see themselves in mirrors; can be warded off with garlic, killed with a stake (or silver nail) through the heart; are aristocrats who live in castles and may be sexy.  This image was popularized by Bela Lugosi’s portrayal of Count Dracula in the 1931 film adaptation of the Broadway show of the same name.  Unlike Bram Stoker’s description of the monster in the 1897 novel Dracula as a repulsive old man with huge eyebrows and bat-like ears, Lugosi showed audiences a mysteriously elegant gentleman in evening dress.

 

 

The 1922 film Nosferatu (on left), though an unlicensed adaptation, portrayed the vampire as described in Stoker’s novel.

 

In European folklore, vampires typically wore shrouds, and were often described as bloated, with a ruddy or dark countenance.  Specific descriptions varied among regions: sometimes male, sometimes female, might have long fingernails, a stubby beard, the mouth and left eye open, a permanently hateful stare, red eyes, no eyes, etc.  Fangs were not always a prominent feature, and blood was generally sucked from bites on the chest near the heart rather than the throat.

Polish strzyga

But perhaps the most important theme of Barber’s book is that, lacking a scientific background in physiology, pathology, or immunization, the common response of ancient societies was to blame death and disease on the dead.  To that end, the interpretations they came up with—while wrong from today’s perspective—nevertheless were usually coherent, covered all the data, and provided the rationale for some common practices that seemed to be otherwise inexplicable.

 

A manananggal from the Philippines will send its detached head and torso to hunt.

Should you ever be pursued by a vampire, fling a handful of rice, millet, or other small grain in its path.  The vampire will be compelled to stop to count every grain, giving you time to escape.  I found no information on how vampires came to be associated with arithmomania, but it endures: remember The Count von Count on Sesame Street?

 

He’s the color of a rotting corpse, but cloth fangs are pretty harmless.

At this point, I realize that getting into methods of identifying vampires, protecting against vampires, ways to destroy vampires, and cross-cultural variations on vampirism is way beyond the scope of this blog.  Instead, I refer you to books such as this:

 

 

And should vampires show up in your dreams, according to DreamBible: the answers to all your dreams, pay attention.  Their appearance could mean many things.
  • Seeing a vampire in your dream symbolizes an aspect of your personality that is parasitic or selfishly feeds off others.
  • Alternatively, a vampire may reflect feelings about people you believe want to pull you down to their level or convert you to thinking negatively in a way similar to theirs.
  • To dream of being a vampire represents a selfish need to feed off others.
  • To dream of being bitten by a vampire represents feelings about other people using you or feeding off you and being unable to stop it.
  • Vampires may be a sign of dependence, problems with addiction, social pressure, or ambivalence.
  • A dream vampire might be telling you that you need to start being more independent and relying less on others resources or accomplishments.
  • To dream of killing vampires represents overcoming dependence on others.
  • Repeated dreams of vampires hovering over your shoulder and correcting your spelling or suggesting topics for research and expansion is almost certainly a sign that you are writing a blog entry about vampires.

The yara-ma-yha-who in Australia drains a victim of almost all blood before swallowing and regurgitating the body, which then becomes a copy of its killer.

Bottom line for writers: consider whether a vampire is a fit metaphor for your character.
 

The soucouyant appears in the Caribbean by day as a harmless old woman, but she sheds her skin at night to hunt as a ball of fire.

Elements of Halloween

halloween decorations

Halloween is second only to Christmas in money spent specifically for the holiday. Americans spend almost $10 BILLION per year on candy, costumes, and decorations. But how many people have considered the meanings of things associated with Halloween? Here, for your edification, is Halloween deconstructed. Many Halloween traditions have their roots in ancient Celtic harvest festivals, especially the Gaelic festival of Samhain. Halloween came to America with the Scottish and Irish immigrants in the 1800s, and was widely popular by the early 1900s. But some modern Halloween traditions were first practiced approximately 4,000 BCE, so it’s no wonder that meanings and traditions have morphed over time.

skulls

Skulls, Skeletons, and Bones

Skulls serve as reminders of death and the transitory quality of human life (a reference to Golgatha in Christian tradition). A skull is often depicted with cross bones (St. Andrew’s Cross), a symbol of spiritual perfection.

A skeleton is the personification of Death and sometimes the devil. In alchemy, it is the symbol of blackness and putrefaction which precede transmutation.

In some instances a skeleton symbolizes death in general and the brevity of human life.

Druid priests would throw bones of cattle into the flames and thus bone fire became bonfire. Also, see CATS below.

One superstition is that if an unmarried woman sits in a darkened room and peers into a mirror on Halloween, she will see her marriage future. If a face appears, it will be her future husband. If a skull appears, she will die unwed.

In the United States’ Deep South there lingers a belief that white moss taken from the skull of a murdered man has special magical and medical properties.

Currently skulls represent courage and rebellion, embraced by bikers and others.

Skulls carved from crystal and mineral rocks are thought to be strongly protective and healing.

witch doll

 

Witches

The word witch comes from the Old English wicce, meaning wise woman. Wiccan were highly respected at one time.

According to popular belief, witches held one of their two main meetings, or sabbats, on Halloween.

Witches and warlocks were regarded as priestesses and priests of devil worship.

In medieval Europe, owls were seen as witches, and have historically been one of the most popular Halloween images.

At various periods in history, witches were believed to be in league with the Devil, and anyone (mostly women) associated with unexplained occurrences was suspected of witchcraft, leading to hunts and trials.

At one time, all cats were thought to be familiars of witches, and witches were believed to be able to turn themselves into cats at will to carry out their evil intentions

elements halloween

Halloween Animals

Cats. During the ancient celebrations of Samhain, Druids were said to throw cats into a fire, often in wicker cages, as a means of divination. From their association with Samhain, and later witches, cats are now an integral part of Halloween, especially black cats. (see above and below.)

There is a worldwide superstition that a black cat crossing your path will bring good luck. (Be sure to make a wish if it does.) In America, black cats are generally thought to be unlucky—although black and white—and grey—cats are said to be lucky. The international good luck belief in black cats dates back to Egyptian times when one of their most important goddesses was Bast, a female black cat. So, a black cat walking into your house is an omen of good fortune, particularly of money to come.

(Other aspects of cat luck depend on whether you own it or meet it, whether or not it crosses your path, and how many cats are involved.)

Not directly related to Halloween, but in both America and Europe, a white cat is looked upon with some suspicion, and a gray tortoiseshell coming into your home is a bad omen.

Black cats are thought to have curative powers. A little blood from the tail is reputed to heal many minor wounds if rubbed on the affected area. They are also used in rituals to appease the gods, but never killed. To kill a black cat is extremely bad luck.

During the Middle Ages, Satan was believed to take the form of a black cat while consorting with witches.

Cats are not just cats. Druids believed that cats were humans who were being punished for evil acts during their lives. Opposite: Buddhists believed that cats were the temporary resting places of extremely spiritual people. Related: In Japan, it was believed that spirits of the dead sometimes take the form of female cats. Cats have long been believed to be the familiars of witches. (See above.)

A cat on top of a tombstone signals that the soul of the body buried beneath was possessed by the devil.

sri lanka bats

Although in the East, bats are a good omen, in the West, they are considered harbingers of evil. It’s a creature of mystery and darkness, coming out at night and mysteriously disappearing at dawn (as witches were also thought to do).

In the Middle Ages bats were believed to be in league with the devil and in partnership with witches. A bat was called the witches’ bird.

Bats were thought to be able to transform themselves into human form or that of a wolf or other unrelated species.

owl night

Owls are associated with both wisdom and doom. There are lengthy myths and beliefs going back to the Greeks and Romans and probably earlier. For Halloween purposes, I’ll focus on the doom beliefs. One superstition is that hearing an owl’s call is a sign that someone is about to die.

In Vedic mythology of the Hindus, Yama, the god of the dead, had owls and pigeons as his messengers.

An owl shrieking during the day heralded an impending defeat in battle, a plague, sickness, or death. In rural communities, the owl is still seen as an evil omen.

Native Americans believed the owl wasn’t a real bird but the spirit of the dead, taking that form to warn of approaching death. In addition, the hooting of the owl was sometimes the dead communicating with the living. The owl was supposed to be the heartbeat of the dead person who came to tell news in the gloom of midnight.

A Seminole Indian who hears an owl call whistles back. If the owl doesn’t answer the whistle, s/he believes s/he has received the summons of approaching death.

When a single crow caws near a house it is announcing an approaching calamity. If it flies to the left, it is a sign of bad news.

When a crow is seen immediately before or after a wedding ceremony, the unhappy couple will divorce.

ghosts halloween

Ghosts and Ghouls

Although Celtic folklore is full of ghosts, driven by both good and evil intentions, generally it’s unhealthy to meet a ghost.

Ghosts embody, and in a sense symbolize, fears of beings who dwell in another world.

The Druid Thanksgiving for harvests occurred on October 31. It was the feast of Saman, lord of Death, who called together the souls of all the wicked ones who had been condemned to inhabit the bodies of animals during the year. The good souls were believed to take human form, but it was impossible to tell the real human beings from the ones inhabited by ghosts.

Good souls entered the body of another human being for the occasion, but wicked ghosts had to roam around in search of an abode.

It was believed that any harm that might be inflicted by a wicked soul could be lightened by gifts.

Medieval people believed that cats and rabbits were inhabited by evil souls. When these animals were seen on the ground where the dead were supposed to rest forever, they were taken for ghosts in disguise.

scary jack o lanterns

Jack-O’-Lanterns

Originally, a jack-o’-lantern was intended to light the way of a wandering spirit, denied entry into either heaven or hell. Carved pumpkins are a New World variation on an old Irish tradition.

The Irish Celts invented the jack-o’-lantern. According to folklore, Stingy Jack was out drinking with the Devil and convinced him to turn himself into a coin to pay for their drinks without spending money. He put the devil coin in his pocket with a silver cross which kept the Devil from changing back. He promised to free the devil if the Devil wouldn’t bother him for a year, and if he died, the Devil could never claim his soul. Subsequently, he tricked the Devil another time or two. When Jack finally died, God found him unfit for heaven, but the Devil had promised never to claim his soul for hell. So Jack was sent to roam the earth with only a burning coal for light.

Stingy Jack put the coal in a turnip and became Jack of the Lantern. The Irish carved jack-o’-lantern from turnips, beets, and potatoes to scare away Stingy Jack and any other spirits.

trick treaters

Halloween Costumes

Halloween costumes are an offshoot of an ancient Celtic belief that dressing up as ghouls and other spooks would allow them to escape the notice of real spirits roaming the streets during Samhain. Traditional Halloween costumes reflect supernatural beings such as vampires, ghosts, skeletons, witches, devils, or other monsters.

According to ancient Roman records, people in today’s France and Germany wore costumes of animal heads and skins to connect to spirits of the dead.

One belief was that people who wear their cloths inside out and then walk backwards on Halloween will see a witch at midnight.

masquerade

Early celebrants of Samhain often disguised themselves as evil spirits by simply blackening their faces. This may be the earliest form or “false faces,” as masks in Ireland were known.

Among the Iroquois, their False Face dances originate from Flint, the evil one of their Twin culture-heroes, who rules over darkness.

Masks sometimes carry magic power which protects their wearers against sorcerers and those who would harm them. On the other hand, members of secret societies use them to impose their will through fear.

Masks are agents to control the movements of spiritual energies scattered throughout the world and all the more dangerous for being unseen. Masks are designed to subjugate and control the invisible world. Trap them to stop their wandering.

Halloween Colors

Orange is known as a symbol of strength and endurance, often represented today by pumpkins, carved or not. FYI, A New Hampshire man has grown the largest pumpkin ever recorded in U.S. history – weighing in at an incredible 2,528 pounds. Steve Geddes of Boscawen, N.H., won $6,000 in prize money at the Deerfield Fair for his first place pumpkin on September 29, 2018.

As a color midway between yellow and red, it’s primary symbolism is that of the balance point between the spirit and the libido.

Black is frequently seen as a symbol of death and darkness, a reminder that Halloween festivals once marked the boundaries between life and death.

Black is most often seen as cold and negative, nothingness and chaos, confusion and disorder, a symbol of evil, and the color of death.

Black is the color of melancholy, pessimism, sorrow, and misfortune.

Brown and gold are typically the symbolism of autumn and harvest. Corn stalks and hay bales are common representatives today. Scarecrows symbolize the agricultural roots of Halloween.

Brown is the color of earth and excrement. At various times, in various cultures, it has been the color of melancholy, humility, poverty, and sadism.

In Ireland, brown shared all the underworld and warlike symbolism of black.

Gold and light are symbols knowledge leading to immortality. If it is used well, in the search for knowledge, it brings happiness. Otherwise it brings disaster. The color gold and the pure metal are solar symbols, but “minted gold” is a symbol of perversion and the exaltation of unclean desire, the spiritual degraded to the level of the material, the immortal to the mortal.

In Greek tradition, gold is associated with the sun—and thus fertility, wealth, dominion, a center of warmth, love and generosity, the fire of light, knowledge and radiance.

sweet sour candy

Halloween Treats

In ancient times, the Celts put treats on their doorsteps and in the streets to provide offerings to placate the spirits who roamed the streets at Samhain, a sacred festival that marked the end of the Celtic calendar year.

“Souling” is a medieval Christian precursor to modern trick-or-treating. On “Hallowmas” (Nov. 1) the poor would go from house to house, offering prayers for the dead in exchange for soul cakes.

Early door-to-door begging involved the poor seeking coins.

Some trace trick-or-treating to the practice of mumming or guysinging, which involved costumed people going door-to-door performing prepared dances, songs, and plays in exchange for treats. This was common in Ireland, Scotland, the Isle of Man, and Wales.

The first known mention of trick-or-treating in North America was 1927, in Canada.

Halloween Superstitions

October 31 is traditionally the time when the spirits of the dead are allowed a last fling before winter sets in. In Ireland, it’s said that if you hear footsteps behind you on that night, it is one of the dead following you and you never look around lest you see him or her and soon become one of them.

During celebrations of Samhain, bonfires were lit to ensure that the sun would return after the long, hard winter. Even earlier, worshipers of Baal, the Syrian sun-god, built fires in his honor about the same time of year as Halloween. Around 837, when Pope Gregory IV declared Nov. 1 as All Saints Day, people believed that ghosts and goblins were abroad on the eve of All Saints Day and built great bonfires to keep them away.

To banish evil spirits, walk around your house three times backward and counterclockwise before sunset on Halloween.

The Name and Associated Tidbits

Hallowe’en dates back to about 1745 and is of Christian origin. Halloween is short for Hallows Eve, which was the evening before All Hallows (sanctified or holy) Day, also known as Hallowmas on Nov. 1.

In Mexico, people dress up like ghouls and parade in the streets to celebrate The Day of the Dead on All Saints Day (Nov. 1) and All Souls Day (Nov. 2).

Teng Chieh (Lantern Festival) is one Halloween celebration in China in which dragon and other animal lanterns are put out to guide spirits back to their earthly homes. Food and water to honor their deceased loved ones are placed by ancestral portraits. In Hong Kong Yue Lan (Festival of the Hungry Ghosts) includes fires, food, and gifts to placate angry ghosts looking for revenge.

San-Apple Night and Nutcrack Night are names derived from the ancient Roman Festival of Pomona, the goddess of fruits and seeds. Halloween customs and games that feature nuts and apples (such as candied apples and bobbing for apples) have their roots here. Apples are strongly associated with the otherworld and immortality, while hazelnuts were associated with divine wisdom.

In some American towns, Halloween was referred to as Cabbage Night, and the use of cabbage in a Scottish fortune-telling game. BTW, there are many old traditions in which girls can “see” their future husbands on Halloween. Several other fortune telling activities involve apple peels, pairs of hazelnuts near open fires, salty oatmeal bannocks, or items symbolizing the future hidden in food (e.g., a cake), or stones around the remains of a bonfire.

Besides those mentioned above, Halloween has been called Witches Night, Lamswool, Snap-Apple Night, and Summer’s End.

BOTTOM LINE: Everything associated with Halloween has deep roots and multiple meanings. Know what you’re symbolizing! And incidentally, make your characters know, too.

FYI: Samhainophobia is the fear of Halloween!

elements halloween

Why Human Skulls?

October is traditionally the month to bring out Jack-o-Lanterns, ghosts, spiders, monsters of all sorts, and skeletons. But this October, my focus is on human skulls. Some of you are aware that I have been posting skull pictures on FB dailyBut why? Short answer: because I love them! They can, do, and always have represented many meanings to many people and cultures.
why human skulls

Skull Symbolism

 
As best I remember, I first noticed skulls on old tombstones in Boston. Virtually every tombstone featured some version of a skull. A frequent depiction was a skull with angel wings, presumed to represent death and life after death.

 

why human skulls
Subsequently, traveling abroad, I saw skulls in paintings, representing mortality, the swift passage of time, and that life is temporary.

 

Catacombes of Paris
Catacombs of Paris, 2007 [Source: Djtox]
In Rome, Prague, and cities in Portugal, I saw whole rooms and cathedrals walled and decorated with skulls, often honoring dead saints.

 

Skulls For Honor

Skulls honoring the dead took a much more personal turn in Cuzco, Peru. Since Inca times, mummies of the dead emperors were kept in homes and played an important role as leaders in Cuzco. Traditionally, families kept the skulls of ancestors on small altars in their homes. The pictures above are not mine, but when there I visited a one-room Inca home still inhabited by a family where an ancestral skull rested on a shelf carved into the stone wall, along with a partly burned candle and dried herbs. The skulls of loved ones are said to be good company, and to watch over and protect the family and the home.

 

why human skulls
In Mexico’s Day of the Dead, dead ancestors and relatives are honored in a joyous celebration in which sugar skulls in bright colors create a celebration of life as well as death.

 

Using Skulls

 
why human skulls
Using the domes of skulls as bowls, as ritual drinking cups, and/or as a tribute to the victor goes back millennia. The oldest known one was 12,750 BCE. Posting or displaying the heads of slain enemies is well known. It may be that people made skull cups to honor and remember their dead, but it could also have been to try to tap into magical or healing powers.

 

Skull medicine has a long history. In the 17th century, people would drink from skulls, drink the powdered skull, or imbibe the entire head. This was part of a widespread tradition of medicinal cannibalism using everything (bone, blood, flesh, and fat) that continued into the 18th and even the 19th centuries.

 

But I Don’t Do Any of Those Things With Skulls.

why human skulls
I have skulls for ornamentation and symbolism.  At first I wore skull scarves and jewelry for mystery book signings and panel presentations only. The more I looked at created skulls, the more attractive I found them to be. I’m not alone in this. A human skull with its large eye sockets is especially appealing to people and is easily recognized even in fragments. I especially like mineral skulls, and created this one-of-a-kind choker for myself.

 

why human skulls
I first read about the power of stones for a short story, “Beast and the Beauty.” Interestingly, I didn’t come across any stone for which the asserted power is malevolent. And even more interestingly (to me), some ancient societies believed that objects like crystal skulls represent life, the honoring of humanity in the flesh, and the embodiment of consciousness. That appeals to me.

 

why human skulls
If you search for skull symbolism online, you will find a post on bikerringshop.com, “Behind the Bones: the History of the Skull Ring.” This anonymously authored post includes a lot of interesting info; for example, “To the Victorians, a skull ring was a way to celebrate lost loved ones and a reminder of the wearer’s own mortality.”

 

In addressing the complicated symbolism surround skull rings, they address the following topics.

 

  1. Death Symbolism: most obvious association; a way of embracing and understanding your fate
  2. Carpe Diem: time is limited, so free spirits make the most of it
  3. A Reminder of Life: associated with the afterlife in many religions, from Aztecs to Christianity
  4. A Symbol of Equality: everyone will die, and one skull is pretty much like another
  5. Toughness and Rebellion: representing rebels, people who play by their own rules; bravery and toughness in the face of death.
why human skulls
Actually, I have more pendants and earrings than rings, from the totally formal to the clearly casual.

 

BOTTOM LINE: Find out about skulls, consider their meaning, and enjoy them.

Horror and Haints for Halloween Reading

pumpkin decoration
With less than a week till Halloween, it’s the perfect time to read about ghoulies, beasties, and things that go bump in the night. Although there are religious bits here and there—Allhallowtide being the time in the liturgical year when three-day observances remember the dead, including the hallows (saints), martyrs, and faithful departed—most of us don’t think first of saints and martyrs. After pumpkins, it seems to be a time for witches, ghosts, zombies, and the undead.

witch book raymond buckland
Well, it’s time to stop thinking of witches as the Wicked Witch of the West. This is a non-fiction reference book that provides all sorts of information about witches. And lots of other interesting info as well, organized alphabetically.

 

For example, under garlic, it says, “In folklore, thought to be a deterrent to vampire attack and also to witchcraft and the evil eye.” It’s supposed to protect against plague. Roman soldiers ate it for strength and courage.  But it’s also supposed to have grown in Satan’s footprint when he left Paradise.
down there huysmans
And speaking of Satan, check out the old novel Down There (La Bas): A Study in Satanism, first published in serial form in 1891, but there is a gripping translation published in 1958.

 

vampires burial death
Interest in vampires waxes and wanes. For an effective blend of folklore and reality, see Paul Barber’s book. Among other questions that surround this book is, “What are the most efficient ways of getting rid of an unwanted body?”

 

food for dead michael bell
Michael E. Bell followed the trail of New England’s vampires. In it you can find ghostly tales, glowing corpses, rearranged bones, and more.

 

great big book horrible things
If you want reality rather than folklore, consider atrocities. Many people hear the word “atrocity” and think the Holocaust, Auschwitz, and Birkenau. But this book outlines scores of atrocities associated with war and political upheaval. Read them and weep.

 

book dead lloyd mitchinson
War atrocities are truly horrible. If you want a lighter look at things, Check out Lloyd & Mitchinson, who set out to sketch lives of the justly famous and the undeservedly obscure. Expect some humor here!
complete stories poems edgar allen poe
If reality is too painful, and folklore raises troubling questions about the unknown, there’s always fiction!  Edgar Allan Poe is Halloween reading at its best. He may be more suspense than horror, but “The Tell-tale Heart” and “Fall of the House of Usher” are enough to make anyone wakeful. And being short stories, his works come in easily manageable bites.

 

salems lot stephen king
[Photo credit: StephenKing.com]
night shift stephen king
[Photo credit: Too Much Horror Fiction]
For a contemporary novelist, think Stephen King. He writes horror and supernatural stories. His other works of suspense, science fiction, and fantasy are still good Halloween reads. (As happens so often with prolific writers, his more recent books are a bit formulaic, so go with the earlier ones.)

 

creepy skeleton woods
When it comes to Halloween reading, there’s something for everyone!