By Marly Koleno
Trick or treat! Halloween is celebrated every year by many and includes a colossal array of activities such as trick or treating, costume parties, movie marathons, and so much more. Halloween historically began with the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain. Celts would dress up in costumes and create large bonfires to ward off ghosts and pay homage to the deceased. Over time and more historical influences, Halloween has morphed into a night of fun and festivities, with many not knowing where its roots are from. Despite all the fun that comes with this time of year, Halloween is also one of the most superstitious holidays, partly to do with its history. A lot of these common superstitions and their histories go unrecognized, and some may be wondering, what even is a superstition? Superstitions are a widely believed and unjustified belief in supernatural happenings that often lead to certain consequences.
The first Halloween superstition that most know but never mention is the black cat. Black cats have been the symbol of “bad luck” for a long time. During the Dark Ages, older withdrawn women were accused of witchcraft and their pet cats were thought to be demonic and gifted to them by the devil. It’s also a mid-evil myth that Satan turned into a cat when interacting with witches. Despite the dark view of black cats in America, England, Ireland, and Scotland black cats are actually considered good luck.
Relating to the symbol of the black cat is witches. Broomsticks and cauldrons have been a common Halloween décor item for as long as we can remember. The history behind it is an English folklore. The same women in the Dark Ages accused of witchcraft were often poor and could not afford horses, so they would often walk along trails barefoot with the help of walking sticks, (or brooms). During ceremonies, they rubbed a hallucinogenic “flying” potion on their bodies and brooms, closed their eyes, and felt as if they were flying. This hallucinogenic ointment caused numbness, rapid heartbeat, and confusion. While cauldrons are often associated with witches, the Celtic stories say they were actually used by goddesses. Celts say after death all souls make their way into the crones cauldron for reincarnation. A goddess would stir the cauldron, welcoming spirits to come in or leave after they are reborn.
Many people view carving pumpkins as a fun family activity during the Halloween season. Jack-o-lanterns come from a Celtic folklore about a drunken farmer named Jack. It is said that Jack tricked the Devil and in return was turned away from both heaven and hell. Jack wandered around the darkness of the purgatory for a while before deciding to light a lantern using a lump of coal dropped from the devil. Jack used the lantern to guide his lost soul, and Celts now believe that leaving a jack-o-lantern on your porch helps guide the lost souls home.
Trick or treating is the most common activity for both children and adults during Halloween. But the question is, why do we dress up in fun or scary costumes to go to stranger’s homes to ask for candy? Trick or treating began with the Celts, just like the history of most other Halloween related activities. Celts believed that as a new year approached, the living and the dead would overlap, and demons would begin to walk the earth. To prevent this, they would dress up as demons to defend themselves. They believed that if you appeared to be a demon, they would trust you and not bother you. For some reason, this later became a fun activity for children to bring home their favorite snacks.
The Halloween season is an exhilarating time for many with all the festivities it brings. From pumpkin spice to haunted houses, there is always something to do during this beautiful autumn holiday. Many do not know the history of why they’re carving their pumpkins with family, or why they set out broomsticks and black cats for Halloween décor without thinking twice. With so many other superstitions around Halloween, it’s important to know the history behind them to understand why we have the holiday and how much it has changed. So next time a costumed child says, “trick or treat!” or you set out a lit jack-o-lantern, think about where it comes from.