The bad reputation dates back to the Dark Ages when witch hunts were a thing. Usually it was older single women who were accused, and their pet cats were thought to be their ‘familiars,’ or demonic animals that had been given to them by the devil.
Medieval folklore also pegged bats as witches’ familiars, and seeing a bat on Halloween was a very bad sign. If a bat was spotted flying around your house 3 times, it meant someone living there would soon die.
Ancient folklore says that if a spider falls into a candle-lit lamp and is consumed by the flame, witches are around.
The stereotypical description of an old lady with a pointy black hat and warts on her nose stirring a magical cauldron stems from a pagan goddess known as ‘the crone.’ She was honored during Samhain and was also called ‘the old one’ and ‘Earth Mother’ and she symbolized wisdom, change and the turning of seasons.
The pagan Celts believed that after death your soul went into the crone’s cauldron, and it symbolized the Earth mother’s womb. The souls awaited reincarnation there, and the goddess’ stirring allowed for new souls to enter and old souls to be reborn.
It was believed that during Samhain (a Gaelic festival marking the end of the harvest season) the veil between our world and the ghost world was super-thin and the dead could mingle with us. Visiting ghosts could disguise themselves however they wanted and knock on your door asking for money or food. If you turned them away, you risked being cursed.
Most people believe that the scarecrow was invented to keep birds away from the field’s crops, but some scholars believe that the idea originated in ancient times when a man was sacrificed to appease the gods and insure a great harvest. The man was believed to have been hung up over the fields. Yikes.
Orange and Black
The traditional Halloween colors stem from the pagan celebration of autumn and the harvest. Orange symbolizes the colors of the crops and changing leaves, while black marks the ‘death’ of summer.
Celtic folklore tells the tale of a drunker farmer named Jack who tricked the devil, resulting in him being turned away from both the gates of heaven and hell. He wandered around the darkness of purgatory, and made a lantern from a turnip and a burning coal that the devil gave him. With the lantern he guided his lost soul. Celts believed placing Jack O’Lanterns outside would help guide the other lost spirits home.
Samhain was around the same time of the Roman festival honoring Pamona, the goddess of fruit trees. She was often symbolized by an apple, so the fruit became synonymous with the Samhain harvest celebration.
Bobbing for apples
In ancient times the apple was seen as a sacred fruit that could predict the future. Bobbing for apples was a game used for fortune-telling on Halloween night. The first person to grab an apple without using their hands would be the first to marry. If you caught an apple on the first time you would experience true love; if it took a few times you’d be fickle in your love life.
Many have the idea that Halloween is a night of trickery and pranks. The ancient Celts celebrated Samhain with bonfires and jokes, but by the 20s and 30s, the celebrations got more rowdy. Acts of vandalism, possibly due to the tension of the Great Depression, became more and more common. Adults began to hand out candy to curb the trouble, reigniting the forgotten tradition of trick-or-treating. This successfully replaced most of the mischief, so now October 30th is the official night to wreak havoc.
The women that were accused of witchcraft during medieval times were often poor and could not buy horses so they walked through the woods on foot with their walking sticks. Sometimes those sticks were brooms. English folklore says that during night-time ceremonies witches rubbed a potion on their bodies that made them feel as if they were flying by causing numbness, rapid heartbeat, hallucinations and confusion.