Halloween is a superstitious time of year. A black cat crossing your path…carving a Jack-o-lantern…knocking on wood… A great many traditions, myths, and legends are involved in the Halloween holiday. Many of them come from the Celtic roots of Halloween; others are more recent. Let’s take a look at some of them, and learn a bit about where they come from and what they mean.
These winged mammals are the inspiration behind lots of Halloween superstitions. One superstition involves a bat getting into the house – it’s said to be a sign that a ghost lives in the home and let the bat in. Also, seeing a bat on Halloween night is considered a bad omen. And if the bat flew around your house three times, the superstition is that it’s a death omen.
Like bats, black cats are considered omens for superstitious folks. Black cats’ association with witches and the demonic realm goes back to the Dark Ages, when black cats were considered witches’ “familiars.” Tradition says that a black cat crossing your path is bad luck, but in today’s modern world, such an event is considered good luck in some parts of the world.
The lighting of candles is traditional around this time of year. For one thing, the days are getting shorter; for another, people used to set large bonfires on “Hallow’s Eve.” So superstitions involving candles have sprung up over the centuries. One myth says that if a candle flame that suddenly turns blue, it means a ghost is close by. A candle flame suddenly going out is considered a sign of a nearby ghost or spirit as well.
All kinds of superstitions involve doing something to ward off evil spirits or mischievous pranks. Knocking on wood, for instance, is said to bring good luck. Pulling out your pockets when passing a graveyard is supposed to prevent an accidental “bringing home” of a ghost in your pockets. Carry bread with you – offering it to an angry spirit may appease it, the legend goes.
To keep evil spirits from invading your home, superstition says to walk around your home backward in a counter-clockwise direction before sunset. And finally, if you are walking at night and hear someone walking behind you, legend says don’t turn around – you may be hearing the footsteps of the dead, and if you turn around to look, you’ll soon join them. And while you’re at it, don’t look at your shadow in the moonlight on Halloween – superstition says this will hasten your death.
Macabre as some of these superstitions are, they are interesting and often rooted in history. They can therefore be a springboard for learning, or even making up your own family superstitions for Halloween.