The Real Creatures of Halloween!
Why Do We Have Halloween Animals?
"When witches go riding,
and black cats are seen,
the moon laughs and whispers,
‘tis near Halloween."
We have of course shared our planet with many kinds of animals for millions of years. It's really not surprising then that many became icons, omens and magical symbols. These beliefs lasted for thousands of years and in some cases when Christianity came along, animals frequently tended to be viewed as accessories of the devil. It's these negative associations and the beliefs that our Halloween animals were associated with death and the underworld, that has led to some animals being included in decorations for the 31st October.
Did You Know?
That the colours used most at Halloween - orange and black - can be traced back to pagan times. The colour orange was used to symbolise the changing colours of the leaves and other vegetation and black marked the death of summer and a change into a new season.
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From ghoulies and ghosties
And long-leggedy beasties
And things that go bump in the night,
Good Lord, deliver us!
It's easy to imagine that the reason we have bats as decorations at Halloween is because of their association with vampires. However, our ancestors knew nothing about this movie myth and viewed bats in a much more positive light.
Bats were believed to have strong associations with magic and the cycles of life.
However, a few hundred years later and with the developing fear and superstitions associated with the dark and death, the bat developed a more ominous meaning. If, for example, a bat was observed flying around your house three times in succession, this meant someone in the household would soon die. In addition, if bats entered your home this was sure proof that your house was haunted - it was believed that the spirits of the dead would open windows and doorways to allow the bat to enter..
Did You Know?
Although images of Halloween may include a full moon, this is actually a very rare occurrence. Astronomers tell us that a full moon on October 31st only occurs between 4 or 5 time every century, this works out at approximately every 18 or 19 years.
Our last Halloween full moon was in 2001 and the next is due in the year 2020.
When black cats prowl and pumpkins gleam,
May luck be yours on Halloween.
The most famous of all Halloween animals is of course the black cat. The folklore and superstitions surrounding cats could fill numerous volumes.
In many cultures they were revered and loved in others they were feared due to the belief that they were familiars of witches. During the witch hunts it was widely believed that the devil transformed himself into a black cat in order to dance with witches. Not surprising then that black cats are part of the Halloween decorations.
A sad fact is that because there are a few misguided people who would harm black cats, many catteries refuse to re-home them during the Halloween season.
In addition, depending on where you live, black cats crossing your path may bring you bad luck. In other places though they bring you good luck. I've had few black cats crossing my path over the years and haven't, as yet, suffered any catastrophes, so I don't think there is anything to fear from these beautiful animals.
Did You Know?
The cauldron so often shown with witches at Halloween probably derived from the ancient Celtic 'Cauldron of Rebirth' or the 'Womb of Life'.
Bobbing for apples was likely past on to the Celts from the Roman belief in the goddess Pomona, where the apple was a symbol of the spirit of the goddess.
With the Celtic people, the apple represented the human soul and when the Celts withdrew apples from a cauldron full of water with the mouth, this symbolised a soul being brought through the spiritual veils back into the realm of life to be reborn.
Silk-thin silver strings woven cleverly into a lair,
An intricate entwining of divinest thread...
Like strands of magic worked upon the air,
The spider spins his enchanted web -
His home so eerily, spiralling spreads.
Author - Jonathan Platt
For many of us it doesn't need to be Halloween to make us shudder at the sight of spiders. It's not surprising that similar to today, people in the past had a fear of these eight legged wonders of nature.
In some cultures, along with bats and black cats, spiders were viewed as evil and were often thought to have been one of the animals that could be a witch's familiar. As such many superstitions have arisen about spiders. For example:
- If a person saw a spider fall into a candle flame and was consumed by the flames this was a sure sign that witches were nearby.
- It was also believed that deceased family members took the form of a spider in order to look after their living relatives.
In Rosemary Ellen Guiley's Encyclopedia of Witches, Witchcraft and Wicca she gives a number of traditions where spiders were used to bring good fortune:
- A black spider eaten between two slices of buttered bread would give the witch enhanced powers.
- Catching a spider and placing it in a silk bag that is then placed around your neck will protect you from illness.
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I talk with the moon, said the owl,
While she lingers over my tree,
I talk with the moon, said the owl,
And the night belongs to me.
Author - Beverly McLoughland
It shouldn't come as any surprise to find owls at Halloween. Going back in time, the owl was regarded by many cultures, especially the Celts, as a symbol not only of wisdom but of hidden esoteric knowledge and the spiritual aspects of life. This was attributed to the owl because of its ability to see in the dark when people could not - symbolic of the wise who can see clearly when others seem to be blind.
However, the owl was also viewed in some traditions as dark even evil - possibly due to its association with the night and all the fear and superstition that this brings. The dark and night time are associated with death and negative energies and so the owl was often viewed as a messenger of dread. Yet in other civilisations such as the Celtic, Egyptian and Hindu cultures the owl is viewed as the protector of the dead and the underworld, rather than an evil or sinister presence.
In Celtic mythology the owl is nearly always represented as a female. In the Scottish Gaelic language, the barn owl is called cauilleach-oidhche when translated means 'crone of the night'. The owl was certainly sacred to the crone aspect of the Celtic triple goddess - the crone is of course symbolic of the end of life but also wisdom.
© 2016 Helen Murphy Howell
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