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Guide to Halloween Superstitions

Updated on August 13, 2014

Halloween is a steeped with mystery, fear of the unseen, and above all, superstitions. In fact most of the mystery and fear is due to superstitions passed down from one generation to the next. Most of which are just urban legends and old wives tales designed to scare people or make sense of the natural world. But for some people, there is power in suggestions and thoughts, therefore making the fear very much a real affliction.

However, not all Halloween superstitions are clouded in gloom and doom. Some are actually omens of good luck and good things to come.

Definition

Superstition \sü-pər-ˈsti-shən\ (noun) : a belief or way of behaving that is based on fear of the unknown and faith in magic or luck; a belief that certain events or things will bring good or bad luck.

Source: Merriam-Webster

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Bats

Bats are one of the other iconic symbols of Halloween. It is said that if you see a bat flying around you or your home on Halloween that this signifies that there is ghost or spirit nearby. However, it is also thought that if a bat circles your house three times then it is an omen that someone close to you will die soon.

If a bat flies into you it supposed to be lucky, but if you see the bat during the day it is consider to mean bad luck is coming. Also, if you kill a bat it is thought to shorten your lifespan.

Black Cats

Black cats often get a bad rap on Halloween. After all, it is thought that if the black cat meows close to your door or window that it means a death in the family will occur. If you hurt a cat, whether accidentally or intentionally, seven years of bad luck will follow. This may have something to do with the belief that if you see a black cat on Halloween, then a witch is nearby.

Bonfires

Lighting a large bonfire is an old Celtic custom on Samhain and All Hallow's Eve, which coincides the same day as Halloween. After the bonfire has died down and burned out completely, some people make a circle with the ashes. Upon the ashes, they then place a pebble. The following day if any of the pebbles are moved or damaged it is considered a sign that ill fortune and death would befall the person it represents within twelve months.

Born on Halloween

It is considered a blessing to be born on Halloween. People who have Halloween birthdays are known to have good luck follow them throughout their life. It is also believed that those born on Halloween have the gift of second sight, or ESP. Although it may come in many different forms, their intuitive nature is heightened and most Halloween born can perceive unseen spirits in one way or another.


Candles

It is said that if a lit candle goes out suddenly on Halloween then it means an evil spirit is lurking close by. However, if the flame of the candle turns blue or has bluish colors in it then a good spirit is close and watching over you. If the flame of the candle suddenly burns tall, then it signifies that you will be visited by a stranger.

Since Samhain coincides with Halloween, it is thought that if you light white candles throughout your home on this night then good luck and fortune will be with you all year round. Another variance is that if you burn an orange candle at midnight and let it burn until dawn, you will have good fortune from that day forward.

Some people believe that on Halloween night, between 11pm - 1am, if you stare into the flame of a candle long enough you will get to see what lies ahead in your future. Also note that any candle you burn on Halloween should not be burned on any other day of year, otherwise it will bring bad luck to you and your household.

Also note that mirrors and candles do not mix on Halloween. (See the section on mirrors.)

Cemeteries

Some people believe that if you bury animal bones or even a picture of an animal close to your doorway that ghosts and spirits will not be able to enter you home. Another superstition is that if you lay down in a coffin, even it is just for fun, that you are inviting death upon you or someone close to you.

It is not only considered to be rude, but if you point at a grave it is thought that your finger will rot off. Some people take this concept literally while others take it symbolically, leaving it open to a variety of things could happen from arthritis, losing it in an accident, or even being blamed for something you didn't do.

It is a common belief that a person should hold their breath when passing a cemetery. By doing so, this prevents evil spirits from possessing you. It is also thought that one should turn their pockets inside out when going by a graveyard. The point to this is so that ghosts do not follow you home.

Crossroads

Crossroads are known to give all sorts of information. If you stand at a crossroads on Halloween and listening carefully you may hear what will happen to you over the next year. Of course, in Scotland it is thought that if you bring a three-legged stool to a crossroads on Halloween you will be told who you know that will die in the upcoming year. Granted, you can counter this by getting an article of clothing belonging to the person who is supposed to die and throwing it in the air at the crossroads while yelling out his or her name.

Ghost and evil spirits are thought to gather around crossroads. Some people go to crossroads on Halloween to make deals with devils. In exchange for the person's soul, the devil will grant the person any wish. It makes no sense why people would want to do this, but this is the thought.


Brown lady of Raynham Hall. Photographed by Captain Hubert C. Provand. First published in Country Life magazine, 1936
Brown lady of Raynham Hall. Photographed by Captain Hubert C. Provand. First published in Country Life magazine, 1936

Ghosts and Spirits

It is widely believed that the veil that separates our world from the next is practically non-existent on Halloween night. Another similar belief is that all souls who are sentenced to purgatory will get to roam the earth for two days starting on Halloween. In fact, in England some people do not go hunting on Halloween for fear that they will wound a ghost or spirit. Keep in mind that if you hear footstep behind you on Halloween and the day after, that you should not turn around to look. If you do, you may soon meet some sort of demise and will be walking as one of the ghosts next Halloween.

The most common superstition when it comes to ghosts is that if you see a ghost on Halloween, you should walk around it nine times to make it go away and leave you alone.

Jack o' Lanterns

Pumpkin Jack o' lanterns are a fairly new tradition that originates in the United States. They were originally used to frighten people in their homes by raising them up to peer in windows. However, the mere concept of jack o' lanterns were inspired by the Irish who carved designs, and sometimes faces, into gourds with a candle inside to light their homes at night. But with the folklore around all of the cultural holidays that coincide with the American Halloween, superstitions have been created and jack o' lanterns are no exception.

There are several superstitions when it comes to placing a lit candle inside a jack o' lantern on your porch or by your front door. Some believe it is to honor their ancestors and light their way home. Others believe that it will ward off mischievous and evil spirits, including vampires. Another superstition is that it will trap the devil to prevent it from entering the home.

Mirrors

Even though it is thought that you would be able to see a deceased loved one by looking into a mirror by candlelight, it is said that you should never stare into a mirror by candlelight alone on Halloween. You never know what you might see or unleash. In fact, many people cover up all mirrors on Halloween. There are two thoughts to this. One is that mirrors act as portals to the unknown and by covering them prevents evil spirits from entering the home. The other thought is that ghost and spirits can be trapped in mirrors so if a loved one who has died comes for a visit on Halloween, you do not want to trap them to spend an eternity in the mirror.

Owls

It is a common belief that owls are one of the few creatures that can live in the same location with ghosts. It is thought that if you see an owl nest near a house or other structure then the location is haunted with roaming ghosts and spirits.

Some people grew up with the belief that when a person is dying or has just died that owls which will swoop down over the body will eat the soul of the person. They can also predict doom and gloom along with death. It is thought that if you hear an owl you should turn your pockets inside out just as with not wanting to take ghosts home with you.

If an owl hangs around your house or you hear the hoot of an owl, it is believed that the owl is delivering a message that something bad is about to happen. If the owl makes eye contact with you, either you or someone you know will die soon.

Spiders

Spiders give most people the creeps any time of the year, but on Halloween spiders represent dead loved ones. It is thought that if a spider comes in your home on Halloween that you should not kill it because it could be one of your dead ancestors.

Trick or Treating

Although trick or treating is of American origin, other holidays, such as Samhain, which the same day as Halloween has superstitions regarding the concept of trick or treating. Ancient Celts believed that by dressing up in goulish costumes on Samhain would ward off demons and evil spirits. This allowed them to walk around undiscovered by these evil spirits, because the spirits would either be scared off or consider the person one of their own.

Soul cakes were often left out as an offering for any spirits and ghosts that stopped by on Samhain. Some wanted their ancestors to visit, others just wanted to appease spirits to leave them alone.

Other Halloween Superstitions

  • If you trap a snail on a flat dish on Halloween, the next morning you will see the letter of the person's name in which you are intended to marry.
  • Ring a bell on Halloween to keep evil spirit away.
  • If you cast a shadow with no head or cast no shadow at all, it is a belief that you will die within the year.
  • You should never travel out of town on Halloween.
  • On Halloween night, sleep with an apple under your pillow to dream of your future spouse.
  • Make a list of things you wish to accomplish or want in the next 12 months. Fold the list 3, 6, or 9 times. Using a candle flame, burn the wish list and your wishes will come true by next Halloween.
  • On Halloween, right before the sun sets, it is thought that if you walk backwards around your house, counterclockwise, three times then you will ward off any evil spirit coming to your home.
  • If you want to find and meet a witch on Halloween, you should walk backwards while wearing your clothes inside out.

© 2014 L Sarhan

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      elle9o 3 years ago

      Cool article! I was born on Halloween so I was curious to see if it would be included in this. How fascinating!