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Halloween History - Bats and Vampires

Updated on September 19, 2014

Halloween Lore - Bats

Bats have long been associated with a spooky Halloween, but the connection is far less ominous than some would suspect.

In Halloween's ancient origins people would gather together around giant Samhain bonfires to ward off evil spirits. Attracted to the warmth and bright light of these fires were many small flying insects - natural food for hungry bats. People saw the bats flickering in and out of the firelight during the festivals and they became a feature of Halloween lore.

Since bats and owls are nocturnal, both of these animals became known as omens of bad luck or evil and associated with All Hallow's Eve. At one time it was believed that owls would swoop down on Halloween night and eat the souls of the dying, and people could be protected from this by pulling out their pockets and leaving them hanging out. Bats were thought to indicate the presence of spirits or ghosts. One superstition held that if a bat flew around a house three times on Halloween, death would be coming soon.

However, bats were not always associated with negative thoughts. Bats were sometimes seen as protectors, warding off evil. Perhaps this is true today as well, given the fewer mosquitoes that exist thanks to backyard bats.

Background Sources:

Pictures from Pinterest

Bat Facts - Did You Know .....

  • Bats are the only mammals that can fly.
  • They live much of their lives hanging upside down.
  • Most species are nocturnal, which means they are only active at night, dusk and dawn, spending their days in dark caves.
  • There are more than 1,000 bat species in the world. About a fourth of all mammals species!
  • They use echo-location to find their prey. With echo-location the bat can determine where the prey is, how big it is, and in what direction it is moving, just as a submarine can send sonar pings out to bounce back and let the commander know what is around them.
  • Bats live in caves, bridges, buildings, bat houses, and even trees.
  • What do bats eat? insects, pollen, fruit, animals/fish and blood
  • The world's smallest mammal is the bumblebee bat of Thailand, which weighs about as much as a dime. (Teeny tiny bat!)
  • Are Vampire bats vicious animals? Not really. Vampire bats adopt orphans, and are one of the few mammals known to risk their own lives to share food with less fortunate roost-mates.
  • Only the vampire bat species feed on blood for sustenance. The vampire bat must first prick the animal with its two large front teeth, often in the foot or leg of a sleeping mammal or bird. An anticoagulant in the vampire bat's saliva causes the blood to flow without clotting. The bat sips only two tablespoons of blood while the host animal continues to sleep.
  • Bats are generally very clean animals and groom themselves often to keep their fur clean.
  • Several highly fatal diseases have been linked to bats. Rabies is perhaps the most well known disease. Along with animals such as dogs, foxes, raccoons, and skunks, bats are one of the primary animals that transmit rabies through bites or exposure to their saliva.
  • Histoplasmosis is another disease associated with bats. Its symptoms vary greatly, but the disease primarily affects the lungs after humans have breathed bat guano (fertilizer) from caves.

Bats and Witches

Bats have long been associated with witches communing with spirits. Witches were thought to be able to change into bats, spiders, and black cats. When the accused were burned at the stake, the bats flying around to eat the insects were thought to be the transformed shape of the dead witches.

Bats were part of the "special sauce" concocted with the famous incantation by Shakespeare's Three Witches in Macbeth, written in 1605.

Double, double toil and trouble;

Fire burn and cauldron bubble.

Fillet of a fenny snake,

In the cauldron boil and bake;

Eye of newt, and toe of frog,

Wool of bat, and tongue of dog,

Adder’s fork, and blind-worm’s sting,

Lizard’s leg, and howlet’s wing,

For a charm of powerful trouble,

Like a hell-broth boil and bubble.

Today we see the three witches' brew as a hocus-pocus spell, often imitated to spoof witches in comedies and cartoons, hardly to be taken seriously. In Shakespeare's day, though, the effect would have been rather different. He could have expected a significant proportion of the audience to have taken the magic potion storyline literally.

Early superstitions pointed fingers at bats as being of the devil with their pointy ears and hideous faces, rather than harmless creatures looking for food around a bonfire.

Music - Flappy Bat

Traditionally, bats have been given a bum rap. Superstitious people would see them as frightening, ugly creatures swirling around the bonfire and assume they were evil, when all the creatures were doing was having a midnight snack on moths and mosquitoes,

Shut your eyes and listen to the music of Kristen Lawrence, written so that you can visualize the bat as it swirls around the bonfire, its two wings flapping in a duet of perfect harmony. The lyrics tell the story.

Flappy Bat

Flappy bat, flapping at Halloween bonfires great,

Have you caught any moth fluttering to its fate?

Witches’ stakes – grave mistakes – summon your swooping grace.

Might your shape be escape, masked by a devil’s face?

Pointy wings, echoings, guide your nocturnal flight

Past the hills, sweeping chills with your form by moonlight.

- words and music by Kristen Lawrence (with permission)

Vampire Bat
Vampire Bat

Bats and Vampires

The link between the bat and Halloween became strengthened with the discovery of the vampire bat in the 17th century. Tales of bats that drank blood had circulated throughout Europe for centuries before, but it wasn't till the Spanish exploration of Central and South America that there was physical proof. It was a natural association between a dark superstition of vampires and a creature that laps the life blood of it's prey in the dark of night.

Bats were associated with the mysterious and the supernatural long before Stoker's novel appeared in print. As creatures of the night, bats fit in well with the motifs of Gothic fiction. Most of the folklore for the vampire originates almost exclusively from early 18th-century Southeastern Europe, A bat-like vampire appears, for example, as an illustration in the novel "Varney The Vampire," which appeared fifty years before "Dracula."

But it is Bram Stoker's novel that cemented the connection between bats and the vampires of folklore. While he was working on his novel in the 1890s, Stoker came across a clipping in a New York newspaper concerning vampire bats which directly influenced the following comment by Quincey Morris, a character in the novel "Dracula": "I have not seen anything pulled down so quick since I was on the Pampas and had a mare ... One of those big bats that they call 'vampires' had got at her during the night and ... there wasn't enough blood in her to let her stand up." Stoker obviously did not know (or chose to ignore) the fact that the vampire bat is quite small and only takes a small amount of the animal's blood.

Stoker's major contribution to the folklore association of vampires with bats was his introduction of the idea that a vampire could shape-shift into the form of a bat (as well as a wolf and mist). For example, in his pursuit and seduction of Lucy, Count Dracula frequently disguises himself in the form of a large bat which flaps at her window. In Stoker's novel such a "vampire bat" is, of course, quite capable of attacking and draining humans. Instead of giving rabies from the bite, Dracula "infects" and turns his prey into another vampire.

Background Sources:

Will Garlic Repel a Vampire?

We have all seen bulbs of garlic worn in movies to ward off the unwanted attentions of a vampire. Does it work? One theory is that vampirism can be seen as compared to that other bloodsucker bane - the mosquito. Mosquitoes have traditionally been repelled by garlic, a natural insect repellent known in folk medicine.

Mosquitoes suck blood, and in doing so, spread disease. Some of the symptoms of malaria - exhaustion, fever, anemia - are reminiscent of the reputed effects of being bitten by a vampire without being totally drained or turned.

Garlic has been used by humans for thousands of years and was used in Ancient Egypt for both culinary purposes and its therapeutic benefits. Ancient Greek physician Hippocrates (circa. 460-370 BC), known today as "the father of Western medicine," prescribed garlic for a wide range of conditions and illnesses. Hippocrates promoted the use of garlic for treating respiratory problems, parasites, poor digestion and fatigue.

The original Olympic athletes in Ancient Greece were given garlic - possibly the earliest example of "performance enhancing" agents used in sports. Garlic is widely used for several conditions linked to the blood system and heart, including atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries), high cholesterol, heart attack, coronary heart disease, and hypertension.

One of the oldest uses of garlic, however, is as an antibiotic. Garlic kills a range of microbes, including viruses, bacteria, fungi, and parasites, and can be effective against such conditions as athlete's foot, thrush (a fungal infection of the mouth), viral diarrhea, and the ulcer-causing bacteria Helicobacter pylori. Only fresh garlic or supplements that mimic it have these effects.

It is interesting to see how folklore traditions take something like garlic, which has been used to treat bites, fatigue and blood problems, and suggest it is able to repel vampires.

Information Sources:

Recipes to Ward Off Vampires

The following are some killer garlic recipes for your next Halloween Party ... or to protect you from Dracula and other Children of the Night. Click to link to the recipe.

Two Killer Vampire Waltzes - Vampire Empire and Blood Waltz

Kristen Lawrence has used her research on the history of Halloween to write songs that are both fun and touch on the traditions and folklore of this popular holiday. Her song, "Vampire Empire" has whimsical lyrics that touch on the superstitions of vampires.

The second song, "Blood Waltz," brings to mind the vampire dance scene in the movie Van Helsing, and has been used to accompany the intricate maneuvers of costumed contra dancers at Halloween Translyvanian Balls.

Vampire Empire

Succulent biting and sucking to our desire

Forever mark the Vampire Empire.

Come have a taste of our vicious kisses

Then drink, awake to the pulsing blood where bliss is.

Undead, un-reflected, seeking a neck to bite,

We shun the sun and hark the dark night.

Don’t cross us or pointed words from our lips

Will stab your gloat – and throat – ending in dripping sips.

Garlic or our lick? Will sticky blood be your pick?

Drains by Romanian fangs are quick.

Sharpen your smile and, while midnight dancing with us,

Chase lushly the blush of Eternal Spring.

- words and music by Kristen Lawrence (with permission)

History-Based Halloween Music

The elegant and whimsical music of Kristen Lawrence is based on the history and traditions of Halloween: Spiders, Ghosts, Skeletons, Cats, Bats, Witches, Vampires, Trick or Treating, Haunted Houses and other familiar characters all have a Halloween carols written about them. As Kristen stated, "If Christmas has beautiful carols, why doesn't Halloween?" And so she created them.

Keyboard Magazine states: "If the Halloween Town of Tim Burton's Nightmare Before Christmas had a resident keyboardist, it would be Kristen Lawrence."

You may purchase her music on CD Baby, iTunes, Amazon, and other stores, and listen to it on YouTube.

Arachnitect - From the Halloween Carols
Arachnitect - From the Halloween Carols

Old and new classics with harpsichord, guitar, strings, and organ to paint pictures in your mind of spiders spinning their webs, vampires waltzing, and the American classic, "Ghost of John."

Edgar Allan Poe's "The Raven"
Edgar Allan Poe's "The Raven"

MP3 download or CD album

Gothic musical setting with pipe organ and strings of Poe's famous poem, "The Raven," written, sung and performed by Kristen Lawrence. Also includes three versions of "Ghost of John."

A Broom With A View - From The Halloween Carols
A Broom With A View - From The Halloween Carols


"Mostly Ghostly" - Vocal and Instrumental Versions

"A Broom With A View" - Vocal and Instrumental Versions

"Cats In The Catecombs" - Vocal and Instrumental Versions

"Vampire Empire" - Vocal and Instrumental Versions

"Souling Songs" - All Hallows and Samhain Versions

"Sleeping Dust - Death Lullaby" - Vocal

"Dark Glass" - Vocal


Popular Vampires

There is something thrilling (and slightly romantic) about vampires nibbling on your neck. Here are some popular vampire books and movies.

This Halloween, curl up with a good book, watch a movie, or take your Children of the Night out for some chocolate to sink their teeth into.

Whether your vampires are the bad guys or sparkly heroes, have fun with them this Halloween.


The Godfather of Vampire books. Dracula shape-shifted into a bat.


Teens fueled a book and movie craze with this series. Go, Team Edward! He drove them batty with his sparkly skin.

Van Helsing [Blu-ray]
Van Helsing [Blu-ray]

Vampire Hunter Van Helsing fights vampires in this cult classic.


Vampire Costumes - For the Children of the Night

Rubie's Transylvanian Vampire Costume-Large
Rubie's Transylvanian Vampire Costume-Large

The Count will feel at home with this elegant cape. Look into my eyes ......!

Rubie's Gothic Vampiress Costume, Small
Rubie's Gothic Vampiress Costume, Small

"Ankle biter" takes on a new meaning with this child's costume.

Little Vampire Pacifier
Little Vampire Pacifier

Pacify your Children of the Night.


Books & Video

Halloween Other Festivals: Death And Life
Halloween Other Festivals: Death And Life

Thirteen folklore and culture scholars examine the evolution of Halloween from its Celtic origins through its adaptation into modern culture.

Halloween: An American Holiday, an American History
Halloween: An American Holiday, an American History

Traditions that shaped the American Halloween experience.

Halloween Nation: Behind the Scenes of America's Fright Night
Halloween Nation: Behind the Scenes of America's Fright Night

I was invited to contribute on the Music of Halloween. Check it out!

The Haunted History of Halloween (History Channel) (A&E DVD Archives)
The Haunted History of Halloween (History Channel) (A&E DVD Archives)

History and traditions behind the popular holiday.


Guestbook Comments

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    • WiccanSage profile image

      Mackenzie Sage Wright 

      4 years ago

      It's good to meet you. I have enjoyed Broom with a View for a few years now and even recommend it for some of my Samhain hubs. This was a great read about bats, voted up.

    • Yvette Munro profile image

      Yvette Munro 

      4 years ago

      Loved this hub, some interesting facts here.


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