- Holidays and Celebrations
Halloween Symbols- Where did they come from?
This lens explores bits of history on our favourite Halloween symbols:
Jack O' Lanterns
Make sure you answer the poll at the end of the page to let everyone know which symbol is your favourite.
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What do ghosts like for breakfast?
A short history
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The Celtic people feared October 31st because it was the eve of the festival of "Samhain" (Lord of the Dead). To please "Samhain" they held fire rites (burning people, animals and objects). The way people died showed them omens of the future, good and bad.
"Samhain" was also a joyful harvest festival. It marked the end of the old year and the beginning of a new one.
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Goblins were believed to live underground. Scholars believe that during the Stone Age, small dark skinned people lived in Northern Europe and the British Isles.
They lived in the forest, or in hiding, near forts and towns. They wore green clothing to blend into the fields and forests.
Housewives would put out dishes of food for the dwarf people at night to keep them from harming her home and family. Stories were handed down and turned into the "golbins" we know today.
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Both the Hebrew and Christian religions had devils and demons. In the Christian tradition, Satan was created good but chose to become evil. He was cast out of heaven and became the source of all evil.
In the Middle Ages, the Devil inherited a suave appearance. He became an evil looking man with horns, a forked tail and cloven hooves.
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The black cat is one of the most popular Halloween symbols (along with the witch and the Jack O' Lanterns).
Long before Halloween, cats were thought to have magical powers. They were tamed in ancient Egypt to keep grain storehouses free of rats and mice
.The Egyptians worshiped a cat-headed goddess named "Pasht".
Phoenicians carried cats with them on their ships. They traded cats for precious tin in Western Europe.
For Druids, cats were human beings who were changed into animals by evil powers. When a cat was found guilty of being a witch's familiar was killed with the witch.
In Ancient Rome, owls were considered the ;harbinger of evil'. On the other hand, in Greece they were considered sacred animals.The owl was a familiar of Athens and the Greek goddess of wisdom.
The screech owl in particular was related to witches. Even today some people believe that the sound of screech owls means the coming of death or disaster.
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Early pictures of witches show them worshiping a horned figure with the wings of a bat. Bat blood was used by witches as ointment rubbed on their bodies before attending Sabbath. People said that when bats slept (upside down) their wings looked like a witch's cloak.
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The Scotch, the Irish and the English feared ghosts. Halloween was the night when ghosts would return to their former homes.
In Gaul and Britain, people lit huge fires above the hilltops to guide kindly ghosts on their journey home and to frighten evil ones away. To them, ghosts could be good or bad.
Children born on Halloween were said to be able to see and talk to ghosts.
Halloween became the night for divining the future.
Jack O' Lantern
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In the 1900s, lantern men were referred to as Jack O' Lanterns. Lantern men were pale eerie lights that appeared over bogs and marshes and bobbed like a lantern in someone's hand.
Ghostly lights hovering over graves dug in marshy places were called "Corpse Candles".
Fishermen in Kent use to see them above treacherous swampland on the coast. They believed them to be signals from souls lost at sea. The 'Will-O'-the Wisp" would lead a person to a watery death if followed.
Scientist call these mysterious lights 'ignis fatuus' (foolish fire). The light comes from the phosphorescence that gives the firefly its flashing light. Another explanation is that spontaneous combustion of methane gas in the bogs and marshes. The same gas is found in the 'firedamp' that causes mine explosions.
Scottish children look for the largest turnips from the harvest at Halloween, hollowed them out and carved faces on them. They call them bogies and carry them to scare away witches.