Halloween: Why Cats, Bats, Owls, Spiders, and Toads?
Animals That Go Bump in the Night
So many of our Halloween symbols are animals. Black Cats, Bats, Owls, Spiders and even Toads have all become a part of Halloween. This article will give you some insight into how this all came about and will also provide you with the real facts about each of these animals. You'll find ideas, poems, books and information that will help you learn and/or teach about these often misunderstood animals as well.
From ghoulies and ghosties
And long-leggedy beasties
And things that go bump in the night,
Good Lord, deliver us!
The Animals of Halloween
What makes Halloween spooky? All the night animals, of course. All those things that go bump in the night.
~ The stories about the bats that suck your blood and fly in your hair.
~ The spiders that spin their sticky webs.
~ The owls, once thought to be harbingers of evil, that who-hoot at you and then fly down silently and snatch up their prey.
~ And let's not forget the witches' familiar, the cat.
~ The little toad even got a bad rap in ancient times.
Our superstitions about animals and their association with Halloween has been passed down through the generations and cultures. Today it makes great, spooky fun, but we know that most of the superstitions are untrue.
Bats and Halloween
To the people of the middle ages, who feared anything that they didn't understand, just the way bats looked was enough to link them with evil and witches. When you add the fact that it was thought that witches used them in their brews and that bat blood was an ingredient in an ointment that witches rubbed on their bodies before attending a Sabbath, then bats were destined to be a symbol of Halloween.
After all, Bats fly through the night (using their radar) to avoid objects and catch their insect prey. But people of the middle ages knew little about science. Bats also gather in large numbers in dark, caves, sleeping with their wings wrapped around them just like the long black cloaks that witches wear.
In South America, the vampire bat drinks the blood of animals, including humans, but most other bats help humans by eating thousands of insects each night. The other bats eat fruit.
Because of superstition and misunderstandings, the bat has become a permanent part of Halloween.
By day the bat is cousin to the mouse.
He likes the attic of an aging house.
His fingers make a hat about his head.
His pulse beat is so slow we think him dead.
He loops in crazy figures half the night
Among the trees that face the corner light.
But when he brushes up against a screen,
We are afraid of what our eyes have seen:
For something is amiss or out of place
When mice with wings can wear a human face.
Amazing bats like to eat ---
Thousands of bugs for a tasty treat.
Flying through the moonlit air ---
Traveling here and traveling there.
Hibernating when the weather's cold,
Gathered with hundreds of friends, I'm told.
Many bats are endangered, I'm sad to say ---
There are fewer and fewer bats every day.
Be kind to bats, that's the thing to do ---
Tell your friends and your family too!
This great educational book will help you learn more about the animals and symbols of Halloween. It has a good table of contents and index and I used it as a reference for this article.
Owls - A Halloween Symbol
In ancient Greece, the owl was sacred and was a familiar of the Goddess of wisdom, Athene. But in Rome, owls were harbingers of evil.
Europeans in the middle ages feared the owls stare and its eerie call. The Screech Owl, with its witch-like scream was the most feared. In fact, at that time it was believed that witches could turn into owls that would trick the unsuspecting traveler.
Today, some cultures and superstitious people believe that the call of a screech owl signals death or a disaster.
So that is why owls have become part of our Halloween decorations and parties.
I saw an owl up in a tree,
I looked at him, he looked at me;
I couldn't tell you of his size,
For all I saw were two big eyes;
As soon as I could make a dash,
Straight home I ran, quick as a flash!
Star Noir Black Cat
Did you ever wonder why one of the favorite symbols of Halloween is a black cat?
In ancient times, cats have been a symbol of magic and power. Witches had cats as familiars, but these cats came in all colors, not just black. During the "witch trials" many innocent cats were killed along with the so called witches, because their accusers thought that they were the witches' familiar. Even after the trials, people distrusted cats because of the stealthy way they move, those sinister yellow eyes and their calm demeanor during scary times. Since most cats look dark colored at night, the black cat became linked with witches, the Druid Samhain and the night, thus becoming a part of Halloween.
There were many sayings about cats:
~ Never let a cat into the same room with a corpse. It might be a demon and turn the dead soul into a vampire.
~ A ship with a cat on board is never wrecked, for the cat acts as a counter-charm.
~ Honest as a cat when the cream is out of reach.
~ A cat that sits with its back to the fire is raising a storm.
~ If a cat rubs against you, expect good luck. It it yawns, opportunity awaits.
A Tall Tale Halloween Story
Spiders work tirelessly to spin their webs each night in hope of capturing some insect prey, but these webs and their makers have become associated with haunted houses and graveyard crypts. Also, the poisonous Black Widow spider, with it's black and red colors just looks evil and her bite can be deadly.
Most gardeners welcome spiders because they are like having a pest control service that works 24/7 for free. But none the less, Spiders and Spider webs are an integral part of our Halloween decorations.
A Spider - Author Unknown
A spider spins
A web all day.
She has no time
To come and play.
She sits and waits
On a thread nearby
Until she traps
A delicious fly.
Black Widow Spider
Toads and Frogs
Poor Unpopular Toads
Round about the caldron go;
In the poisoned entrails throw.
Toad, that under the cold stone,
Days and nights hast thirty-one
Swelter'd venom sleeping got,
Boil thou first i' the charmed pot!
from William Shakespeare's, Macbeth
Because of a toads self defense system of excreting a skin irritant, people in Europe during the time of the "witch scare" thought that they were poisonous and that witches made familiars of toads.
Today we know that toads are very helpful creatures that eat harmful insects so they are good to have in the garden. Toads skin absorbs water and this is why they can appear to swell up "magically". Toads are wonderful little creatures that can live as long as thirty-five years.
But because of their early association with witches, have become a small part of Halloween.
Launch a Study of These Halloween Symbols
Research the animals of Halloween.
- Vampire bats - Do they all drink human blood?
- Screech owls - Why do they make that sound?
- Black widow spiders - Do the females always eat their mate?
- Which species of owls hoot?
- Do black cats really cause bad luck? Why or why not.
- How do spiders help the environment?
- What do bats eat?
- Discover the life cycle of the frog.
- What is the name of the only mammal that flies and how do their wings work?
More Teaching Ideas
Have the children:
- Use the poems provided as a creative writing springboard.
- Write their own stories or poems about the animals.
- Act out or illustrate the poems or stories.
- Read stories and books about nocturnal animals.
Dax, the Cat, Reading About Stellaluna, the Bat!
© 2008 Yvonne L B