Halloween is the second favorite holiday of millennials, according to The Harris Poll, and the folklore surrounding the modern-day spooktacular celebration of costumes and candy just might make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. Creepy things to know about the history of Halloween include a celebration of communicating with the dead, witches turning into cats, wearing masks made from dead animals, and more. According to Live Science, the day we now celebrate as Halloween has its roots in pagan customs dating back more than 2,000 years.
"Halloween marked the Celtic New Year and was originally called Samhain, which translates to 'summer's end' in Gaelic," Live Science reported. Because pagans didn't have the technology to document their traditions on social media, facts about the fall festival are sparse, but many stories have been passed down by word of mouth and live on in folklore.
"There was a belief that it was a day when spirits of the dead would cross over into the other world," folklorist John Santino told Live Science, adding that Halloween gave people a safe way to play with the concept of death, engage in supernatural activities, and dress up in ways that were not socially acceptable the rest of the year.
Halloween is a very different holiday in 2017, but its ancient roots still inform the way we celebrate. The creepy things to know about the history some of your favorite Halloween traditions might give new meaning to your All Hallow's Eve celebration.
Check out the entire 'What's Up, Boo?' series and other videos on Facebook and the Bustle app across Apple TV, Roku, and Amazon Fire TV.
1. Supernatural Energy Informs Fortune Tellers
In Celtic traditions, Halloween, or Samhain as it was called, was a day when the line between the living and the dead was blurred, according to History.com. On this day each year, Celtic priests known as Druids were able to communicate with the spirit world and bring back fortunes for the coming year.
"For a people entirely dependent on the volatile natural world, these prophecies were an important source of comfort and direction during the long, dark winter," History.com reported. "To commemorate the event, Druids built huge sacred bonfires, where the people gathered to burn crops and animals as sacrifices to the Celtic deities. During the celebration, the Celts wore costumes, typically consisting of animal heads and skins, and attempted to tell each other’s fortunes."
2. Jack-o-Lanterns Ward Off Evil Spirits
If you stop and think about it, craving a face on a gourd, putting a candle in it, and setting it out on your porch is pretty weird. However, it's something most people have always done without questioning why it's part of celebrating Halloween. The story behind the Jack-o-Lantern is actually pretty creepy.
Mental Floss reported that the tradition of carving Jack-o-Lanterns is based in Ireland, though it began with turnips instead of pumpkins. Legend has it that a man named Stingy Jack trapped the devil, and said he would only let him go if the devil promised Jack he would never go to hell. The devil agreed, but Jack failed to consider that not going to hell didn't mean he would go to heaven either.
Jack ended up in what is known as purgatory in some religious traditions, and he was condemned to roam the earth as a ghost for all of eternity. "His old friend, the devil, gifted Jack a lump of burning coal, which Jack carried around in a carved-out turnip to light his way," Mental Floss noted. "Locals began carving frightening faces into their own gourds to scare off evil spirits such as Jack of the Lantern."
3. Bats Bring Ghosts
OK, I am not a fan of bats, and have actually dealt with trying to get one out of the house on more than one occasion. What I didn't know, according to Live Science, is that Medieval folklore suggests that bats might have been letting spirits into my house. Um, no thank you!
"One myth was that if a bat was spotted flying around one's house three times, it meant that someone in that house would soon die," Live Science reported. "Another myth was that if a bat flew into your house on Halloween, it was a sign that your house was haunted because ghosts had let the bat in."
4. Costumes Help People Blend In With Spirits
Multiple sources cite that the origin of the Halloween costume actually has a practical purpose — to blend in with spirits. During Samhain, Celtic people believed there was a heightened ability to communicate with the spirit world, and not everyone thought that was a good idea, so they tried to blend in with them instead.
"To fake out the ghosts, people would don disguises so they would be mistaken for spirits themselves and [be] left alone," Mental Floss reported.
5. Witches Transform Into Black Cats
Black cats have become so synonymous with Halloween that, in order to protect the felines, most animal shelters won't allow adoptions of black cats on Halloween, according to The Spruce. The myth that relates black cats to witches goes back to the Middle Ages — despite this legend being totally false, many people still fear black cats, and they tend to be the most overlooked pets in animal shelters.
Once the most worshipped creatures in the animal kingdom thanks to the Egyptians, the popularity of cats began to decline in the Middle Ages, according to Today I Found Out, because people started to associate them with witches.
As a massive and irrational fear of witchcraft washed over Europe at a feverish pace, stray cats that were often tended to by old women who were feared to be witches. Single, elderly women were accused not only of witchcraft, but also of being able to actually transform themselves into black cats. Side note: I have a black cat, and I have never once used him to transform myself into a black cat — as far as you know ...
6. Spiders Symbolize Spirits
I'm pretty scared of spiders. And by "pretty scared" I mean terrified. When I saw a giant wolf spider scurrying across the living room a few months ago it took every ounce of self control not to scream and wake up my roommate. According to Live Science, spiders can have two meanings on Halloween — one comforting and one scary.
"One superstition held that if a spider falls into a candle-lit lamp and is consumed by the flame, witches are nearby," Live Science reported. "And, if you spot a spider on Halloween, goes another superstition, it means that the spirit of a deceased loved one is watching over you."
7. Witches Bring Wisdom
Historically, in the United States, being a witch has not been considered a good thing. Salem Witch Trials, anyone? However, in Celtic times witches were an important part of Samhain. Witches stem from a pagan goddess known as "the crone," according to Live Science. At some point old women, especially those who didn't marry, began to be feared and the term "witch" took on a much more sinister connotation.
"The crone was also known as 'the old one' and the 'Earth mother,' who symbolized wisdom, change, and the turning of the seasons," Live Science noted. "Today, the kind, all-knowing old crone has morphed into the menacing, cackling witch."
8. Halloween = Husband Hunting
In less-than progressive times, marrying women off was a top priority, and women were expected to help things along by participating in some pretty strange traditions on Halloween to increase their chances of snagging themselves a husband.
"In Scotland, fortune-tellers recommended that an eligible young woman name a hazelnut for each of her suitors and then toss the nuts into the fireplace," History.com noted. "The nut that burned to ashes rather than popping or exploding, the story went, represented the girl’s future husband."
Another story suggests that eating a sugary bedtime snack made from nuts would increase a woman's chances of dreaming about her future husband. Other tales have women throwing apple peels over their shoulders in the hopes that the peels will land in a way that forms the initials of their future mates.
Still other women "tried to learn about their futures by peering at egg yolks floating in a bowl of water; and stood in front of mirrors in darkened rooms, holding candles and looking over their shoulders for their husbands’ faces," according to History.com.
Let's be honest, using spells to conjure up a husband seems way more creepy than hanging out with black cats. If none of these things worked I suppose women who could not manifest a Halloween husband — before they became old maids in their late 20s — would spend the rest of their days surrounded by black cats and being accused of witchcraft because their husband-hunting spells didn't work. Can I interest anyone in the definition of irony?