Halloween Symbols

From ghoulies and ghostiesAnd long-leggedy beastiesAnd things that go bump in the night,Good Lord, deliver us!

– Traditional Scottish Prayer

Most Halloween symbols have their origins in the occult or the dark arts. Throughout history, people have sought ways of dealing with their fears, particularly evil spirits and spooky or scary things. Mythical monsters play a particularly important role on All Hallow”s Eve!

Figures of Halloween

The characters who roam the streets on October 31st are caricatures of monsters that were once considered very realand very frightening:

  • Witches, with their warty noses, green skin, scraggly hair, black cats, broomsticks and pointy hats are the quintessential symbol of Halloween. Throughout history, witches were feared because of their ability to cast evil spells, particularly on Halloween night. The witch became a symbol of Halloween in the 19th century when witches were thought to fly to their most important meeting of the year on their broomsticks. Historians believe the women believed to be witches may have been using their brooms to vault over large puddles, as witches have a notorious aversion to water.
  • Ghosts are commonly accepted to be the souls of the dead. Many Halloween symbols are associated with death on this festival of the dead.
  • Goblins are ugly, scary creatures whose job was to wreak mischief and evil on unsuspecting humans.
  • Werewolves are scary monsters thought to be humans who turned into wolves under a full moon.
  • Vampires are corpses who rose from their coffins at night to energize themselves by drinking the blood of living people while they were asleep.
  • Zombiesare reanimated corpses, resurrected with spells and often associated with Witch Doctors and Voodoo.

Halloween Creatures

Some animals figure quite prominently in the Halloween scene:

  • Black cats are well known as witches” “familiars” who accompany them on their evil ride across the face of the moon. Many thought black cats held special powers.
  • Owls supposedly eat the souls of the dying by swooping to earth and consuming them. This nocturnal animal with its glassy stare frightened and fascinated the ancients who thought it was an omen of death.
  • Spiders and their webs inhabit haunted houses and symbolize the darkness.
  • Bats are the only mammals that feed on blood, so they”ve naturally been linked with witches and vampires. Since they swoop out of caves only at night, it”s easy to see why they were associated with darkness and the occult.

Halloween Harvest Symbols

Many people would like to separate this fall celebration from the black arts and substitute harvest symbols for witches, ghosts and goblins. In fact, some of Halloween”s symbols have long been associated with the fall harvest:

  • Scarecrows are used to keep crows away from crops, but the crucified man may have symbolized another connection to the occult.
  • Pumpkins and other vegetables are carved up into Jack-o”-Lanterns. Pumpkins became popular symbols of Halloween in the New World because of their size and because they”re easy to carve. They also became symbols of plenty among those who celebrated the harvest.
  • Apples are harvested in the fall and hot apple cider is a popular drink when the weather gets nippy. Apples are also used in a popular Halloween confection: the candy or toffee apple.
  • Candy corn was invented in the 1880s. It is shaped to look like the entire kernel, and not just the yellow portion that protrudes from the ear. A popular variation is the chocolate candy corn eaten at Thanksgiving.

Traditions of Halloween

Some symbols and artifacts of the Halloween celebrations have found their way into important traditions:

  • Bobbing for apples is Halloween”s most popular game. Participants must use only their teeth to retrieve an apple floating in a large tub of water. Traditionally, the game was played by unmarried men and women and the winner would be the next one to marry. The apple was thought to be a symbol of fertility.
  • Trick or Treating is the modern practice of gathering candy by going door to door and threatening to play a trick if the resident is unwilling to supply a treat. Few kids play tricks any more, but the practice originated when people thought that dressing up as ghosts might trick the real ghosts into believing they were among peers. In many countries, children collect change for UNICEF instead of begging for candy.
  • Carving a pumpkin into a Jack-o”-Lantern is a popular Halloween tradition brought to America by the Irish. Jack was believed to be a nasty creature, who might steal the light provided and hopefully leave people alone on Halloween night.
  • Decorating in orange and black is traditional on Halloween. Both of these colors are associated with the occult, with black being a symbol of shrouds and death, and orange as the traditional color of ceremonial beeswax candles.

Did you know . . . . . . that the Irish used to carve turnips and place candles inside? Some still do!

More Halloween Symbols

Items that symbolize death and the afterlife are fair game for your Halloween party dcor. These include:

  • gravestones
  • skulls and bones
  • masks that scare away evil spirits
  • a haunted house
  • a ghostly moon
  • skeletons
  • eyeballs
  • blood.

If you prefer to decorate with the harvest in mind, try hay bales, cornucopias, arrangements of fruits or vegetables or pitchforks, rakes and hoes.