It’s that time of year again! Pumpkins are carved and guarding front porches, ghosts and tombstones decorate yards, costumes are being finished… all in anticipation of the last day of October: Halloween. Most of us love the holiday, some ignore it and a few fear it. It has received a lot of bad press over the years. It has been misrepresented and even downright lied about because the ones who fear it want the rest of us to do the same. There is nothing to fear about Halloween but some myths just won’t die. Here are seven zombie lies about Halloween.
#7 – Myth: There is a five-level Haunted House so scary that someone died of a heart attack. Or disappeared. Or went mad.
Fact: There are lots of haunted houses, farms, schools, asylums, corn mazes, etc. at Halloween. Some are small, made by individuals in their own homes. Some, like Pennhurst Asylum in Pennsylvania, are professionally done with many costumed actors and special effects. These are the top 13 chosen by Hauntworld. com for this year. None of which has ever killed, maddened or kidnapped anyone. The myth has details that make it seem truthy (as Stephen Colbert would say): an exact admission price of $25 (with $5 returned after each level), five levels in the house, usually said to be in the midwest, disappearances between levels four and five and one victim whose hair turned white. Makes for a great story but that’s all it is.
#6 – Myth: A psychic has foreseen a terrible murder on a college campus on Halloween.
Fact: This one goes back many decades. The first time it was heard the psychic was Jeanne Dixon who was said to have revealed her vision on a famous talk show. Geraldo Rivera is most commonly cited but everyone from Oprah to Letterman has been the chat host mentioned. In the prediction, a specific campus is never named, just vague clues about it are given. The murderer is said to be a crazed student, teacher or escaped asylum inmate who uses an axe, machete or large knife. Often, a costume is worn by the killer, lately that has become a Scream mask. The number of dead students hovers at around 11, give or take, and they have been “butchered.” As an added level of scary, a frat or dorm that ignored the psychic is brought into the tale; they supposedly ignored the warning and were, indeed, massacred. No doubt this legend will continue to pop up every Halloween but, to date, none of it is true.
#5 – Myth: Black cats are witches’ familiars/unlucky/in danger.
Fact: Black cats are no more unlucky or lucky than any other color of cats. They are thought to be the most widely chosen familiar for witches, who were often accused of being able to turn into cats. Old women who lived alone would often have several cats for company (you think the crazy cat lady is a new thing?) and, since they were usually thought to be witches anyway, the cat/witch duo was forever cemented in the collective psyche. Cats are nocturnal and, before our modern well-lit age, night was a mysterious and terrifying time. Any creature that went out into it was suspect, including owls and bats, two other animals we see a lot of at Halloween. The fear of the dark was transferred to these creatures and killing them was viewed as a triumph over evil. Many places made entertainment of killing cats by the hundreds, often by fire. Horrible! It turned out that cutting the cat population led to a boom in the rat population which, in turn, allowed the Black Death to flourish. Lesson: don’t kill cats, black or otherwise. Which reminds me… no, “satanists” don’t sacrifice black cats at Halloween. But it’s still a good idea to keep kitty inside.
#4 – Myth: Halloween is a uniquely American holiday.
Fact: Halloween began as a Celtic festival called Samhain. As the end of summer and the final harvest it became a time to honor the dead. The fruits of this harvest — apples, particularly — are associated with death and the afterlife. When Christianity came along, the festival was superimposed with their symbolism. November 1 became All Saints Day, or All Hallows, and the night before, All Hallows Eve. Instead of celebrating the harvest, the Saints of the Church were honored by lighting candles and bonfires. Halloween wasn’t celebrated in America until Irish immigrants came over in the 19th century. The jack o’ lantern, which was once a carved turnip, became a carved pumpkin, which was much more prevalent here. The custom of trick or treating is also Irish in origin. Children would go from house to house begging for Soul Cakes (a sort of oatmeal cookie) and would say prayers for the household’s ancestors in exchange. They did not — as Pat Robertson claimed — kill a sheep if they didn’t get a cake. Ancient Celtic villages were very close-knit and dependent upon one another and would never, ever needlessly slay livestock.
#3 – Myth: Samhain got its name from the Celtic “Lord of Death,” Samana.
Fact: There was no such deity for the British Celts. While they did have deities that were associated with death — like the Morrigan — they were all goddesses. The name Samana is similar to names found in Eastern European tribal myth such as the Aryan God, Sammana. This name has several variants: Samuel, Samanik, Saman, Samana and the Lithuanian Zimiennik. As is the usual case with deities, one probably spawned the others as tribes spread and diversified.
#2 – Myth: Sickos poison or otherwise tamper with Halloween treats.
Fact: This urban legend has been around for decades and been debunked many times. Mostly, this goes back to one incident in 1974 in which a father gave his children poisoned Pixy Stix after taking out huge life insurance policies on them. His son, Timothy, died from the poisoned candy and the father was executed in 1984. But, even before this, the New York Times made up nightmare scenarios about Halloween treats. With absolutely no evidence to back them up, they wrote:
“… those Halloween goodies that children collect this weekend…may bring them more horror than happiness. That plump red apple that Junior gets from the kindly old woman down the block may have a razor blade hidden inside. The chocolate “candy” may be a laxative, the bubble gum may be sprinkled with lye, the popcorn balls may be coated with camphor, the candy may turn out to be packets containing sleeping pills.” (source)
None of those things had happened when this was published in 1970 and none have happened to date. So taking your children’s candy to be x-rayed is a wasted trip. The modern spin on this is the possibility of pot-infused candy, especially in Colorado and Washington. This is reaching, as any marijuana consumer can tell you, as these edibles are way to expensive to be handing out to kids. The saddest thing of all may be that trick-or-treaters no longer get yummy homemade goodies like popcorn balls and candy apples. All because of one man’s greed and one newspaper’s lying to sell more papers. What a pity.
#1 – Myth: Halloween is a “satanic” holiday.
Fact: Samhain (pronounced SOW-in) dates back to the 5th century B.C.E. It was originally called Trenae Samma and was the Celtic celebration of the end of the harvest. For three days the Celts feasted, danced and made merry, for this was the year’s end. As such, remembrance of those who had passed on during the previous twelve months were part of the holiday. The name of the festival reflects this — Samhain means “summer’s end.” Modern Witches still celebrate this holiday. Bonfires and the “dumb supper” are often involved. The latter is a feast held in honor of the dead in complete silence. Places are often set for loved ones who have passed on. At no time do modern Witches worship Satan or any demon. The idea of Halloween being a satanic holiday sprung up among the Christian Fundamentalists, who saw any celebration based on a pagan tradition as evil.
Since the introduction of Halloween to America, it has been embraced as a harmless bit of fun by most people. And, unless you are a Pagan/Wiccan, that’s exactly what it is. These symbols and practices have only the meaning you give to them. Even if you do decide to take the day as it is intended, it is still no more than a day to honor our beloved dead and begin a new cycle. One thing you would not be doing is worshiping any kind of “devil.” Samhain has never been about anything like that, despite efforts to paint it as a satanic holiday. So, go ahead and embrace Halloween, for it is a reminder of our mortality and a call to rejoice in life.
Gum fosgladh dorus na gliadhna uibhe chum sith, sonas, is samchair: May the door of the coming year open for you to peace, happiness, and quiet contentment. ~~ ~Old Scots Samhain Blessing