Did you know if a bat flies around your house on Halloween spirits are nearby? Have you ever held your breath while walking past a cemetary? These are some of the Halloween superstitions which many people still know today. How did these things and others (black cats, spiders and pumpkins) become associated with the holiday? The origin of superstitions is fascinating. Let’s take a look at the ones mentioned and a few others.
Halloween Superstitions: Bats
As cited in a previous post, Halloween finds its origins in Samhain, which marked the end of Summer and the beginning of Winter for the ancient Celts. A darker time when the veil between worlds felt thinner. We don’t have exact records of how the festival may have been observed by the Celts. However, many traditions, practices, and superstitions still held today around Halloween reflect Samhain’s influence. Spooky stories and concerns about unfriendly spirits from the Otherworld make up some of the surviving folklore surrounding the holiday.
Bats are a familiar image of Halloween. From the Middle Ages through the 17th century, people associated bats with witches as one of their familiars. Therefore, a bat flying thrice around your house (especially on All Hallow’s Eve – moved from May 13 to November 1st by Pope Boniface IV) meant lurking spirits. Spirits which could haunt a home if the bat flew inside or be a portent of impending death. Bats were also thought to bring bad luck to a marriage if one flew into a church during a wedding. Familiars (cats, dogs, toads, mice, and owls fell under suspicion along with bats) were thought to feed on a witch’s blood, train a witch after being assigned to them by “the Devil”, or carry the powers of a witch.
To this day, bats are associated with bad omens or induce an irrational fear as they swoop through the black sky. However, there are cultures where bats are considered good luck. For instance, in China the bat is seen as a symbol of happiness and joy. They bring good fortune and represent the Five Blessings (long life, wealth, health, love of virtue and a peaceful death).
Halloween Superstitions: Cemetaries
As a young child, I can remember ducking down in my seat whenever we drove past a cemetary. I don’t remember why or how this became a ritual for me. However, as a clairsentient child, I could feel the spirit energy emanating from such places and didn’t want the “ghosts” to see or come visit me. To this day, I sense presences in cemetaries but I no longer hide. Rather, I find most of these final resting places to be quite peaceful.
For some people, spending time in a cemetary on Halloween is spooky fun. There are paranormal groups who sponsor public “ghost hunts” or tell haunting stories in cemetaries throughout the month of October. But for others it is considered bad luck to be in a graveyard on October 31st, when the veil is thin. One belief says a person must hold their breath when passing a graveyard to prevent being possessed by a roaming spirit. Another superstition states to turn out your pockets when passing a cemetary, lest you bring a ghost home.
There are admonitions to never walk across a person’s grave. In an interesting twist, another myth says to never hold your breath while walking over a grave or bad luck will plague your days. One old superstition states the soul of the first body buried in a cemetary will be claimed by the Devil. And it’s bad luck to be the first person to leave a graveside funeral. Obviously, not all of these superstitions are Halloween based (cultural beliefs and fears surrounding death have created a bunch!) but you can see how some have become part of October 31st lore.
Halloween Superstitions: Blackberries, Crossroads, and FootstepsFolk-lore is filled with strange and interesting superstitions when it comes to Halloween (or any time of the year, really). For instance, do not eat blackberries on October 31st, for tradition in the British Isles says a “puca” (an Irish spirit/ghost) comes around that night and sullies the fruit.
As Witches, Wiccans, and Pagans et al., we know that a crossroads is a liminal space. And for me as a Hekataen Witch, such junctions hold great signficance in ritual, spellcraft, and meetings with Hekate – a Goddess of Crossroads. However, there is a belief which defines a crossroads as a place where a person might sell their soul to “the Devil.” A bargain which tradition credits to American Blues Great, Robert Johnson — an amazing artist with a fascinating story. Still another myth says that if you stand in the middle of a crossroads on Halloween night, spirits or the wind will whisper your future.
However, be sure to keep your eyes straight ahead when walking outside on Halloween. Don’t look back if you hear footfalls sounding from behind you. For if you turn, you may become one of the ghosts. In fact, it may be best to walk around your home (backward and widdershins) three times, once you get there.
Just in case.
To ward off any spirits who may have followed you home.
Halloween Superstitions: Odds and Ends
Coffins: A living person who lies in a coffin is said to be “courting death.” No living person’s clothing should be placed on a corpse for buriel. For as the body declines, so shall the health of the person to whom the clothing belongs.
Candle snuffing: If a candle blows out during a ritual or meeting, it is said that a spirit is nearby.
Spiders: To see a spider on Halloween night, means the spirit of a loved one is watching over you.
Bells: Ringing a bell is said to chase away evil spirits.
Owls: If you hear an owl hoot on Halloween, turn out your pockets to prevent the owl from swooping down to eat your soul.
Wind: Those destined to die within the year will hear a sigh upon the wind on Halloween night.
Witches: To meet a witch, put your clothes on inside out and walk backward on Halloween night. Or, you know, just hit me up on FaceBook.