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Friday, September 7, 2012

Halloween Symbols

By John Morgan

Halloween Casting Call

One of the many reasons Halloween is so unique is due to the unusual cast of characters and symbols associated with the celebration. Halloween’s symbols reflect the spirit and the essence of its storied customs and traditions, while also remaining agile enough reflect the values of today.

Depending on how these symbols are illustrated or crafted in popular culture, directly affects the emotions and thoughts we ascribe to each.

For example: When we see a Disney or Loony Tune depiction of a skeleton it certainly doesn’t evoke the same reaction as a skeleton created for one of Rob Zombie's or Wes Craven’s films.

Amazing Adaptability

Part of the allure of Halloween is its incredible versatility and adaptability; even Halloween’s symbols have an innate ability to morph, as needed, to fit our desires.

So let’s take a closer look at each of Halloween’s important symbols:


The iconic Halloween symbol of a pumpkin was a New World replacement for the two red-headed-stepchildren of the vegetable kingdom known by their common names the turnip and the beet, as well as their equally esthetically challenged dirt dwelling cousin the potato.

Originally the turnip and potato were carved and illuminated with candles and placed in Irish doors and windows to ward of an interesting spirit named “Stingy Jack” (he deserves his own post) and other wandering spooks.

The Scots used turnips as well, but the English celebrated the season drumming to a different beet (Warning bad pun ahead - proceed at your own risk! Did you know that it is a little known historical fact that when an English man or woman was cut during the carving process they called their injuries “beetnicks”).

Irish Influence

So when Irish immigrants came to America and they discovered the "gourdgeous" pumpkin, kersplash went the turnip and the potatoes into the stew pot, and out game the carving knife and the Jack-O-Lantern was born!


Let’s face it, when literature refers to your kind as a “murder of crows” or as an “unkindness of ravens” you might have an image problem.

Public Relations Nightmare

It probably will not help your public relations experts conjure up a positive PR campaign if they keep finding you eating carrion, as well as each other; unless, of course, you are planning on filming: “Ravens & Crows – The original Zombie Apocalypse!”

On the plus side you are both: highly intelligent (especially given your limited bird brains), frequently engage in play, collaborate when needed, and you have good socializing skills (ravens, this is an area that needs work…the crows are kicking your tail feathers in this category).

Need to Work on Your Image

So what’s the problem? Oh yeah, you eat each other! It also does not help that you are always hanging out in the wrong places with the wrong crowds. Honestly, would it hurt you to stop being the first ones on the battlefield once in a while?

Just Say No...Crow

And for heaven’s sakes, learn to say “no” when the witches and warlocks ask you to help them with a special project or potion.

Peacocking it

Just look at yourselves, you are always dressed in black…liven things up a bit – take a risk – peacock it up a little.

Develop some Stretch Goals

I mean really, what have you done in the last couple thousand years in the areas of personal development and growth? That’s right, I am talking to you ravens; the Celts linked you to war and death and you have been mired in it ever since.

Crows, did I say something that amuses you? Wipe those smiles off your beaks, because the ancient Romans used you guys for divination practices so neither of you are without a creepy flight path through history.

Wash your Beaks out with Soap!

And since we are talking about self-improvement, your “cawing” has got to go! Now we are even getting reports from the field that you have been mimicking human voices again. That has to stop immediately – it freaks everyone out!

Ask yourself, "Am I willing to Change?"

Look we have all heard the phrase, “the only constant in life is change,” but frankly I am just not seeing it with either of you.

Hey, if you are happy being Halloween icons then do not change a thing. I have said all I want to say to you two Corvids, except that if you happen to see any rats and bats on your way out, tell them I need to see them regarding similar concerns.


Where does one look in order to flesh out the connection between Halloween and the powerful symbols of bones, skeletons, and skulls?

Well, we can certainly trace it back to various ancient cultures “Day of the Dead” customs.

Sometimes you can be such a Hard Head

The Celts referred to the skull as the "house of the soul." Bones have been used for thousands of years in divination rituals.

Frankly, there is just no getting around the fact that seeing our internal DNA scaffolding is an unsettling reminder of our own mortality – Hamlet, Horatio and poor Yorick will be glad to fill you in on the philosophical implications.

A Look Inside

Why even the Grim Reaper is reduced to wearing a designer "flasher-style" trench coat, complete with matching hoodie, in order to keep us from seeing his bony altogether. He is the very embodiment better make that framework - of what potentially awaits all of us when our spirit departs this mortal plane.

X-ray Eyes!

For many, it is a humbling and unsettling to contemplate the skeletal structure that gives our bodies its shape.

Skeletons are People Too

That is right, we saw you squirming in class the day your seventh grade science teacher forced you to watch programs on digestion and the skeletal system. Your attempts to disassociate yourself of any similarities between the kids being x-rayed while they chomped on apples and jugged down pints of milk were entirely unsuccessful.

Reminders of our own Mortality

There is just no denying that bones, skeletons, and skulls are tangible reminders and eerie symbols of decease and death. Heck, just look at poison warning labels and pirate flags - not to mention poison pirate flags made of labels - these are all stern signs that beware danger lurks here.

Oh Skulls just want to have fun

Not all images of bones, skeletons and skulls evoke fear. In Mexico, the annual “Día de los Muertos” (Day of the Dead) is celebrated with vibrant and colorful portraits of using these symbols.

The spirit of this festival is to pray for and remember friends and family members who have died. Sugar skulls, and the departed loved one’s favorite foods and beverages are left at their grave site as gifts of remembrance.

So no matter how you like to recognize Halloween, there is bound to be a way to bring your own skeletons out of the closet for them to reflect your own style and personality during the Halloween season.


For many people, bats are perhaps one of the most bizarre creatures in the animal kingdom.

Bats are the only true flying mammal -- sorry Bullwinkle, your friend Rocky merely glides.

Keeping you in the Dark

They live in shadows and darkness, which evokes strong emotions. Bats roost in hollows, crevices, and caves, as well in other fearful locations people tend to avoid: attics, abandon homes, and speaker’s podiums.

Nature's Bug Sapper!

Emerging at dusk to feed (mainly on insects – go get them bats!). Many species locate their prey using echolocation (using sound to produce echoes off its food source). Their echolocation adaptation has also developed some rather unusual facial structures and curvatures that just add to the bats otherworldly appearance.

Now We See the Light

It is generally believed, that bats became associated with Halloween through their frequent visits to the large bonfires built during the Celts annual Samhain festivals. We have all heard the expression, “like moths to a flame.” Well, we could easily develop that logic chain further by saying, “like bats to a moth.”

There at First Call

Since bats were there during the genesis of the customs and rituals that ultimately led to Halloween, they have become one of the holiday's most powerful symbols. Bats appear to be forever linked to the uniqueness of the season, as they fly through space and time alongside their two-legged -- costume adorning -- mammalian cousins.


They enter the world’s stage at dusk. Much like the leathery winged Halloween symbol, the bat, it is believed that owls became frequent visitors to Celts Samhain bonfires.

Shhh, Keep it Quiet!

Despite their large size, owls are incredibly stealthy, seemingly appearing from nowhere to those who encounter them.

Owls, You're Ancient History

In ancient Athens, the owl was so revered that it appears on their first widely circulated coin. The ancient Romans honored the owl by depicting its image alongside Minerva, the goddess of wisdom – which they had adapted from the earlier Greek legends of Athena and her ties with owls (see A Brief History of Halloween on how cultures would layer their beliefs and customs on top of another society's traditions). For some ancient cultures, sighting an owl during times of crisis or war was considered a good omen.

Can you Keep a Secret?

Throughout history, owls have remained mysterious creatures that have long been linked to humanities secret shadows of influence and power (Illuminati and the Bohemian Club). What we do know about owls is that they are mostly solitary and nocturnal.

Eye Spy

Perhaps the most prominent features of an owl are their large predatory - forward facing - eyes. Although, certainly a case can be made for the owls apparently spine defying rotating head as being its most attention-getting attribute.

Woo Said That?

In addition to their haunting “woo-woo” vocalization, many species are able to emit a piercing screech that cuts through the ebony night sky like a knife. There is a strong association between witches and owls. There are tales of witches shape-shifting into owls; which some believe accounts for the owl’s witch-like screech.

Creatures from Another Planet

Even in modern times, there are claims by apparent alien abductees who state that they frequently encounter owls during their abduction experiences. Author Whitley Strieber theorizes that the image of an owl serves as a screen-memory that masks the true nature of the abduction experience. However, we will disembark here from that discussion and leave that subject for another blog.

Wise Beyond Your Years

You do not to have to live in the “Hundred Acre Woods” nor seek the Yoda-like wisdom of the Toosie Pop chomping owl, to get the connection between owls and our continuing desire for knowledge, and ultimately wisdom. Just don’t bother asking him where the candy is because his bowl is all empty! And whatever you do, stay away from Woodsy – although he means well - something is just not right with that Strigiform.


Other than the pumpkin, no other symbol comes close to the witch in association with Halloween.

Take a Good Look Around You

Heck, just look around her and you will see a virtual “Who is Who” of Halloween casting: bats, cats, rats, owls, toads, cauldrons, moon, and broom - and we are just to getting started.

Which Witch do you need?

While the pumpkin might match her in notoriety, it would be hard to match the witches A-list Halloween celebrity status in longevity and adaptability. Styles come and styles go, but the witch is not only credited for shape shifting into other forms, such as the owl, but she can also seemingly alter her appearance to look like “Witch Hazel” or like Veronica Lake - as well as dozens of other variations in between.

Your Resume says you're very adaptable

This adaptability has also led to a confused public; who are constantly perplexed regarding the motives and intent of the witch. In fact, Glenda pinpointed the problem quite well when she asked Dorothy, “Are you a good witch or a bad witch?” Well, we do not need a focus group to come to the conclusion: that all depends on your point of view and the lenses of the society you are viewing her from.

What's the Weather Like?

Witches have been linked to pagan rituals for thousands of years. Throughout each of those years, accurate forecasting of the weather, seasons, fertility and harvest were highly esteemed because of their inevitable effect on humanities well-being.

Before the advent of the Internet, TV, or weather satellites, people relied on the “Old Farmer’s Almanac,” “feelings in their bones,” or those who claimed to be skilled in the arts of divination and prophecy to see beyond the present.

A broomstick for any season

In times of seasonal and celestial transitions (All Hallows’ Eve and Beltane), witches come into their own.

Light and shadow, life and death, feast and famine, these are the things that witches excel at interpreting and understanding as they practice their craft along the peripheral vision of this world and the unseen.

Great at Multi Tasking

Whether witches are casting magical spells, tapping unseen energies, reciting incantations, healing or harming, they represent a mirror of the culture observing and interacting with them. We are all capable of great good or great harm.

Love/Hate Relationship

The witch has either been the benefactor or the antagonist of our beliefs; as we project our own thoughts and biases into the complex witch's brew. Witch-hunts and witch-trials have been very real with deadly consequences throughout history. Today, Wiccans can be seen at various Harvest festivals as well as a host of other mainstream activities and events.

With such a rich history, strong supporting cast, and virtually limitless palette of colors and themes to portray the witch, we look forward to exploring this topic in greater detail in future posts – now if we can only decide on which witch we want to write about next.


Cats are mysterious and elusive creatures to understand under the best of circumstances, but when they are covered in black fur, those characteristics go up exponentially - especially to us superstitious prone two-legged mammals.

Who Owns Who

For those of you that have ever shared your home with a cat – owning seems out of the question – it is easy to interpret a feline’s behavior with being astute, clever, resourceful, independent, and a bit mystical.

A cat’s gaze can appear to convey a wide range of emotions, and, at times, it can even be unsettling. It is almost as if cats have a wisdom or awareness of things beyond our senses or comprehension.

Love Me or Hate Me...I'll get the job done!

Throughout history, cats have shared a love/hate relationship with their human counterparts. In ancient Egypt, the cat headed goddess Bastet was worshiped. Some cats were even mummified. Egyptians made the connection between cats controlling the threat of disease carried by rats; therefore, by helping to reduce the rat population, cats escalated its own status as a revered ancient Egyptian symbol.

Romans considered the cat sacred and they were linked to the moon goddess Diana. They associated cats as guardians of homes and as symbols of domestic goodness (something that baffles us since our three cats welcome anyone into the house and they are seldom up to any good).

You can't tell your symbols without a program!

We have to admit it also gets a bit confusing and unsettling when we attempt to untangle superstition, history, folklore, and urban legend when it comes to understanding cats connection to Halloween.

As with many of the other Halloween symbols, the origins of the cat as an iconic figure for the holiday can be traced back the Samhain celebrations of the Druids and Celts. This was considered a time when the veil between the spirit and living worlds dissolved.

Great bonfires were built on the tops of hills to ward off evil spirits and to honor the souls of people who had died in the past year. It is also here that things go sour for our four-legged furry companions.

Why you really want to hurt me

The Celts are said to believe that cats were evil and the guardians of the Underworld - as such, they must be sacrificed! Other accounts, state the Celtic people thought cats were reincarnated souls who were able to see the future. After two thousand years things can get a bit bedeviled to sort out; however, what is clear is that negative beliefs towards cats kept building as their bonfire flames pierced the night sky.

Is it just me, or does it seem hot in here?

While bats and owls were drawn to the bonfires associated with Samhain and later All Hallows’ Eve ceremonies, cats were unwillingly thrown into the bonfires by a fearful populace - a practice that continued for hundreds of years.

Some friend you turned out to be!

One thing is for certain, while the dog may be man’s best friend, the cat has been linked as a witches favorite “familiar” (term for lesser demon). Just as witches are strongly associated with times of transition, black cats were also linked to these same transitional portals – ritualistic times when the curtain between life and death, shadow and light, were at its thinnest.

You are judged by the company you keep

Folklore abounds with accounts of witch’s transitioning into cats and vice versa. During the days of witch hunting, single women seen in the company of cats were frequently considered witches and dealt with most severely, cavorting with a black cat removed any doubt.

True Colors

Many cultures connect the color black with the unknown and with an absorbing quality that conceals ones true intent. Thus, black cats became targets of peoples suspicions and superstitions. White cats have been sacrificed for their symbolism of purity by various occult groups.

As difficult as it is to pin down a cat, it is equally challenging to condense and understand the history of the black cats association with Halloween.

Superstition and persecution continues to this day

Unfortunately, cats remain the target of evil intent. Whether caused by those practicing the black arts, pranksters who focus their cruel action on cats, or individuals who adopt or steal cats to incorporate them into their "living" Halloween decorations, the toll on cats is quite real and it is not just limited to black cats.

Even today, emotions and superstitions about cats persists. Animal shelters and feline adoption programs frequently will not allow black cats to be adopted from late September until early November, and additional screening and protective measure for all cats go into effect in the days just prior to Halloween.


Visit a haunted or abandoned house, open a graveyard crypt (we know, as if you haven’t visited enough of them already), or approach any suburban home on October 31st and you are sure to brush aside scores of spider webs.

No mad scientist lab would be complete without showing a blatant disregard for dusting.

How did we get so popular?

Arachnids are now joining the ranks alongside Santa and Frosty as a favorite seasonal inflatable yard decoration. Some inflatable spider animatronics are even complete with flailing fangs!

Together, let us see if we can begin untangling the spider's web of clues to discover how spiders became associated with Halloween in the first place.

Mysterious Origins

For most of the major Halloween symbols, it has been a fairly easy task to locate just where and when they entered Halloween’s orbit. We usually start by looking for associations with ancient Roman, Celtic, and Catholic customs, beliefs, and traditions. However, tracking the historical links associating spiders to Halloween proved by far the most illusive thread in understanding Halloween’s dream team of characters.

Most sources vaguely link spiders to Halloween because they live in dark, scary places. Some reference that spiders, along with cats and owls, are witch’s "familiars"lesser demons who do the witch’s dirty work.

Cryptic Message

We have even reached out to E.B. White’s best friend, Charlotte, seeking her thoughts on the matter. All we keep getting back is a cryptic note in her web: “Halloween, some holiday.” Thanks Charlotte, you are big help! While we are all enjoying delicious BLTs (that reminds us, has anyone seen Wilbur?), we will have our top cryptologist here at Halloween Fun for All working around the clock to break Charlotte’s encrypted message.

Until then, we can share that Spiders have long been associated with mysticism.

You're traveling through time and space

Their web weaving is often interpreted as a simile for the progression of time, fate, and the cyclical rhythms of nature.

What's Shakespeare doing here?

It has also been used as a metaphor for shady financial dealings. One of the world’s most secretive and exclusive societies, “The Bohemian Club,” uses the symbol of the owl as they sacrifice “dull care” and they warn: “Weaving spiders come not here” (Shakespeare quote) – in other words, let’s party and forget business for a while!

We've got your number

Numerologists link the number 8 to life path energies. With eight legs and eight eyes, spiders must have life path energies coming out of their spinnerets. It is also a number associated with acquiring great wealth.

Our research team has even listened to a numerologist on Coast to Coast AM, who advised keeping the number 8 in your wallet or purse, in an effort to encourage Benjamin and all his dead president friends to join him there – Hamilton is also welcome there for showing his strength of character and his toughness (as well as his poor life management skills) by dueling Aaron Burr.

Don't be such a pest!

As pest abatement specialist spider’s rank up there with bats in helping to eradicate bugs that threaten crops. Most organic farmers welcome and encourage these bug eating vacuums to take up residency in their fields.

We have even put up a wooden hexagon device in our Halloween Fun for All garden to encourage their web building, but the spiders seem more than content to ignore it in favor of their daily attempts to ensnare one of us!

Perhaps it's genetic?

You may harbor an instinctive fear of spiders. All those appendages and eyeballs are enough to put anyone’s senses on edge. Perhaps there is a built-in DNA alarm that fires off warning flares to our personal command and control centers, every time we encounter either a snake or spider. Vigilantly cautioning us to approach with extreme care - these things are dangerous!

Dog gone it!

Many naturalists theorize that dogs, wolves and coyotes still spin around in an effort to scatter any spiders, tics or other potential threats before they finally commit to lying down (quick someone needs to tell Atticus Finch that before he accidentally shoots that dog who is just getting ready for a siesta…too late).

Untangling the Spider's Web

Hold everything! Our cryptologist just came rushing in and handed us her findings.

Oh we see, folks it appears that Halloween, some holiday” equates to “Halloween, it is what it is.”

So no matter what Halloween is to you, we want to thank you for managing to adhere to our weak web of facts and observations as we did our best untangling the spider's web.

In the end, the spider’s connection with Halloween seems as mysterious and varied as the creatures themselves.

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