There comes a point in most of our lives where we wonder where Halloween’s most famous ideas (or the holiday itself) originated. As a child, my siblings and I trick or treated and enjoyed collecting as much candy as possible at our church’s Halloween festival held in the carpeted gym.
I didn’t think much about the spookier or scarier parts of the holiday then. I didn’t want to. I cared about the candy and the costumes. As I grew older, I began to wonder, and it turns out the holiday has fascinating roots stemming from religions and rituals throughout the world. The monsters associated with the holiday have equally fascinating backstories too.
Focusing on one area of the holiday before it got its modern name, 2,000 years ago the Celts believed during this evening the line between the living and the dead was blurred. That sends a shiver up most of our spines, but to them it was something to celebrate. Not unlike Dia de los Muertos in Mexican culture, this blurred line was a time to honor the dead by offering them treats, candles, and other symbols of honor and peace.
As fascinating as the origin of Halloween is the holiday’s most famous folk legends. Several of these have been made famous by horror movies, like zombies, vampires, and werewolves, but how far back do these legends really go?
Zombies became an instant hit in 1968 when Night of the Living Dead was released, terrorizing audiences for decades to come. The idea of zombies didn’t begin there, but is found in Haitian voodoo folklore. Spells to raise the dead, whether to terrorize or bring a loved one back, are everywhere in folklore.
Witches reach far back in time, beyond the Salem witch trials that turned a community against one another. They’re not the cauldron tending, broom riding, quidditch playing community often thought of. The history of witches is far more fascinating, and stems from a desire to be one with nature. Of course, that’s not as exciting when viewed in a movie, but the history of witches isn’t all peaceful.
If vampires aren’t more popular than zombies in pop culture, they’re at least neck and neck. The demonic character is found in Greek mythology, the middle ages, and well-known in Bram Stoker’s Dracula. A past Recount & Reveal is about vampire phenomenons that took over entire communities. Phenomenons that couldn’t be calmed down until heads were removed from corpses.
One of the most compelling episodes of the Lore podcast is about how a French village couldn’t stop a supernatural wolf that had been severing the heads off people’s bodies. Every time the creature was caught, it would mysteriously vanish. The beast was called a wolf, but even the people knew it was something much more sinister. Today, we call it a werewolf.
It’s no surprise why these characters have found their way to the spookiest day of the year. Regardless of the rituals and folklore found in Halloween alone, the holiday wouldn’t be the same without vampires, witches, werewolves, zombies, and all of the other ghouls and monsters.
Wherever you find yourself this Halloween, be aware of the blurred line between the living and the dead. Maybe there’s a chance the line between reality and folklore is blurred as well.