The Eastern New Mexico News - Serving Clovis, Portales and the Surrounding Communities

A look at Halloween's animal stars

 

October 31, 2017



Dark, spooky and grim — in the most celebratory way possible — today is the one day of the year when tradition makes it alright to frighten, disgust and disturb other people.

On Halloween, eerie music, haunted houses, foggy cemetery displays, ghosts, monsters and terrors of all kind converge in normally pleasant neighborhoods and gatherings. So macabre is the tone of the day, in fact, that were it not for the laughter of children and abundance of candy and other goodies, one might not realize it’s all in the name of fun.

The holiday’s roots extend back more than 2,000 years to the annual celebration of the Celtic New Year on Nov. 1, when harvest season ended and the dark, cold winter months began. On the eve of the festival, Oct. 31, the ancients, who believed the spirits of the dead returned to wander the earth, dressed in animal skins and held elaborate ceremonies to improve their fortune telling abilities and deter evil spirits from causing harm or mischief.

Over the centuries the reasons for the holiday have morphed to fit the societies of the respective times — Halloween traditions have encompassed a Roman holiday memorializing the dead; the Catholic All Saints Day; the Christian All Souls Day and the modern commercial holiday we know the best — and as old traditions are carried forward, new ones are added, with animals serving as a consistent component of the spooky day.

Most historians would agree the animals incorporated into Halloween traditions tend to have a couple of things in common, including nocturnal habits, predatory behavior and, perhaps most importantly, humans often find them a little creepy.

There’s also some lore and superstition attached to a few of the holiday’s animal stars:

• Black cats — Throughout history, black cats have been the subjects of superstition, associated with the darkness and long seen as companions to witches, not to mention those that believe by merely crossing the path of a human, they can convey bad luck. Unfortunately, many of these age-old superstitions have real-world impact on black cats and to protect them from harm or abuse, many animal shelters will not allow them to be adopted during the Halloween season.

• Bats — It is believed bats became part of Halloween in ancient times because of the practice of burning large bonfires during nighttime celebrations. The fires attracted insects, which in turn lured hungry bats that soared through the dark skies over the crowds. As time passed and more was learned about the small winged creatures, including the existence of vampire bats and they became an integral aspect of Halloween.

• Spiders — Web builders with fangs that scale walls and often eat their live prey head first, arachnids are a natural fit with Halloween, but it may be surprising to know the lore that weaves them into the holiday tradition is mostly positive. According to one folklore belief, if you see a spider on Halloween night, the spirit of a dead loved one is keeping watch over you. In some cultures, spotting a white spider is lucky, the ancient Chinese believed to see a spider drop down from its web meant gifts and fortune were being sent from heaven, and several cultures believe it is bad luck to kill a spider.

Superstition may be to blame for most of the creatures involved in Halloween, though they may fit the spooky theme — but as ancient bats pointed out long ago, the treats are also a pretty good reason to join in the fun.

Sharna Johnson is always searching for ponies. Contact her at: insearchofponies@gmail.com

 

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