KERRY GREENAWAY gives a little nod to the spirits around us with this look at Halloween traditions we enjoy each year…
Halloween is nearly upon us. It’s the time of year where it is said that the veil thins between the realms and when witches, wizards and ‘long-legged beasties’ come out to play.
There is so much folklore and so many myths surrounding this festival I thought I would take a look at some of the traditions and get to the roots of where they come from.
Apples play an important part in these Halloween traditions, there are indeed several ‘games’ that are played using them. In addition to this, they have been linked to fertility and romance in their own right. Indeed, you only have to think of the mythological references, such as in the Book of Genesis where Eve is tempted with an apple.
Hercules’ task of receiving an apple from the Garden of Hesperides and even the poisoned apple in Snow White, to understand the importance of the apple in our psyche.
On a more prosaic level the apple is one of the best fruits to keep throughout the winter and, being as Samhain is the festival which marks the beginning of winter, it is no surprise that following the glut of that fruit that the apple tree produces is in ample supply, to ‘waste’ in frivolous divination games during this festival is perhaps understandable.

Apple Bobbing Halloween Traditions

Where apples are placed in a barrel of water and, as they are less dense than the water, they float to the surface. The idea is to grab an apple with your teeth without using your hands and, if you haven’t tried it then be warned it gets messy and you’ll need lots of towels.
Once you have grabbed your apple you are supposed to peel it, making sure you peel it in one long strip and then throw it over your left shoulder.
You then have a look to see how he peel falls and if it resembles a letter that letter is supposed to be the initial of the person you’re going to marry.

Apples play a big part in the Halloween traditions we love, as this vintage postcard shows

Apples play a big part in the Halloween traditions we love, as this vintage postcard shows

Or in another version, it was supposed to reveals the initial of you one true love.
There is another variation of this tradition where you hang the apples instead of putting them in water and yet another where you mirror scry (see my previous article on scrying) whilst peeling the apple and again throw the peel over your left shoulder to gain the same results.
There are a couple of unverified sources for the origins of the Apple bobbing festival.
Some say that it links back to the Roman festival of celebration to Pomana, a goddess of fruitfulness, fertility and romance, however historians can’t verify that this festival existed.
There are even suggestions that it links back to pre-Christian Ireland, but again there is no evidence to support this.
We do know that it is a British tradition that goes back a couple of hundred years. Another way of trying to divine who was your love interest at Halloween was to name nutshells after the one you had your eye on and place them by the fire the reaction of the nut to the fire would give you your answer, for example, if it popped and flew off the hearth, then that didn’t look good, if it burned slow and steady then that was a positive sign!

Mirror Scrying

Mirror Scrying features again but this time it is supposed to reveal ‘Bloody Mary‘.
Who Mary is a little bit of a mystery as this could be Queen Mary First of England who shares the same nickname or it could refer to Mary Worth although there are other ‘Mary’s’ that this tale could refer to.
Although this tradition seems to have its origins in the 1700s it is something that is a pure ‘scare fest’ and serves no real purpose.

Mirrors can be spooky on Halloween night

Mirrors can be spooky on Halloween night

It is something straight out of a horror movie, you are supposed to stand in front of a mirror with a candle and say bloody Mary three times, and before you she shall appear, legend states that if she does appear then she will kill you, one things for sure the shock would be enough to give you a heart attack!
Another version of this tradition is to walk backwards up the stairs holding a candle and a hand mirror whilst reciting the same words, a feat in itself. In this version, Mary was supposed to appear and you could ask her questions pertaining to the future – sound familiar?

Carving Pumpkins

This is one of the most famous and well-loved Halloween traditions.
Traditionally people used to carve Turnips but this has now been taken over by the Pumpkin, probably due to the size and ease of carving – well, easier than a turnip anyway.
Otherwise known as a ‘Jack O’Lantern’ a name which comes from another 18th century tale about a man named Stingy Jack (the name says it all) Stingy Jack made a deal with the devil to forget all of his misdemeanours.

Carving a pumpkin into a Jack O'Lantern is a favourite Halloween tradition

Carving a pumpkin into a Jack O’Lantern is a favourite Halloween tradition

When Jack died he tried to enter heaven but his way was barred so he went to see the devil, the devil honoured his word and refused him admission which meant that poor old jack was destined to wander the earth as a lost spirit.
However the devil did give him an ember from hell to help light his way. The tradition these days is that the Jack O’Lanterns is to help guide you on your way whilst trick or treating or when placed on your doorstep it is supposed to ward off evil spirits.

Trick or Treating

This brings us to the tradition of trick or treating.
This is where young children dress up as all manner of ghosts and ghouls or more recently, the latest horror movie character, and go from door to door asking for treats.
This is allegedly a tradition from the Middle Ages where the belief that evil entities stalked the earth on this particular night, so you dressed up to fool them into thinking that you were one of them, although what they would make of some of the costumes worn these days makes me wonder!
It used to be a form of begging and in return for a ‘treat’ songs were sung or if no treat was given then a minor ‘trick’ would be served upon the household such as hiding various implements that were left around, but nothing more sinister than that.
These days it’s a sugar filled fest that most parents dread.
However you decide to celebrate Halloween, just remember to give a little nod to the spirits that may surround you.

Kerry Greenaway
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