Historic Superstitions of Halloween

Around Halloween, we hear increased talk about superstitions. Most of them sound like silly things that someone just made up for fun. But many of today’s superstitions have roots in ancient folklore. Here are the stories of some of the most popular ones.

Jack O’Lantern

Most of us carve faces into pumpkins on Halloween as decorations without giving it much thought. But did you know that a lighted jack o’lantern is supposed to keep evil spirits away? There is also an interesting legend about the origin of the jack o’lantern.

The story says that there was farmer by the name of Stingy Jack who was known for being a temperamental drunkard. One day the Devil came to claim his soul, but Jack tricked him into climbing an apple tree. While he was in the tree, Jack carved a cross into the trunk, which rendered the Devil powerless and unable to climb down.

When Jack died, he was not admitted into heaven because he had lived a sinful life. But the Devil would not let him into hell either. The Devil threw him an ember, and Jack carved out a turnip and placed it inside to light his way while he roamed the earth. In the United States, where pumpkins were plentiful, they were used instead of turnips.

Black CatsBlack Cat closeup

The black cat is rather symbolic of Halloween, but folklore about the animal is not directly associated with the holiday. There are many superstitions about black cats, many of which associate them with bad luck. In some countries, however, they are associated with good luck.

One of the best known stories about black cats comes from 16th century England. It says that a father and son were frightened by a small creature crossing their path one night. The creature darted into a crawl space, and they threw rocks at it. When it scurried out, they saw that it was a black cat, which they had injured. It ran into the home of a woman suspected of witchcraft. The next day, the father and son saw the woman with a bruised face and bandaged arm. This story is responsible for the belief that witches can turn themselves into black cats.

Bobbing for Apples

Bobbing for apples is a popular game at Halloween parties. This too has its roots in ancient folklore. Apples were the symbol of the Roman goddess Pomona, who was known for her beauty and fertility. During the Celtic festival of Samhain, the predecessor to the modern Halloween, young unmarried people would attempt to bite apples that were either floating in water or hanging from a string. The first person to bite into one was believed to be the next to marry.

These are just a few of the many superstitions that go back thousands of years. Whether you believe in them or not, they are some of the things that make Halloween so much fun.

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