Anne here, bubble bubbling, toil and troubling, as we wenches turn a little witchly at Halloween. Actually the wenchly calendar has a sense of humor, placing me to blog on Halloween — the one wench who lives in a place where Halloween is barely celebrated, and then only in recent years by kids who learned from US TV shows that trick or treat is legalized larceny.
Even so, they usually only go to their friends' houses, because the rest of us won't have any lollies (ie candy or sweets) handy and are more likely to stare in bewilderment and say, "Trick or what?" Or read them a lecture about watching too much TV. Most years when little kids have knocked at my door, I've had to apologize and admit there wasn't a thing in the house for them.
The one year I remembered it was Halloween it was because as I was heading off to the supermarket, I saw flocks of little kids all dressed up in ghoulish and ghastly costumes, looking terribly cute, though of course I'd never tell them that. They were intent on Being Fearsome. That year I triumphantly bought a stack of lollies and chocolate and waited. And, you guessed it — nobpdy knocked. So guess who had to eat her way through the piles of chocolate I'd bought to give away? It was terrible!
So here are some stories from word witches who know how Halloween is supposed to be done. (The gorgeous pic above right is © Marilyn Scott -Waters, The Toymaker and you can see more of her wonderful designs here)
Mary Jo says . . . Halloween is really a rather odd sort of holiday. When I was a kid, it was all about dressing up in rather amateur costumes and stomping along the state highway in the farm country were I lived. (Since the end of October was pretty darned cold in Upstate New York, we were always wearing coats, so the costumes were covered up anyhow.)
The point of the exercise was to get enough candy to last us until Easter. <G> Certainly we didn't understand the deep historical roots of All Hallows Eve--both Christian, and beyond that, pagan. I suspect that late autumn falling into the long night of winter seemed an appropriate time to remember the dead. In Mexico and other Spanish speaking the countries, the Day of the Dead (Dia de Muertos) is an occasion for families and friends to gather and celebrate the lives of the dear departed, with visits to cemeteries and even picnics there, I understand.
What bemuses me is how what was a kids' holiday when I was a kid has morphed into an adult celebration with costumes and parties and much whooping. I suspect that this is another sign that baby boomers don't want to grow up, and any excuse for a party will do. <G>
What bemused me even more was when I moved to England, I found that Halloween wasn't much of a holiday, though the Jack o'Lantern was known. This site explains the origins of Jack of the Lantern, and how the original European jack o'lanterns were carved from turnips, parsnips, or other root vegetables. That had to be a lot of work! No wonder when settlers arrived in North American and discovered the pumpkin, they realized how much easier to was to carve one!
Nicola knows there are ghosts . . .
My mother-in-law claims I am fey. Certainly I seem to have had more than my fair share of supernatural experiences, whether I want them or not. Living in a haunted cottage tested both my nerves and my husband's ability to explain everything through science! There are some things that connot be explained.
Ashdown House, where I work as a guide for the National Trust, has always had a number of stories of ghosts and hauntings. There are tales that the stables are haunted by the ghost of a groom whose footsteps can be heard on the cobbles of the yard and whose cheerful whistling belies the fact that there is no one there. There is also a ghostly child who cries in the woods. I've heard that one and it really does chill the blood. One summer evening a group of us were doing a wildlife walk in the grounds of the house and we all saw a ghostly white figure looking out of one of the first floor windows of the house. This was particularly spooky as the house was empty and locked and the shutters had been closed yet we all saw it looking out at us. (The pic on the left, eclipse over Ashdown House, was taken by Nicola's husband.)
Since the conservation project on the house took place last year there has been an increase in the supernatural disturbances there. Experts think it is because the roof was taken off the house and the walls repaired; it is as though the changes to the fabric of the house has upset someone or something. One of my colleagues experienced a lady dressed in a seventeenth century clothes approaching her in the grounds and even felt her skirts brush against her. "I'm so glad you are here," the ghost said to her, and then it vanished. On a couple of occasions I have been welcoming groups of visitors and when I say "Let's go inside the house now" the door has swung open of its own accord as though to invite us in. That really impresses the visitors! But on one occasion it was as though there was a poltergeist in the house, with doors slamming and blowing open and the crash of objects falling and the noise of footsteps echoing all around. I would love to know which of the Craven family or their visitors is haunting Ashdown and what we can do to help them feel more peaceful. And as I am guiding the Halloween tour parties I am wondering what will happen...
Jo Beverly recalls. . . When we arrived in Canada in 1976 we found Halloween rather scary. There were marauding hordes shouting, "Trick or treat!" in a very menacing manner, all seeming to be high on something. They were, on pure excitement!
Once we had children we got into it, and it was a lovely neighborhood event. Our Cabbage Patch Kids got into the act, of course. Here's Charlie and Billy ready to play!
By the way, I have a Halloween story out in e-book. Lord Samhain's Night is a Regency ghost story I wrote many years ago. A .99cent treat.
Pat Rice says. . . While I have no reason not to believe in ectoplasmic critters that go bump in the night, I have no good reason to believe either. Yes, I feel the spiritual pain and horror on the Gettysburg battlefield, but I have a vivid imagination. Sure, I’ve felt the odd sensations in an old hotel like the Monteleone in New Orleans, but no ghost physically tugged my hair. And yes, I once had an unseen hand nearly tip me over in the basement of our old Kentucky home, but why a spirit would materialize just that once to do something so silly is harder for me to understand than it is to believe in ghosts.
So to me, Halloween is simply an entertaining holiday that allows children--and maybe a few adults— to run around and pretend they’re someone else for an evening. I’m in favor of any opportunity to encourage creativity and make-believe!
Susan Fraser King had a Haunted Garage.
For years, Halloween in our house was the biggest, busiest, noisiest, craziest day of all — the day my three sons looked forward to more than any other, including Christmas, as they got ready for their annual "Haunted Garage."
From the time the three were in elementary school, middle school and then through high school, when ghosts, ghouls, vampires, zombies, aliens and anything scary and creep-crawly had huge appeal (and still does for them, what can I say) — they'd get their friends together and begin planning. They'd start in the summer with a theme, wish lists, drawings, costume designs, and jobs for all. Weeks went into making costumes and staging the garage (and the porch, the lawn and the driveway), and they did most of the work, with money earned from odd jobs (and parents). By Halloween night, these hardworking committees of very creative kids would have transformed the garage with big rolls of paper taped to the walls and painted like castle walls, sheets draped everywhere, fog machines, fake fireplaces and torches, spooky lighting, ghoulish music, cobwebs, plastic spiders, floating ghoul heads, vampire blood - you name it, it showed up in the Haunted Garage one year or the next.
A popular feature was The Haunted Maze, constructed of sheets strung on lines -- you would follow the twists and turns — a ghost might pop out, a lurking vampire would pounce, snakes would drop from above, lightning and thunder would flash — and at the end was the mad chemist holding a bowl filled with green glowing smoke, which would contain candy for your trick or treat bag. Before you could approach The Maze, you had to get through The Gauntlet— a double row of lawn chairs, in which sat newspaper-stuffed dummies dressed in old shirts, jeans, boots, gloves and hats — harmless scarecrow dummies — until one of them jumped up to scare the living crikey out of you. A lookout was posted, and if small trick-or-treaters walked the gauntlet, word would spread and none of the dummies would move.
A favorite was The Roadkill display -- a plywood sheet with a hole in it topped a hollow table, through which lay one of the guys, lower body missing in bluidy tatters and spaghetti and sausage entrails (this was not Mom's favorite display). The giant demon was also a favorite — an enormous, gruesome head and shoulders worn by the tallest kid dressed in furs, chain mail and leather (or whatever passed for that). He was a jolly demon, though, who gave out candy and treats.
The Haunted Garage grew each year and more features were added, until we had lines of people waiting at the end of our driveway (and you can just imagine how many bags of candy we had to buy to reward everyone who visited). Every year, the kids had a blast . . . until clean up time, but they did that job well enough to be allowed to repeat the event the next year. Now they're in college and well beyond, and the Haunted Garage is a thing of the past. We still have boxes of ghoulish stuff in the basement, though all we need to do these days is hand out candy to the little fairies, princesses, superheroes and ghouls who come to the door. You'd think that would be preferable to fending off an invasion of vampires and zombies -- but I kinda miss them.
For Andrea/Cara it's all about Art. . . I've have to say, I've never been that entranced by halloween—yes, of course I loved dressing up as a kid and trick-or-treating with my friends. But only for the sweets, not because I was into ghouls or ghosts or goblins. The supernatural doesn't have that much allure for me—maybe that's why, unlike some of the Wenches, I can't claim any spooky happenings—otherworldly spirits find me boring!
BUT, I've always loved the ritual of carving pumpkins into jack 'o lanterns! (Must be my art background.) One of my fondest memories of Halloween was the time one of my grad school professors brought pumpkins into our design class and told us the assignment for the day was to come up with a unique face. Oh, how I wish I had a photo of the results! It was quite an amazing display when we turned out the lights and lit candles in our finished lanterns!
And last but far from least, we have Joanna, sharing a little history. . .
I'm fascinated by the origins of Halloween. There are customs from many places, many cultures, but some of what we do on Halloween goes back to the ancient Celts.
Drop back a couple thousand years and that night at the end of October is full of revellers going from house to house. There are ghosts involved. And food treats. And masks. And skeleton costumes.
Samhain — the Celtic fall festival — marks the beginning of winter, the beginning of the darker half of the year. After this, every night is longer; every day is shorter. Is it surprising this night opened the doors between the World of the Dead and the World of the Living? Naturally, spirits would take the opportunity to come wandering through town. Malignant spirits might show up at the door and need to be propitiated with food. The souls of honored ancestors might come to visit and it was best to set a place for them at the table on Samhain night.
So you got yer rowdier elements out mumming and guising on Samhain, which is to say, dressing up -- maybe as spirits — and going from house to house, singing songs, making veiled threats of minor mayhem, and requesting food. This sounds somehow familiar.
I like to think, when I'm handing over tiny BabyRuths and Butterfingers to six-year-olds dressed as skeletons, that I'm part of an ancient tradition, just doing my bit to deal with the doors opening to the Otherworld. Any ghosts that drop by can have a pack of Reese's Pieces.
Anne again — so what will you be doing this Halloween? What are your favorite Halloween rituals or memories?