Many things can make you think instantly of Halloween. Ghosts, bats, and black cats show up in decor and bring the holiday alive. Where did these icons of the season come from, and what do they mean? Here’s a look at eight of these classic images.
Despite being honored by the ancient Egyptians, cats have a long history of negative connotations going back to the 1300s. Medieval Christians believed that cats and witchcraft were connected and that the animals were the incarnation of the devil. Consequently, cats often were burned along with their human companions.
In 1930s and ’40s America, the black cat became a fun, festive symbol of Halloween. Today, the holiday decor wouldn’t be the same without them!
In ancient times the trident was used by many cultures as a symbol of male fertility. The early Christian church gave the symbol over to the Devil, who represented sexual depravity, and artists often gave him forked body parts to go with it.
However, the pitchfork endured as a symbol of the harvest. After all, it was an important tool on the farm, so people often decorated them with flowers and vines for the fall harvest festival. Now the pitchfork appears in both its incarnations as part of usual Halloween ornamentation.
The scarecrow is synonymous with farms and fields. Therefore, it makes perfect sense that he has made his way into Halloween decorating. His presence reminds people of farming and the harvest. He has been around since ancient times when his job was to fertilize and protect the farmer’s crops.
Skeletons, a staple of Halloween in America, are seen in everything from decor to costumes. In Mexico, they are a major part of the Day of the Dead. The three-day festival honoring deceased relatives runs from October 30 through November 1.
The bones have made their way up through the southwestern states, and can now be found everywhere in both frightening and cute forms.
Stories and beliefs in spirits have been around for thousands of years. The Pagans of ancient Europe celebrated Samhain, the harvest time period. The Celts believed this to be the period when the veil between living and dead was thinnest and thus a time of reverence for and contact with the dead.
The witch is a major symbol of Halloween. She flies through the night sky on her broomstick in the company of her black cat, her cackling laughter ringing through the air.
In olden times in America, people believed that witches met twice a year when the seasons changed. One of those nights was Halloween.
Bats and Vampires
Just as ghosts were believed to be able to roam the earth on Halloween, so could vampires. Vamp legends are as old history with legends telling of the dead returning to drain the blood of the living.
The bat joined the vampire because of the vampire bat who feeds on the blood of animals. Bats were also often seen at festival bonfires and stake burnings because the flames drew moths, which provided a perfect feast for the bats.
Several cultures throughout history have believed that people could shapeshift into animals, sometimes to do good, other times to commit evil acts.
By the Middle Ages, accusations of shapeshifting led to consequences as dire as those faced by accused witches. Since then, the werewolf has made its way to horror films and Halloween costumes.
These spooky icons have long histories that have made them indispensable to any serious Halloween celebration.