There are many legends and stories about the month of October. It is known that this is the period when summer is surely passed, it is the time when everything changes – the Nature is entering into its mystical autumn dream. The whole surrounding becomes gorgeously secretive, like dipped in mist, and one cannot deny the curious feeling everything gets. It is the Autumn itself, the Queen of October. October, for me, is the most mysterious month of them all. Many writers, directors and artists have chosen this month particularly to put their story lines and plots in, to place their characters – while some of them may never survive to see the winter.
While there are many important dates in this month, one has become almost a symbol of October and every single person on this planet knows about it – the 31st of October, the Halloween. Halloween, also known as Allhalloween, All Hallows’ Eve, or All Saints’ Eve, is a yearly celebration in many countries while it initiates the three-day religious observance of Allhallowtide, the time in the liturgical year, dedicated to remembering the dead, including saints (hallows), martyrs, and all the faithful departed believers. The word Halloween or Hallowe’en dates to about 1745. and is of Christian origin. The word “Halloween” means “hallowed evening” or “holy evening”. It comes from a Scottish term for All Hallows’ Eve (the evening before All Hallows’ Day).
Today’s Halloween customs are thought to have been influenced by folk customs and beliefs from the Celtic-speaking countries, some of which have pagan roots, and others which may be rooted in Celtic Christianity. it is more typically linked to the Celtic festival of Samhain, which comes from the Old Irish for “summer’s end”. Samhain was the first and most important of the four quarter days in the medieval Gaelic calendar and was celebrated in Ireland, Scotland and the Isle of Man. Samhain/Calan Gaeaf marked the end of the harvest season and beginning of winter or the ‘darker half’ of the year. It was seen as a time when the spirits or fairies (the Aos Sí) could more easily come into our world and were particularly active. Most scholars see the Aos Sí as degraded versions of ancient gods whose power remained active in the people’s minds even after they had been officially replaced by later religious beliefs. The Aos Sí were both respected and feared, with individuals often invoking the protection of God when approaching their dwellings. At Samhain, it was believed that the Aos Sí needed to be propitiated to ensure that the people and their livestock survived the winter.
The souls of the dead were also said to revisit their homes. Places were set at the dinner table or by the fire to welcome them. The belief that the souls of the dead return home on one night or day of the year seems to have ancient origins and is found in many cultures throughout the world. In 19th century Ireland, candles would be lit and prayers formally offered for the souls of the dead. Nuts and apples were often used in these divination rituals. Special bonfires were lit and there were rituals involving them. Their flames, smoke and ashes were deemed to have protective and cleansing powers, and were also used for divination. It is suggested that the fires were a kind of imitative or sympathetic magic – they mimicked the Sun, helping the “powers of growth” and holding back the decay and darkness of winter.
During the early modern era in Ireland, Scotland, the Isle of Man and Wales, the festival included mumming and guising, the latter of which goes back at least as far as the 16th century. This involved people going house-to-house in costume (or in disguise), usually reciting verses or songs in exchange for food. It may have come from the Christian custom of souling or it may have a Gaelic folk origin, with the costumes being a means of imitating, or disguising oneself from, the Aos Sí. Today’s Halloween customs are also thought to have been influenced by Christian dogma and practices derived from it.
Halloween falls on the evening before the Christian holy days of All Hallows’ Day (also known as All Saints’ or Hallowmas) on 1 November and All Souls’ Day on 2 November, thus giving the holiday on 31 October the full name of All Hallows’ Eve (meaning the evening before All Hallows’ Day). Since the time of the primitive Church, major feasts in the Christian Church (such as Christmas, Easter and Pentecost) had vigils which began the night before, as did the feast of All Hallows’. These three days are collectively referred to as Allhallowtide and are a time for honoring the saints and praying for the recently departed souls who have yet to reach Heaven.
Development of artifacts and symbols associated with Halloween formed over time. Jack-o’-lanterns are traditionally carried by guisers on All Hallows’ Eve in order to frighten evil spirits. There is a popular Irish Christian folktale associated with the jack-o’-lantern, which in lore, is said to represent a “soul who has been denied entry into both heaven and hell”.
The modern imagery of Halloween comes from many sources, including Christian eschatology, national customs, works of Gothic and horror literature (such as the novels Frankenstein and Dracula) and classic horror films (such as Frankenstein and The Mummy). Imagery of the skull, a reference to Golgotha, in the Christian tradition, serves as “a reminder of death and the transitory quality of human life” and is consequently found in memento mori and vanitas compositions; skulls have therefore been commonplace in Halloween. One of the earliest works on the subject of Halloween is from Scottish poet John Mayne, who, in 1780, made note of pranks at Halloween; “What fearfu’ pranks ensue!”, as well as the supernatural associated with the night, “Bogies” (ghosts), influencing Robert Burns’ “Halloween” (1785). Elements of the autumn season, such as pumpkins, corn husks and scarecrows, are also prevalent. Homes are often decorated with these types of symbols around Halloween. Halloween imagery includes themes of death, evil, and mythical monsters. Black, orange, and sometimes purple are Halloween’s traditional colors.
*Disclosure: The next paragraphs contain Amazon Affiliate links*
Many authors have chosen this mystical time of year to set their stories in, and some of them are: John Bellairs (The House with a Clock in Its Walls), Ray Bradbury (Something Wicked This Way Comes), Agatha Christie (Hallowe’en Party), Franklin W. Dixon (Dead of Night), Daniel Handler (The Basic Eight), Norman Partridge (Dark Harvest), R.L. Stine (The Haunted Mask).
Some interesting books for children were also inspired by Halloween, written by: Adrienne Adams (A Halloween Happening), Lesley Bannatyne (Witches’ Night Before Halloween), Eve Bunting (In the Haunted House), Nancy L. Carson (Harriet’s Halloween Candy), Paulette Cooper (Let’s Find Out About Halloween), Margery Cuyler (The Bumpy Little Pumpkin).
In the spirit of this mysterious time of year, NoxWrite will dedicate the next few weeks to the authors and books inspired by mystery, horror, ghost and goth stories. I would like to invite you to join my reading list and to share your stories or opinions with our audience.
The books to be read and featured this month on NoxWrite: Mary Shelley (Frankenstein), Robert Louis Stevenson (Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde – Free for Kindle), Oscar Wilde’s (The Picture of Dorian Gray – Free for Kindle), Bram Stoker (Dracula), Edgar Allan Poe’s stories (The Tell-Tale Heart, The Murders in the Rue Morgue, The Black Cat, The Fall of the House of Usher, The Pit and The Pendulum, The Cask of Amontillado), Agatha Christie (Murder at the Vicarage, Cat Among the Pigeons, Hallowe’en Party), Ray Bradbury (The Halloween Tree).
If you have a story or a thought to share, write at firstname.lastname@example.org