The celebration of Halloween has been quite controversial over Christian sects, with ultra-conservatives claiming that it is rooted in devil worship (it’s not).
The website Ancient Origins explains the roots of Halloween (All Hallow’s Eve) in the Gaelic tradition Samhain (pronounced sah-van or sow-in) which celebrating the change of seasons, and the coming of winter. The History website traces how the Romans, by 43 AD conquered the Celtic territories, and appropriated some of the people’s customs with theirs, leading to a celebration that was a hybrid of Roman tradition and the Celtic celebrations.
Things changed in 13 May 609 A.D., when Pope Boniface IV decided to honor Christian martyrs, and dedicated the Pantheon in Rome in their honor. Pope Gregory III moved this celebration from 13 May to 1 November.
Apart from the history of Halloween which is by now pretty well-known, there are also fascinating traditions during the celebration, including stories of ghouls and ghosts and things that go bump in the night? What are these traditions and beliefs, and how were these spread to mainstream consciousness?
DNX compiled various information from other sources, and these are some of what we found out.
Tuberculosis and Vampires
Tuberculosis (known as consumption then) spawned a fear of vampires in the US, including Vermont and Rhode Island. Rhode Island folklorist Michael Bell, in an article by the Smithsonian, said the symptoms – pale feverish skin, sunken eyes, the offensive breath, the emaciated look – all point to classic vampirism symptoms. The scare caused a flurry of exhumations by relatives who feared that their dead were coming back to haunt them.
The jack-o’-lantern has many roots but according to the National Geographic, its legend is traced on Stingy Jack. Stingy Jack was said to be a rather unsavoury fellow, a drunkard and mischief-maker par excellence who had the (mis)fortune of tricking the Devil twice. Well, you do not just trick the Devil and not think of repercussions. When it was time for him to die, neither Heaven nor Hell wanted to accept him. And so the Devil took pity on him and gave him an ember of coal to light his turnip, and so Jack and his lantern was cursed to wander between dimensions for eternity.
The tiyanak is not unique to Philippine culture. In fact, the paper The Intersection of Asian Supernatural Beings in Asian Folk Literature: A Pan-Asian Identity revealed that Malaysia has its own version, the toyol, while Thailand has the koman-tong/koman-lay. They have something in common: they are demons in the form of infants/toddlers, and are known to ambush wayfarers with a nasty bite to the neck. Dean of Philippine Lower Mythology Maximo Ramos said beliefs in the tiyanak were already prevalent before the Spaniards came; the conquerors merely used the beliefs by assimilating the folk superstition in their teachings, saying that the natives’ babies will turn into tiyanaks unless they are baptized in the Catholic faith.
Babaylans and brujas
Babaylans, spiritual healers and leaders, were actually victims black propaganda of the friars. The paper Understanding discrimination and violence vs women said when the Spaniards came here, they were unprepared by the strong hold of the babaylans over the local leaders. In an attempt to depower the spiritual leaders, the conquerors captured the babaylan, arrested them, accused them of witchcraft (brujas), and fed them to crocodiles. Apocryphal accounts said one time, the babaylan in Antique fought back, captured a friar, and dismembered him. That led to stories, reportedly, of the viscera-eating aswang in our culture.
GHOST IN THE MIRROR
The story of the ghost in front of the mirror saying the rosary is not common to just one school. Remember that story? A young girl was combing her hair in front of the mirror, and a ghost appeared over her shoulder and visible on the mirror. Panicked, the young girl prayed the rosary, but the ghost prayed along with her. Well, it appears that the urban legend is claimed by more than two schools, with students swearing that it happened to a friend of a friend. These could point to the fact that people are fond of urban legends and ghost stories, and would likely appropriate these or claim these as their own experience.
Whether these stories are true or not, they often come out during All Hallow’s Eve. And it is always a great opportunity to swap stories and tidbits about the celebration at this time of the year.