Halloween (Pt 2)- Spirits

It’s impossible to talk about Halloween without mentioning the main aspects which make it both the most frightening and most fun of holidays, and that would be the goblins, ghouls and monsters – namely, the ghosts. Most people will have at least one memory, fond or otherwise, of being told a story on Halloween night about someone who is plagued by a malevolent spirit, or revisited by a long lost loved one. Nowadays, these ghost stories have been replaced by more realistic, visceral subjects like the axe wielding maniac hiding in the back seat of the car, or the infamous call coming from inside the house, but I think we can all agree that ghosts and spirits will always have a special place in Halloween. But why? Why is the idea of spirits so connected to this holiday?

As I mentioned before, everyone is a little more open to the concept of the supernatural around Halloween. We can even be said to get a bit obsessed, especially with trying to contact them –Ouija boards and midnight séances will never go out of style. More recently, these activities have become the stuff of children’s games (who didn’t challenge their friends to stand in front of a mirror and summon the Candy man at a sleepover?) but in the past, it was seen as a little more serious than that.

Going back to the ancient Celtic holiday of Samhain and the rift in time that was thought to be open during the end of October, it was common belief that spirits both good and bad roamed the world of the living. People believed their deceased loved ones, confused on their way through the afterlife, would walk the streets searching for Heaven, therefore places at the dinner table would be set for them to join their families once again. Some of these practices are still seen today, such as in Mexico’s Dia de Muertos, or Day of the Dead. This time of year was also seen as particularly good for one to have their fortune read, as the spirits of the dead were much more easily contactable. However, not all spirits were thought to be as nice as this.

The Celts also believed that the rift would lead to evil spirits taking to the streets, and here is where things start to look a lot more like a typical Halloween. These spirits would destroy crops and attempt to inhabit the bodies of passers-by, so everyone was understandably more wary on the streets around October time.

And isn’t this the same today? Many of us are already nervous of attackers lurking in the dark at night, but around Halloween we have the added threat of vampires and vengeful spirits. It’s not only us in the West either – if you’re in China you may be nervous of running into a particularly vicious Chiang-shih on Halloween night, or if you’re in Japan you may be dreading having an encounter with the infamous Slit-Mouthed Girl.

There are some other things, however, that never seem to change no matter what the time or culture. Lots of people in Celtic times used to cause trouble around town for fun and blame it on the evil spirits, their own get-out-of-jail-free card. Today, we are much less likely to believe that the one who egged our house was a vengeful ghost – but how many of us around October time hear a bump in the night and instantly think there’s a ghost in the kitchen before scolding ourselves for such thoughts?

Think about that as you try to go to sleep this Halloween.

-Chloë Perrin 2016