As I said in my last post, the ancient Celtic celebration of Samhain marks the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter. It is a time to ask the spirits for a little good news to help get you through the winter. For this reason, many of the things we associate with Halloween had to do with predicting the future.
Bobbing for apples is one tradition that seems a little out of place amongst all the spooky shit that goes on during Halloween. That’s because bobbing for apples is a Roman tradition associated with Pomona; the Roman goddess of fruits. Pomona got lumped in with Halloween when Pope Gregory III meshed a bunch of fall festivals together with All Saints Day to trick pagans into celebrating Catholic shit.
There are a couple variations on apple bobbing. One version involes biting an apple, peeling some skin off of it, wave it around your head three times and throw the peel over your shoulder. The peel will land in the shape of the first initial of your future spouse. I’m sure this game was popular with people whose name started with a lower-case L. Another version says if you sleep with the apple under your pillow you will have a dream about your true love. My favorite version is where if a girl gets an apple on the first try she will be blessed with true love. The more tries it takes, the less likely she is to find a man. If it takes a bunch of tries that means she’s a ho. That’s ironic since the game teaches girls the best way to find a husband is to get good at using her mouth while bobbing her head with her hands behind her back. Drunk Irish people (or as I like to call them: Irish) came up with a better version of bobbing for apples called “Snap Apple.” That’s where you take a stick with an apple on one end and a lit candle on the other and spin it around while people try to bite the apple instead of getting a mouth full of fire and hot wax.
Bonfires are a big part of the Samhain festivities, which draw a lot of insects, which in turn attracted bats. If a bat flies in through the window it means your house is haunted because a ghost let it in.
If you see a bat fly around your house three times it means someone is going to die. This must have been stressful for the Celts since pretty much all bats do is fly around in circles.
If you see a spider in your house during Samhain it is believed to be the spirit of one of your relatives watching over you. In modern times, seeing a spider is a sign that it’s time to set the house on fire, but back when bedbugs were just a part of everyday life, you’d probably be grateful to see one of those creepy little fuckers regulating on your nasty ass straw bed.
The colors Black and Orange are synonymous with Halloween because Orange symbolizes the leaves changing color and black symbolizes death. Yay!
The ancient Celts didn’t have witches as we know them today. In fact; if you ran into a magical old lady in the forest she was probably either some kind of deity or could give you a nice poultice to help clear up that rash on your balls. Amongst the various folklore old bitches (Known affectionately by the Celts as “Hags”), was the Cailleach Béara, who brought winter with her at Samhain and turns into stone on the first day of summer. She wasn't really good or evil. She helped people but could be a dick if you pissed her off. She also had her heart broken by some dude. Ancient gods were pretty human. Witches weren’t considered evil until the Roman Catholic church showed up and said they were. Celtic witches were wise and respected and the Catholics didn’t like that shit at all. The only people the bible hates more than the gays is women. Seriously, read the book.
The whole black cat on Halloween bit is from the Catholic version on witches, who keep black cats as familiars, which are demon companions that take the shape of animals. Basically, they get the memos from Satan and hand them to the witches. It’s an important job.
Speaking of evil; Candy corn was invented in the 1880’s by the Wunderlee Candy company. Originally it was called “Chicken Feed.” Chicken Feed was in a good position to benefit from the Halloween traditions that Irish immigrants brought to America during the potato famine because chicken feed was marketed to farmers and was associated with harvest time. When the practice of children running around begging for candy became popular Candy Corn became a Halloween staple because it is the cheapest shit you could get away with handing out, just like today.
Stay tuned for my next post where I’ll be exploring the modern history of Trick or Treating in America. Spoiler alert, It involves a lot of people being pieces of shit.