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Halloween is a wonderful day for kids to binge on all that candy and for people to get creative, put on make-up, and dress bizarrely. Symbols like black cats, witches, and pumpkins are everywhere during the season. But what are the true origins of these symbols used during Halloween?

The ancient Celtic Pagans celebrated a harvest festival known as Samhain on 1st November. Samhain was the day that marked the beginning of winter and the end of the harvest season. During the 9th century, Christianity spread throughout the Celtic lands. In 1000 A.D., the Church attempted to replace the pagan festival by celebrating All Saints Day on 2nd November. All Saints Day was also known as All-Hallowmas. All-Hallows Eve, the day before All Saints Day was purposefully made to coincide with Samhain. All Hallows Eve soon became Halloween.

Halloween reached the shores of New England in America. The Puritans condemned anything that was supernatural in nature and demonized the pagan festivals. Witches, or healers, were outcasts from society. Halloween began to be associated with the devil. During the 1920s Halloween became a secular festival in America that focused on community gatherings and friendliness between peoples. Read on to find out the true meanings of the symbols used during Halloween.

1.      Witches.

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Before the spread of Christianity and pagan festivals into Christian festivals, Samhain was a day celebrated as the end of summer. This was a day when the veil between the spiritual realm and the earthly realm became thin.

Ancient Celts used the thinning of the veil to talk to their ancestors, do divination, pray, and meditate. Healers, or witches, believed their magic would be extra strong on such a night. The Church did not like the idea of people doing magic. People demonized and condemned pagan witches and healers. Society executed some of them and the others fled from persecution by the Church.

This has led to the popular belief that witches are out to hurt and curse people. In actuality, witches are people who practiced the art of magic, meditation, and prayer. Even today, people who self-identify as witches celebrate rituals and honor the end of the ‘light’ part of Samhain’s year.

2. Costumes.

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Halloween is a day when people spend a lot of time doing scary make-up looks. They sometimes get creative and design their own costumes. But what does the symbol of wearing costumes mean?

On the night of Samhain, the pagans believe that it is easier to contact spirits. There might be spirits that you don’t want to treat. So they dressed up to trick the spirits away from them.

During the Middle Ages in Britain and Ireland, poor children would go door to door on the night of All Hallows-Eve. They would collect money and promise to pray for the dead souls in return. This practice was known as “souling”. Souling and the practice of dressing up in costumes eventually combined and gave rise to the practice of wearing scary costumes and trick-or-treating.

3. Jack O’lanterns.


Halloween’s fun family activity is to go shopping, pick out a pumpkin, and carve scary faces on the pumpkin. These pumpkins are called Jack O’Lanterns. But where did the symbol of the jack o’lantern come from?

When the children in Britain and Ireland used to go door-to-door promising prayers for the dead, they carried with them hollowed-out turnips with candles in them. These lights guided them through the streets. Eventually, this tradition changed to carving out pumpkins.

There is a popular legend about an Irishman man called “Stingy Jack”. He used to drink a lot and play pranks on people. Stingy Jack made God and the Devil angry. When he died, none of these two entities took him to their abode. He was left to spend his afterlife here on Earth. The Irish would carve scary faces on pumpkins and keep them outside their homes which they believed would keep Stingy Jack away.

4. Skeletons

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During Halloween, people dress up as skeletons or decorate their houses with figures of human bones. There is more to this symbol than meets the eye.

Halloween is the day that marks the end of summer. The pagans believe that the Sun god dies on this day, to be reborn on the Winter Solstice. The skeletons symbolize this death. It serves as a reminder that humans are mortal. All things eventually die in the cycle of life. Halloween also marks the end of the harvest. It is the death of a cycle and the transition into a new phase of the year. Cultures around the world use the skeleton as a symbol of death and renewal, or regeneration.

5. The Black Cat.

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Ancient religions taught that the cat could skip between the spiritual realms and the earthly realms whenever they wanted to. People who practice Wicca and Witchcraft believe cats can see spirits that we cannot see. This is why black cats are often associated with witches and witchcraft.

Witchcraft hysteria reined between 1560 and 1660 in Europe and New England. Puritans believed that witches could turn into black cats. They also believed that the devil gave the witch a black cat as a gift. This is why black cats have become a popular symbol that is used during Halloween.

6. Bats.

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On the night of Samhain, big bonfires were lit by the Celts. These bonfires kept the people warm and served as a guiding light during the dark night of Samhain. Since the sun god died on this day, the bonfires were lit as a tribute to the sun god’s passing into darkness.

These nighttime bonfires attracted a lot of insects. Bats would come to the bonfire to eat these insects. Bats are scary-looking creatures. There is also the popular belief that witches and vampires can turn into bats. These natural occurrences were coupled with superstitious beliefs and then turned into a symbol of Halloween to scare and frighten people. So now you have a good idea about these six symbols used during Halloween and what they mean. It is a much more fulfilling experience to know the history and origins of a particular practice before indulging in the said practice.