Halloween Myths & Monsters

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Zombies, Goblins and Ghoulszombie

Here’s a rundown on what makes a zombie different from a ghoul or a goblin: a zombie, via Haitian folklore, is a corpse who’s up and about because a witch doctor has dug it up and stolen its soul. A goblin, from French folklore, plays pranks and steals wine–but can also be slightly helpful. A ghoul, of Arabic origin, eats corpses and, sometimes, young children; it was once thought to be the terror of the desert personified. These are all lower creatures of world mythology. Now a ghost–that’s a different story. A Gallup Poll taken around Halloween, 1999 found that roughly one third of us say we believe in ghosts, three times the number who admitted it twenty years ago.


The first Halloween ghosts were perhaps, as Ray Bradbury suggests in The Halloween Tree, memories of our great grandparents. It’s not hard to envision ancient tribes camped around a Samhain fire telling stories of heroes and battles, strange encounters and unexplained sights. As the night stretched on, we can imagine how the tales grew more vivid, the subjects more supernatural. There would be talk of ghosts.

Although it makes poetic sense for spectral activity to increase on Halloween, most ghost investigators I’ve talked with say it’s just not so. We humans may be more aware of the spirit world on Halloween, but the spirit world appears to treat the holiday as just another night.


As for vampires, they have no real folkloric tie to Halloween other than as a favorite costume choice and a certain similarity with the other undead characters of Halloween.

Fascination with vampires crosses all age groups and lifestyles, from the little boy ogling a slick black-cape-and-fang set in the Halloween aisle at Wal-Mart to the hordes of adults entrenched in vampire role-playing games. There are those who believe in psychic vampires, individuals who suck the life energy from those around them; human vampires, who claim they experience all the characteristics of fictional vampires except immortality; even in supernatural vampires who inhabit a netherworld also populated by ghosts. But among those who believe themselves to truly be vampires or take on a vampiric demeanor as a lifestyle, Halloween is still largely a holiday where they can delight in the freedom to be who they are; it’s is the only night when the rest of the world looks like them.


Imagine yourself answering the door and getting hit with a bag full of slimy, stinking muck from the bottom of the street gutter? Or being trapped in your own house by some kids who knotted a rope from your front door to your porch railing? Toilet paper in the trees seems pretty tame by comparison. Yet all these tricks date from a time when Halloween pranking was considered safe and fun. Most people didn’t object to these kinds of pranks; they tossed them off as mischief. Today they’d make the papers under headlines such as “Vandals Caught in Halloween Prank Gone Awry” or “Satanic Cult Linked to Cow Theft.”

It’s true that pranks have become more destructive. And a real shift has occurred between then and now, between a time when adults tolerated a certain amount of pranking and now, when angry seniors berate teens on radio talk shows. The change in attitude has less to do with the holiday and more to do with social tensions between classes, races and generations. Halloween’s just the backdrop for the drama.

When everyone knew their neighbors, pranks got pulled on the local grouch and people smiled guiltily to themselves. But when Americans moved into crowded urban centers full of big city problems like poverty, segregation and unemployment, pranking took on a new edge. Vandals struck out against property owners, adults, and authority in general: city kids setting dumpsters on fire didn’t know who owned the property they were torching. Tires were slashed without regard to whose car. It wasn’t about pulling off a good practical joke any more; it was about doing damage.

The war between kids and property on Halloween has been fought pretty hard over the last twenty years. There are notorious cities like Detroit, where in 1984, a record of 810 fires were set during the three-day period around Halloween. Halloween vandalism seemed to reach a peak in the late 1980s. The Halloween “Mall Crawl” in Boulder, Colorado ended in drunken fighting and property damage. There were a record number of arrests in New York City for Halloween-related assaults, and violence in the usually peaceful Castro district of San Francisco. Curfews and community action came into being to fight back against crime.

They scored some pretty dramatic wins. In 1994, Detroit enlisted 35,000 residents to patrol the streets and keep watch over abandoned properties and the number of fires reported that Halloween were fewer than on an ordinary night. Neighborhood Crime Watches and “Pumpkin Patrols” continue to crop up across the country to help ensure that the little kids got home safely and the bigger kids stayed out of trouble. And many cities have started sponsoring concerts and dances for teens on Halloween.

Arson, vandalism, and harassment are not a normal part of Halloween mischief, but that doesn’t mean there’s no room left for pranks. Pranks and vandalism are apples and oranges, and learning the difference between them is part of growing up.


The biggest Halloween danger is probably traffic. Former Boston helicopter traffic reporter Judy Paparelli says the accidents start first thing in the morning–it’s not just night that’s a problem on Halloween. Drunk drivers are part of it: the other parts of the problem are low visibility and carelessness.

Experts warn that most little kids aren’t ready to handle street-crossing by themselves, and often overestimate how quickly they can cross or rely too much on the “magical” power of a crosswalk to protect them. The Centers for Disease Control (together with the Division of Unintentional Injury Prevention and the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control) compiled statistics of Halloween-related traffic deaths from 1975 through 1996 and found that: “overall, among children aged 5-14 years, an average of four deaths occurred on Halloween during these hours each year, compared with an average of one death during these hours on every other day of the year.”

Halloween sadists and Satanist psychos don’t hurt kids on Halloween. Cars do. No devil-worshipping cult lies in wait for us. But, yes, there are twisted pranksters and angry, unhealthy people in the world. Sometimes Halloween safety restrictions are really a smoke screen for intolerance, and sometimes Halloween mischief masks serious social ills. The real Halloween monsters are the same monsters we live with every day: bad judgment, anger and small-mindedness. The challenge is to battle these everyday threats and leave alone those traditions that strengthen communities and make childhood magical.

By Lesley Bannatyne excerpted from A Halloween How-To, 2001 Pelican Publishers ISBN 1-56554-774-8

  1. I love Halloween, ghost storys and wich craft I love it all! I am only 15 years old but its my life that involves Halloween!

  2. i love halloween the trick or treating costumes decorations its so fun and its the only school night i give to stay up late at. i am ten years old and i love halloween and call me crazy but i love to get scared

  3. Alana, it’s even more fun when you grow up! Then you can decorate your own house and scare all the trick or treaters. Happy Halloween!

  4. i love halloween-my fav holiday-its so cool i love the bone chilling feeling u get when u scare someone or ur scared

  5. I love Halloween, too! So does my daughter. The parties, costumes, decorations, candy, and fun. This year I decorated the bedroom and my daughter drew the pictures.

  6. I’m 15 and i luv our Small town at halloween! I always go to circle drive and just circle and circle until they say “Hey! you’ve already been here!” then it’s off to go egg or toliet paper my friends houses. Since almost nothing happens here me and my friends go and creep into alley’s to scare everybody. at halloween it’s so much better cause u an wear a disguse!!! I LUV HALLOWEEN!!! it’s sooo fun!

  7. i love halloween.i love you site its awesome.you get to be what you want to be,but my favorite part about your site is the scary music.it sounds like your being stalked.my biggest point is HALLOWEEN ROCKS I LOVE IT.

  8. Halloween is soooooooooo awesome!!! Those who hate it are crazy. It is all myths, legends, scary stuff, pranks, candy, games, and the history. So much HISTORY!!Halloween history is just so spooky and the cool thing is that there are so many tales of its history going around that you can pretty much believe what you want. But I strongly believe in the pieces of history that link Halloween to the Celtics in Ireland. Those bits of info are extremely believable and are told most often. Who knows? It could ACTUALLY be where it all began. THAT would be extremely cool. I guess my point is that Halloween is the best and it TOTALLY ROCKS!! =D

  9. Here in Canada, the best part of Haloween is hangin’ with the Zombie Appreciation Society. They are a bunch of people who think zombies are cool, and starting October 5th, they dress up as zombies, hide in parks and alleyways and parks, waiting to scare people( my mom’s friend even had a run-in with them!!)

  10. I Love Halloween! I am what one would call a haunter. I work year round Building and produceing haunts in colorado. And i never get tired of it Halloween is my life and it always will be! P.s. Happy Haunting.

  11. I love anything that includes Scares, Scares is my life!
    Halloween, ghost storys,urban legends, witch craft, myths, monsters. you name it all!
    im only 14 years of age, but i live for It all
    Who ever Thinks Halloween is a waste of time, you know what? MORE CANDY AND SCARES FOR ME!

    Anyways Wish you all a good upcoming Halloween. Happy scaring

  12. I like halloween and enjoy the gore and blood and guts the cheesey halloween movies and the myths and ghost stories and i have two children who lovess halloween as much as i do they are 9 and 4 yrs and likes all the same things as i do amd my husband plays halloween pranks as well but the down side to all things are there are really sicko that do take the fun out of halloween and make parnets afriad to take kids door to door… I remember when it was ok to go door to door all that change as have a happy and safe haloween

  13. OMG! The ladies at the beginning are phsyco. Acting like Halloween is all bad n stuff. Get a Life. Anyway enjoy halloween. just dont let yo kids dress like Satan.

  14. MY personal thoughts is that this lady in the story “STRAIGHT UP FREAKIN OUT YO”!!!!!!. Halloween is ancient and mysterious, I think Halloween should be a night for you to explore your wild, weird and or freaky side. Its a night to be what ever u set your mind to. Of course “Halloween is not a night that glorifies Satan,”. “Halloween is just fun, mysterious. I am 14, I have been dressing up, trick -or- treating for as long as I could remember, I still dress up and go out on Halloween night (October 31, every year). These are the things that Halloween is set on these two basic Halloween facts: in child Halloween world, Halloween is a night that little kids and older kids can dress up as anything and in teenage girl and early 20 year old girls: Halloween is a night where a girl can dress up as a TOTAL slut and NO other girl can say ANYTHING about it. I love Halloween if everyone who think its bad to dress up like all the bad creatures including satan, then they are just stupid to think that. Halloween is not that bad of a holiday that ends up to be at the last day of October doesn’t matter what day of the week the day and or night Halloween is on. I love it so much that even though I am a teenager and how lame it is to go trick-or-treating I don’t really care, or if I should care that I might be to old for trick-or-treating now. I will be still treak or treating when I have my own kids to go out on Halloween night with. For this year year I am going in all black which is aronic that I like to be seen and wear colourful clothes so much. Halloween is basically made for me since I like weird stuff so much and like being weird.

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