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Halloween Myths & Monsters

By Lesley Bannatyne excerpted from A Halloween How-Tohalloween seance

“I hate Halloween,” exclaims an elderly caller on an AM radio talk show in Maryland. “They should get rid of it. Kids today are just destructive.”

“Halloween glorifies Satan,” warns a preacher on national cable television. “Kids shouldn’t dress up as devils, period.”

“I would never let my children go out trick or treating alone,” confides a D.C.-area mom of her six year-old and ten-year old. “I’d never forgive myself if something happened.”

People hurl invectives at Halloween like bullets. It’s dangerous. Bang. It’s Satanic. Bang. It’s commercial. Bang. It’s too scary, too corrupted, too sanitized. Bang, bang, bang.

But when people rail against Halloween, they don’t really mean Halloween. What they usually mean is let’s get rid of vandalism, or begging, or slasher movies. (The actual holiday serves a need so human we’ll probably still be celebrating when the ice cap melts and we’re all trick or treating in powerboats.) And the more popular Halloween gets, the more we hear about the down side: razor blades in apples, black cat kidnappings, Satanic rituals. What’s true, exaggerated, or just plain made-up? Let’s turn on the light and see what’s a monster and what’s simply a coat tree casting a shadow on the wall.

Halloween Myths: True or False? Halloween is a Holiday for Witches. True. Samhain (sow-en), celebrated on October 31st, is one of eight major seasonal holidays marked by many contemporary witches and neopagans.

Modern-day pagans use solstices and quarter days to mark the turning points of the year. Samhain’s reserved for honoring ancestors and remembering loved ones who’ve died, and for acknowledging the cyclical nature of living and dying.

Although practices vary widely, most will gather for a ritual. There’s nothing Satanic involved. Nor are there sacrifices, invocations of evil, or naked orgies. The meeting place (be it inside or out) would likely be lit with candles and jack-o-lanterns, and decorated with harvest fruits and vegetables. People would enter quietly and gather in a circle. There might be a brief invocation of a goddess or god to provide wisdom, or a guided visualization to help participants understand the process of death and rebirth. Participants might remember people in their lives who have died recently, express grief, and share memories. The ritual might include some scrying (looking into the future) and conclude with everyone dancing to the beat of a drum and chanting. Samhain is a time of death–of the summer and the fields–but within the frozen ground are beginnings of new life, and the goddess will return at the appointed time. The earth will green.

Satanic cults use Halloween to perform ritualistic crimes. False. There are two questions to address here. First, to what extent do Satanic cults or ritualistic crimes really exist? And secondly, what’s Satan’s connection to Halloween?

Encyclopediaist J. Gordon Melton calls Satanism “the world’s largest religion that does not exist.” The largest organized Satanist-style cults such as the Church of Satan or the Temple of Set (never more than a few hundred members in their heyday) are now largely dormant, and Melton has discovered that most practicing Satanic cults usually number three to five people and last only a few months. There is no religious denomination or even any cult today celebrates the Devil on Halloween, not even so-called Satanists, since they don’t acknowledge the existence of any higher power including Satan. In addition, there are no confirmed statistics, court cases, or studies to support the idea that serious Satanic cult crime even exists (for a good study of Satanic cult activity in America today, read Jeffrey Victor’s Satanic Panic). It turns out that most of the devil-worshipping activity reported in the media is perpetrated by teenagers based on what they’ve read in church literature or seen in movies.

So how did Satan get tied to Halloween? Satan didn’t come into the formula until the 14th through 17th centuries-loosely, the time of the witch craze-when witches were thought to make a pact with the Devil at their rituals. Fears of witchcraft and Satanic rituals had abated with the Enlightenment, and by the 20th century, pointy black hats and red horns were simply part of the fun of Halloween. But films like Rosemary’s Baby, The Exorcist, and all the Halloween movies (among many, many others) have etched a more detailed, modern persona for the Devil in our imaginations. When Hollywood started to mine Halloween imagery for terror, churches become more vocal about celebrating Halloween, and rumors of Satanic rituals grew rampant.

It may simply be that Halloween’s symbols are incendiary. In our image-based society, somewhere along the line we began to confuse symbols of death with those of Hell. I suspect it’s Hollywood, more than anything else, that helped put the hell in Halloween.

Black cats are in danger on Halloween. Rarely, but yes. Over the past decade or so newspapers have run several stories about black cats being abducted and used in occult rites on Halloween–there’ve been reports of mysterious animal bone graveyards and satanic symbols drawn on and around cats. What you don’t usually see is the terse follow-up story, several weeks later and not nearly on the front page, explaining that no abduction occurred, or that the bones were part of a known animal graveyard.

Around 1997, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) instituted a better-safe-than-sorry policy and advised against the adoption of black cats three days before and after Halloween. In that year, the organization got suspicious when a woman adopted a black cat, but when the ASPCA made a follow-up call to see how the cat was doing, the woman reported the cat was dead. When ASPCA workers came to pick up the body, they discovered she’d given a phony address. The investigation of the case halted there. Was the cat harmed? Was it somehow related to Halloween? We won’t ever know. But taking a proactive approach seemed the Society’s safest choice.

As of 2001, the staff of the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) had not personally witnessed a case of black cat abuse at Halloween (in fact, most shelters report no such cases). It has, however, reported hearing stories, and so recommended protection of black cats around Halloween.

The threat is not all smoke and mirrors. There have been a few, highly publicized incidents of black cat abuse around Halloween–I was able to find and track a dozen reported incidents between 1992 and 1999 (for comparison, in roughly the same time period, an estimated 2500 dogs and cats had died or suffered during air travel, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture). Upon further investigation, some cases turned out to be unrelated to Halloween or black cats: two of the cats were unharmed, only seven of the incidents involved black cats (as opposed to brown cats or tabbies), and it’s difficult to document how many happened on or near Halloween (either the shelters had gone out of business or the staff could not remember). In the only case that was prosecuted, the perpetrators were teenagers. Oftentimes, confusing the issue, journalists report examples of animal abuse that have taken place at other times of the year in articles about black cat abuse at Halloween. As a result, the sense of a crisis exists where there are only unrelated, isolated incidents, none of them involving ritual sacrifice by Satanic cults, but rather cruelty and crimes committed by individuals.

The increased media, however, does give the shelters and humane societies a chance to educate the public about pet safety. For those who love and care for cats, saving even one life makes any effort worthwhile.


About Chris Molnar

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19 comments

  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. mm

    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. Great Story, way to put them straight!

  10. 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!!)

  11. mm
    Halloween Alliance

    Ha ha, there’s a Zombie walk in my town every year. Lots of fun!

  12. ahh i liek halloween, only it scares me, sadly ]=
    idunno; ahlot of people scare me on it]=

  13. 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.

  14. 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

  15. 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

  16. egging houses, toilet paper, orange spray paint, and the Misfits: thats what makes a great halloween

  17. 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.

  18. 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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