Meaning of Halloween and Its Legends

         Myth, Legend or Fact
    For modern, rational people, Halloween is just a bit of fun. Few nowadays
    actually believe in vampires, werewolves, witches (the broomstick-propelled
    variety, rather than the non-flying, new-age nature priestesses) or zombies. But
    nothing comes of nothing, and the truly rational might be forgiven for asking if
    there are any scientific explanations lying behind the myths.

    There are certainly plausible speculations. The first scientific hypothesis for
    vampirism, proposed in 1985 by David Dolphin, a chemist at the University of
    British Columbia, was that those thought to be suffering from it were actually
    the victims of a genetic disease called porphyria.

    This illness has one of whose more famous victims, King George lll, as it makes
    the skin sensitive to sunlight. That is why sufferers tend to avoid the sun.
    Porphyria can also cause retraction of the gums, making a person's teeth appear
    longer than normal. And it frequently results in red urine, which might, in a
    convoluted way, have led to the notion of drinking blood.

    A competing idea, published this year by Juan Gomez-Alonso, a Spanish
    neurologist, is that the vampire legend was inspired by rabies. The symptoms of
    rabies include insomnia, an aversion to mirrors and strong smells (though not
    specifically to garlic), and an increased sex drive. And rabies, of course, is
    transmitted by biting.

    Rabies is probably also the explanation for lycanthropy-the apparent tendency of
    some people to turn into wolves from time to time. Like vampirism, lycanthropy
    is transmitted by biting. But in this case the resemblance to the real disease is
    even stronger, for the biting is done by a wolf (albeit one with distinctly human
    overtones), and wolves do carry rabies, which they may have sometimes passed
    on to people. Since the madness that accompanies late-stage rabies could easily
    appear bestial to an uneducated eye, the idea that a wolf-bite may sometimes
    infect a victim with wolf-like characteristics might not have seemed all that far-
    fetched a few hundred years ago.

    In practice few, if any, people have been shot with silver bullets as werewolves,
    or had stakes driven through their hearts van-Helsing-style as vampires. Staking
    of a different kind was, however, a real risk for those accused of witchcraft in
    17th-century Europe or America.

    Part of the reputation of witchcraft is almost certainly due to the effects of
    naturally occurring hallucinogenic drugs. One that frequently gets the blame is
    muscarine, the active ingredient of fly agaricsthe red and white toadstools
    beloved of the illustrators of books of fairy tales. Consumption of even quite
    small amounts of fly agaric is likely to enable the diner to converse with the
    gnomes who inhabit the toadstools in question or, even more pertinently, to fly.

    A second fungus, with the less fetching name of Claviceps purpurea, is also
    implicated in witchcraft. Claviceps is the natural source of LsD, perhaps the
    most famous hallucinogen of all. It grows as a parasite on rye, and the "trip"
    produced by eating infected rye is known today as ergotism. But in earlier times,
    such druginduced visions might well have borne alternative, more magical,

    And as Mary Kilbourne Matossian, a researcher and author on the effects of
    disease on history, observed a few years ago, many of the 17th-century witch
    panics (including that at Salem, Massachusetts) occurred in places where rye was
    widely cultivated, and after weather that was propitious for the growth of

    Zombies are also thought by some researchers to be people who have passed
    through a drug-induced state. Unlike vampires, werewolves and witches, zombies
    are a purely New-World phenomenon. Specifically, they come from Haiti.
    Zombies are supposed to be the "living dead".

    In fact, the process of zombification seems to involve the deliberate poisoning
    of an individual with toxin from a puffer fish (the sort used to make the prized
    but dangerous Japanese dish fugu). This puts him into a death-like trance, from
    which he is revived with a potion made from the seeds of a hallucinogenic plant
    known as the zombie cucumber. The result, apparently, is a biddable slave who is
    convinced he has died and been resurrected. Trick or treat?

    These scary Halloween legends may also be known as urban legends, which is a
    contemporary story with an ironic or supernatural twist. Instead of beginning
    "once upon a time," many urban legends start with an insistence that the story is
    "absolutely true." Some storytellers add that they heard the story from a
    friend or read the story in the newspaper. On closer inspection, certain "facts"
    about the story don't seem logical. No matter, urban legends make great stories
    to tell others. Try a scary story late at night at one your sleep-overs.

    Something Scary in the Attic
    When Susan was scared, her big blue eyes seemed to grow even bigger, and the
    freckles on her ten-year-old nose stood out even more. Right now, both were
    highly visible.

    "Mama, there's something in our attic!" she cried, as she rushed into the Bakers'
    sunlit kitchen, where her mother was fixing dinner.

    "Dust, probably," said her mother, as she carefully washed the chicken.

    They had moved to this big, old two-story house only two months before, and
    there was still much to do that was a lot more important than cleaning the attic.

    "No, Mama. It's something scary!" Susan was trembling.

    "Mmmm," her mother murmured, her mind on a dozen other things.

    Susan tried again. It was no picnic being the middle child in a family of five boys
    and girls. No one noticed what you were doing or saying. "Mama, it's black, and
    there's no head, and it's just standing there!" Her words tumbled like the
    baby's alphabet blocks. "Come and see it!" She tugged at her mother's arm and
    tried to slip her small, shaky hand into her mother's warm, reassuring one.

    "Oh, well," sighed her mother, putting the chicken in a shiny silver roasting pan.
    "We'd better get this mystery solved, or the Bakers will never have supper

    Susan crowded her way up the stairs, close beside her mother, saying over and
    over, "It scared me!"

    Mrs. Baker, with Susan safely behind her, swung open the attic door. She pulled a
    chain overhead and flooded the storage attic with soft light. Over in the far
    comer it stood, waiting.

    Mrs. Baker laughed. "Why, Susan, it's an old dress form. It must be more than
    fifty years old."

    "What's a dress form?" was Susan's first question.

    "Dressmakers use them for trying on dresses and blouses when you're sewing,"
    her mother said. "Your grandmother used to have one. In fact, it looked a lot like
    this one, covered with black knit cloth and all."

    Susan began feeling better when Mama explained the odd presence. Her mind
    was at ease now, and she knew she could sleep better that night.

    "Could you use it, Mama?" was Susan's next question. She still wouldn't walk very
    close to the black object.

    "Maybe," Mrs. Baker replied thoughtfully. "It looks about my size, although my
    waist isn't that small. Well, now that you know what scared you, let's go back
    downstairs so I can finish making supper."

    Soon the dress form was forgotten. For Susan there was school, her friends,
    sports, and exciting plans for Halloween.

    Every year Bridgeport had a giant Halloween parade. Boys and girls marched
    down the town's main street in the spookiest, cleverest, funniest, craziest
    costumes they could devise. The band played, people lined the streets, and the
    procession ended at City Auditorium. It was there that the judging took place.

    There were three prizes in each grade division: preschool, first and second,
    third and fourth, and fifth and sixth grades. First prize in each division was
    fifteen dollars; second prize, ten dollars; and third, five dollars.

    Susan and her best friend, Alison, talked about the Halloween contest for days--
    before school, at recess time, during lunch, and as they walked home from school.

    "Oh, Alison," Susan would say, "if only my costume would win! Remember last year
    when my younger brother and sister won first with their cat and fiddle

    Alison would remind her, "Yes, and the year before, your brother Tom won
    second with his Tin Man outfit."

    Susan could almost feel the prize money in her hand and hear her parents and
    friends applaud when they announced her name--"Susan Baker, first-prize winner
    in the fifth-and-sixth-grade division!" It was wonderful to imagine!

    But what could she wear to win such a prize?

    Three days before the wonderful parade, while she was drying dishes, Susan
    asked her mother, "Mama, what can I do for the Halloween parade? It'll soon be

    Mrs. Baker paused in her pot scrubbing and looked out the window, lost in thought.

    "Are you thinking, Mama?" Susan wanted to know. Mrs. Baker had a lively
    imagination and every year seemed to come up with extremely clever, original
    ideas for Halloween costumes. In fact, there was a Baker child among the
    winners almost every time. After all, there were five of them to enter the
    Halloween parade.

    "I've got it, Susan!" she suddenly announced.

    "What, Mama, what?" Susan's blue eyes widened in anticipation.

    "We'll use that old dress form we found in our attic," Mrs. Baker said with

    "That old dress form?" Susan sounded disappointed. She looked disappointed, too.

    "It will make a great costume," her mother promised. "Just wait and see."

    Long after the dishes were dried and put away, Susan lay in her bunk bed and
    pondered just how the old dress form could possibly win a prize in the costume

    The big night came, and everyone in the Baker household was getting ready for
    the Halloween parade. After the younger children were settled in their
    costumes, Mrs. Baker brought the dress form down from the attic. She had cut
    two holes in the lower torso for Susan's eyes to peek out and had dressed the
    model in a man's shirt and tie. Around the neck hung a carefully handwritten sign:
    "The Headless Horseman."

    Susan was delighted. She held her breath as her mother carefully dropped the
    dress form over her head.

    "Can you see out?" Mama asked.

    "Kind of," replied Susan. "How about shoes, Mama?"

    "Wear Tom's old dress-up shoes," was Mrs. Baker's solution. So Susan trudged
    down Main Street as The Headless Horseman, remembering the frightening
    story of Ichabod Crane.

    It was hot in the City Auditorium. Perspiration trickled down Susan's freckled
    face inside her awkward costume. Some older boys shoved her so hard that she
    almost fell over; others jerked at her shirt. Then the dress form slipped to one
    side, and Susan could barely see. But she could hear Alison nearby, "Are you OK,

    Susan nodded, but of course, no one could see.

    It seems like hours since I left home, Susan told herself. Will the judges ever
    be through?

    Age group by age group, winners' names were announced. There was much
    confusion in City Auditorium, and the suspense was fierce.

    "First prize in the fifth-and-sixth-grade division, Susan Baker, as The Headless
    Horseman!" came the voice over the public-address system.

    Susan could not get her hands out from under the dress form to take the
    envelope. "I'll hold the prize money for her," Alison volunteered, and Susan was
    too excited to thank her.

    Mr. Baker lifted the dress form off his daughter's sweaty body, and soon
    everyone in the family crowded around, laughing and talking at the same time.

    As they drove home, Susan held the prize money in her hand and looked at the
    dusty, black dress form on the car seat beside her, "And to think you once
    almost scared me silly," she whispered.

                                                   Vanishing Hitchhiker
    This is an absolutely true story. It happened to one of my best friends when he
    was about your age. He was driving home from a dance and saw a beautiful girl by
    the side of the road. He stopped to give her a ride home. She said it was a long
    way to her house, but he said that didn't matter. He thought that would give him
    more time to get to know her.

    He found out her name was Lavender and she loved the color and often. it often.
    Sure enough, she was wearing it that night. He asked her if she would go to the
    movies with him tomorrow night. She said okay.

    As he was driving, he noticed that the countryside was getting spookier and
    spookier; he had never been on this road before. Lavender begins shivering in the
    cold night air and he offered her his jacket. As he let her out at the decrepit
    shack she called home, he told her she could keep his jacket until tomorrow night.

    The next night Lavender didn't come to the movies as she had promised. So he
    drove back up to her home to find out why she stood him up and to get his jacket.
    An old couple answered the door.

    "I'm looking for Lavender," he said. "She promised to go to the movies with me.
    Is she sick or something?"

    The couple looked confused. The old man glanced at his wife, swallowed and said,
    "Our daughter Lavender has been dead for over twenty years."

    "That's impossible! I saw her last night! She has my jacket!"

    "I can show you her grave if you like. It's behind the house," the old man offered.
    When the boy saw Lavender's grave, he gasped. On the grave, neatly folded, was
    his jacket.

    Abducted at School
    A friend of mine was driving back from the high school play one night. She noticed
    a pick-up truck following her out of the parking lot, but she didn't think anything
    about it until she noticed that when she picked up speed, the driver of the truck
    increased his speed. When she passed a car, so did he. Each time he turned on his
    high beams, flooding her car with light.

    Now she was getting a bit uneasy, especially when he turned off with her on the
    deserted road to her house. He kept following her closely, turning on his high
    beams again and again. Finally he turned on his high beams and left them on.

    At last she pulled into her driveway and the truck pulled in behind her. "Call the
    police!" she screamed to her parents as she ran to the door.

    When the police arrived, they started to arrest the man in the truck. The man
    shook his head and said, "It's not me you want. It's that guy in her car."

    Crouched in the back seat of the girl's car was a man with a knife. According to
    the driver, the man slipped into my friend's car just before she drove off from
    the school. The truck driver saw the man, but he couldn't stop him. So he
    followed my friend, flashing his high beams every time the man rose up to
    overpower her.

    Leopard in the Luggage
    In northern Transvaal, a leopard was killing a farmer's sheep. Finally he called on
    an expert to help him capture the leopard. Soon the leopard was tranquilized and

    The farmer didn't have the heart to kill it. Instead, he decided to release the
    leopard at a game reserve. He had no cage so he put the tranquilized leopard in a
    large suitcase and started down the road to Kruger Park.

    Along the way he parked his Landrover and walked away to relieve himself in the
    bushes. When he returned to the road, his vehicle was gone. At first the farmer
    was angry, but then he laughed at the thought of the thieves opening the suitcase.

    Costumes Are A Must
    Dressing up in costumes. Telling scary stories. Trick-or-treating. Carving
    pumpkins. These are the things that come to mind when most people think of
    Halloween. But did you ever wonder where these spooky traditions started?

                                    A Scary House Would Be Great!

    The origins of Halloween date back 2,000 years, to a group called the Celts
    (kelts). They lived in what are now Ireland, Scotland, and Wales. The Celts would
    gather on October 31 to celebrate the end of the harvest season. They had big
    feasts and swapped scary stories of the supernatural.

    Some experts say the Celts believed that the spirits of the dead roamed the
    Earth on that night. To scare away the spirits, the Celts may have dressed up
    like the dead. Who knows whether a Spider-Man or Cinderella costume would
    have done the trick!

    People in Ireland and Scotland used to make lanterns by carving up turnips and
    putting candles inside. They may have used the lanterns to scare off the spirits
    of the dead. When immigrants came to America, they continued the tradition but
    used pumpkins, which were easier to find.

    Legends say that the Celts would set out food for wandering spirits on October
    31. Those offerings may have been the first Halloween treats. Another tradition
    started on All Hallows' Day in England. Poor people would dress in costumes and
    knock on the doors of the rich, hoping to get "treats" like money and food.

    Centuries ago, Roman Catholics began celebrating All Hallows' Day, also known as
    All Saints Day, on November 1. The word hallowed means "holy." The night before
    became known as All Hallows' Eve. That was later shortened to Halloween. Some
    of the spooky Celtic traditions that had started years before continued on that
    night. These traditions changed and grew into the holiday people celebrate today.

    Word to Know
    supernatural soo-pur-na-cha-ruhl) noun. something outside of nature or beyond
    the visible world, such as a spirit.

    Rogers, N. 2003. Halloween: From Pagan Ritual to Party Night.
    Morton, L. 2012. Trick or Treat: A History of Halloween.