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Halloween History and a Conversation with the Holiday’s Leading Expert, Lesley Bannatyne – The Big Séance Podcast: My Paranormal World #18

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Lesley Bannatyne, the nation's leading expert on Halloween, The Big Séance Podcast

 

Halloween is just days away, so what better time to talk about the history of my favorite holiday with the nation’s leading expert on Halloween, Lesley Bannatyne! She’s the author of five books on the topic of Halloween, including Halloween: An American Holiday, an American History, which will celebrate 25 years of being in print in 2015. Click HERE for my review of this book.

 

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Halloween History

Topics discussed in this episode:

Can you guess Lesley’s favorite Halloween candy?

Lesley shares some of her favorite memories from the holiday. 

Where did Halloween come from?

  • Samhain
  • Harvest
  • Darkness and the coming winter
  • Folklore and Superstition
  • “The Other World”
  • All Hallows/All Saints Day
  • All Souls Day
  • Pranks and Mischiefs
  • Guy Fawkes
  • Victorians and Halloween Parties

When did Trick-or-Treating become a part of Halloween? 1940s

  • Kids and mischief around Halloween
  • Adults threw Halloween parties to keep young people from mischief and vandalism. It didn’t work. 
  • Adults learned to offer food and treats (extortion/begging?) in exchange for no mischief or violence on their property. 
  • Trick-or-Treating seen on television for the first time
  • Trick-or-Treat for Unicef (charity)

When did costumes go from being disguises to a way of expression? Costumes then and now. 

Our favorite symbols of Halloween. Where did they come from?

  • The Witch
  • The Black Cat
  • The Bat
  • Pumpkins and Jack-o-Lanterns
  • Are Scarecrows disappearing?

The Victorians and Halloween… how did they celebrate?

  • Parties and Decorations
  • Games
  • “Dumb Supper”
  • Seeing the image of your future love

Lesley shares how she researched and found historic articles and information from Halloweens past from vintage periodicals. 

Urban Myths about Halloween

  • Fear
  • Apples and razor blades
  • Black Cats and Satanic Sacrifice

Church, Religion, and Halloween

How has Halloween changed since Lesley’s book was first released?

What does duct tape have to do with Halloween? (Ha!)

 

For More on Lesley Bannatyne:

www.iskullhalloween.com

Lesley’s Books

For More Halloween History

Why Halloween Matters

The Literature of Old Halloween

Check out Lesley’s appearance on the BBC on Halloween day!

Check out her appearance on the History Channel’s The Real Story of Halloween

 

Thanks, Lesley!

 

Don’t forget!! Are you a regular listener? Please e-mail (or call, or SpeakPipe) with where you’re listening from, and how you’re listening! I’d appreciate it! Patrick@BigSeance.com

 

Sam Haynes, Spine ChillersSpooky Music featured on this episode is from Sam Haynes. You can find more about Sam and his music at http://www.hauntmusic.co.uk/. Thanks, Sam!

 

 

 

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A New Spin On Your Halloween Altar and Decorations

 

Have you ever decorated a Halloween Altar? Do you know what a Halloween Altar is? There are different types of these altars. Some are downright spooky and clearly meant to be, but others are very reverent and sometimes referred to as “Ancestor Altars”. These altars are used in the Mexican Day of the Dead traditions, but they were used by other cultures as well, like the ancient Celts and in the Gaelic festival of Samhain. In the Ancestor Altar, one would place photos or artifacts belonging to their ancestors on an elaborately decorated table, which even sometimes displayed fruits and vegetables from the harvest. According to psychic medium MarVeena Meek, in the beginning, these altars were designed out of fear that one’s recently passed family members would come back to haunt them if they didn’t show that they were honoring and remembering them. She also says that often altars were used as a plea to passed on spirits to help them (from the Other Side) make it through the winter after the harvest. The skull is almost always a part of one of these altars, and apparently they’re symbols of the wisdom that we gain with each and every life we live. Other “dark” items like this are sometimes meant to ward off evil spirits. 

By no means am I an expert on this topic, but in my research I’m finding that there are many versions of these altars, and their meanings and their personal elements depend on the tradition or culture. It seems that some modern Halloween Altars are more fun and about decorating with all sorts of trinkets, candles, and anything else that says “Halloween”. Please see my related links below for more information on Halloween or Ancestor Altars.

Now for my spin on this tradition. I wanted to try something a bit different for my first altar, but also decided to tame it down a bit while I continue to research them . Mine falls into more of a fun Halloween Altar category. I’m not even convinced I’m done with it, but let me know what you think. 

 

As you can see, I used the buffet in my dining room for the main altar. I extended the idea onto the dining room table. 

 

I love this little guy. I used him for no other reason than he looks awesome and he’s even holding his own skull. He just had to be center stage. 

 

Behind Mr. Skeleton is a still from a movie that most of you probably recognize. This photo was used in the final shots of The Shining from 1980. I’ve always loved that moment from the movie, and I thought it would add just the right amount of subtle creepiness. 

 

I want to point out that all of the photos used in my altar decorating were found online. I searched for spooky retro photos and printed them in 4X6 and 5X7 sizes, with the exception of the still from The Shining, which is an 8X10. Some of the frames I had, but many of the frames were purchased from Target and Walmart for anywhere from $1 to $3. I was going for a classic or antique look.  

I’d seen the photo above before, and though I don’t know much about it, be sure to look closely in the back off to the left. See it? Yeah. Good luck sleeping tonight.

 

Many of the other photos that I printed were simply fun (and super creepy) shots of children in costume from the old days, like the one above.

 

The other end of my altar displays two more retro photos of adults and children in costume. Candles are on my list of favorite things, so along with the other candles, I just HAD to have skulls that have the ability to bleed through the eyeballs when lit. The two center candles on the altar are bleeding candles as well, which is why they are a pinkish white color. 

 

Along with some seasonal artificial floral and beautiful leaves, the dining room table is decorated with copies of various vintage Halloween cards and ads from the turn of the century, some from old magazines. This idea was inspired by my previous Planning a Halloween Party (in 1911) post. 

 

With most of these photos and printouts, my goal was to find things that would spark a conversation, like this one. You can find an easier to read page with this poem HERE

 

Finally, I took some of the remaining photos and spread them throughout the house. The one above is on a book shelf next to the front entry.

 

I just love the two pictures above. These are on my piano in the living room.

 

Anyone planning on trying a Halloween or Ancestor Altar? Let me know! Send me pictures! And if you have experience with or knowledge on these altars, please feel free to enlighten us in the comments.

 

Related Articles:

Day of the Dead, Decoded: A Joyful Celebration Of Life And Food (NPR’s The Salt)

Ancestor Altars (Psychic Medium MarVeena Meek)

Sybilees Samhain (Halloween) Altar (Sybilees Witchcraft School)

Samhain (Halloween) Altar (Jen Minkman)

 


HALLOWEEN: An American Holiday, an American History…

It makes me sad to admit, but my reading has really slowed down in recent months with so much going on. So I knew I needed to get an early start on this one to get it done in time. I’ve always been the person who gets overly excited about each season before it even arrives (my first “Fall” post was back on August 1st, for God’s sake), so it really worked out for me. 

As you’ve heard me say so often in this blog, I heard this author being interviewed on The Paranormal Podcast with Jim Harold. She is a pro on the topic of Halloween, and I just love listening to her. I believe Jim has had her on a few times. 

The author, Lesley Pratt Bannatyne, from her Amazon author page.

What we know as “Halloween” comes from so many places, traditions, and cultures that it is very easy to get lost in it all. Just like America itself, Halloween really is a blend of it all. The earliest roots come from Pagan traditions that were later changed by the Catholic church into what we know as All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day. Throw in a little Guy Fawkes Day (which I’d never heard of), the Celtic festival of Samhain, and the Roman festival of Pomona, and hundreds of years later we open our doors on the evening of October 31st to hear “trick or treat” being shouted by masquerading children of all ages.

 

 

Some interesting things I learned…

  • Interested in a 9th century recipe for “All Souls’ Bread” that the Roman Catholic clergy encouraged the living to offer to spirits of the dead? This book has it. 
  • For a while the holiday seemed to be more about love than anything spooky. Many early Halloween traditions included young women practicing divination of all kinds to determine their future husbands. If you’d like to try it, you can stare into a candle lit mirror at midnight on Halloween. The face of your future love will show up over your shoulder. Not creepy at all (rrrriiiiiiight). This is also where bobbing for apples came from. Another tradition was for girls to hang their wet blouses to dry above them while they slept. Apparently your future husband will visit and “turn the sleeve”. Good to know. 
  • Another interesting tradition… the Irish “Dumb Supper”. A young woman was supposed to see the shape and image of her future love if she cooked and served an entire meal backwards. I’m not sure how this works but I’d love to see it. 
  • Lesley includes a page out of the October 1911 issue of The Delineator, where ideas for entertaining in October are given. Love it! Time machine, please!
  • Using pumpkins as lanterns, or carving pumpkins into “jack-o-lanterns” came from the Irish. Before they arrived to America where large pumpkins were available, they used hollowed out turnips. The story of “Jack” (which there are different versions of) is also fascinating.
  • The Mexican “Day of the Dead” is something I think is fascinating… and I’d love to experience it. 
  • I’ve always wanted to experience the Victorian era, but Halloween in those days just seems so interesting and fun! LOVED this section in the book. Also, one of the main reasons I like the movie Meet Me In St. Louis is the depiction of Halloween in those few scenes. 

There is also plenty in this book on the more familiar 20th century Halloween traditions. 

This is not a new book (it was originally published in 1990), but it’s a good one with lots of fun facts and history. If you want to learn about the history of many of our traditions from this season while also getting in the mood for ghosts and goblins, you should check out this book… maybe put it on your list for next fall. 

 

Halloween is just around the corner! Enjoy!

 

Peace!

 


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