When I was pregnant with my eldest daughter, a lot of my dreams centered on the various holiday traditions I was going to create and share with her. A lot of these dreams focused on sharing scary Halloween traditions.
The BVTMB has a great list of Halloween and fall activities to enjoy this year, if you are looking for a place to try out your scary traditions safely.
My parents weren’t especially religious or suspicious growing up. We had a rule that we weren’t supposed to talk about our nightmares until after breakfast because if we did, we would have bad luck or the nightmare would become reality. Now that I am older, I know that dreams stick in your memory better if you write them down or recall them as soon as you wake up.
Perhaps this rule helped make the lingering darkness that invades after a nightmare dissipate and not follow me throughout the day. I have always had a very active imagination and I work very hard not to let the feelings I have in my dreams affect my reality. Sometimes I dream that my husband has cheated on me and is leaving, or that my children have been killed in some accident that I can’t save them from. It is a struggle to keep the feelings that those dreams bring forth from affecting how I behave with my faithful husband and living children. On the flip side, I have a hard time remembering most of my dreams and the ones I can recall are only the most traumatic. My husband can fly in his dreams and I am so jealous because I just can’t be that present in my own dreams.
That being said, we had some really great and scary Halloween traditions and family lore when I was growing up, and I can’t wait to share it all with my kids. A lot of it, like most fairy tales and myths, has a purpose or a rule to instill. These lessons might not be the ones you’re used to, but they have served the purpose in our family for generations.
1. Fairies are not cute.
My father preferred to refer to fairies as the “good folk” to show them respect. In our house, fairies were not gentle or kind, they were conniving and cruel. Some were beautiful and some were more annoying than dangerous but as a whole, none were creatures you want mad at you because you referred to them by a title that didn’t show them the proper deference. On Halloween, when the likelihood of seeing a fairy was highest, you were warned to be extra polite. I am not sure what the purpose of this bit of lore is, but I still have a hard time saying, “fairy” out loud.
2. Don’t be afraid to dress up scary.
My parents always told me that on Halloween or Samhain (pronounced “sow-win”) the barrier between the fairy realm, the afterlife, and even hell was at its weakest. Kids should dress up scary so that the good folk, ghosts, or demons wouldn’t steal them, or steal back some part of their life by taking their youth, or even steal their soul. This story made me feel like I couldn’t dress up as a Disney princess or any living person. I could be an animal, a zombie or a monster. According to this rule, no one wanted to be youthful, beautiful, unique, or famous because the good folk loved to collect beautiful and unique things. This was fun because we couldn’t rely on most girl-centered costumes and had to be creative. I could wear a pretty dress but I better smear fake blood all over my arms and face. I loved being dressed up as something scary and feeling powerful behind my mask or makeup. As a girl, I was constantly trying to be cute and it was nice one night a year trying to do the opposite.
3. Don’t linger in doorways.
This is a great rule to keep everyone a safe and at a respectful distance from people’s homes. Halloween is a confusing holiday especially if you are young. This post has some great rules that you may not have thought of to keep everyone safe on Halloween. People are opening up doors to you and giving you candy, but you aren’t supposed to go inside their houses. My 2 year-old was constantly trying to enter everyone’s house last year. Also, at a very young age, you and your friends may be walking up to a house without your parents, who are waiting at the sidewalk or are at home if you are a bit older. I was told as a child that doorways could act as portals because you were not inside or outside when you were in them, you were in between. On a day when invisible barriers are weak, you didn’t want to be in between where odd things may appear or you could fall through.
4. Don’t be out at midnight.
The same with doorways, you don’t want to be out at the moment on Halloween when you are between 1 day and the next. This is the moment when the barriers between different worlds are at their absolute weakest. This is another great rule that kept a tween me from going back out on Samhain to roam the neighborhood with my friends and perform more “tricks” than “treats.” Even at that age, I still held onto the lingering fear that the monsters and ghouls that I saw out might actually be monsters and ghouls. I might escape on other nights of the year but not on Halloween.
5. Crows are bad luck.
Of all the scary Halloween traditions, this one affects me the most to this day. I think crows are beautiful and smart, but whenever I see one in the morning, I am sure I will have a bad day. This maybe a self fulfilling prophecy. There also feels like there is a correlation between when I see a crow and when I hit small creatures while driving. If there was a murder of crows outside (a collection of crows is called a “murder”) when I went out to go trick or treating, I would go back inside and wait til later. I still won’t look a crow in the eye. Again, not sure of the purpose of this family legend.
6. Don’t stare at the mirror too long.
Supposedly, the people in the mirror are versions of you on parallel plains but on Samhain the barrier of the mirror is weak and if the person on the other side realizes they can get through, you are in trouble. This may just have been a way to get me to stop looking at myself in the mirror so that my mom could finish my costume and we could actually leave the house.
7. You don’t want to see anyone who looks like you.
Doppelgängers are very bad luck. In some traditions, if you see someone who looks like you, you are supposed to kill them or you will die. I don’t condone that particular part of this lore. If you are dressed up in a costume and you see a person who looks just like you, then you know that they are some sort of demon or fairy because you are the only you. All the more reason for you to wear a mask or really change the look of your face on Halloween. Not to mention that it is one thing for you to notice a doppelgänger but another to let them notice you. I think the way my parents presented it was that someone, even a kid not in costume, was not to be automatically trusted. On Halloween, the goblin may actually be your friend and the fairy godmother may mean you harm. This taught the larger lesson of not judging a book by it’s cover.
I tried to tell my 4 year old daughter about the avoiding the mirror last Halloween and as her little eyes grew wide, I knew she wasn’t ready. My children are still too young for most of these scary Halloween traditions. I want them to enjoy being scared at Samhain but not so terrified they won’t step outside if they see a dark colored bird.