The Halloween History of Zombies

Like the Mummy, Zombies are a lumbering, staggering, Halloween and Horror presence.

What makes zombies different is that they do not come from a European gothic tradition. Instead, the zombie story originates in Haiti, where West Africans were brought as slaves to work on the sugar plantations.

As a part of the voodoo religion, Haitians believe that magicians, or houngans, can revive the recently dead, turning them into mindless, soulless servants. Believers in voodoo will guard the grave of deceased relatives until they are certain that it has begun to decay, for the magic only works on fresh bodies.

Today, scientists have studied the zombie legend and have developed several of explanations for the belief. Victims of a number of psychiatric disorders such as catatonic schizophrenia may exhibit symptoms that could be wrongly interpreted by the superstitious as zombies.

Another explanation suggests that the houngans may have used combinations of toxic drugs to send their victims into a deep coma. Mistaken for dead, the victims would be buried, only to be disinterred and revived by the Houngan. Other drugs would be used to keep the “zombie” in a passive and obedient state.

As with much of the horror mythology, the Hollywood version is the one we most recognize. The first zombie movie may well have been the 1932 Bela Lugosi film, White Zombie. In it, Lugosi plays a zombie master who orders his creatures to kidnap a woman with whom he has fallen in love. The woman is rescued by her husband, who throws Lugosi over a cliff. The zombies, faithful lemmings that they are, follow him to their own (second) deaths.

In 1968, George Romero re-imagined the zombie in his low-budget film, Night of the Living Dead. In the Romero films – and, indeed, in most subsequent zombie films – the dead are a sort of plague, spreading beyond control. In Night, they are resurrected by a nuclear spill (another great modern fear), and go in search of human flesh to eat. It’s quite a change from the original voodoo concept.

The zombies in the more recent 28 Days Later are the result of a biological disaster, as a germ kept in a laboratory is let loose by animal rights terrorists.

Biological contamination and nuclear radiation are both real modern fears. People don’t believe in vampires and werewolves anymore – we’re much too sophisticated for that. But nuclear accidents and biohazards are real possibilities.

Originally posted 2015-01-02 02:49:09.

Halloween Around The World

Today, Halloween celebrations with costumes, trick or treating and Hollywood monsters is the order of the day in the United States, Canada and Ireland.

In Mexico, it is celebrated as El Dia De Los Muertos, a three day celebration that begins on October 31, and ends on All Souls Day. Like North America’s Halloween, the event is a complex mixture of cultural traditions. It can be traced to Aztec ceremonies honoring the dead, which apparently were traditionally held in August. Spanish priests moved the event to coincide with All Souls Day, hoping to co-opt the natives into Catholicism.

Observances of the holiday apparently vary from region to region – and village to village – so it is hard to generalize, but it seems that they all observe the common practice of honoring the dead.

During this festival, the dead are supposed to return to their earthly homes on October 31, so all manner of things are set out to make them feel welcome. Some families will build a small display that includes photographs, candy, decorations, the deceased’s favorite food and so on. Some will go so far as to set out wash basins and towels. On November 2, families will gather to clean up and decorate the gravesites of the departed.

More modern Mexican families apparently will skip much of this and celebrate mainly by sharing a family feast where a “Bread of the Dead” is served. Each loaf contains a small plastic toy skeleton, which is said to be good luck to the one who finds it. Families also will celebrate by giving each other gifts with a skull or skeleton theme.

The holiday also is often marked with a parade, in which the participants dress up as skeletons, ghosts and other ghoulish creatures, and carry a coffin through the town. Spectators will throw fruit, flowers and candies at the participants.

In England, Halloween is overshadowed by Guy Fawkes day, which is celebrated on Nov. 5. Fawkes was a Catholic sympathizer who attempted to blow up the Parliament building and kill the protestant King James. He was caught and executed on Nov. 5. 1605.

As the story goes, after his execution, bonfires were lit in which Englishmen burned effigies of the Pope. Later, the effigies of the Pope became effigies of Fawkes himself.

Today, Guy Fawkes day still is celebrated in England, although the extent of the celebration varies, In some communities Children will go about, carrying an effigy, or “Guy” and ask for a “penny for the Guy.” The figure has further been popularized in the graphic novel “V For Vendetta” and the movie by the same name. Modern protest groups often now use Guy Fawkes masks.

Originally posted 2015-01-02 02:44:30.

The Headless Horseman

The Halloween History Of The Headless Horseman

Headless Horsemen have figured in the imaginations of many cultures, and have now become a fixture in modern horror and Halloween celebrations. Some compilations of Grimm’s Fairy Tales include an encounter with a headless horseman. Bavarian folklore apparently contain tales of Headless Horsemen who patrol the forests.

In India, a character called the Dund rides about headless, although his noggin is tied to his saddle. The Dullahan of Irish folklore is a headless spirit seen riding a headless horse. In some variants, it’s a headless coachman. The Green Knight of medieval legend is beheaded by Gawain, but rides away carrying carrying his own head.

In a 1777 work by the German poet G.A. Burger, Der Wilde Jager, a ghostly huntsman is condemned for his cruel demeanor on earth. He rides with his hell hounds through the woods and chases innocents. The poem is based on German folklore and in some versions, he’s headless.

The best known of the Headless Horsemen, however, appears in Washington Irving’s 1820 story, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. It is this version of the story that has become Halloween legend.

Irving was not above borrowing folklore for his tales, especially from the Dutch — as in his popularization of the Dutch Santa Claus. New York, originally New Amsterdam was Dutch in origins, and Irving’s Knickerbocker Tales focused on their descendants.

In Irving’s story, the Headless Horseman is the ghost of a Hessian who was decapitated by a cannon ball during the American Revolution. His spirit haunts the town of Sleepy Hollow.

The Hessians were mercenary soldiers from the German state of Hesse-Kassel hired by King George III to fight against the Continental Army during the American revolution. It was the Hessians who were caught by surprise at the Battle of Trenton after Washington crossed the Delaware River.

The Hessians also featured prominently in the Saratoga Campaign in New York in 1777. The Hessian force there contained a large number of cavalry. However, in the dense upstate New York woods, the horses were abandoned, and the Hessians fought on foot. The Hessian forces under British General Johnny Burgoyne were defeated by the Colonials under Horatio Gates and Benedict Arnold.

In either case, the Hessians developed a reputation among the colonists for brutality against the local populations. Whether that was true, or only propaganda is unclear. Their reputation, however, plays a part in the Legend of Sleepy Hollow.

The Washington Irving tale of horror is well known. It’s set in the town of Sleepy Hollow, which, Irving reveals early in the story, is a magical place haunted by the spirit of a headless Hessian trooper. The plot revolves around a schoolmaster named Ichabod Crane, who is in pursuit of Katrina van Tassel, a wealth heiress. Unfortunately for the skinny and somewhat meek Crane, his competition for Katrina is the local bully, Brom Bones.

The subject of the horseman comes up at a local party, where the various young men of Sleepy Hollow are telling ghost stories. Brom Bones claims to have raced the Headless Horseman for the stakes of a bowl of punch. In the race, he claims that the Horseman was unable to cross the water under the town’s bridge. Even with this lightheartedness, however, Crane is nervous.

Irving notes that the time of year is autumn, but does not specify whether or not it is Halloween.

On the way home from the party, Crane imagines all sorts of scary things in the woods. Eventually, he is joined by another rider. When he realizes that it’s the Horseman, he flees, hoping to reach the bridge for the safety of town.

Crane nearly makes it. But, at the last minute, the Horseman throws his head, knocking the schoolteacher from his mount.

That’s the last we hear of Crane. The next morning his horse is found, as is a shattered pumpkin, but there’s no sign of the schoolteacher. His fate is never actually revealed by the storyteller.

Originally posted 2015-01-02 02:42:22.

The Bunny Man

As children in suburban Washington, D.C. in the 1970s, we were terrified by rumors of a bizarre serial killer known by the not-so-frightening name of “The Bunnyman.”

In our imaginations, he inhabited the woods and swamps around our homes, a large fat man wielding an axe, and wearing an Easter Bunny costume. He was a homicidal Peter Cottontail who preyed on kids and especially on teen couples parking their cars in isolated places.

Although we were convinced the Bunnyman lived in our Maryland suburbs, he actually seems to have had his origins in the nearby town of Clifton, Virginia. Fairfax County Library Historian Brian A Conley reportedly has identified two incidents of a threatening man in a bunny costume occurred in the last weeks of October 1970. According to Conley and Washington Post reports, on October 20, 1970, USAF Academy Cadet Bennett and his fiancee Dusty were sitting in their car on Guinea Road in Burke, Virginia when a white-clad figure smashed the front passenger window. The white figure shouted “You’re on private property and I have your tag number,” before Bennett turned the car around and headed down the road. Later, the couple discovered a hatchet on the floor of the car. A second incident occurred on October 29 of that same year. This time, a man in a white bunny suit was spotted by a security guard on the porch of an unfinished home. The Bunnyman was chopping on the home with an axe and ran into the woods when confronted.

Four articles on the incidents eventually were printed in the Washington Post.

Given the times and the location, it’s not unreasonable to assume that the “Bunny Suit” was in fact a Ku Klux Klan costume. I can clearly remember seeing a sign on a Virginia roadside in those days that said “Big Klan Rally Here Tonight.” But it’s been reported that Fairfax police reports specify that the man was wearing a bunny suit. On the other hand, it’s also not unreasonable that the Fairfax police would want to discount and deflect attention from a Klan presence.

Whatever the details, the story spread quickly. Local legend held that the Bunnyman not only attacked youngsters with a hatchet, but also left behind the bloody, skinned corpses of rabbits. And in an echo of the more widespread “hook” ghost story, couples reported finding hatchet scrapes on the sides of their cars after they had been parking in remote areas (and much of what is now suburban Maryland and Virginia were “remote” in those days).

The Bunnyman’s apparent aversion to outsiders trespassing on his land suggests that it was a local, perhaps upset by the encroachment of real estate developments on what was until then a relatively rural and isolated area.

A well-known variant of the story pegs the initial incidents as occurring much earlier — perhaps at the turn of the century. In that version, an inmate escaped from a local Virginia insane asylum, murdered several children and left their bodies hanging from a bridge. The murderer became known as the Bunny Man when the corpses of skinned and half-eaten rabbits began turned up in the area. The bridge, a single lane auto road passing under a railroad track, is located in Clifton, Virginia. Officially called the Fairfax Station Bridge, it’s now known as the Bunnyman Bridge.

Several published versions of this variant have appeared, but all have been discredited. There has never been a mental asylum in the Clifton area; investigations of newspaper and police reports have failed to turn up any documentary evidence for escaped, killer lunatic inmates.

Over the years, the story grew, and more murders were attributed to the Bunnyman, most ending with corpses hanging either from the bridge, or nearby. In our Southern Maryland suburbs, bodies supposedly were found among the ruins of old Fort Washington, a large fort dating to the early 1800s.

More fantastical stories claimed that the Bunnyman is actually a giant rabbit who killed family pets. These tales echo those told about the “Goat Man,” a satyr-like creature — half man and half goat — said to haunt Governor’s Bridge Road, Lottsford Road and Fletchertown Road in Prince Georges County, Maryland. Interestingly, unlike the Bunnyman’s haunts, those locations are near a state medical facility — the Glen Dale State Asylum, a tuberculosis facility whose name may have convinced some tale spinners that it was a mental institution.

Originally posted 2015-01-02 02:39:47.

The Maryland Goat Man

The Maryland Goatman is a hybrid beast who reportedly inhabits the Forestville and Upper Marlboro areas of Prince George’s County, Maryland. Generations of children (including this writer) grew up with tales of the Goatman’s series of horrific murders. The victims of the satyr-like creature were reportedly hacked to death with an axe and then eaten.

The first sightings of the Goatman occurred in the late 1950s or early 1960s. Certainly the legend was well-established in the area by the mid 1960s. The Goatman made appearances throughout Prince Georges County, usually alongside roads such as Lottsford and Fletchertown. These stories often seem to be a version of the “hook” urban legend, where young lovers are threatened in their parked cars.

The Goatman also was said to stalk the grounds of the Glenn Dale Hospital and Sanatorium, which was a state tuberculosis facility. Another story associates the Goatman with the Governor’s Bridge in nearby Anne Arundel County, Maryland. The bridge is said to be the haunt of either a) a young unmarried mother who committed suicide there, b) a baby who was flung off the bridge by a similarly desperate mother or c) both.

There is a similar legend of a Bunnyman in adjacent Northern Virginia, which is said to inhabit the area around the Colhester Overpass, a railroad bridge which spans the Colchester Road.

One Goatman legend says that the beast was the creation of an agricultural scientist at the United States Department of Agriculture research facilities in Beltsville, Maryland. This echoes the legends of the Chupacabra, which in some accounts was created by a US lab in Puerto Rico. It is interesting that Chupacabra means Goat Sucker.

Another make the more obvious witchcraft connection, claiming the Goatman is a summoned devil or demon.I had also heard that it was actually a hobo who lived in the woods and turned into a were-goat at night.

Indeed, the Goatman legend incorporates many broad horror themes.The beast was created by a Mad Scientist, and resembles nothing less than the devil of medieval witchcraft. The Goatman was a serial killer threatening teenagers long before Michael Meyers, Jason or Freddie. It is said to inhabit a bridge like a troll, and perhaps be an example of lycanthropy. Add to that cannibalism, and you have the perfect Halloween monster.

Originally posted 2015-01-02 02:37:36.

History of Halloween

Halloween’s Origins

Each year on Halloween night, millions of children take to the streets in scary costumes to beg for treats at the doors of their neighbors. And millions of adults enjoy the holiday as a celebration of things that go bump in the night, and frighten the unwary.

Few, however, ever stop to wonder about the origins of the night, or of the creatures that seem to populate it.

Most sources trace Halloween’s origins to an ancient Celtic holiday called Samhain. The Celts were a group of people who lived in present day Ireland and England from about the 5th Century BC.

Samhain (pronounced sow-en) was an end of the summer commemoration that occurred near the end of October. October 31 is cited as the official end of summer, but since the present day Calendar was not in effect then, that is probably not a precise date.

The end of summer was a significant event for ancient peoples because it represented the end of warmth and sunlight, and times of plenty, and the entry into a time of shorter days, colder nights, and deprivation. And naturally, such dark times would be accompanied by dark spirits.

It is doubtful that anyone really knows how the Celts celebrated their holiday, but several stories have emerged.

One story says that the Celts believed that on Halloween night, the spirits of the people who had died in the previous year came back to the Earth, to search for a body to occupy. To avoid being possessed, the superstitious Celts would put out all the lights of their village in an attempt to convince the spirits that no one was at home. Then, the villagers would dress in costumes designed to trick the spirits into thinking that they, too were spirits, and thus not eligible to be possessed.

If all went well, the spirits would wander through the village, and see nothing but dark houses and other spirits. They would then wander off to another village.

In this legend, you can see the origins of several of the modern Halloween traditions: Ghosts (spirits of the dead) costumes and dark, empty houses.

As the night ended, the villagers found that they were without lights. They would then relight all of their hearth fires from a sacred bonfire maintained by their priests, the Druids.

A more gruesome version says that part of the bonfire ceremony involved the ignition of a young, innocent village girl. This, however, sounds more like Hollywood than History to me.

Another version – more pedestrian – is that the Celts celebrated their end of summer holiday with a huge bonfire built by the Druids. The villagers would put out their own fireplaces and gather to sacrifice crops and animals to the fire. Costumes of animals were worn to further honor the creatures that had blessed them throughout the summer’s bounty. Then, at the end, each family would relight their hearths from the sacred communal fire.

The Celts became one of many peoples conquered by the Romans in the early part of the first Century. The Romans were an adaptive people and happily incorporated local holidays, gods and traditions into their own. (That’s why so many Roman gods bear an uncanny resemblance to Greek ones; and why the Roman Empire was later able to shift from paganism to Christianity. If there was a better idea, they stole it.).

The Romans had their own fall harvest festival. One, for the Goddess Pomona celebrated the harvest of the fruit of the trees. Pomona’s symbol was the apple, which has led some scholar to speculate that this is the origin of the custom of bobbing for apples. (Whatever the origins, illustrations in medieval manuscripts show people bobbing for apples, so the custom dates to at least the dark ages.)

The Romans also had their own festival of the Dead, called Feralia, which was marked at the end of the Roman year, in February.

Christianity was introduced to the British Isles starting about the second century AD. Just as the Romans had been willing to adapt to local customs, so were the early Christian missionaries — many of whom were Roman (for example, early missionaries were willing to abandon the stricture that converts first become Jews when they ran across cultural barriers, and it is thought that the date of Christmas was selected to coincide with a Germanic winter festival.)

When the inhabitants of England and Ireland proved unwilling to abandon their late October festival, Christianity simply incorporated it.

In the 700s, Pope Boniface IV set November 1 as All Saints Day — a day to honor Saints and Martyrs. The day was also known as All Hallows, and the previous night, All Hallows Eve. November 2 was named All Souls Day, and was set aside to honor the souls of the dead. The three days together were called Hallow Mass.

All Hallows Eve, of course, was later corrupted into Halloween.

It is widely believed that Boniface IV did this to co-opt the pagan Celtic holdouts into Christianity.

It’s not too hard to imagine how the conversations went between early missionaries and the pagan villagers.

Village Chief (after listening to the missionary’s explanation of Christianity): Well, it all sounds very nice, but we really don’t want to give up costumes and bonfires and all the other stuff that goes with Samhain. It might all be superstition, but why take the chance …

Missionary (after thinking a bit): Did I say you had to give it up? By an amazing coincidence, it turns out that we Christians also have a holiday to honor the dead … and it’s on the same day! … and instead of one day … it’s three days!”

Halloween arrived in North America with the early colonists. However, because of the Puritan influence in New England, it was mostly confined to the Scots-Irish of the Southern Colonies.

Colonial Halloweens were essentially Harvest Festivals, with lots of eating and drinking, music, dancing, ghost stories and fortune telling (you can see why it didn’t catch on with the Puritans). Some more of our modern Halloween symbols were introduced at this time, as traditions were blended with Native American harvest festivals. Corn stalks and pumpkins – unknown in Europe before the discovery of North America – became part of Halloween imagery.

Halloween really arrived in America with the massive Irish immigration of the 1840s. The Irish brought their Halloween traditions with them and wove them into the fabric of American society.

Originally posted 2015-01-02 03:30:54.

History of the Jack O’Lantern

The Jack O’ Lantern has its origins in Irish folklore:

According to the story, there once was a ne’er-do-well named Jack. An infamous drunk, he could generally be found at the local pub. One day, Jack is sitting in the bar when along comes the Devil.

“Jack,” he says. “Its time to go.”

Jack begins to whine. “Oh Devil,” he says. “I’d love to go with you, but first, I’d like to have just one more drink.”

“Fine,” says the Devil. “Go ahead.”

Jack fishes in his pocket and pulls out his change purse. It’s empty. “Oh Devil,” Jack says. “I once heard that you could change your self into anything you like.”

“It’s true,” says the Devil.

“Well,” says Jack. “Could you turn your self into a coin so I could buy another drink. Then you could change yourself back and cheat the barkeep out of his money.”

The idea of cheating the barkeep appealed to the Devil, so he changed into a coin. And quick as a wink, Jack picked up the coin and put it into his purse. Then he took out his knife and carved a cross on it.

The Devil was stuck inside.

“Let me out!” he said.

“Not until we make a deal,” said Jack. “I have some unfinished business. If I let you out, you must promise to give me another year.”

The Devil grumbled, but agreed to the terms. And Jack opened the purse and dumped him out. The Devil then went away.

A year later, Jack was sitting in the same pub, when along came the Devil.

“Your year is up,” The Devil said. “No more tricks now, lets go.”

Jack followed the Devil out of the Pub and was on his way to Hell. But along the way, he passed an apple tree

“Oh Devil,” said Jack. “Before I go to Hell, I would really love to have an apple to eat.”

The Devil didn’t see any harm in this, so he agreed. Jack tried to reach an apple, but it was to high for him to reach. He tried to climb the tree, but slid back down.

Disgusted and impatient, the Devil jumped into the tree to get the apple for Jack. And quick as a wink, Jack whipped out his pocket knife and carved a cross on the tree trunk.
The Devil was stuck in the tree.

“Let me down!” he said.

“Not until we make a deal,” Jack said. “You must promise to go away and never bother me again.”

“Be careful what you wish for,” the Devil said.

“Just promise to leave me alone,” Jack repeated.

The Devil agreed, and Jack carved out the Cross. The Devil jumped down and went away.

And after that, Jack lived a very, very, very, very, very, very, very long life. So long in fact, that he began to tire of living. So Jack goes in search of Heaven. But when he finds the Pearly Gates, St. Peter refuses to let him in.

So Jack goes in search of Hell. When he gets to the firey gates, the Devil is waiting.

“Oh, Devil,” Jack says. “I’m so tired of living. I’m old and I’m cold and I want to end it all.”

The Devil just laughed. “Don’t you remember our deal? I promised to leave you alone forever.”

“But where will I go?” Jack asked. “I’m lost, its dark, and I don’t know the way.”

“Here,” said the Devil, “take this!” And he reached down and grabbed a big scoop of Hell. And he threw it to Jack.

Jack caught it, but it was so hot that he tried to drop it. Only he couldn’t. No matter how much he tried, the stuff stuck to his fingers. So he ran out into the dark fields outside of Hell and grabbed a turnip. He took out his pocketknife, and quick as a flash, carved out the inside, and dropped the hellfire inside. Then, he carved a couple of holes in the front of the turnip and wandered off, using it as a lantern.

So Jack of the Lantern – Jack O’Lantern — wanders to this very day, carrying his hellish light with him.

The Irish used turnips for their Jack O’Lanterns in Ireland. But when they reached America, they found that pumpkins were more plentiful, and made a better lantern. And so the Jack O’Lantern pumpkin was born.

Originally posted 2015-01-02 03:28:34.

Halloween History of Witches

One of the more enduring symbols of Halloween, horror and folklore is that of the Witch. Ugly and evil, they are shown flying on their broomsticks, or stirring their cauldrons.

Witches were not always thought of as evil or ugly. In ancient times, witches could be healers or wise women of the community. But as Christianity spread, they were often condemned because their power supposedly came from somewhere other than God.

Later, accusations of witchcraft often were used as a way to keep talented, intelligent women from threatening the male supremacy of the day. They also could be used to make people toe the line with regard to community standards. Anyone who was thought of as different or rebellious could be accused. Thus men were often accused as much as women.

The focus of witchcraft on medieval women can be seen in what have becomes the symbols of witchcraft: the broom, the cauldron (pot) and the cat. All of these are associated with the household and women’s work. Not surprisingly, these have also become strong symbols in modern Halloween and horror literature.

Witches were thought of as ugly because evil is ugly.

While witch hunts are thought of as a medieval phenomenon, the height of the atrocities actually occurred between the 15th and 18th centuries. In fact, it was not until 1320 that the Church officially declared witchcraft as a heresy.

While there is no definitive answer as to the number of people tried for witchcraft, it seems safe to say that tens of thousands – perhaps as many as hundreds of thousands were accused.

Following the advice in the witch hunting manual Malleus Maleficarum – The Hammer of Witches – witch hunters used a variety of tests to try the accused. Believing that a witch wouldn’t bleed when cut, they employed a variety of instruments to test this theory. (Though of course, the instruments often were blunt).

Birthmarks were often seen as the mark of the Devil. In a voyeuristic show, hunters would strip their victims before the crowd to inspect for the Devil’s marks.

Another test – often shown in medieval woodcuts, involved dunking – or worse, throwing – women into a pond or well. If they floated , it was thought that they had been rejected by the water of baptism and thus were witches. If they sunk, it indicated that they were innocent. Of course, this could also involve drowning, but at least they were innocent and their soul was saved.

Confession under torture was another favorite. Using a variety of grisly devices, the witch hunter would try to extract a confession. Although torture was sometimes held in secret, it often was a public spectacle, providing entertainment for the masses.

The key to all of this was that the accusation alone often was enough to make you guilty.

A person found guilty of witchcraft often was executed for their crimes – although apparently, a confession (and under torture, who wouldn’t confess?) could result in a chance at rehabilitation. A reformed “witch” could be sent to a monastery or convent.

In the popular imagination, however, the proper way of disposing of a witch is by burning at the stake. This is no doubt bolstered by the fate of Joan of Arc.

While many were burned at the stake, other methods of execution also were employed. Hanging seems to have been a preferred method, and images of witch hangings can be seen in period engravings. Others were beheaded, stoned, broken on the wheel, drawn and quartered and so on. In the famous Salem Witch Trials, one man was “pressed” to death, by placing him under a board and then piling rocks on top until he was crushed.

The Salem Witchcraft Trials occurred in Salem, Massachusetts in 1692. In the incident, the accusations of three young girls against their neighbors touched off a series of charges and counter charges that eventually resulted in hundreds of people being accused and held for witchcraft.

The accusations grew quickly because of the chain reaction nature of the investigations. Once a person was accused of witchcraft, one way to avoid further harassment and punishment was to confess, ask for absolution, and then turn over the names of the other witches in their Coven. Since there was no Coven, the newly accused would protest their innocence. But eventually, they, too would see that confession and accusation was the way out.

Twenty eventually were executed. The hysteria ended when the Governor was convinced by Increase Mather that “spectral evidence” should not be accepted in the trials. Without this, the prosecution’s cases fell apart.

There have been a number of attempts to explain the Salem hysteria, but the one that seems most likely involves disputes between two different factions in the town of Salem.

Since then, the term “Witch Hunt” has been used to refer to any chain reaction of unfounded accusations. It may have first been used in this sense by George Orwell.

The most famous were the anti-communist investigations of the 1950s, which culminated in the McCarthy Hearings of 1954. Arthur Miller’s play, The Cruicible, ostensibly about the Salem Witchcraft trials, was symbolically a criticism of these investigations.

Originally posted 2015-01-02 03:25:02.

History of Trick or Treating

In the mid 19th century, many of the traditions of modern Halloween had fallen into place. Halloween celebrants dressed in costumes and wandered from door to door begging for food or money, echoing a medieval practice known as “Souling.”

Medieval Christians believed that when a person died, they would go to Heaven if they lead a good life, to Hell if they didn’t, and to Purgatory if they were somewhere in between. A family could get the souls of their loved ones out of Purgatory and into Heaven if they said enough prayers for them.

On Hallowmass, the beggars would take advantage of this belief by wandering from house to house offering to say prayers in exchange for food. Small cakes, called “Soul Cakes” often were distributed.

In this custom, we have the origins of the Halloween custom of “Trick or Treating.” In fact, among many older people, trick or treaters still are known as “beggars.”

Trick or treating continued until the late 19th Century, when it was replaced with community Halloween events such as parties and parades. At the same time, a religious revival removed much of the superstitious and gothic horror overtones.

Many of these customs seem to have been revived in the 1920s, when children’s costume parades once again became popular. By the 1950s, with the baby boom and the development of suburban communities, the practice was once again in full swing.

In recent years, the custom of Trick-or-Treating has been darkened by the specter of poisoned treats. Wild media reports – even from the normally clear-headed Ann Landers have warned of razor blades in candy bars and arsenic in pixie sticks.

But reputable studies have shown that these reports are only myths. In fact, the entire urban legend can be traced back to one incident: In 1974, a father poisoned his own son with cyanide, and then attempted to cover his crime by lacing candy in the child’s bag with the poison. The candy was not handed out to the neighborhood kids.

Originally posted 2015-01-02 03:26:58.