A Lesson in Warding Off Witches

From Ancient Greece to present day, people have been fascinated by the supernatural, and Victorians were no exception.  Mary Shelley’s Frankstein (1818), H.G. Wells’ The Invisible Man (1897) and The Island of Dr. Moreau (1896), and Edgar Allan Poe’s dark and somber poetry (1830s – 1840s) are all examples of the mystics and monsters in literature that Victorians devoured in earnest.  They also practiced fortune telling through palm and tarot readings because of their curiosity of life after death.  They needed to be reassured that their dearly departed were indeed in a better place.

 All Hallows’ Eve refers to the night before All Hallows’ Day (Or All Saints’ Day) on November 1.  Eventually the name was shortened to All Hallow E’en, then Hallowe’en, and then Halloween.

Superstition appears to have dictated certain rituals before and during the early 19th century.  A fear of evil spirits prompted many to hang a witch ball in their front window.  The witch ball was first used in England during the 18th century.  Because it was handmade of blown glass, the ball contained a remnant strand or two inside.  It was generally hung in a window to attract evil spirits, negative energy, sickness, and ill fortune.

Mesmerized by the beautiful and swirling colors of the orb, the spirits would become trapped inside the strands.  It was thought that if one felt ill or depressed, they need only to sit near the witch ball until the negative energy left their body.  The orb also needed to be wiped daily, and by this act, exorcize the spirits trapped inside.

The witch ball is still around today.  They are sold in some specialty stores and gift shops.  They are also commonly displayed in gardens as gazing balls.

After the turn of the 20th century, Halloween images became less ghoulish and more cutesy.  Greeting cards depicted young women posing with pumpkins, or small, plump children wearing witches hats and carrying black kittens.  Jack-o-lanterns had wide toothy grins.  Even the witch at the top of this entry is shown as young, beautiful, and almost innocent-looking.  Halloween was, as it is today, celebrated by dressing in costume and enjoying a little bit of trickery and the chilling of the spine.

Jack-o-lanterns are thought to have evolved from the early Europeans who carved out turnips to carry as lanterns.  Faces would be carved to ward off evil spirits.  In America, pumpkins work better for us!  These paper-mache jack-o-lanterns are examples of Halloween decorations possibly during the 1930s, 40s, and 50s.  Pumpkins like the one seen above could have many different faces with colored tissue paper backing, giving them creepy, fun expressions.  Cats were also popular as these decorations.  They may have been used to keep hold candy or to illuminate a room on a string of lights.  Today, they can make wonderful decorations by placing a battery operated candle inside.

The custom of dressing in costume may have begun out of the superstition that it would confuse the spirits who walked the earth on All Hallows Eve.  Victorians brought this back into fashion because they enjoyed having costumed parties.  Masks were made out of paper-mache.  Some costumes were made simply by pinning paper cutouts of pumpkins, witches, cats, etc. to skirts, vests, and hats.  Children dressed as witches, ghouls, and clowns, as seen in the photo below.

The act of trick-or-treating may have something to do with the Celtic practice of leaving food out for the dead.  Others believe it comes from a time when the poor went door to door begging for food with the promise of a prayer or rhyme in return.  Perhaps it is from this that “trick or treat, smell my feet” was born.

Upcoming Event!!!

All Hallow’s Eve

Saturday, October 22  2pm – 8pm

$5.00 per person

Bring your family to “trick or treat” in safety at our charming Victorian village.  Additional children’s activities and crafts will also be offered throughout the day, including a costume parade led by Rockford’s own dance crew Fatally Unique, as seen on America’s Got Talent.  Village buildings will be decorated and waiting for young trick-or-treaters.  Sponsoring organizations will do the decorating and provide the treats.

Be prepared for surprises as you take a guided tour into our Haunted Woods from 4:30 to 8:00 pm!

For more information, click here to go to the event page: http://www.midwayvillage.com/event_calendar.cfm?id=1011

Have a Happy and Safe Halloween!


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