Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Let the Witching Hour Commence

As October comes to an end it is time we turn our minds towards more celebratory things. Such as dressing up in costume, getting scared out of our minds, scaring others out of their minds, and eating enough candy to send ourselves into diabetic comas. YAY for Halloween! But what is the true meaning of Halloween? Is it teaching children to take candy from strangers? Or is it that dressing as a naughty anything, be it pirate, nurse, or astronaut, is not slutty on the 31st of October, even though it is on every other day? Sadly no. Halloween is much deeper than the depths of your candy basket and is a much older tradition than the group costumes that you and your buddies put on every year. "Halloween" is actually a contraction of "All Hallows' Evening" or "All Hallows' Eve" (because in Scots, the germanic language of lowland Scotland, the word "eve" is "even" and is contracted to "e'en" "All Hallows Even" soon turned into "Halloween"). While it may surprise you due to the number of wicked things we see on the night–witches, vampires, Miley Cyrus impersonators, etc.– this holiday actually began as a Holy day. It initiates the "triduum of Hallowmas", big words, I know, which is the time of the year dedicated to remembering the dead. That's right. It actually started as a Christian holiday, a great big feast to remember those people whom we loved and are now gone. What on earth does this have to do with the tomfoolery that we get up to now? I'm not sure. I think somewhere along the line the message of this day got a little confused. This probably has something to do with a communication error. Somehow or other "pray for the dead" got confused with "dress up and go crazy"...Well, anyway, some of what we do today has roots in the past. Trick-or-treating, for one, began in Scotland and Ireland with "guising", when children disguised in costume would go from door to door for food or coins on All Hallows Eve. When this turned into the giant candy gathering contest that it is today, I don't know. 
Another tradition that has survived over the ages comes in the form of hunched over old ladies with warts on their noses. Any guesses? 

That's right!! WITCHES!
Halloween was believed to be the day that spirits traveled the earth, and as spirits=dead people and dead people=scary, scary=witches and so it is follows that Halloween=witches. Logic. Based on this logical thinking, barns and homes would be blessed by priests to protect people and livestock from the evil effect of witches. Judging by the amount of pointy black hats I see in store windows, I would say that witches are just as prevalent for Halloween 2013 as they were for Halloween 1692. 
Let's take a quick look at some important witches for whom we can gain knowledge and costume inspiration. (disclaimer: this is a list of witches from mythology and literature. I am not claiming that these women are or were real. I am also not claiming that these are the most important ones, they are just the ones that I know and want to talk about)

Morgan le Fay
A powerful sorceress in the Arthurian legend. She uses her power of seduction to entrap her prey and attempt to overthrow her step-brother Arthur–talk about a dysfunctional family relationship. 
Morgan Le Fey by Anthony Frederick Sandys (1864)
From Homer's Odyssey. While she may seem perfectly normal and lovable, avoid eating anything she offers you or you may find yourself turned into a lion or a pig, doomed to spend eternity wandering around her mansion. 
Circe changing the companions of Ulysses into animals, an English mural from 1580
Abigail Williams
and all others associated with the Salem Witch trials. While Abigail may not have been guilty of casting spells, she was most certainly guilty of being a right tart, a young 
seductress, and a manipulating bully, characteristics of another kind of witch altogether. For more information on this subject, read or watch The Crucible. 
Winona Ryder as Abigail Williams
The White Witch
One of my particular favorites, capable of making it always winter and never Christmas, this woman is most certainly evil. 
Illustration from C. S. Lewis's The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe
The Wicked Witch of West
Terrifyingly green, beware of this woman, especially if you are a young girl from Kansas and wearing red slippers. But don't worry, if you have a bucket of water near by, you'll be fine.
Margaret Hamilton in The Wizard of Oz
Hermione Granger
Wickedly intelligent, scarily talented, and green in the world of magic, being born to a muggle family, this little smarty pants gives a good name to witches everywhere. Not to mention she is just too cute.
Emma Watson in the first Harry Potter

I could go on for days. But I don't have time for that. I just want you all to see how incredibly prevalent witches are. They are jumping out of books, prancing across screens, whirling on stages, glaring from paintings. They are everywhere. So while getting ready for you wild party this Thursday, or whenever you are choosing to celebrate Halloween this year, please don't forget these important members of Halloween history. While it may seem cliché, a good ol' witch costume never goes out of style. 

Now to the spooking and candy eating!


No comments:

Post a Comment