For those of us who passionately love Halloween, the season’s preparations have already begun. Part of every child and adult’s preparation is deciding on a costume. This is perhaps the most beloved part of any Halloween celebration. Dressing up as a sexy maid or a horrible zombie is the Hallmark of our modern Holiday celebration. But as Halloween creeps up on us, I always think it is fun to think back to where this tradition came from. It is good to know why we dress up on Halloween. Halloween’s history is most commonly traced back to the Celtic festival of Samhain. During Samhain, the Celts believed that the divider between this world and the next became thin. This thinning allowed both malevolent and benevolent spirits to cross over to our world. This naturally caused a good deal of fear and anxiety for the ancient Celts. While family ghosts were welcomed, bad spirits had to be scared off. Celts used bonfires to drive evil spirits off. They also used apotropaic devices to scare off bad spirits.
Apotropaic literally means to ward off evil but apotopaic devices are often devices that are so terrifying that they scare away evil. My favorite examples of apotropaic devices are the gargoyles and terrible monsters that line the outside and insides of medieval cathedrals in Europe. The most holy places in the medieval world were lined with horrifying demons and monsters that are often depicted devouring people and animals. These horrors were so terrible that medieval people thought that even evil spirits would be frightened off.
Costumes were used as both apotropaic devices and disguises to confuse the spirits. In Scotland, young men pretended to be dead by blackening their faces. These costumes evolved over the years and were eventually used in the late medieval practice of souling when poor people would go door to door asking for food. This practice eventually evolved into costumed trick or treating. So as you plan your costume this year remember that it should not only be interesting, but it should scare off evil spirits as well!