Anytime Halloween approaches, we see an abundance of decorations for sale. Ghosts, spiders, skeletons, and everything in between. But how much do you know about the meaning of Halloween symbols?
There are things you can find every single Halloween. Jack-o-lanterns, for example, are a must-have for the celebration.
All of these symbols have a history of Halloween. And it traces back to pagan festivities. According to many, the pagan festival of Samhain is the most direct ancestor to our modern celebration of Halloween.
Many of the Halloween decorations look intimidating. And their history and story are as well. Full of folklore and spirituality, the symbols of Halloween have a long history. Let’s find out more.
Types of Halloween Symbols
Before we get to Halloween symbols meaning, let’s talk about their classification. We can categorize these symbols into three groups.
The first one consists of symbols of The Season and The Harvest. For example, candy corns, jack-o-lanterns, and corn husks.
The second group represents Death and Mortality. This is the group where we find skeletons, skulls, graveyards, and similar scary symbols.
The third group consists of symbols representing Misfortune or Evil. You know, the black cats, bats, clowns, and witches.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at some of the common symbols for Halloween.
You cannot have a Halloween celebration without witches. And we know what is the travel method of choice of witches, right? Broomsticks!
Well, the meaning is something interesting. Witches were thought to have applied hallucinogenic flying ointment using their wooden staff.
For many years, we described witches as flying women on anything from a cupboard to a fork. But the wooden staff imagery is the one that remained.
The broomstick, a symbol of domesticity, makes the perfect object to be perverted by witches. Think of it as femininity gone wrong.
The pumpkin symbol remains one of the most recognizable Halloween signs. It dates back to Ireland and the Celts. They would carve turnips on All Hallow’s Eve and then place an ember inside to keep evil spirits at bay.
Fun fact: there were no pumpkins in Ireland. The symbol became popular only when the Irish migrated to America during the potato famine.
As for the face on the pumpkin. It is a legend about a man called Stingy Jack. He lived as a drunk Irishman and played tricks on people. During his life, he managed to make both the Devil and God angry. So, after his death, he couldn’t go to heaven or hell. He had to roam the earth with only a turnip jack-o-lantern to light his way.
We said before that witches are an essential part of Halloween. They come from a variety of cultures and celebrations.
And since Halloween is a descendant to Samhain, a term translating to summer’s end that is where witches come from. Celtic people celebrated the day from sunset on October 31st to sunrise on November 1st.
They wanted to celebrate the start of the pagan new year, the Fall harvest. During the middle ages, people celebrating this pagan holiday got accused of being witches. That is why we have witches on Halloween.
This symbol also gets his explanation from the Middle Ages. Many of the witches at the time fed wild black cats or adopted them as pets.
People considered the black cat companion of witches. Rumors claimed black cats were servants of witches or even witches disguised as cats themselves.
Today, black cats remain a popular source of myth and controversy. People consider them a bad omen, a sign of bad luck.
You can find Halloween bats all over holiday decorations. They are another symbol that traces its history back to the festival of Samhain.
Sacred bonfires burned during the festival would attract bugs and flying insects. So, bats gathered at each festival. As nocturnal creatures eating insects, they easily became linked to Halloween.
Another explanation is that bats are associated with vampires. After all, the myth is that vampires travel as bats and fly from one house to another.
The ghost symbol has been part of the Halloween tradition since its beginning. They also trace their history to the Samhain festival.
At the time, Celtic people believed ghosts were nearby because the veil between the living and dead was at its thinnest.
They believed spirits of the dead can walk among the living on that night. So, the ghost symbol became part of the spooky holiday.
The beauty of skeletons is that we have made them look fun and cool. You can see dancing skeletons all around during the Halloween celebration. And they are not as scary, right? Some might say skeletons are downright friendly.
They trace their origin to Samhain, the feast of the dead. Things do not get any more dead than skeletons, right?
Skulls are also part of the skeleton explanation. Yet, sometimes, you can find them separate from skeletons. The skull symbol means death or danger. It is a reminder of human mortality and the short time we have on Earth.
While they look fun, they are also a reminder we will eventually end up on the earth alone.
Trick or Treat
This might not be a Halloween symbol, but it is a Halloween tradition. There is no celebration with Halloween traditions. And Trick or Treat is the best of them.
We said before that on Halloween the veil between the living and the dead is at its thinnest. This allowed dead people to walk the earth during Halloween night. Living relatives would leave out food as snacks and even put out chairs for spirits of the loved ones to rest in.
Eventually, this led to hungry and poor people dressing up as spirits and going from one door to another for offerings. The later traditions of mumming and souling led to the modern version of trick and treat.
The spider has an extensive history in mythology and folklore. The word Arachnid, the mythological spider, derives from the story of Arachne. She was a mortal woman with a gift for weaving. According to Greek mythology, Athena turned her into a spider.
But why do we find them on Halloween? Well, because many consider them weavers of fortune. And also because we think of them as companions of witches.
Modern-day cultures recognize scarecrows as a fall and Halloween symbol. They are a symbol of the fall season and the harvest.
Back in the days, scarecrows remained from Halloween all the way through Thanksgiving. They symbolized the fall harvest and the autumn feast.
During harvesting rituals, people burned scarecrows and then returned the ashes to the soil. Their purpose has remained the same from the early days to today, and that is to instill fear.
Fangs are part of vampire stories. And we have them in different cultures. The most famous vampire is Dracula, a fictional character based on Vlad the Impaler. He was a medieval Romanian prince.
In the fictional story, Count Dracula has pointy, very white teeth. And that is where we see the fangs from.
The owl has become a popular symbol in the past several years. Its history dates back to Samhain. At the time, druids would light huge sacred bonfires attracting bugs, flying insects, bats, and owls.
Owls came for easy food supplied by the insects. And in the Middle Ages, the owl became associated with witches.
You might think pumpkins are the fruit of Halloween. But apples have a connection with the holiday as well. Associated with Pomona, the Roman goddess of abundance, apples are a weird Halloween symbol. When Romans invaded Britain, they brought their beliefs and apples with them. And that is where apple bobbing comes from.
Another explanation is that when you slice an apple, the seeds form a pentagram, a symbol we associate with witches.
We have to finish our list of popular Halloween symbols with some blood, right? Blood is the centerpiece in Halloween movies, Halloween traditions, and even decorations.
And it all comes back to vampires and blood dripping down the side of their mouths. Blood represents life and mortality, an integral part of the Halloween celebration. We use it as a reminder that we can experience pain and get killed.