By Michael Finn
The thrills of Halloween are cherished by most. There’s something uniquely satisfying and nostalgic about ghost tales, haunted houses, jack-o-lanterns, and costumes. But as enjoyable as the holiday can be, there are a lot of superstitions during the season that are placed unfairly on animals. Though many characterizations may seem harmless, when animals are portrayed as innately supernatural, lucky, or wicked, they suffer as a result. In some cases, they’re even killed. This article discusses some of the animals associated with Halloween, and the accompanying superstitions that surround them.
We’ve all heard the superstition that bad luck will follow if a black cat crosses your path, but how did this begin? In medieval Europe, black cats were associated with the devil. This was due to their bright eyes contrasting against their dark fur. Also, many poor/vagrant women who took care of these cats were suspected of being witches, and as a result, accusations circulated that the cats were evil. People believed that witches could shape shift into black cats. When you see Halloween decorations of witches and cats together, this is why.
Also in medieval Europe, Pope Innocent the VIII ordered millions of cats to be rounded up and slaughtered. Any individual caught with a cat as a pet was subject to execution. As a result, having a cat cross your path at this time was not only frightening because the belief in witches & the devil was valid, but also because you could potentially be killed for associating with cats at all.
Animal sacrifice is sadly rumored to occur around Halloween, and black cats are generally used due to their superstitious ties with the supernatural. Many shelters across America tighten their adoption policies as Halloween approaches. The closer Halloween gets, the tighter the restrictions. On Halloween, no cats can be adopted. This is not only in fear of them being sacrificed. It’s also because shelters fear that cats will be used as a “Halloween prop,” and then returned after the holiday ends. Black cats are reportedly euthanized at higher rates over other domestic animals, because they have more difficulty being adopted. Black Cat Appreciation Day, held annually on August 17th, is attempting to reverse unjust superstitions that continue to prevail.
Bats have been associated with vampires, although only three species actually drink blood. Vampires and witches are said to be able to shape shift into bats, which is why they’re often paired together somehow in Halloween décor. It’s said that seeing a bat flying during the day is an omen that someone close to the viewer will die. Likewise, if a bat flies into your house and instantly hangs on the ceiling, it’s good luck. If it circles twice beforehand, it’s bad. If at any time a bat flies three times around your head, inside or outside, it’s said that your life will soon end. Killing a bat is supposed to shorten your lifespan. In fact, it’s illegal to kill several breeds throughout our country.
In the past, owls have been associated with witches, who reputedly transformed into owls, so they could catch newborns and drink their blood. Hearing an owl hooting at night is still an omen that the death of a newborn could result in the hearer’s family. Likewise, seeing an owl during the day is attached to omens of death, but if the owl is white it’s good luck. If an owl perches on your rooftop, someone in the household is said to expect very bad luck, and potential death. If an owl hoots during a burial service, the deceased person’s spirit is rumored to rise from the grave and haunt whoever is present. In England, some believe that if a person looks into the nest of an owl, he/she will be depressed for the rest of their life. If an owl is spotted near an abandoned house or structure, the location is supposedly haunted.
Interestingly, spiders have little negative superstition revolving around them, which is surprising because most people have some degree of arachnophobia. In Native American myth, the world was said to have been created by a giant spider woman who webbed existence. Some superstitions claim that spiders are female ancestors, so harming them is the same as harming a respected elder. In some cultures, spider web is associated with money. Spiders are thus referred to as, “money spinners.” The time of day also seems to play a role in a spider’s message: “A spider seen in the morning is a sign of grief; a spider seen at noon, of joy; a spider seen in the evening, of hope.”
Snakes receive a bad reputation due to their association with Satan and the Garden of Eden. Some cultures consider snakes to be immortal because they shed their skins. Hanging a snake skin inside your house is said to help prevent fires. As with the black cat, seeing a snake pass your path is a bad omen. In the past, snakes were said to have healing powers. Today, this is why they’re incorporated on the medical professional emblem (two serpents wrapping around a staff).
There are so many more superstitions that I haven’t listed here. Although many I incorporated were negative, several others are positive. But whether positive or negative, when we truly believe that animals are magical, innately wicked, and supernatural, it perpetuates longstanding beliefs that oppress them. Ultimately, when this becomes common perception, the fright of Halloween can be a year long ordeal for animals.
Here are a few links that offer additional Information on this subject: