Myths and legends have had a large impact on how Halloween has developed over the years and has helped to shape the way we celebrate this spooky holiday. However, this leads many people to question where these myths that have become such a large part of our culture today originated. While there are many creatures, myths, and legends that are prevalent in our Halloween culture, the three myths we will look at are the myths surrounding full moons, witches, and vampires as these three myths are the most commonly incorporated into Halloween celebrations.
A fear of full moons finds its origin in the legends of the werewolves. Stories regarding werewolves can now be found worldwide, and in recent years, the presence of werewolves in pop culture has grown exponentially. Werewolf legends find their origin as far back as ancient Greece. The Greeks told stories about men who could turn themselves into werewolves in order to conduct the devils work. Other stories told of dishonorable men being permanently turned into wolf like creatures as a form of punishment for their actions.
The earliest recorded stories that involved werewolf transformations being controlled by the moon come from 16th century France and Germany. While these original werewolf stories were far different than our modern adaptations, they were similar in that it was believed that certain men could turn into a wolf-man during the full moon. These werewolf myths have lead to the superstition that bad things happen when full moons occur.
Witches play a very important role in our modern Halloween traditions. Most Halloween decorations include the use of witches and many children dress as witches, wizards, and warlocks on Halloween; so where do the legends of witchcraft come from?
Believe it or not, myths, legends, and stories regarding witches and the use of witch craft are as old as the human race. Stories dating back to ancient times depict the use of potions and spells in order to heal the sick and to create crops that are more fertile. However, the evil and gruesome witches that are most commonly depicted on Halloween do have a more specific origin.
The stories of witches as evil beings who conduct the devils work date back to the late middle ages (late 15th century/early 16th century). During this time, Christian leaders were trying to do away with any myths, beliefs, and traditions that undermined their religious beliefs. For this reason, they painted those who practiced witchcraft as being in line with the devil, and used them as scapegoats for anything bad that happened (such as saying that someone they suspected of being a witch caused a recent plague outbreak that had occurred). These beliefs led to a fear of anything relating to witchcraft, and led to later witch-hunts. This medieval depiction of witches eventually turned into the witches that we depict in our Halloween traditions.
Vampire myths are another large part of Halloween traditions. Vampires have been popularized in recent books and movies, which has caused their presence to rise on Halloween in recent years. The word vampire is a loose term used to describe any mythological creature, dead or alive, who drinks human blood for sustenance. While these creatures have been present in myths worldwide since ancient times, the term vampire was not popularized until the 18th century when there was in influx of vampire superstition in Eastern Europe.
While vampires had been present in mythology for hundreds of years, the origin of the modern vampires that are present in our modern Halloween celebrations can be found in Bram Stoker’s classic 1897 novel Dracula. Dracula was the first novel of its kind, and it set the basis for the myth of the modern vampire as an undead fanged creature who drinks blood. Stoker’s infamous novel is the origin for the modern vampire that is so common in pop culture today.
Many of the myths that are quintessential parts of our modern Halloween celebrations find their origins in medieval legends. However, the reason these myths are so ingrained in our culture is that similar legends can be found worldwide dating back to prehistoric times. The fact that these myths have existed as long as they have shows how fascinated humans are by supernatural, frightful legends, which is why these supernatural beings have become such a big part of our culture.
Jennifer Olsen is a daughter of the night and all things astrological. Jennifer loves delving into the stories behind the myths of famous legends. Halloween of course has the most myth and Jennifer’s favorite holiday. Jennifer works at Denver’s scariest Haunted House the 13th Door.