Tag Archives: superstitions


First Halloween?

cat bat

In the 5th Century BC in Ireland, October 31 was seen as the divide between summer and winter and was called Samhain (pronounced sow-han because after a few days of partying, you have a really hard time pronouncing the letter “m” – not really, it’s just that their language is weird like that).

It was the night that the spirits of the dead could walk the Earth. To encourage the spirits not to linger, people would put out the fires in their homes (to make it cold and unwelcoming) and dress as demons, goblins, and witches. They would parade through the houses, making as much noise as possible. (Parents of small children can relate.)

Then they would gather outside the village where the druid priests would light huge bonfires. The fires were a tribute to the sun god in thankfulness for the crops they had grown. It was also meant to frighten away spirits who might want to inhabit a villager’s body over the next year. Sometimes, if someone seemed to be already possessed, that person was thrown onto the fire. (The 5th Century BC was not a high point in caring for the mentally ill.) This was to warn off other spirits from trying to take over any of the other villagers.

The festivities changed some over the years. The Romans came and banned burning the crazies possessed, and burned effigies instead. The Christians came and the holiday began losing its connection to the old religion. In the 8th century, Pope Gregory III designated November 1 as All Saints Day, a day to honor saints and martyrs. Church sanctioned holidays were moving in on the holidays of the old gods and taking over their festivities.

People probably didn’t care much. They still got bonfires and a night of partying. While churches in other parts of the world had All Saints Day on November 1, not much was going on for All Hallow’s Eve (Halloween) until the potato famine forced Irish immigrants to come to the United States. America in the 1840s discovered Mischief Night where young people in costumes would go out and destroy stuff (knock over outhouses, for example). They also brought the custom of trick-or-treating.

Even in the 1880s people were already talking about making the holiday less frightening so as not to upset the children. Now, a little over a century later we’re just trying to take away the fun and creativity. The only appropriate costumes anymore are generic store-bought ones that are guaranteed not to offend anyone – funny how most of them are licensed comic book or movie characters. (But the change isn’t for profit, it’s for the Chiiiiilllldddrrreeennnn!)

At least we can still dress our pets up in weird costumes.

cat lobster


Wishbone First Used to Make Wishes?

People have been making wishes on a wishbone (the furcula, the v-shaped clavicle of a bird) for at least 2,400 years.


The custom began with the Etruscans, people who lived in what is now Italy, between the Tiber and Arno Rivers. They believed that fowl could tell the future. They would draw a circle on the ground, divide it into 24 segments (for the letters of their alphabet), and scatter corn in the circle. The order of the letters selected by corn pecking would give them a message that was interpreted by the priests.

When one of the sacred birds died, it’s wishbone would be saved and dried. Wishes would be made while stroking the bone. The Romans adopted this superstition because there wasn’t anyone on tumblr back then to complain about cultural appropriation.

The Romans brought the tradition to Britain. At some point after stealing it from one culture and before imposing it on another, they began having two people each tug on a side to break the bone, with good luck (a granted wish) going to the one holding the larger part.

The wishbone, or merrythought, as it was also called, was a well-established ritual by the time the Pilgrims came to America. According to tradition, wishes were made on wishbones during the first Thanksgiving in 1621.

It has been speculated that the furcula was chosen as the bone that would carry the mystic powers of the bird because the forked shape reminded them of the human crotch. Or maybe the priests thought, one wishbone per bird = market scarcity = higher prices.