The Book of Hallowe'en/XV.

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134173The Book of Hallowe'en — XV.Ruth Edna Kelley



In Colonial days Hallowe'en was not celebrated much in America.
Some English still kept the customs of the old world, such as
apple-ducking and snapping, and girls tried the apple-paring charm
to reveal their lovers' initials, and the comb-and-mirror test to
see their faces. Ballads were sung and ghost-stories told, for the
dead were thought to return on Hallowe'en.

  "There was a young officer in Phips's company at the time of the
  finding of the Spanish treasure-ship, who had gone mad at the
  sight of the bursting sacks that the divers had brought up from
  the sea, as the gold coins covered the deck. This man had once
  lived in the old stone house on the 'faire greene lane,' and a
  report had gone out that his spirit still visited it, and caused
  discordant noises. Once ... on a gusty November evening, when the
  clouds were scudding over the moon, a hall-door had blown open
  with a shrieking draft and a force that caused the floor to

                             BUTTERWORTH: Hallowe'en Reformation.

Elves, goblins, and fairies are native on American soil. The
Indians believed in evil _manitous_, some of whom were water-gods
who exacted tribute from all who passed over their lakes. Henry
Hudson and his fellow-explorers haunted as mountain-trolls the
Catskill range. Like Ossian and so many other visitors to the
Otherworld, Rip Van Winkle is lured into the strange gathering,
thinks that he passes the night there, wakes, and goes home to find
that twenty years have whitened his hair, rusted his gun, and
snatched from life many of his boon-companions.

  "My gun must have cotched the rheumatix too. Now that's too bad.
  Them fellows have gone and stolen my good gun, and leave me this
  rusty old barrel.

  "Why, is that the village of Falling Waters that I see? Why, the
  place is more than twice the size it was last night--I----

  "I don't know whether I am dreaming, or sleeping, or waking."

                                      JEFFERSON: Rip Van Winkle.

The persecution of witches, prevalent in Europe, reached this side
of the Atlantic in the seventeenth century.

    "This sudden burst of wickedness and crime
     Was but the common madness of the time,
     When in all lands, that lie within the sound
     Of Sabbath bells, a witch was burned or drowned."

         LONGFELLOW: Giles Corey of the Salem Farms.

Men and women who had enemies to accuse them of evil knowledge and
the power to cause illness in others, were hanged or pressed to
death by heavy weights. Such sicknesses they could cause by keeping
a waxen image, and sticking pins or nails into it, or melting it
before the fire. The person whom they hated would be in torture, or
would waste away like the waxen doll. Witches' power to injure and
to prophesy came from the Devil, who marked them with a
needle-prick. Such marks were sought as evidence at trials.

"Witches' eyes are coals of fire from the pit." They were attended
by black cats, owls, bats, and toads.

Iron, as being a product of fire, was a protection against them, as
against evil spirits everywhere. It had especial power when in the
shape of a horseshoe.

    "This horseshoe will I nail upon the threshold.
     There, ye night-hags and witches that torment
     The neighborhood, ye shall not enter here."

       LONGFELLOW: Giles Corey of the Salem Farms.

The holiday-time of elves, witches, and ghosts is Hallowe'en. It is
not believed in here except by some children, who people the dark
with bogies who will carry them away if they are naughty.

    "Onc't they was a little boy wouldn't say his prayers--
     An' when he went to bed at night, away upstairs,
     His mammy heerd him holler, an' his daddy heerd him bawl,
     An' when they turn't the kivvers down, he wasn't there at all!

     An' they seeked him in the rafter-room, an' cubby-hole, an'
     An' seeked him up the chimbley-flue, an' ever'wheres, I guess;
     But all they ever found was thist his pants an' roundabout!
     An' the Gobble-uns 'll git you, ef you don't watch out!"

                                     RILEY: Little Orphant Annie.

Negroes are very superstitious, putting faith in all sorts of
supernatural beings.

    "Blame my trap! how de wind do blow;
     And dis is das de night for de witches, sho!
     Dey's trouble going to waste when de ole slut whine,
     An' you hear de cat a-spittin' when de moon don't shine."

                               RILEY: When de Folks is Gone.

While the original customs of Hallowe'en are being forgotten more
and more across the ocean, Americans have fostered them, and are
making this an occasion something like what it must have been in
its best days overseas. All Hallowe'en customs in the United States
are borrowed directly or adapted from those of other countries.
All superstitions, everyday ones, and those pertaining to Christmas
and New Year's, have special value on Hallowe'en.

It is a night of ghostly and merry revelry. Mischievous spirits
choose it for carrying off gates and other objects, and hiding them
or putting them out of reach.

  "Dear me, Polly, I wonder what them boys will be up to to-night.
  I do hope they'll not put the gate up on the shed as they did
  last year."

                                  WRIGHT: Tom's Hallowe'en Joke.

Bags filled with flour sprinkle the passers-by. Door-bells are rung
and mysterious raps sounded on doors, things thrown into halls, and
knobs stolen. Such sports mean no more at Hallowe'en than the
tricks played the night before the Fourth of July have to do with
the Declaration of Independence. We see manifested on all such
occasions the spirit of "Free-night" of which George von Hartwig
speaks so enthusiastically in St. John's Fire (page 141).
Hallowe'en parties are the real survival of the ancient merrymakings.
They are prepared for in secret. Guests are not to divulge the fact
that they are invited. Often they come masked, as ghosts or witches.

The decorations make plain the two elements of the festival.
For the centerpiece of the table there may be a hollowed pumpkin,
filled with apples and nuts and other fruits of harvest, or
a pumpkin-chariot drawn by field-mice. So it is clear that this
is a harvest-party, like Pomona's feast. In the coach rides a
witch, representing the other element, of magic and prophecy.
Jack-o'-lanterns, with which the room is lighted, are hollowed
pumpkins with candles inside. The candle-light shines through holes
cut like features. So the lantern becomes a bogy, and is held up at
a window to frighten those inside. Corn-stalks from the garden
stand in clumps about the room. A frieze of witches on broomsticks,
with cats, bats, and owls surmounts the fireplace, perhaps. A full
moon shines over all, and a caldron on a tripod holds fortunes
tied in nut-shells. The prevailing colors are yellow and black: a
deep yellow is the color of most ripe grain and fruit; black stands
for black magic and demoniac influence. Ghosts and skulls and
cross-bones, symbols of death, startle the beholder. Since
Hallowe'en is a time for lovers to learn their fate, hearts and
other sentimental tokens are used to good effect, as the Scotch
lads of Burns's time wore love-knots.

Having marched to the dining-room to the time of a dirge, the
guests find before them plain, hearty fare; doughnuts, gingerbread,
cider, popcorn, apples, and nuts honored by time. The Hallowe'en
cake has held the place of honor since the beginning here in
America. A ring, key, thimble, penny, and button baked in it
foretell respectively speedy marriage, a journey, spinsterhood,
wealth, and bachelorhood.

  "Polly was going to be married, Jennie was going on a long
  journey, and you--down went the knife against something hard. The
  girls crowded round. You had a hurt in your throat, and there,
  there, in your slice, was the horrid, hateful, big brass thimble.
  It was more than you could bear--soaking, dripping wet, and an
  old maid!"

                                        BRADLEY: Different Party.