Black cats, broken mirrors, ghouls and ghosts— we associate these fiendish images with October and Halloween. Superstitions normally mocked are given importance and we gather around and tell scary stories and try to startle each other with costumes, creepy-crawlies and other festive shenanigans.
The weight of these superstitions makes Halloween a more enjoyable holiday, and superstitions in general serve as important cultural vectors, even if they’re normally given little gravity.
According to Alexander Lesser in The Journal of Philosophy, superstitions help identify and unify a community. The beliefs that one community create individualism and a unique culture.
This can be seen through the development of the superstitions surrounding Halloween. As different societies adopted Halloween, the superstitions changed with each culture.
In 400AD Britain, locals sacrificed horses for Samhain feasts. Even after religious leaders seized Pagan temples, folks ritualistically sacrificed oxen – sometimes even before Christian altars as representations of “false gods,” according to Ralph Linton of the Scientific American Journal.
This shows that even if the superstitions remain the same, the meaning behind them often changes in different cultures. As in the example above, a sacrifice offered to a god in one culture may represent destroying that very god in another.
However, oftentimes the actual superstitions change as well. We no longer light bonfires on the Oct. 30 to welcome the winter; we no longer plait our pitchforks with straw, as the pagans did according to Linton, nor do most students travel to graveyards or mass as the Catholics did.
The superstitions that we uphold – or that we discard – are indicative of the values of our community. As college students, we need all the luck we can get. This luck is imperative to our values as a community, which is why the superstitions of black cats and broken mirrors persist. We do not highly value fairies, so we no longer leave offerings to them every year for All Hallow’s Eve. Superstitions persist for the things that we value and fade away for the things that we value no longer.
Therefore, while superstitions may seem silly, they carry important cultural weight.
Furthermore, it can be fun to engage with tradition! To dress up for Halloween, allow yourself to be something else for an evening, listen to ghost stories and escape the humdrum everyday college experience. We have the opportunity to be silly, to have fun and to release some of the stress that our day-to-day lives hold.
Therefore, embrace the superstitions that surround Halloween. Have some fun, engage with some cultural traditions and be safe.