As Halloween rolls around once more and you dig out last year’s tangled spider webs, you may find yourself wondering about the origins of our scariest holiday. Though now almost solely an excuse for children to dress up and eat candy (and for adults to dress up and get drunk), Halloween’s roots stem from ancient pagan folklore, rituals, and festivals a world away from our modern celebrations.
Just one often-overlooked aspect of Halloween’s history is the animals that are most commonly associated with the holiday. Spiders, rats, and bats all feature heavily in Halloween imagery and decorations, but what significance (if any) do these creatures have in the beliefs and traditions that underly All Hallows?
What do they have to do with Halloween?
Spiders and their webs are a key part of traditional Halloween decor, and will be found clustered in the corners of every household and party you visit during the spooky season. As one of the world’s most common phobias, it’s easy to see why spiders have such a heavy presence around Halloween; the plastic versions are often as creepy as their real-life counterparts.
But, general scariness aside, why are these many-legged beasts so heavily associated with October 31st?
The most likely reason for the inclusion of spiders in Halloween is their ancient connection with witches. Like black cats, toads, and mice, spiders were thought to be one of several animal forms taken by the ‘familiar spirits’ (supernatural beings dedicated to assisting witches in spell-casting and evil-doing). These ‘familiars’ would accompany witches wherever they went; therefore, spiders have strong traditional links with witchcraft and malevolent magic.
Are there more spiders around at Halloween?
You may notice that your home is suddenly invaded by armies of arachnids as summer comes to a close. By the time fall rolls around, it can start to feel like you can’t move for spider webs – but where are they all coming from? Many people assume that spiders come indoors at the end of summer to escape the cooler temperatures outdoors, but this is unlikely to be true.
Instead, the Halloween spiders you’re seeing are most likely frisky males, who emerge from hiding places around your home to mate at this time of year.
Most of the spiders you see won’t have come from outdoors at all – they were lurking inside from the very beginning.
What do they have to do with Halloween?
Like spiders, rats were traditionally considered to be witches’ accomplices, which is the most likely reason for their inclusion in Halloween. However, our particular revulsion surrounding rats probably comes from something a little more recent in human history; the Black Death. This gruesome plague ripped through though Europe in the 14th century, decimating an estimated 30-50% of the population in just a few short years.
Rats were found to be responsible for the global spread of the deathly illness, and their reputation as filthy, disease-bearing creatures has stayed with them ever since. And it’s not a million miles from the truth; though the plague is thankfully rare nowadays, these rodents carry a plethora of infectious pathogens that can cause a wide range of illnesses.
Are there more rats around at Halloween?
Rodents like rats and mice are more likely to invade your home around Halloween, as this is the time of year when outdoor temperatures drop and food sources become scarcer. Rats will often find their way in through cracks and crevices in search of shelter and sustenance and, once they start breeding, can quickly form an infestation. To keep Halloween rats out of your home, take care to dispose of and store all food carefully and eliminate water sources to avoid tempting them inside
What do bats have to do with Halloween?
As the world’s only mammal capable of true flight, bats are unique animals with an equally distinctive appearance. Their membranous wings and long, spindly fingerbones cast a spooky silhouette on the night sky, and many people are freaked out by these flying rodents. Given their reputation for transmitting rabies to humans, this is probably fair; but why are bats associated with Halloween?
As nocturnal creatures, bats have a strong link with nighttime and darkness that ties them to witchcraft, spellcasting and evil spirits. Their best-known and most fear-inspiring connection, however, is with vampires.
Although only three species of bat are known to actually drink blood, Bram Stoker’s ever-popular Dracula cemented their reputation as bloodthirsty, shape-shifting creatures back in 1987, and their public image has changed little since then.
As a result, bats are a key player in every Halloween display, and rubber models can be seen dangling from every roof and rafter (where they’re way more likely to get tangled in your hair than the real deal, FYI).
Are there more bats around at Halloween?
Bats hibernate from late fall (October/November) onwards. Around Halloween, you may notice a flurry of bat activity, as they feed excessively to fatten themselves up on insects before entering a state of hibernation for the winter. You won’t often see bats gathering in large numbers at this time of year, however; unless you’re lucky enough to witness a swarming.
During swarming, behavior large number of bats gather in huge clouds to mate, before returning to their underground hibernation sites. These Halloween bats can seemingly fill the sky with fluttering, swooping silhouettes – the perfect natural phenomenon to witness on our scariest pagan holiday!
Bats, rats and spiders all have strong association with Halloween, but how exactly are these creatures connected with the pagan holiday of All Hallows? All three have strong ties with the folklore surrounding witches, as they were thought to be the common forms taken by witches’ familiars; evil spirits who would assist them in their wrongdoings. On a level closer to home, these creepy critters frequently trigger feelings of revulsion in people, wither for the way they look or their associations with filth and disease.
Either way, all three have earned themselves a spot in our spooky celebrations, and are considered crucial components in our Halloween decorations.