If you’re looking for a setting for your paranormal book, take a look at October 31st—Halloween. It’s a spooky, ancient celebration where darkness reigns. And in a paranormal book, darkness can be important.
In our series The Turning Stone Chronicles, Halloween is an important date for the shape shifters. Samhain, aka Halloween, is the day when the magic rings, which allow the characters to shift, become bound to them. If they are in possession of a ring after midnight on Samhain, only one thing can separate them from the ring’s magic—DEATH!
Halloween is not only a combination of ancient Druidic practice and pre-Christian Roman and Celtic religious beliefs, but the date on which it falls is an important church feast day for Roman Catholics, Anglicans, and Lutherans. Interestingly enough, there are pagan (now considered secular) elements in most of our Christian holidays: the Easter bunny, Easter eggs, mistletoe, yule logs and holly.
Most people aren’t even aware of the pagan roots of the aforementioned things. But the idea that evil reigns on Halloween is not uncommon. Ghosts, goblins, vampires and the like roam the streets of our subdivisions every October 31st. Even though the Church tried to stop the spread of Samhain’s pagan rituals by placing Christian feast days on the same days as pagan celebrations, it failed with Halloween. The spooky things we associate with Halloween could not be wiped out.
All those spooky notions, creepy characters, and pagan rituals that have come down through the centuries can be used in your paranormal book’s settings. Use them as they are, or put your own twist on them like we did. Don’t think paranormal can be scary? If that’s what you believe, take a stroll past, or in, a cemetery on a full moon when the clouds passing over the old, white gravestones flicker like ghostly forms. To make it creepier, take the walk after you’ve watched a werewolf or vampire movie. Catherine had to pass by a huge cemetery at night on her way home from the movies when she was a teenager. (We did a lot more walking at night back then than kids do now.) Even though she didn’t believe in ghosts and the like, when she walked alone she ran the whole mile clutching her cross necklace, singing hymns in her head, and praying nothing from the grave would chase her home. Spook factor? You bet!
Originally celebrated as an end-of-year ritual by the ancient Celts, Samhain was not only “thanks” to their sun god Baal for the harvest but a time when the lord of the dead gathered and decided the fate of deceased souls. The spirits of the dead were believed to have permission to visit their living relatives briefly on October 31, the eve of Samhain, to obtain warmth and comfort for the cold winter ahead. Some of these spirits would also play pranks and wreak havoc with supernatural happenings.
To prevent the spirits from taunting them or their animals, the Celts would hang blessed bells around the necks of their cows and light new fires by rubbing branches of the sacred oak together. These bonfires would scare away the malicious ghosts, yet provided guiding lights for the more kindly ones who wanted to visit family. We’re still wrapping our head around that one, since it doesn’t make much sense to us that fire would only scare some of the ghosts.
In A.D. 43 the Romans conquered the Celts and added their own touches to the October 31st celebrations, which included fortune-telling with the use of fruits and nuts as the means to divine the future. During this time two more autumnal festivals were combined with the Celtic festival of Samhain. Later the descendants of the Celts—the Scottish, Irish, and English—added their rituals to the celebrations.
In the fourth century, when the Christian Church was declared lawful by Roman Emperor Constantine, the church tried to discourage the pagan rituals and moved their feast honoring all the saints from May to November. About a hundred years later, Pope Gregory IV decreed that All Hallows Eve would be moved to October 31. The Druidic Lord of the Dead festival became a Christian festival in hopes that, by allowing the church’s new followers to continue a feast on a date celebrated before becoming Christian, the church could expunge the pagan traditions.
But try as they might, the church was unable to completely erase the remnants of the ancient Celtic holiday. Over the years the rituals moved from religious to secular, and for much of the population, these aspects of the Celtic holiday remained part of every October. Thanks to the descendants of the Celts—the Scottish, Irish and English—the macabre reigns on Halloween. Magic, witches, devils, demons, ghosts, goblins, and a host of other dark, scary things rule every October 31st . . . and more often if you read or write paranormal.
What about you? Have you ever used a Halloween aspect in something you’ve written?