During the month of October, you’re likely to see lots of Halloween symbols. In the fall, stores and homes are filled with these images.
Though we see the symbols of Halloween every year, few people know why these particular images are associated with the holiday. Each of the Halloween symbols have a specific meaning rooted in the history of the holiday.
Keep reading for the seven most recognizable Halloween symbols, and why they are so important on this holiday.
What are the symbols of Halloween?
The seven symbols of Halloween are jack o lanterns, witches, black cats, bats, spiders, ghosts and skeletons.
Many of the symbols of Halloween are connected to Samhain. This ancient Pagan festival was the earliest version of Halloween, and many of Samhain’s traditions and symbols are still seen in our modern day Halloween celebrations.
The mythology and folklore surrounding these Halloween symbols also plays a part in their meanings on Halloween and why they are so prevalent during this time of year.
Halloween is not the only holiday with a set of symbols that have special meaning. Learn more about other holidays with our guides to the symbols of Thanksgiving, Valentine’s Day symbols, Mardi Gras Symbols, and St. Patrick’s Day symbols.
Jack o lantern meaning on Halloween
During the fall months, you’ll see a wide variety of pumpkins. They range from traditional jack o lanterns to expertly carved designs, and everything in between.
The type of pumpkin associated with Halloween, specifically, is the jack o lantern. You might be surprised to learn that the history of pumpkin carving on Halloween dates back on old Irish story called The Legend of Stingy Jack.
Stingy Jack was a mischievous man who outsmarted and made deals with the Devil for his own gain. In the end, this scheming backfired on Jack, and he was banned from both heaven and hell, cursed to wander the earth for all eternity.
People carved everything from turnips to pumpkins, and lit them, in hopes of scaring Stingy Jack’s ghost, and other malevolent spirits away. Learn the full story and history of this tradition in our post on The Legend of Stingy Jack.
If you want to carve your own pumpkins this year, be sure to check out this list of pumpkin carving ideas. Your pumpkins will be festive all season, because in addition to the pumpkin being one of the Halloween symbols, they are also a symbol of Thanksgiving.
Witches and Halloween
Though once revered as great healers, the view of witches has changed drastically throughout history. It was believed that their ability to cast magical spells came from the devil, connecting them to evil.
Because of this association, they were tied to Halloween and have become one of the most recognizable Halloween symbols.
Not only will you see witches during this time of year, but you’ll also see items associated with them like brooms, cauldrons and witches hats.
Black cat symbolism on Halloween
Black cats are tied to Halloween because of Scottish and Irish legends about a creature called the cat sith. Unfortunately for cat lovers, the cat sith was anything but cute and cuddly.
According to Scottish folklore, the cat sith was described a giant black cat with a white patch on its chest, and a knack for trouble. This feared feline would visit farms on Samhain, looking for milk.
If farmers left out a bowl of milk for this cat, it would bless the home. However, if they didn’t, it would curse the home and the cattle, render the cows unable to produce milk ever again.
Irish folklore believed that the cat sith was a witch that had the ability to turn into a cat. They believed that witches could transform into the cat sith nine times, but after the ninth transformation they would be stuck permanently in feline form.
To learn more about this spooky mythological cat, make sure to read our guide about the mythology of the cat sith.
Bats as Halloween symbols
Bats are another one of the Halloween symbols that come from Samhain. Fire was a crucial element of this spiritual holiday, as it was one of the four fire festivals celebrated by the ancient Celts during the year.
During Samhain, the ancient Celts would gather their harvest and share it with their community around a giant bonfire, to mark the end of the harvest and beginning of winter. They would feast together, tell fortunes, make sacrifices and pray over the fire.
If you’ve ever had a bonfire, you might have noticed that fires attract insects. The extra bugs in the air were appealing bats, who eat insects, causing an abundance of bats during this time of year.
Thanks to Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula, bats have also been associated with vampires, which are also frequently seen during Halloween in costumes and decorations.
Spider superstitions at Halloween
It seems like spiders are everywhere in the fall! Not only are they in Halloween decorations, but there’s also tons of real spiders around. There’s a few reasons for this.
Spiders reach maturity around October, so they are fully grown and more visible. This is also the time of the year when the males go looking for mates, so you’re likely to see them in places you might not normally.
Similarly to black cats, spiders were also linked to witches. The spider’s ability to spin webs seemed almost magical, so they were believed to have possessed supernatural powers.
Some spider superstitions use spiders as a signal for otherworldly presences. It was believed that if a spider fell into a candle flame, it signaled that witches were nearby.
It was also thought that if you saw a spider on Halloween, it meant that the spirit of a loved one was watching over you.
Spiders also often spin webs in spooky locations like graveyards and dark corners, further playing into their eerie reputation.
Ghosts as Halloween symbols
It is commonly said that the veil between the living and the dead is its thinnest on Halloween. The ancient Celts believed that during the night of Samhain (October 31), the veil between the living and the dead could be breached.
They would welcome their dead ancestors come to visit during celebratory feasts, as death was not feared but regarded as a natural part of life.
However, these good ghosts were not the only ones that could walk through the veil. Monsters and evil spirits from the other side could also pass through the veil and walk among the living.
The Celts would wear animal skins as a disguise to hide themselves from malevolent ghosts. This is actually where dressing up for Halloween originates. To follow their example check out these last minute adult costumes and these easy DIY costumes for kids.
To incorporate ghosts in your Halloween celebrations this year, try making ghost pb&js or banana ghosts for your kids, and a ghostbuster cocktail with whipped cream ghost garnish for yourself!
Halloween and Dia de los Muertos skulls
Skeletons are another Halloween symbol that, like ghosts, represent the dead. It makes sense that they would be included in a holiday where the barrier between the living and the dead is the thinnest.
It’s important to note that not all of the skulls you might see during this time are for Halloween. In addition to being a symbol of Halloween, skulls are also an important part of Dia de los Muertos, also known as Day of the Dead.
Dia de los Muertos originated from an Aztec festival to honor the dead. It is widely observed in Mexico, and outside of Mexico by those with Mexican heritage.
The Dia de los Muertos skulls are brightly colored sugar skulls which are often placed on a gravestones or altars as an offering to the dead. You may also see faces painted with skulls to honor loved ones who have passed on Dia de los Muertos.
Ways to decorate with the symbols of Halloween
Now that you know the meaning of the seven Halloween symbols, you can fully appreciate them this season. Below are some suggestions for how to add them to your decor this year.
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- Jack o Lanterns: Use jack o lantern stencils for an easy way to carve pumpkins.
- Witches: Drink your coffee or tea out of a witches cauldron mug to embrace your inner witch.
- Black Cats: Put these wooden black cat decorations above your doors inside of your home. You could even tie an orange bow around their necks to dress them up for the holiday.
- Bats: Decorate your walls with bat wall stickers, to celebrate this spooky winged mammal.
- Spiders: Get a set of spiderweb shelves to use to display your Halloween decor.
- Ghosts: Impress your neighbors by adorning your front lawn with a floating light up ghost.
- Skeletons: Get a life sized posable skeleton to display inside our outside of your home.
In addition to Halloween symbols that represent the holiday, there are also colors that represent Halloween, and have special meaning during this time of year.
The colors of Halloween are orange, black, purple, green and white.
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Looking for more fact-based posts?
If you enjoyed learning about the symbols of Halloween, be sure to also check out these posts to learn more fun facts about some of your favorite things!
- Bonfire Night – Read this post to learn about another fall holiday that incorporates bonfires.
- Daylight Saving Time – Learn about how the time change works, and if we gain or lose an hour.
- Chinese zodiac signs – Find out about the 12 different animals of the Chinese Zodiac (the Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Goat, Monkey, Rooster, Dog and the Pig).
- Mardi Gras Facts – Discover 100 facts about this religious feast day which is also known as Fat Tuesday.
- Who is Cupid? – Ever wonder why Cupid is a god of love? Learn about his the story of his love interest from Roman mythology called the story of Cupid and Psyche.
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About the author
Since graduating from The University of North Carolina at Greensboro, Jess has been living and working in Los Angeles, CA. She is a freelance writer, specializing in content related to fashion, food and drink and film industry topics. Find out more about Jess here.
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