FAMOUS ANIMALS DURING HALLOWEEN (AND THEIR UNDESERVED BAD RAP)
Celebrating the Halloween season isn’t complete without putting up the classic visuals of Halloween – and the animals associated with them. Fittingly, the origins of how these animal friends of ours have become tied to Halloween are usually obscure.Here are some of the animals that have been glorified – or made monstrous – by Halloween traditions.
OWLS: MONSTERS OF THE NIGHT?
It’s actually hard not to imagine an Owl – or the hooting sound of one – as a perfect opener for B-movies under the horror genre and Halloween-oriented TV specials. But why are owls so heavily connected to Halloween?
According to Adrienne Mayor, a professor from Stanford University who specializes in folklore and ancient history, Owls have always had a dark reputation: “As fierce, nocturnal flying predators, owls have been associated with witches, who also fly about at night doing dark deeds… nighttime was scary for humans, a time for werewolves, witches, demons of darkness, bats and black cats, and ghosts.” Mayor went on to explain that the Owl’s unsavory reputation goes back to Greek and Roman mythology, with the Strix, a Bird-like witch who hunted nocturnall and favored humans, particularly children, as part of their diet. She believes that the Strix were based on Owls, and, in turn, a genus of owls were named Strix, according to Joan Carson’s 2018 article for Kitsap Sun.
In the end, it seems that Owls, being nocturnal flying predators – and some of them are surprisingly big! – have become the perfect Halloween animals.
The Great Owl (from The Secret of NIMH)
If you want to see a scary, “Halloween-friendly” Owl, look no further than the animated masterpiece titled The Secret of NIMH. Voiced by John Carradine, The Great Owl knew many things, particularly whom to contact if one had to move whole houses around.
CATS: FAMILIARS, INDEED
In many of the visuals concerning Halloween, it’s no surprise if Cats are included. In some cases, even more colorful ones are used, though the traditional color for feline Halloween personages is black.
The Halloween connection for Cats most probably has its origins in ancient Egypt where they were once worshipped. They even had a cat-headed goddess named Bast, who every night would battle with the Serpent of Darkness. The sun rising in the morning was proof that the goddess had once again won the battle.
This association with nighttime and magic might have eventually evolved into the idea of cats as familiars for witches. In fact, some witches could supposedly transform into black cats, according to Stephanie Dube Dwilson’s article for Cat Time.
Neil Gaiman’s Dream of a Thousand Cats, Sandman #18
This is Neil Gaiman’s beautiful and ominously illustrated short story about the relationship between Cats and humans – and the power of dreams. The story is sad, epic, and in a way, sinister, as it also touches on animal cruelty and how people treat “pets.”
BATS: FLYING OUT OF THE MOUTHS OF HELL
Bats – yes, they are one species also linked deeply to the Halloween imagery. However, most Bats tend to be mostly harmless to humans.
Some of the characteristics of Bats really dovetail into the natural fears of humans. For one, they are active at night, and even worse, many Bat species tend to roost in caves, which have their symbolic connections to death and the afterlife. It also does not help that their mating season is usually around September to November – around the time of Halloween – and in these cases, they tend to swarm.
Finally, some species of Bats do actually feed on blood, though most of them prefer blood from Goats and Birds rather than humans.
“I want to suck your blood, bleh, bleh”
When it comes to Bats and imagery that’s been co-opted by Halloween, there’s nothing like good ol’ Dracula himself. According to the book from Bram Stoker, vampires can turn into bats of their own free will.
The mere appearance of our eight-legged friends seems to trigger deep-seated negative reactions in many people. Yes, there are those who love Spiders, but many, many others would rather they just walked away or got squished by a big enough rolled-up newspaper.
Originally, Spiders were seen as storytellers or prophets who could foretell good and ill fortune for those brave enough to ask. Sadly, like many of the other animals in our list, Spiders most probably became linked to Halloween through the perception that they were acceptable familiars to witches.
So the next time you see a Spider, just give it a wide berth – after all, rather than being agents of evil, Spiders actually keep insect populations down in your house. The more Spiders, the less you’ll see of various other insects.
If you want a scary – and still somewhat child-friendly – movie about Spiders for the Halloween holidays, you can’t go wrong with Steven Spielberg’s Arachnophobia.
The basic premise of the story is that a really nasty Spider hailing from South America has hivemind characteristics, and that they ended up crossbreeding with local Spiders in California. There’s definitely an element of humor in the way the movie presents itself.
WOLVES: ACTUALLY, WEREWOLVES!
Wolves have also become a popular symbol of Halloween, but it should be remembered that it’s not so much the actual wolf that is being “celebrated” by the holiday, but their fiction hybrid: werewolves.
For some, the curse of the werewolf is usually transmitted by a bite, after which the victim would usually lose control depending on the phases of the moon, and then would transform into a large Wolf. For others, it’s a magical spell, according to a 2021 article by Mihai Andrei for ZME Science.
But the truth is, the curse of the werewolf may be more of a way for people to deal with violent personality changes rooted in diseases or psychological issues. Rabies, food poisoning, mass hysteria, and even genetic disorders such as hypertrichosis – excessive hair growth – can all be seen as originators for the belief in werewolves, as explained by Matthew Jarrett in a 2019 article for Forgotten History. Perhaps the wild and untamed nature of Wolves (as compared to Dogs) makes for a convenient scapegoat.
Wolf Children / Okami Kodomo no Ame to Yuki
This Japanese anime film feature drives home the issue of whether or not a human can choose to live as a Man or a Wolf. With superior-quality animation for its time and many layers of symbolism in its narrative, this movie might be good for more reflective nights of the Halloween season.
TAPPING INTO PRIMAL FEAR
It seems that many of our animal friends are victims of bad press and fear: Humans tend to view nocturnal predators as dangerous, and it doesn’t help that some of the animals described above have characteristics that can be dangerous to humans, with many of these exaggerated by centuries of myths and legends.
It’s important to remember that these animals are not evil. They are just being true to themselves as they fill their special niche in nature.