It’s extremely rare to see Halloween decorations that don’t include the image of at least one or two bats. While most people associate bats with Halloween, there aren’t many who are able to provide an explanation for the link between bats and Halloween. The truth of the situation is that the connection between the tiny winged mammals and the ancient holiday is far from random. There are several different reasons bats and Halloween are linked together.
Bats and Witches
Although no one knows exactly why witches and bats were first connected, we do know that the trial of Lady Jacaume of Bayonne in the 14th century marked the first-time bats were used as proof of witchcraft. While the occasion marked the first-time bats led to the burning of a witch, it was not the last. Three centuries later during the famous Salem witch trials, bats were submitted as evidence that a woman was witch, despite the fact that she had little to no control over where the small animals decided to roost.
And the link between bats and witches still exists. During the 1950’s a California taxidermist created a nice little side business for himself by selling bat blood to customers who reportedly used it for a variety of spells and potions.
Bats Symbolize Darkness
Halloween started out as a pagan celebration called Samhain. During the ceremony, Druids went through a series of rituals that were designed to not only celebrate the end of summer, but to also welcome darker seasons. Since bats have always been used as a symbol of darkness, it’s likely that at least a few of the priests’ rituals included bats. This later evolved into a connection between bats and Halloween.
Fire Attracts Flying Insects which in Turn Attracts Bats
Symbolizing darkness and the coming winter is likely just one of the reasons the druids connected bats to Samhain. Another is the fact that since they often used bonfires in their rituals. While bats aren’t attracted to fire, the moths and mosquitos and other nighttime insects microbats eat are. To bats, the Samhain fires meant a veritable feast, which meant the Druid priests saw more bats during the Samhain festival than they did during any other night of the year. Which, in their mind, was proof that bats were connected to Samhain.
Bats are Frequently Found Near “Haunted” Structures
Halloween is a time when people, particularly teenagers, dare to do things they normally wouldn’t, such as visit decrepit buildings and crypts that are rumored to be haunted. Because these same places provide lots of nooks and crannies for bats to roost in and are normally quiet and undisturbed, instead of ghosts and goblins, the Halloween visitors encountered large groups of bats, which in turn led to the idea that bats consort with demons and the Devil.
Bats Swarm in October
In many parts of the United States and Europe, October is the time of the year when bats start gathering and traveling in large groups as they prepare for the upcoming winter hibernation. To those who didn’t know better, the increasing number of bats in the sky during the month of October probably looked like they were prepping for a big event (which they were) and most would have assumed that the big event was the night when demons walk the earth.
Bats are the Souls of Dead
There’s an old Finnish myth about how bats weren’t animals at all, but were a physical manifestation of human souls. And not all human souls turn into bats. That particular transformation only occurred when the person suffered a particularly violent and sudden death. The Finnish myth is very similar to one in Madagascar which bats were once rumored to be the reincarnation of vicious criminals and the unburied dead.
While the Mayans didn’t celebrate Halloween or Samhain, it’s likely that European explores who first visited the Mayans and learned of their culture brought back stories of the Mayan god, Camazotz. Not only did this particularly nasty god have bats as his familiars, the Mayans also believed he had bat wings and bat fangs.
How do you think the connection between bats and Halloween developed?
Andrei, Mihai. “The Myths and Folklore behind Halloween’s Most Popular Characters.” ZME Science, 30 Oct. 2010, www.zmescience.com/other/halloween-monsters-witches-vampires-30102010/.
Haunted Bay, www.hauntedbay.com/history/bat.shtml.
McCracken, Gary F. “Bats in Magic, Potions, and Medicinal Preparations: The Multiple Uses of Bats in Magic and Folk Medicine Are Clear Testament to the Fertility of the Human Imagination.” BATS, Bat Conservation International, 1992, www.batcon.org/resources/media-education/bats-magazine/bat_article/546?tmpl=component.