As re-enactors, we try to represent the reality of day to day life in the Middle Ages and Renaissance. There are a few things we choose not to re-enact, however. It wouldn’t be any fun to reconstruct an inquisition, for instance, or to deal with the actual plague. One other thing we don’t really address as re-enactors is the adherence to medieval mystical beliefs. All of our modern tales of ghosts and goblins, our cinematic thirst for things that go bump in the night, are rooted in historical belief. Believe it or not, there is legitimate course of study in academia that looks to the very things we love to bring to light at Halloween. In addition to the pop culture interest in the occult, you can actually study medieval witchcraft and related theologies at several larger institutions of higher learning. Read on, to find out more about where and why we hold the All Hallows Eve, Day of the Dead, or All Souls Day beliefs; who was likely to be a candidate for Witchhood; as well as some of the spookiest medieval places on earth. Be prepared to be scared!
Witchcraft Across the World: East and Near East, and another site, Shakespeare Studies: Shakespeare and Witches are two such examples of great sites to find real historic information about medieval witches and how they were viewed in society.
The Cambridge History of Magic and Witches in the West: From Antiquity to the Present is an academic treatise on witchcraft available for free on Google Books. Edited by David J Collins, S.J.
The Witch, the Weird, and the Wonderful is a site that is less dry academia, and more about the historic dark-romantic allure of witchcraft.
Werewolves and other Weird Creatures
History of the Werewolf Legend, which provided the picture above, gives a good account of the supposed first creation of a werewolf, from whom all werewolves are supposed to spring. Read this account to see where the story differs from modern werewolves. Hint: Wolves were not cute fur-faced snugglers in the Middle Ages. Don’t expect their were-cousins to be cuddlers, either.
Repentant Soul or Walking Corpse? Debatable Apparitions in Medieval England is a website that gives us a window in to the mind of those who were haunted in the middle ages. I know several folks who are modernly worried over the same question…
Legend has it that old bones were emptied into the underground catacombs, old burial grounds predating history, by the truckload during the last century. National Geographic’s pictorial essay on the catacombs makes the spooky even creepier. View it here. No amount of scientific photography explains the painstaking artistic arrangements of tibias, skills, and ulnas to be found down there in massive walls and pyres. Find out about the ancient and macabre Empire of Death, entrance pictured above, also known as the Paris Underground Catacombs, here. But don’t visit them on Halloween. Officials wisely keep the Catacomb tours closed during the spooky season.
Hampton Court, London, is the source of many English ghost stories. The Hampton Court Palace was widely used by Henry VII and the Tudors. Nowadays its famous neighbor, the BBC, uses the park frequently for their big celebrations according to a pair of my cousins, who work for the Beeb. Otherwise, Hampton Court is a tourist attraction that draws ghost hunters because of its many stories of spooky happenings. One such sighting is shown here. Is it real? Judge for yourself by viewing the pictures.
Most Castles boast a ghost. Some boast several. However, you can find some truly terrifying royal destinations by reading about the World’s Ten Scariest Haunted Castles.
Ephmera and Information, Including Halloween Tales
The Pagan and Wiccan communities have a very different view of Halloween. To view their slant on Halloween, see this history of the holiday called Samhain.
Click here to read about the practice of Magic in Anglo-Saxon England.
Historic songs and stories about Halloween can be found at this site.
Have you ever heard of Pagans baking seed bread for Samhain? Find out why at Munchies Vice, here.
Lastly, find out about ghostly doings at the webpage Paranormal Activity in Medieval Britain.
However you choose to spend your holiday, please remember to watch out for the kids who are trick or treating if you drive at dusk and later. And please, try not to steal too many of those Peanut Butter Cups out of the plastic pumpkin, when the kids finally settle in for the night!