Using Commonplace Books to Study (Save?) Halloween

Photo by Andyone on Unsplash

This Halloween will definitely be interesting as we create new traditions in response to COVID-19. What is great about Halloween is that it has always adapted to societal challenges and in impactful (and sometimes questionable) ways. Did you know that haunted houses have roots in the Great Depression? Instead of lamenting the fact that some traditions might be put on hold (i.e. trick-or-treating), let us celebrate the fact that this Halloween’s adaptations may inspire new traditions and activities.

With that said, I have an exercise that will (1) aid in exploring the history of Halloween, (2) help with inspiring new traditions for your own family in quarantine, and (3) introduce you to a new hobby. I am asking you to start a Halloween commonplace book.

What is a commonplace book? I explain more in the next section, but commonplaces books “serve as a means of storing information, so that it may be retrieved and used by the compiler, often in his or her own work” (Harvard University Library). I sometimes describe them as DIY textbooks with one reader in mind: you.

Now, before you are scared off (Boo!), commonplace books are accessible to everyone. You simply need the desire to learn. You will not be tested on the material. There will be no final paper! You are simply researching and documenting for the sake of learning.

You can start a commonplace book on any topic, but today I challenge my spooky friends to study Halloween. By looking back you might feel rejuvenated in a time when everything seems “on pause.” History reveals, though, that nothing is really dormant.

In the following post I briefly introduce the topic, explain how to start one, and list general tips, topics, and resources to get you going. Also, please check back to this post at a later date. I will update it with more information and resources as it comes up.

What is a Commonplace Book?

The commonplace book, not be confused with a journal, organizes information by topic (rather than by date) so that it can be easily accessed at a later date. This information includes research notes, clippings from newspapers, printed articles, collected quotes, readings notes, images/photographs, drawings, and more. Think of it as a repository.

These do not need to be beautifully designed and handwritten. Organized chaos is welcome here! So don’t feel pressured to make everything look neat. This book is meant for the individual’s learning.

I have always loved learning new things and have found commonplace books an effective tool in archiving that information just in case my memory fails me. We all absorb so much information each day, especially due to social media. Why not take time to learn something new and really sit with it? Commonplace books give me the opportunity to (slow down and) document and reflect on topics I am passionate about. In some ways, it is an act of self-care.

I have written about this topic at length before. I have covered the history (with pictures!), addressed how tech-savvy people can use commonplace books, and given so many tips on starting and maintaining your own. If you would like a detailed introduction, check out these two posts:

Starting Your Commonplace Book

I am going to explain how to start a physical commonplace book, but you can definitely make a digital version. I just prefer the “paper and pen break” from technology. Again, I have written about this topic at length, so check out those blog posts linked above. They even include photographs of commonplace books as examples.

  1. Find a notebook. You can use whatever type of notebook you like. I prefer sturdy, beautifully decorated notebooks. Picking out my next commonplace book is always a fun experience. I have a commonplace book for each subject. For example, I have a commonplace book just for spooky topics. You might have one strictly for Halloween, another for Literature, Occult History, Witchcraft, whatever!
  2. Create a Table of Contents. Save a couple of pages in the beginning for the Table of Contents. You will be adding entries as you go.
  3. Number your pages. You can number all the pages at once or you can number as you go. When you start a new entry, you will put the title and page number on the Table of Contents page.
  4. Start archiving! Sometimes I start an entry with a topic in mind. Sometimes I watch a show or find an article I want to take notes on. Sometimes my entries are just entire articles printed and pasted into my book for future reference (with all the citation information of course). I take my book along to paranormal conferences to take notes. The possibilities are endless, really.

This commonplace book will explore the topic of Halloween. What is it all about? What are its origins? How has it changed over time? Through the study of Halloween, you might feel inspired to create new ways or bring back old ways of celebrating the holiday (safely!). For example, by researching vintage postcards, you might feel inspired to design your own and send them to friends. And, Halloween has a long history of games you can bring into your own home as well. Maybe adding entries to this very commonplace book will be a new tradition.

An Example of a Table of Contents Page
An Example of an Entry

General Tips

Here are some general tips. If you have any questions, please post them in the comments. I will address them in this section as well.

  • Your note-taking style will be as unique as you. My notes are truly inspired by my work in academia. I use lots of bulleted lists, highlighting, and tables. I sometimes create sidebars and text boxes (like a textbook). That’s just me though! Take notes in a way that works for you.
  • Make sure to write down where you get your sources. Do not worry! You do not need to follow the citation style taught in school. Just make sure to write as much information as possible so that you can find it again (if necessary).
  • Get creative if you want! I usually just fill my book with text. Sometimes I feel especially inspired and will add flourishes on my page with stamps, stickers, and colored pencils.

Possible Topics and Resources

Here are some possible topics to start with.

  • Origins of the Jack-o’-lantern
  • Origins of Trick-or-Treating
  • Interesting Halloween Festivals Across the United States
  • The History of the Haunted House
  • Halloween Postcards

Here are some possible resources to start with.


If you have any questions, please post them in the comments below. This is a “living” blog post and I will update it if something comes up (a question, new resource I come across, etc.). Don’t hesitate to ask questions! I love talking about commonplace books. đź‘»

Halloween Weekend Reading Material

Although it’s always spooky on Notebook of Ghosts, I thought I might share some links on history specific to Halloween. I looked through my favorite websites and created a short list for Halloween Weekend reading. Enjoy!

The History of Candy Corn: Halloween’s Most Iconic and Reviled Treat – Atlas Obscura

“Halloween provides a cavalcade of whimsical scares for children and adults alike, but nothing chills the bones quite as much as the piles of candy corn left at the bottom of pumpkins and pillowcases across America.”

The Reason for Your Halloween Candy Paranoia  – Jezebel

“Timothy wasn’t killed by a maniac getting children to unknowingly participate in a game of Russian Roulette with cyanide-tainted candy. He was killed by his father, Ronald, in an equally tragic and pathetic attempt at some good, old-fashioned insurance fraud.”

11 Fun Historical Newspaper Clippings about Halloween – mental_floss

“Halloweens of yesteryear were filled with treats, but many more tricks—or at least that’s how it seems from contemporary newspaper clippings.”

Halloween Folklore and Superstitions – Folklore Thursday

“We all know that Hallowe’en, as a festival, is not an invention of the trick-or-treating Americans but it is far older than many people realise. Its origin can be seen in the ancient festival of Samhain, a celebration which marked the end of summer and the beginning of winter.”

How Detroit Exorcised Devil’s Night – Atlas Obscura

“Some call it Mischief Night, others Cabbage Night but the night before Halloween, with its long history of pranks escalating into chaos and destruction, is perhaps best known as Devil’s Night. Halloween tricks are nothing new, but Devil’s Night in Detroit has historically brought out some of the worst vandalism and arson.”

And if you haven’t yet, check out my post on the Lost Halloween Traditions for Summoning Future Lovers.

Lost Halloween Traditions for Summoning Future Lovers

photo-1444059965852-405276258481

Halloween is the time of year when the veil between life and death becomes thinner, but so does the one between present and future. Many lost Halloween traditions involve girls and young women foretelling your future partner through unique rituals. You don’t need a crystal ball to see your future lover, just some autumn food, some household essentials, or maybe some comfortable walking shoes.

Want to see your future lover this Halloween? History suggests…

Playing with Food

halloween-card-mirror-1904

Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

  • Eat an apple and comb your hair in front of a mirror at midnight on Halloween. Your future husband’s image will appear over your left shoulder.
  • Have women mark apples and then place them in a tub of water. Then have men bob for apples to see future love matches.
  • Peel one long strand of an apple skin and throw it over your left shoulder. The first initial of your future partner’s name may be revealed.
  • Or take that apple peel, nail it above your front door, and the first person to walk under it will have the same initials of your future lover.
  • Make a fire and have all your unmarried friends tie apples to strings. The order in which the apples fall off the strings is the order everyone will get married. The owner of the last apple dropped will never marry.
  • Go to bed with an apple under your pillow and you may dream of your future spouse.
  • Grab some hazelnuts and assign a love interest to each one. Throw them into a fire. The hazelnut that burns to ash, instead of popping, is your future partner (Scottish tradition).
  • Eat some salted herring before bed. It will cause a thirst that will hopefully summon the sympathetic spirit of your future partner (with a glass of water of course).
  • Blindfold yourself and pull a cabbage out of the ground. Examine the root with your hands to collect clues for your future spouse.
  • Make Colcannon (a traditional Irish dish made with kale, mashed potatoes, and onions) and hide a ring in it. The person that finds the ring is getting married within the year.

Easy Household Divination

Halloween-card-mirror-2
Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

  • Sprinkle letters cut out of a newspaper into water to see your future lover’s name.
  • Get three bowls. Fill one with clean water, fill another with foul water, and leave the last one empty. Blindfold a friend and have them pick a bowl. If the bowl with clean water is picked: your future partner will be attractive. The foul water: your partner will already have been married before. Empty: You will die alone.
  • Hold a candle in front of a mirror in a dark room (sometimes after having walked up/down stairs backwards) and your future lover will appear.
  • Eat a sugary dessert made of walnuts, hazelnuts, and nutmeg before bed. Your future lover will appear in your dreams (Scottish Tradition).

Outdoor Predictions

  • Find a stream at a point where properties belonging to three different people meet (easy right?). Stick your sleeve in the stream. Go home and hang your shirt/dress over the fire. That night your lover will appear and turn over the sleeve to allow the other side to dry.
  • Take your friends outside for a hazelnut hunt. The first person to find a burr is the first person to marry.

Sources

 

 

Book Notes: Supernatural Superstitions

Each week, I walk many blocks to the used bookstore to explore its supernatural and horror section. It’s one of those book stores where shelves are filled and the floor is covered with stacks of books. You can usually find me sitting on the floor, turning the pages of some new find.

Now that I have my own room for my reading and writing, I have the space to build a substantial supernatural library. And, nothing could make me happier. I have always taken notes when reading, because I don’t want to forget what I’ve read. I also like something to reference when I return to a topic. This is why I’ve always kept a commonplace book. In fact, the first post of this blog was book notes from Herbert Thurston’s Ghost and Poltergeists.  

Today’s notes are from a recent find, David Pickering’s Dictionary of Superstitions. This book contains superstitions about food, body parts, weather…really, a variety of subject areas. Below are notes I took the interesting supernatural entries. Enjoy!

Fariy (p. 100): “Great care should be taken to avoid dark green ‘fairy rings’ in the grass, which mark the place where the fairies have held a circular dance at midnight (the rings are actually made by a fungus). It is said that these may even indicate the whereabouts of a fairy village. It is throught very dangerous to sleep in one of these rings or even to stop into one after nightfall – especially on the even of May Day or Halloween – and livestock are also reputed to keep their distance from these phenomena.”

Ghost (p. 116): “Measures that may be taken against encountering ghosts include, according to Scottish tradition, wearing a cross of rowan wood fastened with red thread and concealed in the lining of one’s coat.”

Gremlin (p. 122): “The only way to foil the activities of gremlins, apparently, is to lay an empty bottle nearby – the mischievous creatures will crawl inside and stay there.”

Hallowee’en (p. 125-6):

  • “Hallowe’en is generally considered a time where extra care should be given not to linger in churchyards or do anything that might offend the fairies or other malicious spirits.”
  • “It is also risky to look at one’s own shadow in the moonlight and the most inadvisable to go on a hunting expedition on Hallowe’en, as one may accidently wound a wandering spirit.”
  • “Children born on Hallowe’en will, however, enjoy lifelong protection against evil spirits and will also be endowed with the gift of second sight.”
  • “In rural areas farmers may circle their fields with lighted torches in the belief that doing so will safeguard the following year’s harvest, or else drive their livestock between branches of rowan to keep them safe from evil influences.”
  • “According to Welsh tradition, anyone going to a crossroads on Hallowe’en and listening carefully to the wind may learn what the next year has in store and, when the church clock strikes midnight, will hear a list of the names of those who are to die in the locality over the next twelve months.”
  • “Several of the most widely known Hallowe’en divination rituals relate to apples. Superstition suggests that, if a girl stands before a mirror while eating an apple and combing her hair at midnight on Hallowe’en, her future husband’s image will be reflected  in the glass over her left shoulder. A variant dictates that she must cut the apple into nine pieces, each of which must be struck on the point of the knife and held over the left shoulder. Moreover, if she peels an apple in one long piece, and then tosses the peel over the left shoulder or into a bowl of water, she will be able to read the first initial of her futures partner’s name in the shape assumed by the discarded peel. Alternatively the peel is hung on a nail by the front door and the initials of the first man to enter will be the same as those of the unknown lover.”

Nightmare (p. 189):

  • “Superstition maintains that nightmares are sent by the devil and his minions to trouble the dreams of sleepers. Such demons steal into bedrooms in the dead of night, often taking the form of spectral horses (hence ‘nightmare’).”
  • Remedies for nightmares
    • “These include pinning one’s socks in the shape of a cross to the end of the bed or else placing a knife or some other metal object nearby, on the grounds that the latent magic of the iron or steel will see off malevolent spirits.”
    • “Carefully placing one’s shoes under the bed so that the toes point outwards is also said to be effective.”
    • “Other precautions include sleeping with the hands crossed on the breast and fixing little straw crosses to the four corners of the bed.”
    • “Any lingering ill effects resulting from nightmares may be dismissed by spitting three times on waking up.

More notes form this book to come!