Today many people will celebrate one of the most famous holidays of our modern calendar: Halloween. A holiday that has aroused interest since its origin and which symbols include religious references of Christian and ancient pagan cults, as well as from Gothic literature. Its symbology is easily found in art: paintings, books, films, etc.
Halloween or Hallowe’en (the contraction of “Hallows’ Evening” or “Hallows’ Eve”) also known as “All Hallows’ Eve” or “All Saints Eve” is a celebration observed in several countries on 31 October, the eve of the Christian feast of “All Hallows’ Day”, with which begins the triduum or the time in the liturgical year dedicated to remembering the dead: saints (hallows), martyrs and all the faithful departed.
The word “Halloween” dates to about 1745 and is of Christian origin and it means “Saint’s evening”. The expression “All Hallows’ Eve” is itself seen until 1556.
Many of Halloween traditions have their origins in ancient Celtic harvest festivals, especially in the Gaelic festival called Samhain, these festivals have roots in pagan religions/cults. And Samhain was Christianized as Halloween by the early church. However, there are people who believe that Halloween began solely as a Christian holyday, celebrated separate from Samhain or other pagan festivals.
The symbols associated with Halloween were formed over time. Some have their origins in ancient traditions as Jack-O’-Lanterns, that according to the popular Irish Christian folktale is a soul who has been denied the entry in both heaven and hell; and it is believed that he frightens evil spirits. What explain that pumpkins are well known as a Halloween symbol.
And in the modern imagery of Halloween, we can find many sources as Christian eschatology, works of Gothic and horror literature (such as Frankenstein and Dracula novels) or classic horror films.
The symbol of the “skull” is a reference to Golgotha in the Christian tradition, as a reminder of the transitory quality of human life. In painting it is a very common symbol in the vanitas and memento mori compositions.
Women artists and Halloween
As it was mentioned before, the symbols of Halloween are easily found in painting, especially in vanitas or memento mori. We can see this in the work of Clara Peeters or Audrey Flack. But its representation, similar to how it is nowadays it isn’t easy to find; I only found one in which we can see Halloween as we know today, it is a painting of Grandma Moses, in it we find all the common symbols and the spirit of the celebration we are used to see in our cities today.
Also we can find pumpkins in the work of Yayoi Kusama, but in this case the symbol have nothing to do with the idea of Halloween. To her the pumpkins are more like an everyday food elevated to the status of fine art. Very similar to what Andy Warhol did with Campbell’s Soup.
However, the fact that seems most relevant to me is that one of the modern symbols associated with Halloween was created by a woman’s imagination. Frankenstein is one of the classics of Halloween, a story that has stimulated the creation of movies, other books, comics, toys and etc. and the original idea is of Mary Shelley.
There is a post on the blog about the film Mary Shelley with Elle Fanning.