Congratulations on making it through the portal to this very special Frontier Halloween page. We hope you are sitting uncomfortably for our celebration of Halloween from around the globe.
From the possessed in Peru, tales of Folklore in Trinidad to our favourite Halloween traditions from around the world, these stories of intrigue and mystery are all part of the fascinating cultures you encounter when you embark on a Frontier project. Heed their warnings and remember its not just the wildlife that goes bump in the night.
The instance we are about to relate occurred in Peru, in the country of the Ititans. A girl named Catharine died at the age of sixteen, an unhappy death; she had been guilty of several sacrilegious actions. Her body immediately after her death was so putrid that they were obliged to put it out of the dwelling in the open air, to escape from the bad smell which exhaled from it. At the same time they heard sounds of dogs howling; and a horse which before then was very gentle began to rear, it pranced and struck the ground with its feet breaking its bonds. A young man who was in bed was pulled out violently by the arm; a servant maid received a kick on the shoulder, of which she bore the marks for several days.
All that happened before the body of Catharine was inhumed. Some time afterwards, several inhabitants of the place saw a great quantity of tiles and bricks thrown down with a great noise in the house where she died. The servant of the house was dragged about by the feet, without any one appearing to touch her, in the presence of her mistress and ten or twelve other women.
The same servant, on entering a room to fetch some clothes, perceived Catharine, who rose up to seize hold of an earthen pot; the girl ran away directly, but the spectre took the vase, dashed it against the wall, and broke it into a thousand pieces. The mistress, who ran thither on hearing the noise, saw that a quantity of bricks were thrown against the wall. The next day an image of the crucifix fixed against the wall was all of a sudden torn from its place in the presence of them all, and broken into three pieces.
[Taken from Augustine Calmet's Phantom World, originally published in 1850, revised and edited by D. J. McAdam, 2010. Copyright as such.]
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An encounter which reveals much of the character of the La Diablesse was related to me by an old man, perhaps now a dead man.
Mount Diable in central Trinidad might be the home of the La Diablesse stories that coloured the imagination of turn-of-the-century Trinidad. She may well be a syncretic creation, combining the West African goddess Erzulie, tragic mistress turned vengeful, slave concubine, beautiful, desirous, feminine presence, the ever young seductress. As Maya Deren describes her in book The Voodoo Gods, she is Marinette, the wife of Ti Jean Petro, and stands for “capacity to conceive beyond reality, to desire beyond adequacy, to create beyond need.”
The La Diablesse, like Erzulie, is not a mother goddess in the sense that she is the mother of human beings. Instead she is the mother of the human being’s myth of life, of life’s meaning.
It may be that she, as a philosophical principle rather than a ghost, was brought to Trinidad in the 1780’s by Afr-Franco-Creole slaves from Greneda, St. Lucia, Haiti and other islands in the French Antilles.
As the “devil woman”, the La Diablesse possesses one cloven hoof. Her other foot is elegantly shod. From her slave heritage, there is an old chain that girds her waist and trails after her. Other than that, she is very elaborately dressed in the ancient costume of the French islands: a brilliant madras turban, chemise with half-sleeves and much embroidery and lace, several gold necklaces made up of small gold nuggets, huge “eggshell” earrings and many pins of gold trembling in her turban. In fact, the Erzulie cult too is preceded by an elaborate ceremony of dressing and toilette. Soaps, perfumes, mirrors, silk handkerchiefs, and jewellery are consecrated to her in the Voodoo belief.
The sound of her chain mingling with the rustle of her petticoats is the first thing that a man notices of a La Diablesse’s appearance, even before seeing her. She carries a bag tied to her waist. In it are the human bones of her previous life and the dirt of the grave in which she was once buried. There are also old English pennies, black with age, her passage money, as well as sea shells, symbols of her travels.
In Trinidad, La Diablesse is the spirit of a woman wronged, and as such awaits the male predator so as to take vengeance for transgressions against women.
As she stops a man in the gathering dusk, the odour of seduction swirls about her. He rises with desire and follows her into a forest glen. Sometimes his broken body will be found; sometimes he comes back from the glen possessed by a strange lunacy.
La Diablesse may appear at midday as a tall, handsome creole woman, who, with swinging gait and erect stature, passes through a cane or cocoa field and catches the eye of the man who wronged her sex. He then follows her, and, never able to catch up with her-her feet hardly touching the ground-finds himself lost, bewildered, far from home, and to his horror he discovers that his form no longer casts a shadow. He is never quite himself again.
La Diablesse can manifest herself from age to age in some old creole families, who in ancient days were traumatised with brutality or terrorised to madness by obeah. She can take revenge on the descendants of those who brought her to the condition of the vengeful one.
[Taken from Folklore & Legends of Trinidad and Tobago by Gerald A. Besson, published in 2001 by Paria Publishing Company Limited. Copyright as such]
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China: The Halloween festival is referred to here as Teng Chieh. Shrines to departed family members are made in homes and bonfires and lanterns are lit to guide the sprits as they return to earth. The worshippers at the Buddhist temples make boats and burn them at night to honour those who were lost at sea and did not receive a proper burial. Monks are invited to read sacred verses and offerings of fruit are presented.
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India: The Hindu community practices a ritual known as Mahalya which involves the awakening of dead spirits. After the ritual is completed their souls are given peace of the rest of the year. Food plays an incredibly important part and lavish feasts are prepared, the Hindus believing that one cannot pray on an empty stomach.
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Latin America: The period beginning on Halloween night leads up to El dia de los muertos. It is a jubilant time intended to honour and remember friends and family who have died. Families construct shrines in the home adorned with sweets, flowers, photographs and samples of the deceased’s favourite foods. Picnics are held at family gravesites with an abundance of tequila and mariachi music.
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Italy: The traditional pre Easter festival of Carnevale in Italy has many ties to Halloween and has been surpassed by its American counterpart in recent years. Children dress up, throw confetti and play practical jokes on each other. The popularity of Halloween has grown though as with the very Italian way of celebrating it favouring pumpkin risotto in favour of the usual candy.
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Thailand: The Thai people celebrate a festival called Phi Ta Khon which includes a musical procession with a parade of masks all honouring the image of the sacred Buddha. Beginning at Dan Sai, 320 miles north of Bangkok, young men dress up as ghosts and spirits and scare the villagers as they act out the last of Buddha’s re-incarnations.
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Maybe you could be behind the masks next time: