The title page from “Halloween Through Twenty Centuries” by Ralph and Adelin Linton.

I first made this book’s acquaintance in Tacoma, Washington at the Anna Lemon Wheelock library. That edition was bound in black cloth, with a silver Halloween cat–back arched and looking properly spooked–on the cover. It seemed like a magic and otherworldly thing: not a book, but some character at the start of some supernatural journey. I resisted the urge to check it out and never it bring it back.

My aunt, years later, found a copy for my own collection. It didn’t have the distinctive binding but the content but the pages still had that musty smell, and the words still stirred up the old fires of Halloweens past. It’s filled with poems, games, and lore from Halloween traditions centuries old.

A few excerpts for your enjoyment:

From his brimstone bed at the break of day,A-walking the Devil has done,
To visit his snug little farm of the earth,
And see how his stock goes on.
Over the hill and over the dale,
He walked, and over the plain:
And backward and forward he swished his long tail,
As a gentleman swishes his cane.

– The Devil’s Walk by Robert Southey

In Wales, where Halloween is a more solemn evening than in the north countries and is more pre-occupied with thoughts of death, the Halloween fires have a somewhat sinister significance. When the fire is dying down to embers, each member of the family throws into the rosy circle a white stone marked with his or her name. Then they march around the fire, saying their prayers, after which they go to bed and probably do not sleep too well. In the morning, they go out to reclaim their stones. If anyone’s stone is missing from the ashes, it means that he will die before next Halloween.

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