halloween

15 Best Articles of 2017

Our top blog posts cover the Paris Catacombs, India’s transsexual hijras, jinns, vintage Halloween, Fès hammans and more.

 

Duke and I tend to be drawn to the bizarre. We’re fans of the strange (chambers lined with skulls and bones, creepy vintage Halloween postcards and photos). We like to meet those who are societal outsiders (like India’s legal third sex, the hijra). We’re obsessed with the supernatural (jinns, gypsy love spells). But we also appreciate a good pampering (at a Fès hamman, say) and architectural beauties (such as the Milan Duomo).

Seems like you do, too. Here are the top 15 blog posts from last year. What was your favorite? –Wally

 

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1. GRUESOME FACTS (AND HELPFUL TIPS) ABOUT THE PARIS CATACOMBS

No bones about it: If you think piles of skulls and hallways formed of bones are pretty effin’ cool (like us), then the Catacombs of Paris are for you.

 

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2. SECRETS OF THE HIJRA: INDIA’S LITTLE-KNOWN TRANSSEXUALS

Prostitution, curses and dangerous sex change operations are a way of life for this marginalized community.

 

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3. HOW TO PROTECT YOURSELF FROM JINNS AND BLACK MAGIC

Black magic in Islam is a serious concern — and the holy writings offer numerous ways to negate magic jinn.

 

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4. THE BEST PLACE TO MAKE OUT IN PUBLIC IN DELHI

Not a typical tourist stop, the Garden of Five Senses is a whimsical sculpture park worth visiting. It’s also popular with local couples escaping societal judgment against PDA.

 

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5. 24 VINTAGE HALLOWEEN CARDS THAT ARE NOSTALGIC — BUT A BIT CREEPY, TOO

Halloween greetings from the past featured common Halloween symbols: the witch, black cat, jack-o’-lantern, ghost, devil — and one that has been forgotten.

 

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6. 21 VINTAGE HALLOWEEN PHOTOS THAT ARE SO CREEPY THEY'LL GIVE YOU NIGHTMARES

Halloween costumes of the past were scary as hell.

 

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7. WHAT’S THE BEST HAMMAM SPA EXPERIENCE IN FES, MOROCCO?

Reinvigorate yourself at the luxury hammam Les Bains Amani.

 

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8. 7 FUN FACTS ABOUT THE MILAN CATHEDRAL

What to do in Milan, Italy? Visit the gorgeous Duomo di Milano, covered with statues of saints and gargoyles — and don’t miss the amazing view from the rooftop.

 

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9. LOVE SPELLS FROM THE GYPSIES

How to cast a love spell to make someone fall in love with you — or fall out of love with you. Plus, secrets from the Roma that will reveal your future spouse!

 

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10. THE PISHTACO OF PERU

Why one of the world’s creepiest vampire legends lingers to this day.

 

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11. WAT RONG SUEA TEN, THE BLUE TEMPLE

No day trip to Chiang Rai is complete without a visit to this breathtaking wat, between the White Temple and Black Museum.

 

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12. THE BEST AND WORST PARTS OF LIVING IN QATAR

What’s it like living in a Muslim country that fasts for an entire month and limits the sale of booze? What do Qataris think of Americans? And how the heck do you pronounce Qatar?

 

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13. THE INDIAN CASTE SYSTEM EXPLAINED

Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vaishya, Shudra, untouchable: How did the caste system get started, what is the difference between castes — and how does this shameful practice persist to this day?

 

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14. HOW ST. NICHOLAS BECAME SANTA CLAUS

The surprising origins of jolly old St. Nick include a tie to prostitution, kids chopped into pieces, a devil named Krampus and a racist tradition around his helper Zwarte Pieter, or Black Peter.

 

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15. THE BEST SHOP FOR BLUE POTTERY IN THE ENTIRE FEZ MEDINA

If you’re shopping in Fès, just off of Place Seffarine is a small shop with a friendly owner and great deals.

What is the Day of the Dead?

Don’t be scared of Día de los Muertos! With sugar skulls and homemade altars, it’s an exuberant celebration to honor those who have died.

Every year Duke and Wally head to the National Museum of Mexican Art in Chicago to see its Day of the Dead exhibit

Every year Duke and Wally head to the National Museum of Mexican Art in Chicago to see its Day of the Dead exhibit

To an outsider, it can seem a bit odd. I remember the first time I saw the representations of skeletons dressed up in outlandish clothes as part of the Mexican tradition of Día de los Muertos, or the Day of the Dead. It seemed as if people were mocking death — and, in a way, that’s exactly what they’re doing. By laughing at death, it takes away some of its power; death becomes something you fear a little bit less.

You might leave out toys for little ones who have died — or booze and cigarettes for adults who indulged during their lives.

What are the origins of the Day of the Dead?

The Aztecs honored their ancestors, particularly at the monthlong festival for Mictecacihuatl, the Lady of the Dead, So there’s part of that tradition kept alive by the Aztecs’ descendants. But the holiday is also affiliated with the Catholic holy days, All Saints’ Day on November 1 and All Souls’ Day on November 2, first brought over by the Spanish conquistadors. (Halloween’s name derives from All Hallow’s Eve, meaning it’s the night before All Hallows’, or All Saints’ Day.)

Día de los Muertos became a way to celebrate with your loved ones — even those who have passed on.

Surprise! Fall is the time of the year when the dead are said to come back to visit this world

Surprise! Fall is the time of the year when the dead are said to come back to visit this world

Is the Day of the Dead a scary time?

Don’t let its potentially frightening name fool you. Unlike Halloween, when people love to play up the spooky (hands reaching out from graves, evil clowns, fake blood, giant spiders, ghosts), the Day of the Dead is actually a joyful holiday.

In many parts of the world, this is the time of year when people honor those who have died, and the veil between the world of the living and the dead is said to be at its thinnest.

What about all those skulls and skeletons?

Skulls and skeletons are everywhere during the Day of the Dead. Artwork and food depict them, including skull-shaped bread (pan de muerto) and sugar skulls that you inscribe with the name of someone who has died. People will do elaborate Day of the Dead makeup to give the illusion that they’re skeletons.

Duke went as a Day of the Dead skeleton recently for Halloween

Duke went as a Day of the Dead skeleton recently for Halloween

Why did these icons become so prolific? It traces back to the pre-Hispanic era, when skulls were kept as trophies and used during rituals, according to HuffPost.

Families make altars for their loved ones who have died, decorating them with photos and offering treats

Families make altars for their loved ones who have died, decorating them with photos and offering treats

The fun bright orange marigolds are common decorations during el Día de los Muertos

The fun bright orange marigolds are common decorations during el Día de los Muertos

How is the Day of the Dead celebrated?

Families will set up altars, or ofrendas, in their homes to honor those who have died. A photo of the dead person, candles, bright orange marigolds and colorful paper banners are popular. Family members put out the favorite food and drinks of the deceased, along with various items that they loved in life (a musical instrument or book, for instance). You might leave out toys for little ones who have died (angelitos) — or booze and cigarettes for adults who indulged during their lives.

This ofrenda at the National Museum of Mexican Art was created by a graphic novelist, Raúl the Third

This ofrenda at the National Museum of Mexican Art was created by a graphic novelist, Raúl the Third

Another stylized altar for the Day of the Dead exhibit in Chicago

Another stylized altar for the Day of the Dead exhibit in Chicago

What’s this about a party in the graveyard?!

That’s right. Mexican families will camp out at their loved ones’ graves and have a huge feast. That probably sounds creepy to a lot of you — but they’re just including those who have passed away to join the party. They’ll sing songs, talk to the dead and introduce them to new family members. It’s also a good time to clean their loved ones’ tombstones.

In some villages, people will leave a trail of marigolds from the deceased’s grave back to their home, so the dead can join them there.

These sugar skulls were crafted by the Mondragón family in Mexico, a specialty they’ve worked on for generations. The name of the deceased is written on the forehead of the skull

These sugar skulls were crafted by the Mondragón family in Mexico, a specialty they’ve worked on for generations. The name of the deceased is written on the forehead of the skull

There are some lovely Day of the Dead practices that could become a part of your family’s Halloween traditions. Duke and I have started collecting sugar skulls, and we’ve always loved the skeleton artwork.

¡Feliz Día de los Muertos! –Wally

Mexican families camp out at their loved ones’ graves and have a huge feast. That probably sounds creepy to a lot of you — but they’re just including those who have passed away to join the party.

24 Vintage Halloween Cards That Are Nostalgic — But a Bit Creepy, Too

Halloween greetings from the past featured common Halloween symbols: the witch, black cat, jack-o’-lantern, ghost, devil — and one that has been forgotten.

A pumpkin-headed boy and an owl decorate this vintage Halloween card

There's something charming and yet disturbing about vintage Halloween cards. They're loaded with the symbols that are still associated with All Hallow’s E’en: witches, black cats, devils, jack-o’-lanterns and ghosts.

But one once-common symbol seems to have fallen by the wayside: the owl. Maybe the creepier, blood-sucking bat won out.

Owls were associated with Halloween back when the Celts would build bonfires at Samhain, their autumn festival. The light attracted insects, which in turn drew bats and owls to feast upon them.

From the time Athena, the Greek goddess of wisdom, had an owl as her symbol, the birds have been thought of as wise (though I've read that they're not too intelligent actually).

Mirror magic was common on October 31, as seen in this vintage Halloween card

At Halloween, when the veil between our world and the spirit realm is at its thinnest, we have the power to learn hidden knowledge. And witches took owls as well as cats as their familiars. So perhaps it makes sense that owls were once popular icons of the holiday.

You'll see some owls, along with the other, more lasting, symbols of Halloween in the selection of vintage cards below. –Wally

The Strange History of Halloween

Ever wondered why we carve pumpkins, dress up in costumes and go trick-or-treating? Learn the pagan origins of Samhain, when spirits roam the Earth and we can see into the future.

Halloween is the best time to cast divination spells

Halloween: You love it or you hate it.

Our office manager dreads Halloween. She’s religious and sees it as an evil night, when devils and witches and demons and ghouls literally roam the streets.

That, of course, is why many of us love it. It’s a chance to become someone else for a night. To embrace our dark (or sexy) sides.

To the pre-Christian Celts of Western Europe, it was referred to as Samhain (actually pronounced “sow-en”) — a term still used by Wiccans. It’s the one day of the year when the veil between this world and the next is at its thinnest.

Halloween has its dark side — but it can also be a time of good luck

That means it’s the ideal opportunity to try to glimpse into the future. Divination spells work best on All Hallow’s E’en.

Young women would try to glimpse their future lover’s face in the mirror on Halloween night

Witchy Ways

If you want to get into the Samhain spirit, try these spells: 

Contact a Deceased Loved One
See a Vision of Your True Love

Witches, black cats and jack-o’-lanterns have become associated with Halloween

But it also means that ghosts and other unpleasant wraiths have the opportunity to invade the world of the living once darkness falls. People felt they had to protect themselves.

How did these origins lead to our traditions of carving pumpkins into jack-o’-lanterns, dressing up in costumes and asking for candy with thinly veiled threats of mischief? What’s the history of Halloween, our strangest holiday?

Here’s an infographic I wrote (and the talented Kevin LeVick designed) for a website that’s sadly now defunct. –Wally

 

21 Vintage Halloween Photos That Are So Creepy They'll Give You Nightmares

Halloween costumes of the past were scary as hell.

 

They’re like stills from the opening credits of an American Horror Story

Maybe it’s the grainy quality of these black and white photos. Or maybe it’s the handmade roughness of the freaky masks and costumes the kids are wearing. But there’s no denying that these vintage shots of Halloweens past are the stuff of nightmares. 

Scroll through them — if you dare. –Wally