The Strange Symbolism of our Favorite Halloween Spooks

Symbolism is heavy in our culture in almost every aspect: the imagery we see on TV, in books, poetry, music, even advertising. Our human minds are geared towards symbolism and it makes up the very foundation of our culture, everything from children’s bedtime stories to the heaviest of cultural classics. Its the way we process and understand information.

Symbolism is the language of the latent, the subconscious, the unseen. From a young age I have been enamored with symbolism. I did very well in English class because of this, and naturally gravitated towards poetry (I have my first book coming out early 2021). Symbolism takes a lot of intuition to understand, and a deep knowledge of culture and the subconscious mind.

In honor of this, I have put together a list of fall favorites and halloween haunts and the symbolism I personally find in each of these. Please feel free to share your thoughts in a comment- I would love to hear your take on each of these symbolic items! I find everyone’s take to be a tad different and I find that fascinating.

1. We will start off with autumn leaves. 🍂

The symbolism behind this item is rather obvious, but I love the concepts so much I just have to write about it. As is custom, the autumn leaves lose their chlorophyll as the weather gets colder and the sunshine wanes. Then, after a showy blaze of color, they fall to the ground and are recycled into the earth, becoming a leaf litter that is essential habitat for small creatures to survive the winter.

This symbolizes the necessary function of letting go, going within during the cold months, and becoming a little dormant. It also symbolizes death leading to rebirth, as the leaves always come back in the spring as long as the tree is not harmed.

To those in the northern hemisphere, this phenomena leads to the decline of the year and the beginning of the holiday season where families come together to celebrate.

2. Spiders 🕷🕸

Spiders are everywhere in this season, and their webs can be seen glittering with dew and rain-droplets. Their webs are seen in cultures far and wide, as spiders are a pretty universal part of any ecosystem. Spiders are forever building, weaving, or waiting. They’re a very important part of an ecosystem and work to rid a place of harmful bugs.

In some cultures, spiders are seen fearfully and as a plight- in others, they are seen as careful and attentive weavers of magic.

They can be venomous and hurtful, which is why they are featured as vicious or terrible enemies. My favorite example of this is the Japanese Yokai (demon, or spirit) named meaning “entangling bride,” or “whore spider.” She is the golden orb-weaver, and is featured in folk tales where she enchants young, virile men to their deaths by wrapping them up in their silk and eating them. Scary!

Whether you have arachnophobia or not, you have to admit the careful and deadly beauty spiders represent, and how we have taken their antics and turned them into the stuff of nightmares.

3. The moon 🌝

The moon is an ever-present staple of fall imagery.

For centuries, the world has been bound by the ebb and flow of the moon because it was the only source of light at night other than fire. With the advent of electric lighting, we have moved away from this very close relationship with the moon, but it still holds sway over the modern person in other ways.

She represents he endless cycles of life through her 28 day cycle, menstruation, the divine feminine, and the energetic phases we go through each month regardless of our sex. She is an ever-present reminder of the old world, and the ancient ways of man. She is a reminder of the emptiness and fullness of each month and that its ok to show up exactly how you are.

4. Zombies and the undead 🧟‍♂️

Zombies are featured in a lot of world lore, and take many shapes and sizes other than the typical zombie flick. Zombies, it seems, represent the terror of the unconscious mind, and the ways others can take advantage of our unconsciousness.

In places like Haiti, zombies are a real cultural phenomena. The story of Clairvius Narcisse, documented by Harvard Magazine and other outlets, spun an elaborate yarn about Witch doctors enslaving people by using toxins found in pufferfish-which make one appear dead because the toxins severely suppresses the nervous system. They then do a voodoo ritual binding the soul of the victim and keep them under the curse by administering drugs to them each day. These poor souls are then used to work the fields, and do slave labor for the sorcerers. The thing is, this turned out to be a real phenomena, and a terrifying case of mythology being proven true.

American’s obsession with zombies has been likened to the craze for material consumption, and the subsequent “rot of the brain” by too much television. I, however, think the fear goes deeper than that. I believe mankind’s most terrifying rival is ourselves, tuned monstrously against one another in unconscious, mindless violence, and that is precisely why zombies scare us, and why our culture is endlessly fascinated with them.

5. Witches 🧹

Witches have a long and winding history that has haunted us from our earliest days. Mentioned in the Bible, The Odyssey, and a slough of other ancient writings, it seems that witches have plagued us from the very first.

Witches, to me, represent the the threat of femininity to men and the corruptibility of young women. They come in two distinct archetypes: the Crone and the Beauty.

The Crone is what the green-skinned wart-covered ugly old woman Witch stereotype was born from. The crone was most likely originally the midwives, the widows, and the spinsters who lived on the edges of town and had little involvement in the community, and were therefore dangerous to it.

In the case of midwives, because she was in a strange position of power over women she was a threat. For the outcasts, she was a threat because of the intimidation that lurked in the independence of women, and the mystery that led people’s minds to wander. More of a victim than a victor, the crone has been vilified for ages by men because she represents the threat of mature femininity and magic to men, but also the mysterious power of the outcast on the minds of all.

The Beauty is born from legends of Circe, Calypso, and the like. She is the enchantress with youth, beauty, and cunning which represents a threat to men for an entirely different reason than the crone-sex. Through her youth, beauty, and sexuality, the beauty has been vilified as well, but for reasons mostly pinning on sexuality, temptation, and the threat of coalition with the Devil.

The Beauty archetype are those young women who were too curious or beautiful for their own goods ended up martyrs to their own wiles- and were seen the most likely to be corrupted by the Devil himself. The threat of the beauty was much more tangible because it was an active temptation on the part of men, and the jealousy on the part of other women.

Both of these types of archetype is alive and well today if you look for them hard enough.

6. Black cats 🙀

Now for my favorite: kitties! Specifically black cats. Cats have long been a source for inspiration, mystery, and veneration. They represent a connection to the spirit realm, femininity, and the supernatural. This is why they were said to be witches familiars-they are inextricably connected to something deeper than just the physical planes of existence.

Revered in Egypt as a source of pest-control, they are connected with the goddess Bastet, or Bast, who was the ruler of women, the home, childbirth, and a protectress of all of those things. See a connection?

Cats were dreaded in the Middle Ages, along with our witch archetypes, for being too much like the Devil-wiley, impolite, feminine, and not obedient to the wills of men. Black cats were viewed as the worst because they were seen as evildoers because they could not be seen in the darkness, and therefore had to be up to something nefarious because they were hidden.

In recent times, 95.6 million cats have been recorded living in households in the United States. That’s a lot of kitties!

7. Skulls 💀

Skulls have a deep and profound affect on humans. If you show someone a skull, our first reaction is to do a double-take. Is that real? Representing a concept coined by the Romans, Memento Mori, skulls are a reminder of our own mortality, a way to remember the dead, and are linked to ancient forms of ancestor worship.

In places in Central and South America, Dia de los Muertos (or the day of the dead) is celebrated, where in some communities family members will bring out the bones of the deceased to polish, clean, and maintain gravesites. The skull is a profound and prevalent symbol among those countries, often decorated with ornate patterns and scenes.

Today skulls are a common symbol, and decorate anything from socks to keychains to earrings.

8. Werewolves 🐺

Last but not least, we will talk about werewolves. I think this one is particularly interesting because it speaks of something deep and primal within ourselves and our relationship with our best friend-dogs. Dogs, as you know, are the progeny of wolves. They still carry the name Canis lupus which is amended by familiaris.

Werewolves show us our fear of the beast within, and our discomfort with the wild or animal parts of ourselves. They also show us our deep fear of our own best friends and what would happen if they turned on us. This scary chimera is an amalgamation of fears-of ourselves and our wild potential, and also the potential of betrayal by our best friends.

Closing thoughts.

While this was a fun exercise, I am by no means the authority on all things symbolic. Symbolism by nature depends heavily upon the collective consciousness and can’t be explained by one person alone. This is why I urge you to leave a comment-like, share, and subscribe, too while you’re at it.

I hope you all have a very spooky and HAPPY HALLOWEEN. Stay safe out there!


Originally published at on October 26, 2020.