Sunday, October 25, 2015

Halloween's Ancient Roots

Halloween Is Almost Here. The stores are filled with candy packaged in special Halloween wrapping, spooky witch and ghost decorations, pumpkins waiting to be carved into Jack O'Lanterns, and costumes for both children and adults.

I've collected several bits and pieces about ghosts, goblins, and things that go bump in the night that I'd like to share with you—starting with the ancient origins of the Halloween holiday and then a bit of Jack O'Lantern trivia.

The roots of Halloween date back 2000 years to the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain (pronounced sow-in, rhymes with cow).  The Celts lived in what is now Ireland, United Kingdom, and northern France.  They celebrated their new year on November 1, the day marking the end of summer and the harvest and the beginning of the dark winter.  They believed that on the night before the new year, the boundary between the worlds of the living and the dead wasn't clearly defined.  On the night of October 31 they celebrated Samhain, a time when they believed the ghosts of the dead returned to earth.
To commemorate the event, the Druids (Celtic priests) built large sacred bonfires where the people made sacrifices to the Celtic deities.  During the celebration, the Celts wore costumes and attempted to tell each other's fortunes.  When the celebration was over, they re-lit their hearth fires from the sacred bonfire to help protect them during the winter.

By 43A.D., the Romans had conquered most of the Celtic territory.  During the next four hundred years, the Roman festivals of Feralia and Pomona were combined with the traditional celebration of Samhain.  In the seventh century, Pope Boniface IV declared November 1 to be All Saints' Day.  It's believed today that the pope was trying to replace the Celtic festival with a church sanctioned holiday.  The celebration was also called All-Hallows.  So, the night before it, the night of Samhain, was called All-Hallows Eve.

In 1000A.D., the church declared November 2 as All Souls' Day, a day to honor the dead.  It was celebrated similarly to Samhain with big bonfires, parades, and dressing up in costumes.  Together the three celebrations—the eve of All Saints', All Saints', and All Souls'—were called Hallowmas and eventually Halloween.

Halloween has always been a holiday filled with mystery, magic and superstition.  It began as a Celtic end-of-summer festival during which people felt especially close to deceased relatives and friends.  They set places at the table and left treats on doorsteps for these friendly spirits.  They also lit candles to help their loved ones find their way back to the spirit world.  Today's Halloween ghosts are commonly depicted as much scarier, as is our emphasis on customs and superstitions as more horror related.

And speaking of superstitions…have you ever wondered about where these strange beliefs came from?  British author Harry Oliver wrote a book titled Black Cats and Four-Leaf Clovers where he explored the origins of superstitions and old wives' tales from around the world.  Here are a few of his observations.

Black Cats Bring Bad Luck:  black cats have been linked to black magic and the ancient concept of witchcraft through the centuries which is why many people think they're unlucky.  If a cat crosses your path, it's considered unlucky.  However, if a cat walks toward you, it's a good omen.

Carrots Are Good For Your Eyesight:  although studies have shown that the vitamin A in carrots is good for your eyes, the vegetable isn't enough to create 20/20 vision.  Many believe that it was a smart attempt by parents to get their children to eat their vegetables.  There is another belief that it started during World War II.  It was rumored that British pilots were eating huge amounts of carrots so they could see from high altitudes and in the dark.  The rumor was created to keep the public from discovering that radar had been invented and was being used against the enemy.

Wear Your Underwear Inside Out:  when you're having a bad day, superstition says that if you turn your underwear inside out things will get better.  No one is sure where this one came from, but it sounds like the result of a wild college fraternity party.
And then there's the Jack O'Lantern.  Making a Jack O'Lantern for Halloween is a centuries old practice that originated from an Irish myth about a man nicknamed Stingy Jack.  He played tricks on the Devil and made Satan promise not to take his soul when he died.  When the time came, God refused to allow him into heaven because he was an unsavory character.  The Devil wouldn't allow him into hell because Jack had made him promise.  With nowhere to go, Jack put a burning coal into a carved out turnip and has been roaming the Earth ever since.  The Irish began to refer to this ghostly figure as Jack Of The Lantern which morphed into Jack O'Lantern.

In Ireland and Scotland, people began to make their own versions by carving scary faces into turnips and potatoes, and in England they used large beets.  Immigrants from these countries brought the tradition with them to the United States where they soon found that pumpkins made the perfect Jack O'Lantern.

Do you have a favorite costume this year?  Are you planning on going to a party?  Leave me a comment about your Halloween plans.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Haunted Houses Are Big Business, Part 2 of 2

Last week I talked about the history of haunted houses as staged events and ended with some Halloween facts.  This week I'm talking about the big business of professional haunted house attractions.

In the U.S., there are approximately 4,500 professional haunted house attractions opened to the public during the Halloween season—300 theme parks that operate a seasonal haunted house venue, 1200 large-scale haunted houses, and 3000 such attractions operated by and/or for charity organizations as fund raisers.  And, of course, Disneyland in California and Disney World in Florida have the year round Haunted Mansion ride.
What is America's oldest and largest Halloween haunt?  That honor belongs to the Knott's Berry Farm theme park in Orange County, just south of Los Angeles, California.  Or as it's known this time of year—Knott's Scary Farm.  It's the world's first Halloween theme park event, the largest Halloween theme park event, and the largest special event in the amusement park industry.  The park makes it clear that the event is not recommended for children under thirteen years old.

It should be no surprise that many of the professional haunted houses/scare attractions have an organization of their own.  Many of the most famous haunted house attractions in the U.S. have formed America Haunts.  They even hold a national convention every summer in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  The attractions that belong to America Haunts are as diverse as the people who operate them.  These attractions have been consistently reviewed and are rated as excellent by scores of media sources and considered safe, fun and an extremely scary show for horror and haunted house fans.  These are amazingly detailed, cutting edge attractions that rival many Hollywood horror movie effects.  Definitely not for the faint-hearted.

The many America Haunts attractions [located across the country from San Diego, California, on the Pacific coast, to Baltimore, Maryland, on the Atlantic coast], annually draw in crowds numbering in the millions during the Halloween season.  The haunted house industry, like most other industries, has their own trade shows, experts, consultants, suppliers, magazines, associations, education seminars, gatherings and events.  Haunted attraction owners annually spend millions of dollars with haunted house vendors for supplies such as fog machines, animatronic monsters, lighting equipment, and costumes and masks.  In recent years, the overseas market has provided the biggest growth in business for the haunted house vendors of supplies.

The Otis Elevator Company estimates that 85% of the buildings with their elevators do not have a named 13th floor, with that actual floor being given the number 14.  Some businesses don't want to be associated with the stigma attached to the number 13 as being unlucky.  Some don't want to take a chance on losing customers/clients due to them having an aversion to the number 13.  And that probably explains the basic reason for the name of one of the largest haunted house attractions in the U.S.—The 13th Floor Haunted House in Denver, Colorado.
In the 1940s, the building that houses The 13th Floor Haunted House operated briefly as a hotel located across the street from the Sunset train station.  A group of children arrived at the station on their way to their destination south of Denver.  The weather had turned bad, so the bus driver taking them from the station to their final destination decided it would be better to wait until morning to complete their journey.  They checked into the hotel across the street and in the morning continued on their way.  The school bus became stalled on the tracks just south of town and was struck by a train, killing 10 of the children.  Legend has it that those children continue to haunt the hotel, protecting others from a similar fate.

Several of the large, professional attractions, such as The 13th Floor Haunted House, offer more than one venue as part of a specific location.  Each of the venues has a different theme.  And some of the attractions have both indoor and outdoor fright areas.

One such outdoor attraction is Hundred Acres Manor in Pittsburgh.  The attraction boasts 6 haunted attractions for 1 price.

Another outside offering is The Haunted Trail in Balboa Park, in San Diego, California.  It's a mile long trail through a twisted grove of pines and gnarled oaks.  This year it also offers a creepy stroll down New Orleans famous Bourbon Street complete with vampires and other creatures of the night.  This year, the Haunted Trail also offers the return of the 3500 sq. ft. maze

And this barely scratches the surface of what the large, professional Haunted House attractions have to offer those looking for the ultimate scare.  So…have a happy, sane, and safe Halloween.

And be sure to watch your back or you, too, could become one of the ghouls who haunt the land every Halloween!

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Haunted Houses Are Big Business, Part 1 of 2

This week and next week I'm doing a two-part blog about haunted houses.

I remember when I was a child in West Los Angeles.  We had a very large garage and one year my mother and father fixed it up like a haunted house for my Halloween party—a winding, twisty route through all kinds of scary things.  It was a lot of fun and totally different from anything anyone else in the neighborhood did for Halloween.  Of course, back in those days, scary things were not at all the same type of bloody gruesome attractions that are the main features of today's professional Halloween attractions.

Halloween attractions have moved far beyond the neighborhood scare as a fun encounter for the trick-or-treaters.  Today they are big business—very big business.  Operators of the large attractions spend most of the year coming up with new and better ideas for frightening attractions and then implementing them.  They take pleasure in dreaming up even more diabolical ways of giving us the seasonal nightmares.

This week, let's talk about the history of haunted houses and some Halloween facts.  Just in the United States, there are over 1200 professional haunted houses, 300 theme parks that operate horror-themed events and over 3000 charity-run spooky Halloween attractions.  Haunted attractions have a long history dating back to early civilizations.

Ancient Times:
The Egyptians knew that the best way to keep body snatchers away from a pyramid was to really scare them away.  The commonly used mazes, moving walls, self-opening doors, and traps as well as snakes and insects to protect treasure and the bodies of royalty.  True, they weren't charging admission and the public wasn't lined up waiting to get inside, but it is an early example of creating a setting to produce fear.

The Greeks and Romans have a folklore complete with mazes and labyrinths filled with monsters.  With theater being a vital part of their culture, we can assume they created numerous special effects devices to enhance the scare factor that would evolve into today's haunted house elements.

The Dark Ages:
This period in history saw the Christians continue the evolution toward today's haunted house attraction. During the 1300s through the 1500s, Europe had been converted from Celtic and pagan religions to the practice of Christianity.  Many of today's Halloween activities—carving pumpkins, bobbing for apples, dressing up in costumes and even trick-or-treating—were pagan practices that stayed with us.

The Renaissance:
Theater became increasingly popular and catered to society's love of horror and resulted in the development of more special effects.  Ghosts, demons, the devil, and other monsters appeared regularly in plays including those of William Shakespeare.

The 1800s:
This was a time when the general population became fascinated with ghosts and the possibility of other realms.  Self-proclaimed mediums, fortune tellers, clairvoyants, and spiritualists engaged in conjuring sessions in an attempt to communicate with the dead which became a form of entertainment for the elite.  The theme of hauntings continued in the theater and the century provided the first wax museum, the forerunner of future walk-through attractions that played on people's sense of reality.

The 1900s:
The start of the 20th century saw the increased popularity of the traveling carnival and the rise of the what was referred to as a freak show.  Dark rides also became popular amusements.  The patrons sat in a boat or on a train and were automatically moved through numerous scenes.  Amusement parks came into popularity during this time.  Those that could not afford a big roller coaster offered cheap fun houses and haunted house attractions to pull in customers.

Also during this time, many of the residential houses built during the early 1800s had become dilapidated and worn down.  Adults would tell their children that ghosts filled the neglected homes in an attempt to keep them from exploring the neglected homes.  This further fueled the mystique of haunted houses.

The 1960s:
1969 was the opening of Disneyland's (Anaheim, California) Haunted Mansion attraction.  Rather than putting a genuine decrepit-looking structure in the middle of Disneyland, he created a lavish mansion with a pristine exterior based on the appearance of the San Jose, California, Winchester House.  It was originally a walk-through attraction but was soon changed over to a ride.

The 1970s:
Non-profit organizations began to use abandoned buildings and fields to put up haunted houses to raise money for charity.

The 1980s:
This was the decade when horror movies grew in popularity and so did haunted houses.  Most amusement parks had a scary attraction of some sort.

The 1990s to present:
Haunts are everywhere—haunted hayrides, mazes and scavenger hunts.  They've become so popular that haunts are here to stay with the industry constantly evolving with new and more terrifying attractions.

Halloween Frightening and Fun Facts:
Halloween is the second largest commercial holiday in the U.S.

Approximately 100 countries celebrate Halloween.

Over 7 billion dollars are spent annually on candy, costumes and activities in just the U.S.

Approximately 90% of all households with children will participate in some sort of Halloween activity.

Over 80% of all haunted attractions in the U.S. are operated by a charity or help to benefit a charity of some sort.

Check back next week for Part 2 of my Haunted Houses blog.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

HIS MAGICK TOUCH—a conversation with Devon and Raina

HIS MAGICK TOUCH an erotic witch romance available in ebook that tells us the story of Devon Bainbridge and Raina St. Clair. So, in honor of the upcoming Samhain celebration and it's more modern Halloween counterpart, I've invited Devon and Raina to be my guests today.

Welcome to my blog, Devon and Raina.  Thank you for taking time from your schedule to be here today, especially with how busy you are due to the special gathering of covens for this year's Samhain celebration.

Raina:  It's our pleasure, Samantha.  Thanks for the invitation.

It's my understanding, Devon, that as a High Priest you've been invited to open and close the special ceremony involving the gathering of many covens from various states at this year's Samhain celebration.

Devon:  Yes, it's a very special gathering this year.  I'm honored to have been chosen.

And isn't it that gathering of the covens that's indirectly responsible for bringing the two of you together?  Two people who had never met but each with your own agenda in seeking out the other?  And you first encountered each other at a Halloween party, of all places?

Raina:  (laughs) That succinctly describes it.  The uncomfortable situation of a witch of the bloodline at a mortal's Halloween party.

Why would you be attending such a party?  Doesn't it violate everything you stand for and represent?

Raina:  Even though I'm a witch and immortal, I still need to earn a living.  The man throwing the party, the one who invited me, is one of my best clients.  So, even though the party theme wasn't to my liking, I felt an obligation to put in an appearance.

Devon:  And it was due to Raina being at the party that I needed to be there.  I didn't know if I would be able to make a connection with her at the Samhain celebration, so I sucked up my disgust and teleported inside the country club to the party location and waited for her to arrive.

So why were you each trying to make contact with the other?  You had no prior connection, right?

Devon:  A prior connection?  That's an easy answer. A definitive yes…and no.  (chuckles)  I had never met Raina but I had crossed paths with her sister, Miranda, a century ago.  Miranda and I had some unfinished business.  Since Miranda had been deftly avoiding me, my plan was to use Raina to locate her sister.  I've always lived by the witch's credo of Harm To None (a quick scowl darts across his face), but my unfinished business with Miranda was in total violation of that honorable intention.

What kind of unfinished business?

Devon:  To put it as simply as possible, Miranda St. Clair misused and abused her witch powers and in so doing was responsible for the purposeful destruction of my brother.  I fully intended to make her accountable to the council for her misdeeds and personally see to it that she did not escape retribution.

And did you?

Devon:  I can't reveal that here, but it's all in the book.

(LOL) Fair enough.  How about you, Raina?  How did you discover the truth of Devon's agenda?  And what did you think when you found out what he really wanted?

Raina:  Devon voluntarily told me about trying to locate Miranda and why.  But his assumption that I could help him with that was mistaken.  Miranda and I…well, we've…(a look of sadness comes into her eyes, Devon reaches over and gives her hand a reassuring squeeze).  Well, it's all in the book.

LOL…It seems that you're both stonewalling me.  Let me try this. Raina, what about your agenda in wanting to make contact with Devon?  What was that all about?

Raina:  I had never met Devon in person, but knew his excellent reputation as a very powerful High Priest and the respect paid him by the members of the witch community.  I had planned to seek him out at the Samhain gathering and was quite surprised to see him at my business client's Halloween party.  Why was I determined to meet him?  Devon is an acknowledged expert in all facets of sex magick.  I wanted him to teach me…to school me in the proper rituals.

Was he surprised by your request and did he agree to teach you the rituals?

Raina:  Well, to quote something I heard recently—I can't tell you that…you'll need to read the book.

The two of you are telling me the same thing?  Neither of you will disclose the information about how you resolved your issues?  You won't tell me what kind of impact Raina's unexpected request about sex magick had on Devon's quest to find Miranda and seek retribution?

Devon:  (winks at me)  I believe you've grasped the core of the situation.

Raina:  In other words…that's right!  (LOL)

Fair enough.  The answers are in the book!  Thank you, Raina and Devon, for being with us today.

HIS MAGICK TOUCH  R-Adult Excerpt #1:

She grabbed a napkin from the bar and dabbed at her neck and upper chest, leaving most of the champagne to trickle between her breasts.

He set the half-empty glass on the bar, surprise covering his features. “I’m so sorry.” A sincere concern surrounded his words. “Are you okay?”

Just the sound of his smooth masculine voice sent a ripple of desire coursing through her body, headed directly for her pussy. She gave him her most seductive smile as she continued to dab the champagne from her skin. “I’m fine, no problem.”

He ran his fingertip along the edge of her plunging neckline. “Can I be of assistance?” A quick glance down the front of her dress noticeably quickened his breathing. “I can lick up the excess champagne…if it will help.” His voice and words teased and a sexy grin tugged at the corners of his mouth, but the glow in the depth of his eyes radiated pure passion and sexual magnetism. The kind that could melt the most determined woman’s defenses.

Her nipples puckered, partly from the cold champagne and partly from his obvious perusal of her body combined with the sexual energy that practically sparked from him. Her heartbeat increased. Being this close to him had her juices flowing and her desires running at full speed. She definitely wanted to experience Devon’s sexual prowess and learn the techniques of sex magick from a master, to discover and embrace the untapped potential of her sexuality.

She smiled seductively. “That’s a very gracious offer."

BLURB:  As the powerful High Priest of his coven, Devon Bainbridge lives by the witch's credo of Harm To None. Yet he is willing to sacrifice everything in his century long quest for revenge. He intends to use Raina St. Clair as a means of locating her sister, the witch who misused her powers to destroy his brother. But once he meets Raina, his plan doesn't go as intended, especially when he discovers her agenda. She wants to learn sex magick.

Is Raina the one woman who could save Devon from himself?

HIS MAGICK TOUCH, erotic witch romance is available in ebook at The Wilder Roses, the Scarlet Rose line of erotic romance from The Wild Rose Press:

Additional excerpts from HIS MAGICK TOUCH and information on my other books available on my website at