Halloween is ruled by gods; admit this or get out. On a night where the dead are close and magic is at its most powerful, those cosmic beings that govern the universe look down upon earth with curious eyes.
But Halloween is not content with one tradition or nationality. It borrows gods and goddesses from all corners of the world to join in on the celebration of the year’s funeral. Here, for your perusal, is a list of the dark figures you might see looming on the horizon this October 31st.
The Grim Reaper
The obvious king of the Halloween gods, the Reaper reigns over this day as the ultimate celebration of his power. For one night a year, he is most lenient and merciful in his laws and enforcement–though, of course, that doesn’t mean he’s off-duty. As such, Halloween is a day where he must be shown the utmost respect, lest he remember your poor behavior when his feast has adjourned.
Mexico’s skeleton folk saint is, to a certain extant, just another face of the Reaper. However, the veneration shown her and the celebrations made in her name make her a unique and important figure in Halloween lore. Where the Reaper is a frightening character, Santa Muerte is a generous and compassionate one, ready to bathe the world in sugar skulls.
The ancient Greek goddess of witches and witchcraft is especially powerful on a night where the membrane between life and death is so flimsy. Triple-faced and torch-bearing, she is the protector of all the women who would use this night to harness the powers of the spirit world for their bidding. She also governs the moon, and therefore the evening’s inevitable army of werewolves.
Contrary to popular belief, Samhain, the holiday that would eventually morph into Halloween, was a festival but never a god proper. And yet the celebration of this holidays Celtic traditions has made him one, a leaf-strewn fire-eyed figure in a Druid antler crown who brings harvest to all he touches and leaves a trail of candles in his wake.
Kind of low on the list, right? The truth is, Satan is an embodiment of evil and malice, which isn’t exactly what Halloween’s about. That said, demons and black magic are very much a part of the night’s practices, so to deny the Devil his due would be foolish on the Sabbath Of The Undead. Besides, there’s no witch quite like a New England witch.
Now we’re talking! The skull-faced lord of the dead and cemeteries from Haitian voodoo also touches on Halloween’s love of dress-up. Though a vulgar protector of corpses and their souls, the Baron wears the clothes of a gentleman, and is proper and upstanding in his demeanor. That said, if you don’t want to become a zombie, you better bring some rum and cigars to his altar.
What we know as the proto-clown harlequin was originally Hellequin, a word meaning ‘devil’. This black-faced lord of misrule would travel the countryside with a crew of demons, chasing wicked souls to Hell. That he has become synonymous with costumes, mischief, and clowning around only makes him more terrifying. It’s always worse when the dark lord laughs.
Halloween is a day of mischief, and there is no greater lord of trickery than Loki, the Norse mischief god. Loki is also a shapeshifter (just like everyone becomes on Halloween), becoming whatever form suits his needs the most. The maliciousness that often results of his bad behavior makes him an especially important god to invoke on October 31st. It can’t just be treats all the time.
Ah, the Mayans, maybe the scariest of ancient peoples and originators of Camazotz, god of bats. Camazotz lords of bats, night, and sacrifice, and lives in the House of Bats (!) in Xibalba, the Mayan underworld. He is normally depicted as a giant were-bat of sorts (complete with that rippled leaf-like nose) dripping with gold jewelry. Careful in your revery, though–he also commands an army of giants bats known for swooping down and stealing heads.
As I’ve written about earlier, there is something especially magical about Ancient Egypt, and among their gods Osiris is the darkest. Not only is Osiris the god of death, the afterlife, and mummification, he’s also the god of resurrection and regeneration. On a night when the dead are free to return, hailing one of the most ancient of gods in charge of such an activity might be a good look.
Frenzy, excess, costumes, madness–this sounds like a night for Dionysus, Greek god of wine and revelry! Sure, Halloween isn’t necessarily about liquor, but it’s certainly about intoxication–the rush of the sugar, the abandon of the mask, the dance around the fire. This insane and petulant dying god would throw one Hell of a Halloween party.
While all of these other deities personify some aspect of Halloween, Nyx is the goddess of night itself. According to Greek mythology, she is also the mother of Thanatos (death), Erebus (darkness), and Hypnos (sleep), so she travels with a particularly fearsome crew. While the other gods revel, she presides over Halloween’s darkest hour, spreading shadow and inky blackness across the eyes of the whole work.