3 Spooky Halloween Traditions Lost in the Mists of Time
Cracking the Gigglemug
This was a popular Halloween pastime for the British working classes right into the early 1920s. From a village, community or family group, the malcontents and deplorables banded together and selected a “gigglemug”, or fair youth of light and happy spirit.
The unwilling gigglemug would be held down and a live chicken tied to their head, before being liberally smeared, or “clumped” with dung. Once their fingers had been broken to prevent them removing their head-fowl, they would be given a generous head start before the hunt began.
Only by knocking out three or more of the teeth from feckless gigglemug, would the game be won. The triumphant hunter would be crowned king of the mirthful, while the bruised and suffering gigglemug was forced to dance for the amusement of the crowd.
Cracking the Gigglemug was declared illegal after a record 762 gigglemugs perished across England and Wales on a particularly brutal Halloween night in 1912.
Ghost-Proofing Your Chin
A fascinating custom which originated in Germany’s black forest region in the 1400s, ghost-proofing was a growth industry. Belief in the supernatural was widespread and many people were happy to spend their money on protective charms and trinkets.
Come Halloween, nervous parents would take extraordinary measures to ensure their little ones were safe from otherworldly interference. For almost a decade, a popular belief had the superstitious in constant terror of oral invasion by evil spirits and mean-spirited ghouls.
Entrepreneurs, charlatans, and even some in the priesthood saw this as a grand money-making opportunity. Protective charms of all kinds were purchased and worn by most folk, especially towards the end of the October month.
On the night of all hallows eve, children in well-to-do homes would to bed with defensive baubles affixed to their chins. From saint’s coins to sprigs of aromatic herbs, every child-mouth was secured against ill-natured spiritual invasion.
But what of the poor? Those grimy infants unable to afford splendid trinkets – was the impecunity of their parents or care-givers reason enough for them to be abandoned to the fate of Satan’s catamite? Not if ingenuity and thrift were observed!
The penniless mother would apply special bettelmist paste on the chin of each child. This protective paste was made from a chewed poultice of grass, tramp feces, and run-off holy water, and daubed down the chin. This stinky spirit-shield kept poor children safe and gave peasant parents peace of mind for over a decade, until the ghost craze passed.
As a fascinating aside, jazz legend, Jimmy “Ditsy” Gillespie, saw illustrations of children wearing bettelmist stripes in an old encyclopedia, and was inspired to style his own facial hair in a similar way. Learning of the history behind this custom, he joked that his new beard was the protective patch that kept the demons away from his soul. And thus the soul patch was birthed of the whimsy of a curious trumpeter.
Mumming for the Devil
Mumming is a most noble Christmas tradition, and its influence has seeped into just about every aspect of what we call Western culture. For example, observe the merry mumming bird, the derogatory expression mummer’s boy, and of course, the most popular first words spoken by the average infant… mum-mer… And only the terminally uncool have never danced to rap-star, Al-Al Cool Jay’s Mummer Said Knock You Out… you’d better recognise.
Of course not everything associated with mumming was Christmassy and good. In the early days of the twentieth century, a curious and callous variation of trick or treating was practiced. Among the ne’er-do-wells, anarchists and art-school-thugs, it became de rigueur to celebrate a Satanic, anti-Christmas on Halloween night. By perverting and subverting the gentle art of mumming, these hip-youths sought recognition from their peers… and perhaps even a nod of approval from the Dark Lord himself!
These fiendish gangs pursued an anti-mummer agenda by visiting houses in the community and forcing hapless residents to sing and dance like the mummers of old. The watching devil’s mummers (as they were dubbed in the New York Times) mocked the tradition further by burning their victim’s thighs with fire-heated coins and dowsing them with jugs of urine.
Police clamped down on the tradition when several pensioners were burned to death with hot coins, while feckless teens cavorted to poorly played banjo music. This is where our culture has led, and it is beyond redemption.