Join Jessica as she breaks down all things Halloween. How it's started, traditions, and how it is now. Plus a spooky ghost story that she can't quite explain.
Or she'll just talk nonsense for 30 minutes.
This is a standalone episode.
Full credits on the website page.
Excuse the Jess is a fictional story told over each season.
Written & Performed by: Jacquie J Sarah
Produced by: Deliciously Bright Productions
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Samhain (Sah-win) is a pagan religious festival originating from an ancient Celtic spiritual tradition. Ancient Celts believed Sah-win to be the most significant of the fire festivals. During this time, hearth fires in family homes were left to burn out as the harvest was reaped. When the work was complete, the celebrants joined Druid priests to light a community fire using a wheel that represented the sun. All the while believing the veil between the physical and spiritual world was at its thinnest. Attendance was mandatory and gatherers engaged in massive feasts and drunk alcohol to access. Modern day celts still celebrate by dressing their children in fancy dress costumes and let them beg strangers for sweets.
I know I am getting old now because I ask, isn’t it time we go back to the old days. My name is Jessica J Garner, and this is my Halloween special.
Hello and welcome to my podcast. If you didn’t listen to my other ones. Why not? But also, don’t worry. I won’t be following anything up here. I am not even sure what they were myself. A woman having a breakdown or just coming to a realisation. When celebs and the like write their auto biographies they talk about the catharsis, oh it was such a cathartic experience. Well, let me tell you it’s not, it just brings up things you don’t like about yourself and others. It’s why they have the good sense to make most of it up. But this is not what this is about. This is about Halloween. So why is a grown, dare I say middle aged – now that sticks in your throat – woman talking about Halloween. The most obvious thing is it’s fun and boy do we need some fun. Plus, I wanted to talk about a spooky experience and when else can you talk about it, but Halloween. So, grab a hot chocolate, curl up on the settee, blanket wrapped around you, light some candles, close your eyes, and listen to this fun and spooky Halloween special. Yes, I know there were mixed messages there.
Time for a Halloween themed quote from American author Stephen Graham Jones who said, “Some people are born for Halloween, and some are just counting the days until Christmas.” I think, why can’t we just be both?
Here are some facts about Halloween.
Halloween” is short for “Hallows’ Eve” or “Hallows’ Evening,” which was the evening before All Hallows’Day or Hallowmas on November 1. The Christian Church decided the best way to convert pagans was that Hallowmas and All Souls’ Day which falls on November 2nd was to join the pagan holidays that fell on or around October 31.
Halloween is believed to have begun in Ireland.
The word “witch” comes from the Old English (wicce), witchay or wicky depending on who is saying it, meaning “wise woman.” In fact, wiccan were highly respected people at one time. So, calling someone a Witch is not the insult you think it is.
The tradition of Trick or Treating goes back to the Middle Ages and the festival of Sah-win. As the veil between the living and dead became thin, people would dress up in costumes to repel the dead. When the Catholic church began to replace pagan festivals with their own, the act of souling became popular with poor adults and children going door to door for food.
Staying with Sah-win, Trick-or-treating evolved from the ancient Celtic tradition of putting out treats and food to placate spirits who roamed the streets.
There’s a Scottish tradition where girls believed they could see images of their future husband if they hung wet sheets in front of the fire on Halloween. Don’t do it I say.
There’s also an old English tradition that states if a young unmarried person walks down the stairs backwards at midnight while holding a mirror, the face that appears in the mirror will be their next lover. Maybe try that one.
Samhainophobia (Samhiniphobia) is the fear of Halloween
In the movie Halloween a tight budget meant they had to use the cheapest mask they could find for the character Michael Meyers, which turned out to be a William Shatner Star Trek mask.
Places that are considered to be haunted are The White House, Hampton Court Palace, Taj Mahal Palace, that mansion in Disney and your home.
While it is the mainstay of Halloween now to carve a pumpkin and eat pumpkin pie apparently – no, I’ve never had it either. The legend of the Jack O’Lantern comes from the from the Irish legend of Stingy Jack.
Jack-o’-the-lantern initially referred to the natural flickering of marsh-lights that can appear over bogs, which lead travellers to stray. This was also known as Will-o-the wisp. In the 18th century, Jack, or “Stingy Jack” was a mean-spirited blacksmith. The story goes that the devil invited him to have a drink which Jack did not wish to pay for. He deviously convinced the devil to turn himself into a coin which he quickly pocketed and kept it next to a silver cross so the devil could not be corporeal again.
Jack later convinced the devil he would let him go in return for being left alone for a year and, if he died then the devil wouldn’t claim his soul.
A year passed and Jack managed again to trick the devil to leave him alone. When Jack died, God refused to take the trickster into heaven and the devil kept to his word that he would not take Jack into hell. Jack was left with only a burning coal to light his path which he placed in a carved-out turnip, forced to roam the earth forever more.
However, the story of Jack was also told from his uncle who pitied his nephew. He reported that the tale started with an act of virtue of helping an old man by the roadside. The old man transformed into an angel granting Jack 3 wishes. Jack was spiteful and made the wishes to be against anyone who sat on his chair, plucks a bough from his sycamore tree or attempting to borrow his tools to be stuck to the spot. The wish was granted but Jack is barred from heaven. When the devil tries to claim him, Jack offers false hospitality barring him from hell. Which goes to show there are two sides to every story.
In the 19th century Ireland references to the carving of turnips, beets, and potatoes at Halloween in remembrance of Jack. However, when people moved to America, pumpkins were used as they were native to North America. Now however, faces were carved into the fruit to ward off Jack. Today the smell of rotting fruit is synonymous with Halloween together with the people who spend all day carving out the most perfect image for social media, even if you know their children had cried off bored hours ago. Why don’t you tell your children this bedtime story to make up for it?
American Writer Erin Morgenstern said, “It's said that All Hallows' Eve is one of the nights when the veil between the worlds is thin - and whether you believe in such things or not, those roaming spirits probably believe in you, or at least acknowledge your existence, considering that it used to be their own. Even the air feels different on Halloween, autumn-crisp and bright.” No, that’s the bedtime story you want to tell.
I have been looking at Halloween TV and how it has changed our British traditions. When I was young, I used to have to walk five miles in bare feet uphill for school. Not true, although there was a lot of walking involved. Halloween was different though. Yes, there was bobbing for apples, dressing up, and trick or treating but we used to ask for money. I say we, I was never allowed to do actual trick or treating. It would upset the neighbours asking for money. There were Jack O Lanterns, but they weren’t made from pumpkins but swedes. I looked that up in case I was misremembering but no, it was a fact. The reason being that the skin is much harder than a pumpkin, so it was easier to draw the faces. The downside being that it’s really tough to scoop out. I guess the pumpkin take over was practical too. There’s also house decorating now. It’s not unusual to see a huge web containing a massive spider now come early October. I am not talking forty years though; I reckon the last ten. Don’t misunderstand, there was always party decorations you could buy for your house party, but it wasn’t the same level as Christmas decorations. Speaking of house parties, they were a nightmare in the late teens and twenties. It would always have to be fancy dress. Are you going as a sexy devil or sexy vampire? Or the one that used to blow my mind – sexy schoolgirl – like St Trinians. Why would you want to be a sexy of any one of those things? Still Halloween was an excuse for woman to go out in little more than their underwear if they had their horns and devil fork. If women weren’t competing with each other, they were competing for men. I don’t know what was worse, the men drooling over them or the ones coming up to me saying they don’t like that kind of overtly sexual women, knowing full well it’s probably because they had knocked them back. Me? I used to wear two costumes. One being the bride of Frankenstein, the second being the invisible woman. I sound horribly judgemental and seriously it wasn’t that bad. It was positively delightful against the horror that is New Year’s Eve, and that’s a subject for a different time. Namely New Year’s Eve.
Over the years though we have been drip fed a diet of American TV. We know that Thanksgiving is the fourth Thursday in November which is followed by Black Friday. That Black Friday has supplanted our Black Friday which was always the Friday before Christmas when city centre pubs were rammed. We also know that Halloween is a “holiday” that you work on. That term holiday confounds us a bit here. From Bewitched to Modern Family, apparently you can be an adult but still dress as superman for the day in the office if you choose. I would probably choose not to. Would I be judged? I looked this up also and the list was endless of all the Halloween specials. I guess because they are far more channels here now, we have submerged into the culture. We know about Charlie Brown’s great pumpkin but have likely not seen it, we know that Clare Dunphy loves Halloween probably more than her family, we know Greg Pikitis will vandalise the parks, and that Wanda will dress up as herself for a town celebration. Halloween is a perfect celebration between the summer and Christmas and it’s not like we have anything like that over here. Do we? Penny for your…. guy? So, what can we learn from TV this time? That sometimes TV can change your culture over time. That’s why we must be so bloody careful what we consume.
Canadian actor Thomas Middleditch said “I'm a bit of a curmudgeon. I don't like Valentine's Day and New Year's and Halloween.” Curmudgeon? – Also, rude trying to mix Halloween between those soul sucking days.
That spooky story that I promised you is coming soon. Use the 30 second or what ever setting you have it, to fast forward if the old women talking is boring you. I am hesitating because I still don’t know what to make of my tale. Of course, there is a rational explanation of what happened, it just doesn’t quite fit. This section I wanted to talk about scary stuff. Let’s be honest even if we were to accept that ghosts, fictional wicked witches, vampires, and demons did exist, they are still unlikely to be haunting you on a daily basis. If they do, then you have my sympathy. The really scary stuff is what we are living with. Let’s forget about the last year and a half where if you weren’t at least concerned, you weren’t paying attention. I am talking about the other scary stuff. For at least the past three years I have been plagued by thoughts that could be described as deep regrets or a full-blown existential crisis. I am trying to keep this light though so let’s discuss what happens after you die. Actually, let’s not. This is what I mean, my mind is jumping all over the place. The classic I walk into a room and don’t know why I’m there. I said in my first episode that I was old or young depending on your viewpoint. There is no getting away from the fact I am middle aged though. Ever since I hit the big 4-0 there seems to be the pressure of having something to show for your life. Or at least to be moving towards something. To talk in story metaphors, this is the difficult second act. The protagonist may find life is worsening from the problems of the first act and must learn new skills to arrive at a higher sense of awareness of who they are and what they are capable of, to deal with their predicament, which in turn changes who they are. That’s all before we slip into the third act which could be at any second if you get there. Scary isn’t it.
Not only that but what did I see growing up. Grandmothers who cut their hair short to wear in tight curls, wore dresses and housecoats. I now realise they were probably younger than me now. As I child there was this TV programme called Cheers where all these old people hung out in a bar, the main cast were in their thirties – even Norm and Cliff. Also, the Golden Girls. This was sold to me as these old women who still loved life despite their age and, god forbid, had sex. What you realise now is, and it can be viewed on Disney+ in the UK, that these women were not that old. Apart from the Sophia, Dorothy’s mother, they were all working. In fact, Rue McClanahan who played the gorgeous Blanche Devereux was only 51 years old at the start of the series. Now she could have been playing someone older, but it’s clear these women were in their fifties, and not a pair of jeans and a logo Tee in sight. There is one episode where Dorothy was seeing a man that tried it on with Blanche. When Dorothy found out, she blamed Blanche calling her a slut. I don’t know about you but if a dear friend called me a slut, I wouldn’t even visit them in the hospital I had put them in. However, these were the eighties, so things were different. Remember the Golden Years, if they made that now, and they are, the time of nostalgia we would go back to is 2001. Not a wonderful time to go back to. If Marty McFly took the DeLorean back thirty years, he would go back to 1991 where he would bang out Taylor Swift’s Shake It Off at the Enchantment Under the Sea rave which would be a blessed relief because everyone was so bloody sick of Bryan Adam’s Everything I Do. They could even go into the court room in New York where it was decided that a person can break their home purchase contract if they discover that they have unwittingly bought a haunted house. The Back to the Future musical has finally opened in London and it’s an absolute triumph, I loved it. It only took thirty-six years from the original film. And six years after Marty went forward thirty years into his future. Now I’ve lost my thread and….um… next.
Here it is then. My spooky Halloween tale. Everything I tell you is true; the names have been changed to protect their idiocy.
It took place about ten years ago. A few of the women in work decided we should do a night out. It was one of those places where the boss was an arse, so you bond quickly. Every one of those people meant the world to me at that time but once you leave, you may as well be dead to them. Which is maybe why instead of spending the night on the town, they booked a spooky Halloween haunted house tour instead. I am not going to say where. It’s in Wales anyway. It’s an old house, they can’t pinpoint exactly when it was built, but they believe it’s 500 years old. It seems fair then to assume that people did die there. The official story is that it is haunted. The crew of Most Haunted have been there which proves… absolutely nothing. They only do the ghost tours in the autumn and winter when it gets dark early. There is another aspect to this story I must tell you. That day, after me nagging for our boss, the owner of the company, to run a customer order back up, we had a computer virus and lost about a three months’ worth of orders off the system. He had raged at me before I proved that I had put it in every single email to him the words, just a reminder to run the back up. I am sure he wanted us to stay behind with him to recreate the orders, but his stupid male pride wouldn’t let him, thank fully.
The tour started well. There were nine of us. Four other colleagues and two couples who were friends. We were all beckoned into the house by the tour guide Margaret. She was wore an old-fashioned costume, held a candle and told us we needed to hurry before they locked the doors. I am not sure if it were to keep us in or something out.
We came out of the cafe, through a hallway, and into a room. The whole house was now in darkness, the candlelight was bouncing shadows on the walls, and it was cold. I was immediately entranced. Margaret the tour guide’s slow, deliberate, voice was commanding so when she deliberately slammed a wooden stick into the floor everyone jumped. Then the sound of a phone ringing, it was my boss.
I couldn’t not answer so I used the light of the phone and made by way back to the café which was now in darkness. As I talked, a slow creeping dread came over me. I was on my own in the dark, in a strange place. I told myself that the fear was in my mind, but I started to flash the light of my phone around my room to put my mind at rest. The light landed on a shadow. I was frozen. I tried to move, tried to breathe but I was memorised as I watched the shadow move closer and closer and closer until. It was suddenly gone.
That’s when I felt a cold hand on my shoulder.
I shrieked or screamed, I definitely jumped, and spun around to see where the hand was attached to. It was a woman, dressed in the same way as our tour host. The candle she was holding lit up her face. She smiled sweetly apologised for scaring me, told me I couldn’t be here on my own in. She was right. I ended the call with my boss, and I followed the woman back into the hallway.
The rest had finished in the one room and was on to the next. I was about to go in, but she stopped me. She called herself Felicity and asked if I would like to see something amusing to which my answer is always yes. She told me to stand in the hallway and she slowly tapped the door then moved away from sight. I could hear the shrieks in the room and Margaret telling people not to be afraid, it could be the former owner letting them know they were there. I should’ve have marched in there and told them that we were being wound up but honestly, it was just too funny. Felicity waited for people to calm down, before taking her long nails and dragging them down the door before hiding again. Again, there was noises from the room and Margaret not quite telling the truth. Then Felicity asked me if I wanted to do her tour, instead of the main one. That’s when I should’ve re-joined the group.
We walked into a room, which had a roaring fire. Warmth at last I thought as Felicity lit candles as she spoke. This is my favourite room, the family room. The girls used to sit in those chairs, sewing or reading and the lord usually attended to correspondence. I was about to ask her if she lost her mind but realised, she was playing the part. Where would her ladyship be? I asked. Not a flicker of amusement or hesitation in her, I would prefer to take the seat in front of the fire and would spend my evening sewing. Do you all haunt this place? I asked with no seriousness in my voice. Oh no, just me she said, and I was cold all over again.
We moved down the hallway and hid around the corner as the main group walked into the room we’d just left. I could hear Margaret confused on why there were lit candles in there. I was impressed. These women should be in Hollywood not hosting a fake ghost tour.
This continued for some time, Felicity and I a step ahead of the rest of the group setting up little things to upset the others. I was starting to feel uncomfortable. Yes, this is what we paid for, but it was getting silly. Plus, Felicity was making me feel queasy. All this first-person nonsense, I did this, I did that. The cold too, it was oppressive. I just wanted to go home and said as much. She told me to watch the next room and it would gladden me.
As the main group went into another room, we followed and stood at the back. The main guide told us that this was the most active room in the building as this was place of a brutal murder. It was brutal, a woman was hit over the head with an iron and then straggled to finish the job. A horrible story but at least things were not going to get weirder I thought. Yes, you know what’s coming.
One of my colleagues saw me and started screaming where had I been, she was worried sick. I had never seen her so much as raise her voice. I was stunned. My other colleagues tried to calm her down. The couples looked terrified and were holding each other tightly. Margaret started saying something about it was just the room and we were warned. Then my colleague started to panic. It was slow at first but then she was struggling for breath. I tried to help but she slapped me away. I looked to Felicity, but she was just staring ahead. How are you doing this? I demanded of her. How is who doing what? Margaret said to me, there was genuine fear in her eyes.
This set up. Faking everything. It was okay at first, but this is not funny, look at her. Margaret’s fear turned to indignance; we are not faking anything.
I’ve watched your colleague do it all night, and I turned to Felicity. She just smiled sweetly at me. Margaret, starting stuttering that he was in the security office. My colleague started to get more agitated, and I could feel the fear in the room. I’d had enough, I went to walk out of the room but saw the light switch. I flipped the switch and…. The room was full of scared adults, my colleagues, the couples, , the guide and finally me. Felicity, my guide, was nowhere to be seen.
My heart stopped that second and then reality set in again. She could have easily slipped out when I was distracted. Margaret was annoyed. She ended the tour there and then, insinuated it was all my fault. My colleague calmed down, apologised, and asked where I’d been. I told her and the room about my tour. Margaret was adamant that she was the only woman there. I rolled my eyes or something else to show my distain. I asked her to tell Felicity that.
Margaret broke down. Felicity? Are you joking? Fair play to her, Judi Dench had nothing on her. She called into her walkie talkie and told someone to light up the house. The hallway was suddenly lit up, but Margaret practically pushed past me to go towards the exit. The rest of us followed. By the entrance I told her that none of this was funny, and they were exploiting people. A man, obviously the caretaker, appeared from nowhere and told me I got what I came for but best if I didn’t go back. As cover ups go, it was a good one.
As I walked out I heard Margaret tell the caretaker, she was out. She hadn’t signed up to be wound up by stooges. I looked back and our eyes locked, I felt a chill up my spine. She was talking about me.
Of course, that would have been the desired effect. They might have played it out like that every night. They pick a gullible one in the crowd or the one that wanders off and teaches them a lesson. I investigated of course. They said CCTV showed I was wandering around on my own. I asked for the proof, and they just sent me a still image of me on my own. There was not and there had never been a guide matching that description, which they would say. I looked at the history and yes there was a Lady called Felicity who looked a bit like my tour guide, but it was a painting, and I was in the dark. It wouldn’t be too hard to recreate. I’ve gone back of course and wandered off and when nothing happened, I just had to wander back in with the crowd. I had friends go with the same result. Is there a ghost though? I guess I’ll never know.
Here’s a quote you won’t have heard before. There may or may not be ghosts, but in life, it’s worth remembering, it’s the living that should scare you the most. Jessica J Garner Halloween 2021. Sleep well.
If you are still listening, thank you. It just leaves me to say, please come back. I am not needy or anything but please. Also, a lot of this stuff is from the internet and did you know, the internet can lie. If want to find out more about this podcast, go to the website excusethejess.com and Happy Halloween