Halloween 1975. Village just outside London. As the darkness shrouded the garden outside, little could be heard, save for the odd owl hooting, and animals scurrying through the undergrowth. Being on the edge of the village the bungalow was secluded. The nearest street lamp was a quarter-mile up the road.
I drew the bedroom curtains aside and looked out onto the back garden. They ivy-covered garden bench, shrubs and various fruit and bean plants cast long shadows in the moonlight.
A shiver went through me knowing this was All Hallows Eve… Halloween night. The headmaster at the local church school I went to was a folklore expert and enthusiast, and thus at Halloween enjoyed scaring us with folk tales of witches and the devil.
Each year he would say:
“On Halloween, when the festival of the dead commences, the spirits of the dead wander more than at any other time of the year. This is a night when devils, witches, and other mischief-making beings, are all abroad on their baleful midnight errands.”
Despite outwardly being Christian, I always wondered whether he walked with the dead and the devils on Halloween night. He would make clear that it was the one night in the year where the souls of the departed can come back to the earth and interact with the living. And you had the feeling he did just that.
Halloween – the day or feast of the dead – is not confined to U.S. or Great Britain. Traditions all over the world celebrate a similar festival to their ancestors at a similar time of the year too – late October to the first couple of days of November.
One tradition says that if you put your clothes on inside out, walk backwards outside on Halloween night, you will see a witch flying in the sky at midnight.
But that fateful night in 1975, looking out of my bedroom window, I recalled the words of my school headmaster, who this Halloween, had decided to tell us how to conjure up the Devil himself on All Hallows Eve. This is what he said:
“To make a pact with the Devil, you must visit an old deserted churchyard at midnight. Take a Holy Bible and some wormwood with you. Then draw a circle about six feet in diameter. Use a knife to draw it. Draw two crosses (XX) inside the circle. Hold equal parts of wormwood in each hand. Throw the wormwood in your right hand up to heaven, and the left handful down to hell. Then say the Lords Prayer backwards [Matthew 6:9 to 13]. Once you have done that, you have sealed a pact with the Devil and you will get all that you want in life. Your desires will be met by Satan himself and his dark legions. But only for the next seven years, mark you. After that Satan will come to you and demand payment – your immortal soul.”
For anybody interested, here is the Lord’s Prayer written backwards:
.nemA .reve rof dna won
sruoy era yrolg eht dna ,rewop eht ,modgnik eht roF.live morf su reviled dna
lairt fo emit eht morf su evaS
.su tsniaga nis ohw esoht evigrof ew sa
snis ruo su evigroF
.daerb yliad ruo yadot su eviG
.nevaeh ni sa htrae no
,enod eb lliw ruoy
,emoc modgnik ruoy
,eman ruoy eb dewollah
,nevaeh ni rehtaF ruO
Before that school-day was over, the headmaster took me aside and gave me an old handwritten book which detailed not only how to conjure the Devil at Halloween, but more importantly how make a pact with Satan that did not entail losing your immortal soul…