From what I see, many of today’s Halloween costumes remain true to a theme familiar to those of us who haven’t gone trick-or-treating in half a century or more: the part human, part animal creature, whether monster or hero. For example, the half man, half wolf Wolfman popular back with 1960s-era Halloween costumes may be a thing of the past, but I sure see parallels with X-Men Wolverine garb. Logan costumes are a lot less hairy of course and, yes, I know, wolves and wolverines are not even close to being the same animal (the largest member of the weasel family, real wolverines are actually bearish looking animals) but check out the facial hair, pointy ears, claws, and padded “muscles”, and tell me you don’t see Wolfman. My day’s Dracula was portrayed as a human-bat hybrid and Vampires remain popular today, along with Batman and Batwoman. Mermaids remain perennial favorites, as does Spiderman.
This runs far deeper than Halloween costumes, however. Such creatures are in fact found in almost all cultures’ mythologies and religions, perhaps part of what makes us “us.” Stories of the Minotaur (half bull), Centaur (half horse) and Sphinx (half lion, sometimes with bird wings) date back to ancient Egypt, Greece and Mesopotamia but probably evolved from something even older. The Owl Woman, or Tah-tah-kle-ah, of the Pacific Northwest’s indigenous nations goes back a thousand years or more. Far more ancient, some of the cave paintings of Australia’s central desert are 60,000 to 100,000 years old, and human-animal hybrids are on those old stone walls as well. It’s truly worldwide. The Philippine’s Anggitay is a woman from the waist up and horse from the waist down. Anansi originated in Ghana, traveled to the West Indies and then the American South (where Anansi became “Aunt Nancy”) as part of the transatlantic slave trade, an all-knowing spider with a human face.
Some psychologists and scholars argue that these deeply engrained ancient and apparently global archetypes may stem from our unconscious love-hate struggle with the basic animal side of ourselves, from what we evolved, while others consider it nothing more or less than good, scary fun with which we entertain children. Like trick-or-treat itself, you get to decide.