In the first half of the show, deputy editor of Skeptical Inquirer magazine, Benjamin Radford, joined guest host Connie Willis (email) to discuss the origins of Halloween. He traced the holiday back to the Gaelic festival Samhain which was celebrated on October 31. "To the people that were celebrating it, Samhain wasn't scary," Radford said, noting how it was a time to store grains, acknowledge the changing of the seasons, and give thanks to the gods. It was believed on that day the barrier between the worlds was especially thin, allowing spirits to come forth, he added. Practices from Samhain mixed with Roman Catholic holidays All Saints Day (November 1) and All Souls Day (November 2), and eventually gave birth to what we know as Halloween, Radford revealed.
According to Radford, the holiday did not become focused on children until sometime in the 1950s. The origin of modern costumes may have come from the animal skins and headdresses used in Samhain ceremonies, he suggested. Later on, during the Middle Ages, it was customary for wealthy individuals to offer a payment to poor people at their door to pray on their behalf for the dead. This custom, known as mumming, is thought to have been the precursor of trick-or-treating, Radford explained. Hollowed turnips with candles carried by mummers ultimately became the pumpkin-based jack o' lanterns used now to decorate houses for Halloween, he disclosed.
During the latter part of the program, researcher Paul Sinclair reported on accounts of a creature known as the Flixton Werewolf (related images). "I'm not here tonight to subscribe to the idea of lycanthropy, however, I do believe something exists, something very real otherwise it would not have been reported and come through over a period of hundreds of years," Sinclair said. The village of Flixton is built on an ancient archaeological site, and in the 10th century a refuge was constructed there "to protect travelers from an infestation of savage beasts... lest they be devoured," he explained, adding Flixton was once called Wolf-land.
Sinclair related an account from 1948, when two boys playing on burial mounds near Flixton encountered a creature resembling a dog that was squatting and looking at something in its clawed hands. The beast lifted its head, looked at them, and the boys ran away, he continued, noting the creature did not pursue them. During the 1960s, a farmer from a nearby village was walking along a drainage ditch, opened a gate, and claimed a large clawed hand touched him. "He could see the hand and felt the hand, so there is a physical presence to whatever we're dealing with," Sinclair disclosed. In another account from the same decade, two men traveling by motorcycle happened upon a large, hair-covered creature with red eyes. Again, it did not pursue them, Sinclair pointed out. "I honestly believe that we're seeing a glimpse into some other dimension," he proposed.