Fright night at the museum

By Danielle Wright

Danielle Wright finds out about the origins of Halloween and some of the more spooky superstitions being explored this weekend at the Auckland Museum.

The museum's Halloween show will thrill as well as educate the whole family. Photo / Greg Bowker
The museum's Halloween show will thrill as well as educate the whole family. Photo / Greg Bowker

Have you heard of the old fortune-telling practice of putting your hands into a large vat of mashed potato (it's an Irish tradition, of course) and pulling out a trinket with a symbolic meaning for your future?

That's just one of the oddly fascinating things happening at the Auckland Museum this weekend, where you can enter the museum after hours and roam in the dark with torches to light your way.

When you arrive, hopefully in costume, you'll receive a goodie bag, which includes a map of the museum pointing out what to look for. A "ghosty hosty" will also be available to point you in the right direction, just keep your eyes peeled for a man with a selection of live spiders to give scaredy-mums like me the creeps.

Interactive crafts, such as making a scary mask to go with your scary costume, would be a good place to start and it's here the tradition of "guising" will be explained. It's all to do with tricking the real evil spirits so they will leave you alone.

You'll also learn that trick or treating began in the Middle Ages when the poorer people knocked at the door for a soul cake, a form of shortbread, in return for a promise to pray for souls.

"Halloween is a time when this world and the next is blurred," explains Jo Brookbanks, Auckland Museum's event developer. "The veil between the two is transparent, so it's known as a time when seeing into the future is easier."

There will be plenty of chances to see into your future with many old traditions being embellished by the museum for the night. The mashed potato technique is one; another is throwing shoes at a large target with symbols painted on it that represent clues to your future.

No Halloween celebration would be complete without a carved pumpkin, but did you know it's only since North Americans adopted this tradition that pumpkins were used? Prior to that, it was turnips that were carved. Storytellers will be explaining the origins on the night.

Brookbanks explains: "Stingy Jack was an Irish guy who tricked the devil into not taking his soul, except that he was so naughty that when he died heaven didn't want him either, so he was stuck in limbo. The devil tossed him an ember from hell and he walked the earth carrying his torch, forever since known as Jack-O-Lantern."

A herb expert will explain how herbs can protect you from evil spirits. It's well known that garlic can keep vampires away, but did you know that bread and salt in your child's pockets will also keep them safe on Halloween?

Take a walk through the museum's beautiful Egyptian collection and find out about mummies, or enter the scream zone to meet a vampire, a Shakespearean witch and an overfed 2m-long katipo spider. Beware of the grim reaper walking around and make sure you're still there at 8.15pm for the fancy dress prizegiving.

You can always count on the Auckland Museum to educate as well as entertain and children will go away with an idea that Halloween means more than just lollies and dress-ups.

Even as you leave, the traditional and modern will meet: you'll be given a bag of lollies but you may also be reminded to turn your clothes inside out to guarantee a safe journey home.

In the run-up to the spookiest night of the year, I'd be inclined to do as I'm told.

Be prepared

You need to bring torches and dress in costume. Bookings are essential and the event runs from 6pm to 8.30pm today and tomorrow. $20 per person, ph (09) 306 7048 or book through the site.

Other Spooky Events in Auckland

* Olde Hallow's Eve: A Victorian Halloween at Motat. Today, 6.30pm-10.30pm. $13 per ticket, $50 family pass. Motat, Great North Rd, Western Springs.

* Halloween for animal lovers: from 9am-8.30pm, the Whangarei SPCA, ph (09) 438 9161, is having a special celebration, admission free.

* Walk like a zombie today at 3pm, at the Soundshell and Village Green, Rotorua, for the Rotorua Zombie Walk 2011. $5 per zombie.

* For the brave at heart, Spookers is presenting 13 ways to be tricked or treated from 8pm on Monday October 31, every victim wins a prize.

* A reminder that Boo at the Zoo is not running this year.

- NZ Herald

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