As we are getting near to Halloween I thought I’d tell you a little about one of the creatures of the night and how it is viewed in folklore.
The Bat. Part One.
Feared as creatures of the night associated with death, sickness and witchcraft. Made famous as the familiars of vampires by the cinema. Revulsion against them, however, is far from universal, and their quizzical faces have often inspired affection. There were no glass windows in the ancient world, and so people had little choice but to share their homes with bats.They sleep hanging upside down by their feet. They live in shelters such as caves or hollow trees, but they also take advantage of human structures. Like most small animals that are drawn to human habitations, bats have often been identified in folk belief with the souls of the dead. As a result, in cultures that venerate ancestral spirits, bats are often considered sacred or beloved. When spirits are expected to pass on rather than return, bats appear as demons or, at best, souls unable to find peace. They are often thought of as the embodiment of evil and an indicator that a house is haunted or even worse.
Traditionally bats have been seen as witch familiars so whenever you see a lone bat it might be a witch in disguise. The devil and dragons are often depicted with bat like wings and in some cultures witch doctors wear bat amulets and make potions with parts of bat bodies. In the middle ages, anyone who had bats, known as witches birds living in their house were accused of being a witch and could have been burned at the stake.
In Central America the bat is seen as the god of death and bat motifs decorate burial urns and graves. Some North American tribal folklore suggests that the long eared bat, which has an arrow shaped growth on its nose, eats volcanic rock and spews out fire arrows. In China bats are a symbol of good luck, long life and happiness and at one time Chinese mothers would sew small jade buttons in the shape of a bat on the caps of their babies. Some Australian Aboriginal tribal folklore regards the bat as a luck totem and in Turkey; some people still carry a bat bone as a love charm.
In Ancient Egypt physicians prescribed parts of the bat in the treatment of asthma, rheumatism, baldness, bad eyesight, toothache, and fever. They also believed that if you hung the body of a bat over the doorway of a home then it would prevent the entry of demons that carried these diseases.
In India, the skin of a large fruit eating bat (known as flying foxes) is still applied to cure lumbago and rheumatism.
Other superstitions about bats include,
If a bat flies into the kitchen and at once hangs on to the ceiling, it’s lucky, but if it circles around twice before settling down, then it’s seen as a sign of bad luck. If it circles around your head three times then get yourself measured for a box because it means death is coming visiting.
If when trying to drive a bat out of the room, it fly’s against a light or candle and puts it out, then that is a very bad omen.
In Ireland if a bat was seen near the house it was taken as a sign of an impending death for a member of the household. However, we have bats in our roof space (they came in last winter). We are quite happy with them and they cause us no problems whatsoever. When bats are seen acting in a playful manner it is a sign that good weather is about to come, probably because there are more insects around on warm dry evenings so that means more food for the bats.
A common bat seen in and around hedgerows at dusk is the Pipistrelle Bat. Their Irish name is Laltog Fheascrach which means ‘bat of the evening’.