As much as we'd like to believe that we're not, we're all easily influenced by outside forces. Especially when fear and anything outside the realm of our senses is concerned. At its core, that's what modern traditions of Halloween are sort of all about: the unknown, the unknowable, and how we react to it.
In the spirit of Halloween, I'd like to present to you some cards in Yu-Gi-Oh that have their origins in supernatural traditions! Haunted houses, spiritualism, cautionary folktales, and witchcraft have all left their mark on Yu-Gi-Oh, and it's a lot of fun to examine how those traditions manifest in our game.
Don't worry! I'll talk about Pumpking the King of Ghosts too. I didn't forget him!
I wonder if the Amaze Attraction Horror House is as high quality as The Haunted Mansion at Disney? Looking at the production value from the entrance alone, I'm pretty confident that it might not be. But this card's origins stem from a history of fascination with fear. Why do we seek out fear for entertainment? The most common answer is the rush of adrenaline and endorphins it provides. This sort of engineered fear is euphoric to some (and to others like myself, absolutely horrifying and to be avoided at all costs).
Horror attractions have always held a special place in people's hearts. Think back to the gruesome entertainment of only a few hundred years ago, when watching a public execution was considered a fun afternoon out. I'm sure there's some science to our desire to watch someone's mortality slip away, but that's a subject for another time. Over time, horror has become something you can visit and experience whenever you like, whether it be an escape room game, a horror movie, or good old fashioned autumn haunted houses.
Today, the haunt industry in the United States is a billion-dollar industry incorporating everything from stage design and movie quality robotics, to specialized acting, costuming, and massive event coordination. But in London in 1802, the talk of the town was Marie Tussaud's wax sculpture exhibit: it showed viewers wax depictions of the decapitated members of the French royal families. Scandalous and thrilling, this London exhibit was named the "Chamber of Horrors." As gruesome and morbid as it was, it was a hit and became a mainstay attraction.
In 19th Century London, illusions and the introduction of the cinematograph were huge crowd pleasers. The cinematograph was the first time moving images were ever seen by human eyes, and they were made available to everyone. While by today's standards these short films are primitive, one film stands out in particular which you can still watch.
Debuting in 1896, Le Manoir du Diable by Georges Méliès is credited as being the first horror movie ever created. It's only three minutes, long but what was amazing was how its use of practical effects made illusion and fear come to life. Sure, it's not scary to us; we've become so desensitized in our modern era. But for people in 1896, it was three minutes of truly frightful cinema.
Let's fast forward to now. During the Great Depression, around 1933, Hallowe'en became a time where people would use the holiday to release their anger. No one had any money or really anything else to do, so the mischief caused by unruly October mobs of young revellers lead to widespread damage and angry neighbours. At one point, people called for a banning of Halloween because of all the collateral damage and other misgivings brought upon by rambunctious merrymakers.
To try and redirect the destructive energy, communities would come together to create activities, and that led to the inevitable birth of the haunted house to distract and entertain neer-do-wells. House parties, costume parades and a myriad of other Halloween activities really began to bloom and become more mainstream, eventually creating the holiday we all know and love now.
This continued trend culminated in Disneyland Park's launch of their omnimover Haunted Mansion ride in 1969. Originally conceived as a walk-through attraction, it solidified the haunted house as a staple in entertainment that would spread throughout the world. For 1969, the Haunted Mansion was massively high production value, and despite the whimsical tone people were much easier to scare. The key technology, especially the Pepper's Ghost illusion , was so surprising and fascinating to the general public that people would swear that they'd actually seen real-life ghosts.
A lot of the Ghostrick cards, like Ghostrick Parade or Ghostrick Mansion, are wonderfully fun examples of how Halloween has evolved throughout the years. The monsters themselves play practical jokes and enjoy entertainment, like in Ghostrick Night and Ghostrick-Go-Round.
A favourite card of mine, Dark Spirit's Mastery, showcases Curse Necrofear materializing into existence. As you might already know, many of the old "occult" cards used by Yami Bakura in the anime and manga are related to Spiritualism and Occultism or more specifically, seances.
In the Bible, Leviticus warns humanity not to try and contact spirits. But in the 19th Century, seances became tremendously popular. The story of the Fox Sisters is still one of the most enduring examples. They became central to the spiritualism movement, and solidifying spiritualism's hold within the modern world as a cross between new age religion, and entertainment.
Margaret and Kate Fox, 14 years old and 11 years old respectively, would attempt to contact the spirit world in their New York home. It was a simple process that's now been replicated time and time again in modern media: one knock for yes, two knocks for no. When people found out what the sisters were doing, and that they were seemingly successful in communicating with the dead, they wanted the sisters to contact their passed relatives for them. And they did, for several years.
However, in 1888, the sisters admitted that they were in fact frauds. But interestingly, even after their confessions, spiritualism continued its march forward. Some people even refused to believe that the sisters were frauds. They insisted that what they saw, felt and heard was real, it just had to be...if not for their own sanity and pride. Hope, whether it was real or not, was important to them, and was the real illusion the sisters created.
Most good mediums and spiritualists have the ability to "cold read" their clients very effectively. Cold reading is a term to describe manipulations and deceptions that lead someone to give up information, without them actually realizing that they're doing so. Through open-ended guesses, and verbal or physical cues, the deceived might be able to see how well they're doing based on subtle reactions. When a guess is correct, they can cleave information from the querent. Doing so usually involves lots of inaccuracies and misinterpretations, but the correct answers are the moments and memories most people will focus on, and all the mistakes are easily forgotten, because of the fascination, surprise factor, and emotional investment. People are easily persuaded by the power of suggestion.
The seances of spiritualism in the 19th Century relied on darkness to help hide a medium's trickery, and to heighten an attendee's sense of fear and wonder. Participants are more open to suggestion in such a state, and the discomfort disrupts their ability to rationally process the experience. Having attendees hold hands also keeps them from interfering, and gives them a feeling of helplessness, leaving them open and vulnerable, contributing to the fear factor.
It's all a game of psychology. Even when a faked seance or supernatural experience's tricks are revealed and explained, some people still cling to the notion that they witnessed a genuine supernatural experience, much like those who followed the Fox sisters. In fact, most people don't actually remember the details of their experience in detail; if they do, they'll often recall the events differently from what actually transpired. Nowadays we call this the Mandella Effect, or false memory. When a crime scene investigator asks the people involved at a crime scene for details, it's very typical for no one person's story to match another's. Things are forgotten, details are changed or the sequence of events themselves are completely out of order.
Dark Spirit of Malice and Dark Spirit of Banishment are interesting in that they act like the spirits summoned from a seance. The Dark Spirits themselves continue to return to the field and haunt the opponent, but they're even more interesting is their design. Bakura's old monsters - Headless Knight and The Gross Ghost of Fled Dreams - are mixed together with the ghosts of spiritualism to create Dark Spirit of Banishment. In the case of Dark Spirit of Malice, the monsters The Portrait's Secret and Earthbound Spirit. along with more spirits from spiritualism help to recreate this fiend. Taking pieces of old cards we remember, chopping them up into something new, I hope we see more of this in the future.
I feel like when I see Dark Necrofear or Curse Necrofear in the artwork of cards like Sentence of Doom or the OCG version of Destiny Board, her hand is the only one ever on the board's planchette. Is she reaching beyond the realm of fiends and moving your hand on the Destiny Board, or is she simply just spelling out the message on her own? Sentence of Doom is also a wonderful example of wordplay, as it could be interpreted as sentencing someone to doom or to create the sentence word "FINAL" itself.
There's a name for when your muscles seem to move without you thinking about it or intending it: the ideomotor reflex. The body sometimes reacts almost by reflex, a subconscious response without the person consciously aware of what they're doing. It's like the body just reacts to your thoughts, without you even thinking it consciously. This reflex is one example of what causes a planchette to move outside of another persons' influence.
Here's something to ponder: if a spirit board was flipped upside down and you attempted to contact a spirit, you'd probably notice that you weren't creating coherent words or spelling anything. A visual cue is always needed, and thus further refutes the idea that the planchette's movement is caused by a spirit; just the participant's own subconscious or deliberate movements, the ideomotor reflex.
If a spirit was truly moving the planchette, then they should be able to see the letters from anywhere. Think too, of my favorite bit of logic regarding the issue: how would a spirit not versed in modern English even spell modern words?
Pumpking the King of Ghosts and Hallohallo are recognizably the most Halloween-y of the Halloween-inspired cards. Pumpking's name is probably derived from its ATK "pumping" effect, the word pumpkin, and the fact that he's apparently a king. Nothing special there.
It's believed that pumpkin carving originated in Ireland. Horrid faces were carved into turnips, not pumpkins, because pumpkins were not native to Ireland. Instead, large turnips and potatoes were the original Jack-O-Lanterns.
The name Jack-O-Lantern stems from an Irish Folktale about a man named Stingy Jack. He was a fiendish man, and like his namesake, he was cheap. The story goes that Jack invited the Devil out for a drink and, being the stingy man he was, he had no money to pay for the drinks. He asked the Devil to turn into a coin to pay for the drinks, and so the Devil did so. Jack kept the Devil trapped as a coin in his pocket. He promised to free the Devil only if he promised to leave him alone for a whole year, and if he died within that timeframe, the Devil wouldn't take his soul.
The Devil agreed in order to be freed from his metal prison. By the time the year was up, the Devil immediately returned. Stingy Jack, being much too clever for his own good, asked the Devil to pluck him a piece of fruit from a nearby tree. When the Devil slithered up, Jack quickly carved a cross into the tree trapping the Devil yet again. This time, he demanded that if the Devil wanted to be free, he'd leave Jack alone for ten years. The Devil agreed.
Jack died somewhere in between those ten years and when judgment was at hand, God dismissed Jack from the gates of heaven; such a loathsome person was not permitted into the Kingdom of God. The Devil himself didn't want Jack in Hell and forbid him from entering the inferno, damned to walk the earth forever. The Devil did, however, just like in their past encounters, give Jack a cruel parting gift; an ever-burning piece of coal to light his way in the darkness, as he wandered aimlessly.
Jack took up a large turnip and carved his eternal lantern, wherein he placed his forever burning gift. So, on Halloween, when the veil of the spirit world lifts ever so slightly, Jack and other spirits wander the earth. To ward them off, people carved their own versions of the lantern with grimacing and horrid faces, in hopes that it will keep the spirits at bay.
Hallo Hallo, brain of tallow, / Guts are gone, noggin's hollow. / Seeking sweets and marshing mallows, / Watch your back, and your candy sack.
The flavor text of Hallohallo speaks of tallow, which is a reference to tallow candles. Tallow candles are made from rendered animal fat, not wax, like most modern candles we know. They smell fallow when burned and release a lot of smoke. Its effect, on the other hand, is meant to symbolize the "Trick-Or-Treat" aspect of the season, a mild prank of changing a monster's level.
Interesting fact about fruit and vegetables? Much like the hype surrounding must-have items today, it was super fashionable to own a pumpkin. Years before, in the 17th century, it was the pineapple that symbolized wealth and was iconic of luxury, and a high place in society. Even bananas were once considered exotic and rare.
Yes, designer fruit was a thing. You'd display them on mantles or wherever your guests would congregate just to show off your wealth. Rare fruit and vegetables were very expensive, because they usually came from very far-off destinations like the Caribbean, South America and even Asia. If you lived in Europe, pumpkins especially were a desirable piece to add to your home decor.
Yu-Gi-Oh! has its fair share of magical men and women; witches and warlocks and spellcasters abound. Witches are spread widely throughout all cultures and parts of the world, so it's no surprise that the game has a card based on almost every type of witch. The Witchcrafters for example, are powerful women, masters of their crafts, and through their mastery they created Witchcrafter Golem Aruru. In Yu-Gi-Oh lore it's a reinterpretation of Ninaruru, the Magistus Glass Goddess, who in turn is based upon the Sumerian Goddes, Ninhursag. Femininity and witchcraft seem to have always gone hand in hand.
One of the first witches recorded was in the Bible; 1 Samuel 28:3-25, the Witch of Endor, whom King Saul calls upon to speak to the dead spirit of Samuel the Prophet. They were at war with the Philistine's and, no surprise, things didn't end well for Saul or his family. In Exodus 22:18, there's a warning about practicing witchcraft as well as other "magical" acts, including mediumship and prophecy prediction. The Hierophant of Prophecy and the High Priestess of Prophecy would probably be close to this archetype of magic user.
Many "witches" of the past were thought to have been medicine women, regular people who were well versed in medicine, or who served as midwives. It's now believed that during the era of witch hysteria, women acting as doctors and holding a position of power were a threatening concept to the patriarchy, and were therefore a threat to the leaders of communities in which they lived. Knowledge wasn't always passed down through writing in that time; oral knowledge was important, as many people couldn't read.
These secret knowledges that women shared amongst themselves, how the female body's natural functions worked, the mechanics of pregnancy, how the body healed, and how to nurse and cook… basically everything we take for granted now that's regular household knowledge for parents, these were all considered threatening. These weren't secrets, they were simply things that common people wouldn't discuss, or that men wouldn't understand. Essentially, people viewed any woman who knew too much to be a witch.
Of course, even some men were also considered to be witches. Witchcrafter Patronus is a good example of female witches coming together to pass on oral tales of their ancestors. How they performed magic, who they were and why they were important and revered, how this sorceress created community.
Interpretations of witches ranged from seductresses to hideous hags, nymphomaniacs who danced around fires and worshipped at the various moons. They were said to brew strange concoctions and flew on broomsticks, or could change their form and communicate with nature. These all seem fantastical to us, but to the rational mind they're easily understood as misinterpretations and exaggerations. Female sexuality was something considered unsavoury and anathema to the world, and even to this day, women's sexuality and the nature of the female body are still topics escaping stigma; subjects transitioning from whispers and hushed conversation, into things to be embraced and celebrated.
I always think about the Charmer monsters like Familiar-Possessed - Wynn or Eria the Water Charmer, Gentle. This series of monsters take the ideas of familiars and witches and how they work together to meet an end goal, recalling companionship and sisterhood. The newer cards feature art showing how Charmers interact with one another, and the inner workings of their crafts. It's really interesting and something that's easy to overlook.
We're all familiar of course with how witches would come under fire in Europe in the 1400's and later in the era of the Salem Witch Trials. The numerous men and women who would be convicted of witchcraft, and tortured into confessing. Drowning, burning at the stake, and hanging were the entertainment for the day, professed to purge society of so-called "heretics". More than anything though, women suffered at the hands of horrible accusations, especially those who weren't married or were widowed. Even if you just had a pet or lived next to someone who wasn't agriculturally inclined, you were probably best to start running. Over 160 years, almost a hundred thousand people were convicted and killed for alleged witchcraft.
I hope you've enjoyed today's article highlighting some of Halloween's influences in Yu-Gi-Oh! Seances, spirit boards and witchcraft are fascinating topics that I encourage you to continue to explore if they interest you. Yu-Gi-Oh! does a great job of hiding fascinating imagery in its artwork, and I'm glad I was able to present this to you today. Stay safe this Halloween, and maybe look into building a Destiny Board deck for yourself.
Or maybe have a party with a Ghostrick deck instead? The theme's getting a lot of support come January in Battle of Chaos!