by Denise Hampson Monday 31st October 2022
If you’ve ever carried out a little ritual based on a superstition, like touching wood, avoiding walking under a ladder or throwing salt over your shoulder, then you’ve engaged in certainty behaviour. Same if you’ve checked the menu of a restaurant before making a reservation, read a horoscope, checked a weather app or looked at pictures of a hotel online before booking your holiday.
We are certainty-seekers, having a strong human drive to try to predict and lock down the future. Certainty behaviour is one of the pillars of the Desire Code behavioural design framework, and it’s everywhere… especially at Halloween!
Today, the 31st October, is Halloween, it’s name derived from All Hallow’s Eve, the night before All Soul’s Day, when ancient people believed the ghosts of the dead come back to Earth. It was originally a Celtic festival called Samhain, but with the expansion of Christianity and the church’s desire to turn festivals into church-sanctioned ones, it became All Hallow’s Eve.
So, the souls of the dead are in town… How do you make it less likely one of them will come into your house? That’s easy, you leave some food and treats outside so you can appease them and they’ll take them instead. How do you go out and about outside your home without being seen by a ghost? That’s easy too, you dress up like one of them, wearing a costume and a mask so they mistake you for one of their own.
People believed that with all the ghosts around, when earthly and spiritual beings existed closely together, it was more possible to predict the future. People engaged in fortune-telling, lit ritual bonfires and made offerings in exchange for protection through the harsh winter ahead, a time of year which for many was frightening and bleak. Young women played games and tricks to try to predict the names of their future husbands and find out when they will marry.
Halloween isn’t a festival of evil and dark forces. It’s not a celebration of the macabre. Halloween has always been a festival about the future and making sure that it’s the best future possible.