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Double, double toil and trouble, fire burn and caldron bubble…

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The following is a guest post by Francisco Macías, Senior Legal Information Analyst.

Fillet of a fenny snake,
In the caldron boil and bake;
Eye of newt, and toe of frog,
Wool of bat, and tongue of dog,
Adder’s fork, and blind-worm’s sting,
Lizard’s leg, and owlet’s wing,—
from William Shakespeare’s Macbeth

Three witches standing around a boiling cauldron. (Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division.)

If you’ve read my colleagues’ blog posts — Kelly Buchanan, Nathan Dorn, Claire Feikert-Ahalt, Hanibal Goitom, and David Mao, among others — you might think that we have a close relationship with the occult and esoteric. We have an interest because the law, which responds to all human concerns, definitely seems to be spellbound by these subjects.

Because today is Halloween (also Hallowe’en, and All-Hallows-Eve), I thought I would provide you with a little more on issues that may be related to the holiday. As part of the ever-present duality of “good” and “evil,” “trick-or-treating,” the common Halloween practice of asking for candies from door-to-door while donning a costume, seems to parallel a Hallowmas (All-Hallows-Day) tradition where “soulers” (children and poor people) begged for “soul cakes.”

Today, irrespective of one’s beliefs, Halloween is just another secular reason for merriment. Even UNICEF has joined in on the fun for a charitable cause. Although, Halloween is generally celebrated in countries that were/are British commonwealths, the allure of costumes and treats has bewitched and beguiled other cultures into joining in on the fun. Along with the aim of securing everyone’s fun and well-being come some norms—in order to keep all the ghouls and goblins out there in check.

Title page and last page of Strange Phenomena of New England in the 17th Century. (Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division.)

Below is a jack-o-lantern full of related U.S. laws. Keep in mind that some of these laws stem from the particular histories of these jurisdictions and aren’t necessarily the result of Halloween practices. In addition, many of these laws are related to the wearing of masks while committing a crime.

  • California — California Penal Code § 185. It shall be unlawful for any person to wear any mask, false whiskers, or any personal disguise…in the commission of a public offense.
  • Washington, D.C. D.C. Code § 22-3312.03. Offenses related to wearing hoods or masks.
  • Florida—Florida Stat. § 876.13 outlines the offense of wearing a mask, hood, or other device on public property. Its applicability at Florida Stat 876.155.
  • Georgia Ga. Code § 16-11-38. A person is guilty of a misdemeanor when he wears a mask, hood, or device…. However, an exception is provided for wearing a traditional holiday costume on the occasion of the holiday.
  • Michigan Michigan Penal Code § 750.396. Wearing mask or face covering device for the purpose of facilitating the commission of a crime is an offense.
  • New York State — New York Penal Code § 240.35 defines “loitering,” in the context of masks and disguises. There have been interesting arguments concerning this law in connection with the recent “occupy” Wall Street protests.
  • North CarolinaN.C. Gen. Stat. § 14-12.7 defines the offense of wearing of masks and hoods on public ways. N.C. Gen. Stat. § 14-12.8 defines the offense of wearing of masks and hoods on public property.
  • VirginiaVa. Code § 8.2-422 states the prohibition of wearing of masks in certain places, but provides an exception for wearing traditional holiday costumes.
  • West Virginia— W. Va. Code § 61-6-22 defines the offense of wearing masks, hoods or face coverings, but provides an exception for wearing a traditional holiday costume.

Some cities, like Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, have very specific regulations concerning the time and date for celebrating Halloween. It bears stating that “when in Hörselberg, do as the witches.”

For those of you with children looking for a fun book to read, here’s a personal favorite from my days as the librarian at Travis Elementary in Harlingen, TexasCinderhazel by Deborah Nourse Lattimore.  For those of you doing the monster mash tonight, have a safe and happy Halloween!

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