After Jack O’Lanterns, second sight, Soul Cakes and sea monsters in Part 1 of the Another Kind Of Mind Halloween Special, Part 2 looks at the myriad weird ways to predict your love life at Halloween…
In a recent post, I looked at the ancient but often rather gruesome and spooky practice of the Crow Augury, but there are many other, slightly less dramatic but equally powerful, methods of divination which are more intimately and very personally connected to the celebrations at this time of year.
In fact, a lot of the varied types of divination associated with Halloween (as, interestingly, with those connected to Christmas) are more to do with a slightly more positive subject matter: the age-old topic of love and the finding of it, mostly for young women – although some of these fortune-telling methods are said to work for young single men too.
To find the identity of her prospective husband, a single girl could utilise any one of a number of often incredibly random-sounding methods. For example, she could try sitting in front of a mirror at midnight on Halloween, watching by candle-light and holding (or eating, or peeling) an apple, waiting for the reflection of her beloved to appear in the mirror.
Or she could throw the complete peel of an apple over her shoulder, which would then form the initial of the man she would marry. Or she could stick apple pips to her cheek, each one representing a possible boyfriend – the last to fall off would be the pip named for her true love.
Perhaps our single lass might attempt to see her future by using the potentially messy method of staring at egg yolks floating in a bowl of water (I won’t be trying that one tonight!). Or she could carry a lantern to a spring and hope to see her husband-to-be’s face reflected in the water. Or attempt a spot of prophetic dreaming about her true love.
Then there’s apparently an 18th century Irish tradition that a cook would hide a ring in the mashed potatoes to be served as part of the Halloween evening meal. Whoever found the ring in their serving of mash – assuming they didn’t chip a tooth on it, of course – would find true love (and possibly a large dentist’s bill).
The single girl could use an old Scottish tradition and roast hazelnuts in the fire, each nut named for a prospective beau. However, after this point it all gets a little confusing – some versions of the tradition say that the first nut to pop represents her husband-to-be, whereas other sources state that it is the first nut to crumble and burn away to ash that is the relevant one.
Of course, there’s always bobbing for apples – a fun (if soggy!) Halloween party game now, it actually started out as a way of predicting which of the unmarried party-goers would be the first to wed in the coming twelve months. Apparently having roots in a Druidical water ritual, it pits two people against each other to see who will be the first to take a bite out of an apple in a barrel or large bowl of water without using the hands to pick the fruit up (and the winner, naturally, is the one who will be the first to marry).
However, the oddest method I’ve found of divining one’s romantic future involves cabbages. Yes, you read that right – cabbages. Single girls would be blindfolded and taken out into the cabbage fields at Halloween. Groping around, the girls had to pull up the nearest cabbage plant, and its roots would be examined for prophetic signs.
If the cabbage roots were covered in a lot of earth, then the girl who had picked it would marry a wealthy man. However, the cabbage didn’t go to waste – it would be cooked and eaten, and its bitter or sweet taste could reveal more about the success (or otherwise) of her potential marriage!
You may have noticed that most of these love divination methods are to do with foodstuffs, which connects neatly with the idea of Samhain as a festival linked to the end of the harvest and the beginnings of winter (a fallow period; the ‘death’ of the old year and the beginning of the new – hence the symbolic connections with death in Samhain and Halloween celebrations).
It is interesting how many of them rely on apples, however. This isn’t really that surprising when you consider that by Halloween most of the apple harvest for the year will have been brought in. But, as with so much associated with these kinds of traditional rituals, it’s actually a lot more complicated than mere seasonal convenience and coincidence.
Apples have long been associated with fundamental concepts of fertility (Samhain would also have been, at one point, the time of the year when cattle would be mated in order to give birth the following Spring), knowledge, immortality and resurrection.
These connections in themselves easily explain the prevalence of so many apple-related methods of looking into an individual’s romantic future, but there also seems to be a deep rooted religious significance to the fruit (aside from the obvious Garden of Eden reference, of course).
Generally associated with female deities, the apple was linked to one Roman goddess in particular. Her name was Pomona, and the Romans worshipped her as the goddess of plenty. Her symbol was the apple and her feast day was in late October, and it has been suggested that this began to have an influence on the ritual surrounding the Samhain celebrations during the four centuries of the Roman occupation of the Celtic lands.
So, there you are. It seems that the modern obsession with finding love and marriage is not so modern after all – the basic desire of humanity for companionship and affection, particularly at this darkening time of the year, has clearly changed little since our ancient ancestors celebrated Samhain all those many centuries ago.
And on that note, it’s time for me to hop onto my broomstick and wish you all a very happy Halloween and/or Samhain, whether you manage to see your true love’s reflection in a bowl of eggy water tonight or not…. ;)