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By Jim Ignasher
Halloween night and Valentines Day are three-and-a-half months apart, and are generally considered to be very different holidays, yet one may be surprised to learn that in the 19th century All Hallows Eve was considered the night when a young man or woman could learn the identity of their future wife or husband, or if they were destined to remain single. Gaining such “knowledge” was achieved through a variety of superstitious rituals that in the 1600s would have gotten one convicted of practicing Witchcraft.
For example, one superstition involved placing a small piece of wood in a glass of water, and leaving it next to the bedside overnight. It was said that the person who did so would have a dream about someone falling off a bridge and into water. The dreamer was to then “rescue” that person, and stare into their face, for it would be the face of their future spouse.
Another superstition held that if a maiden ate an apple in a room illuminated by a single candle, while staring into a mirror, she would see the image of her future husband appear behind her. A variation of this ritual involved standing outdoors under a full moon with a hand mirror, and begin walking backwards while reciting a short incantation.
Apples also figured into other Halloween rituals. It was said that if one carefully peeled an apple skin in one continuous piece and then threw it over their left shoulder, the way it landed would form the first initial of the person’s name they were to marry.
If one wanted to get an idea where their future spouse lived, they’d go outside at midnight and toss a small lock of their hair into the night breeze. Whatever direction the hair was blown would be the direction from which their true love would come.
It’s possible the following superstition was once practiced in the Limerock section of Lincoln. It was said that if a young lass made her way to an old lime kiln on Halloween Night she could learn the identity of her future husband. To do so involved tossing a blue ball of yarn into the empty kiln while holding on to one end, and then slowly pulling it out. At some point “something” would grab hold of the string, at which time the lass would call out, “Who holds!?” The voice that answered would state the name of her future husband. Why the color of the yarn had to be blue is unknown.
If no lime kilns were handy, a girl could toss a ball of yarn out her bedroom window at midnight on Halloween. (Color optional) The man who returned it would be the one she’d marry.
One Halloween superstition only predicted if one would marry. It involved placing three cups on a table in a dimly lit room. The first cup would be empty. The second would contain clean water, and the third, dirty water. A boy or girl would be blindfolded, brought into the room, and told to place three fingers in one of the cups. If their fingers landed in clean water, they would marry a young person. If they touched the dirty water, they’d marry a widow, or perhaps marry late in life. If their fingers landed in the empty cup, they were destined to be single.
Another Halloween ritual involving blindfolds dates to the 1830s in which young people would have their eyes covered and then be led to a garden where stalks of colewort grew. Each would be instructed to pull at the first stalk they touched. The size, taste, and condition of the stalk indicated certain physical characteristics and personality traits that would be found in their future spouse. If the roots still held a large clump of dirt it meant a significant dowry and good fortune.
We’ve all heard that the woman who catches the bride’s bouquet at a wedding will be the next to marry, but how many are familiar with the superstition involving “Cupid’s Cake?” In this affair, a ring symbolizing a wedding band would be baked into a cake on Halloween. At midnight, the cake would be cut into pieces and all single persons present would be invited to eat one. The person who got the slice with the ring inside was presumed to be the next to marry.
Nuts also figure into Halloween lore pertaining to romance. In some parts of Scotland and northern England, Halloween was known as “Nut Crack Night”, during which some would practice fortune telling by roasting chestnuts over a fire.
One example involved a woman giving each nut the name of a potential suitor, and then placing them over the hearth. The behavior of the nuts would indicate certain personality traits. Such as, if a nut hissed it indicated a bad temper. One that caught fire indicated passion. And so on.
Other times a couple contemplating marriage would place two nuts together. If one “popped” and moved away it indicated a separation; either death or divorce. If both remained together while they turned to ashes, it indicated a long and happy life together.
One tale held that a single person could go to a walnut tree at midnight. After circling the tree three times they were to call out, “Let him (or her) that is to be my true love bring me some walnuts”. The apparition of their future spouse would then hopefully appear sitting in the tree.
There were of course variations to all of these superstitions, which over the last century have fallen into obscurity and Halloween as we know it today is vastly different. In any case, may all who seek it find true love, whatever day of the year it is.