Halloween originated in the Celtic celebration of the passing of the summer season and beginning of the winter season. On the cusp of the new season, Celts participated in divination practices designed to reveal whether they would enjoy success or failure in the coming season. Some of these practices continued in modernized form throughout the Victorian era and into the modern day, where fortune-telling and divination games are a staple of Halloween celebrations.
Saucer and Bowl Games
In pre-modern England, the Celts played a saucer game in which certain trinkets were placed into a saucer and a player reached inside with his eyes closed. The item his hands first touched revealed the nature of his fortunes in the coming year. For example, someone who touched a ring would find romance, and someone who touched a prayer book would enter a monastery or convent. This game may be played today by teenagers or a variation may be played by people of all ages in which water is set into a bowl and each player is given a walnut shell. The player places the shell into the water and the way it floats signifies events in the coming year. For example, if the shell floats smoothly from one end of the bowl to the next, it may signify a smooth year. Other interpretations may be invented according to the whims of the players.
Dressing Up as a Fortune-teller
Charlotte Bronte’s classic novel “Jane Eyre” describes the Victorian custom of hiring fortune-tellers to liven up balls and parties. In that novel, a major character dresses as a fortune-teller and reads the palms of Jane and other guests. T To assemble a stereotypical fortune-telling costume, gather some gaudy jewelry, a long skirt, a shawl and accessories such as a crystal ball, tarot cards and tea leaves. If you are at a party with kids or teenagers, place a spin on the costume by dressing as Professor Trelawney, the famously inept clairvoyant of the “Harry Potter” books who wears multiple multicolored scarves, jangly beads and enormous glasses.
Marriage Fortune-telling Games
Halloween fortune-telling games purporting to reveal a person’s future spouse were popular in pre-industrial Europe, particularly among young women. Scottish poet Robert Burns describes how Halloween revelers would assign the names of prospective partners to hazelnuts and throw the nuts into the fire. The nuts that burned longest signified the person they would marry. Today, teenagers might reclaim the original purpose of bobbing for apples, another old fortune-telling game, by stipulating the first player to snag an apple with his teeth will marry first. Or remove the skin in one piece and throw it over your shoulder to see the initials of your future spouse.
Number and Word Games
Teenagers and adults may play a numerological divination game in which players go through a room making note of the numbers displayed in pictures, on banners and on other objects. The players observe which numbers appear most often, then read a book of numerical symbolism to ascertain what the numbers mean and what they might be saying about the futures of individual players. The poetically inclined may play the old game of opening a book of poetry at random and trying to divine future events by reading a select line or stanza. Have one person assign a page number or poem for each person present or use an online random number generator to generate a page number. The scope of the game may be widened to include non-poetry books.
- Religious Tolerance: The Myth of Samhain
- Joyce Annotated: Notes for “Dubliners” and “Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man”; Don Gifford
- The Halloween Inn: Fortune-telling Games
- History: What Is Bobbing for Apples?
- Popsugar: 101 Halloween Costumes to DIY on the Cheap
- Trick or Treat: A History of Halloween; Lisa Morton
- NPR: The Secret, Steamy History of Halloween Apples
- The Ultimate Encyclopedia of Fortune-telling; Michael Johnstone
- Photo Credit Comstock Images/Stockbyte/Getty Images
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