31 October 2011

31 October - All Hallow's Eve

Hallowe’en, possibly the second favorite holiday for children (after Christmas), and the first favorite of adults with fancy-dress fantasies.  Herein The Widow relates some of the superstitions of the day, which might make the evening merry:

[Of course, says that enlightened intellectual, Robert Burns, these things are only done by the peasantry, and "may be some entertainment to a philosophic mind to see the remains of it among the more unenlightened…"]

First of all, ring the church bells to drive away evil spirits.

If you have served Colcannon or Champ tonight, see who finds the charms - a ring, a thimble, a button, a china pig, a doll, and a coin - in their portion.  The one who finds the ring will be married within the year; the finder of the doll will have children; those who find the thimble and the button will still be a spinster and a bachelor, respectively, in the coming year; the one who finds the pig will have good luck; and the one who finds the coin will have wealth.

If you have baked a ring and a nut in a cake, remember that the one who finds the ring will marry; so too, will the finder of the nut, but his or her future spouse will be a widow or widower.  If they are already married, it indicates good luck will follow the finder.  If you also bake a key in the cake, it indicates a journey to the finder.

When a girl walks out, she will meet her future husband walking towards her [wearing a Casper the Friendly Ghost mask?]

If a young man puts nine grains of oats in his mouth and takes a walk, and continues walking until he hears the name of a girl mentioned, he will know that his future wife will have that same name (and have a mouthful of oatmeal, to boot.)

Take a handful of hempseed and go out into a field and sow it, repeating during the process: "Hempseed, I saw thee; hempseed, I saw thee; and he [or she] that is to be my true love, come after me and mow thee."  Now, summon up all your courage and look over your left shoulder.  You may see the apparition of your true love following you and reaping the hemp.

[Reaping.  You know.  With a sickle.  Or maybe a combine.  After all, this is a modern apparition.  Then explain to your father why you are scattering seeds in his newly-laid and meticulously maintained turf.]

You can find out the shape and size of your future spouse by harvesting a cabbage blindfolded.  Or to be more precise, as described by John Brand in his "Observations on the Popular Antiquities of Great Britain": "The first ceremony of Hallowe'en is each pulling a stock or plant of kail.  They must go out, hand in hand, eyes shut, and pull the first they meet with; its being big or little, straight or crooked, is prophetic of the size and shape of the grand object of all their spells - the husband or wife.  If any yird or earth stick to the root, that is tocher, or fortune; and the taste of the custoc, that is, the heart of the stem is indicative of the natural temper and disposition."

Two Hazel-Nuts I threw into the Flame,
And to each Nut I gave a Sweet-heart’s Name.
This with the loudest Bounce me sore amaz’d,
That in a Flame of brightest Colour blaz’d.
As blazed the Nut, so may thy Passion grow,
For ‘twas thy Nut that did so brightly glow!
John Gay, The Shepherd’s Week

Burning nuts is a time-honored tradition. Take three nuts, name one after yourself and the other two after men in whom you are interested, and lay all three together on the bar of the grate or in the coals.  If one of the nuts burns quietly beside the nut named for you, it means that person is true to you. [If both of the nuts burn quietly, well, lucky you! You’ve got choices to make] If the nuts bounce and fly asunder, there will be no happy relations between you and either of the men. [Move on to B list and name some more nuts]  Equally, take two nuts, name one after yourself and one after the favored suitor, or one after a friend and her favorite suitor, and toss them into the fire.  The same obtains here: if they burn together, the suitor is true; if they pop and bounce away from each other, the couple is ill-matched, and, should they marry, will just as noisily try to get away from each other.

And while we are on the subject of nuts… throw one into the fire and watch how it burns.  If it burns well, it indicates prosperity to the thrower; if it smolders and turns black, then there is no prosperity in store.

You can try again with an unbroken apple paring (as you did on Saints Simon and Jude) to find the first initial of your future spouse.  Swing the paring three times around your head, saying:

I pare this pippin round and round again,
My sweetheart’s name to flourish on the plain:
I fling the unbroken paring o’er my head,
My sweetheart’s letter on the ground is read.

Then let the paring drop, and discern the letter it makes.

Take the apple seeds, name two of them for persons in whom you are interested and place one on each cheek or on each eyelid.  The last to stay on will be true to you [No twitching or winking to help the Fates along!]

Take a candle and go alone to a looking glass; eat and apple before it, and, some traditions say, you should comb your hair all the time [yeah, right.  Have you ever tried eating an apple and combing your hair at the same time? Might want to practice first.]  The face of your conjugal companion-to-be will be seen in the glass, as if peeping over your shoulder.

Set three dishes on the floor – one empty, one with clean water, and one with dirty water.  Each person, blindfolded, approaches the dishes and places his or her left hand in one of them.  Those that dip their hand in the empty dish will remain unmarried; those that dip their hand in the dirty water will marry a widow or widower; those that dip their hand in the clean water will marry a bachelor or spinster. [Ahem! On behalf of widows everywhere, I take offense at being likened to dirty water!]

Take a ball of blue yarn [BLUE, mind you] and throw it out of the window after dark, holding on to one end of the yarn.  Then wind it over your hand from left to right, or widdershins, and repeat the Creed backward [uh-huh.  For those of you who even know the Creed, try saying it backwards, WITHOUT LOOKING AT THE PRINTED WORD. Not so easy, is it?]  If the charm works, the end of the yarn still outside the window will be held by someone so that you can wind no more around your hand.  If you then ask, "Who holds?" the name of your sweetheart should be wafted through the window.

As Peascods once I pluck’d, I chanc’d to see
One that was closely fill’d with three times three,
Which when I crop’d, I safely home convey’d,
And o’er my Door the Spell in secret laid.
My Wheel I turn’d, and sung a Ballad new,
While from the Spindle I the Fleeces drew;
The Latch mov’d up, when who should first come in,
But in his proper Person…
John Gay, The Shepherd’s Week

You can find out the name of your future spouse by finding a peascod [yes, that is the original packaging of peas; they don't grow in frozen food boxes] with exactly nine peas.  Write the following on a slip of paper: "Come in my dear, and do not fear", place the paper inside the peascod, and place the peascod under the door.  Mind the next person to come in through that door, for you will certainly marry someone with the same name.  [I think this one was invented by a mother who was trying to convince her daughter to shell enough peas for dinner.  Find exactly nine peas in a pod?  Must have taken a tidy few peascods to find that!]

To know if you will have the man of your dreams: take two lemon peels and carry them around all day in your pockets (under your armpits, says another. That should be interesting); at night, rub the four posts of the bedstead with them.  If you are to succeed, the person will appear in your dreams and give you a couple of lemons.  If he does not, then there is no hope.

After the party is over and your guests are gone, hang your smock before the fire [a slip would be the modern equivalent. A nightshirt would do], and sit concealed in a corner all night.  The apparition of your future spouse should come down the chimney and turn the smock [Santa? Is that you?]

Wet the sleeve of a shirt and hang it on a chair before the fire, as if to dry [the modern equivalent, if you have no fireplace in your bedroom, would be to hang it over the radiator or the forced-air grate].  Then go to bed, but do not go to sleep.  About midnight, you may see your future intended enter the room and turn the drying shirt.  If perchance, you don’t see anybody, it is probably because you allowed yourself to fall asleep, even if ‘just for a second’, and so missed him.

Put a small sliver of wood into a glass of water, and place the glass on your nightstand.  You may dream of falling from a bridge into a river, but don’t worry!  Your future spouse, whose face you can plainly see, will jump in and rescue you. [oh please, let him look like Eric Fleming!]

And of course, there is the Dumb-Cake, which, for Hallowe’en, is made of an eggshell-full of salt, the same of wheat meal, and the same of barley meal.  It must be made into a dough without using spring water [well water, perhaps?  Carbonated soda?  Leftover punch from the party?]  Unlike most of the other nights when a Dumb-Cake is fixed, any number of young women may join in the making and baking.  Each person takes a turn at rolling it out; after the final roll, when it is thin and broad, each person marks the initials of her name on some part of the cake, well separated from the initials of others.  Set the cake before the fire (or on the unlit stove).  Each person now takes a seat in the room, as far from the cake as the room allows. This must be done soon after eleven o’clock at night (23:00); between that time and midnight (24:00), each person must turn the cake once.  Above all, there must be NO TALKING, from start to finish.  Soon after midnight, the husband of the one who will be the first to marry will appear and lay his hand on that part of the cake marked with her initials.  (The charm doesn’t say if the husbands of subsequent brides will also appear in order.)

There are other superstitions about bonfires and throwing stones into them to see who will die within the coming year, but that is not something The Widow cares to investigate, and so she will leave that topic.

More Hallowe'en superstitions here and here.

I don't think I've seen this method of bobbing for apples.  Is the bobber trusting his friend to hold the board in place, so that he doesn't pitch head-first into the tub?  Greater trust hath no man...