Halloween Divination Games
Tradition holds that Halloween is the time when the veil between this world and the spirit world is at its thinnest. This thin boundary allowed spirits to wander freely between these two worlds on this special night. These spirits had the power to help or harm and being spirits, were aware of things mere mortals were not. Those who knew how to properly communicate with the spirits could be shown their future.
This communication, once limited to sacred ceremony, was transformed into games of divination by Victorians who popularized the Halloween parties we all love to attend today.
The most traditional of Halloween parties started their festivities with Halloween Pudding or Barmbrack Cake. This special type of fruit cake was baked with five different types of objects inside meant to divine the future of the recipient: a ring, for marriage within the year; a penny, for wealth within the year; a thimble, if they will be an old maid or a bachelor; a button, if they will soon find a sweetheart; and a key, if they will take a journey.
The cake was traditionally placed on a plate decorated with lace paper and displayed at the center of the refreshments table where guests could make a wish for the desired outcome.
At precisely 9 pm everyone gathered around the table as the oldest person at the party cut the cake for the guests. It was considered especially lucky if that person was tall and good looking. Complete silence was crucial during the slicing of the cake because the first word spoken by anyone was considered to be prophecy of the future. Almost invariably someone would speak during the slicing and conjecture as to the prophetic nature of the first word would be a great source of amusement during the rest of the party.
The person cutting the cake was to also remain absolutely silent for the outcome to be true and was not to give any sign that he or she may know what the slices of cake contain, though it was common for them to direct the slice with the appropriate object to the "correct" guest.
If the person cutting the cake was a woman she would be called Mother or Dame Halloween for the evening and would then lead the rest of the party's games.
Young girls who wished to marry but weren't lucky enough to get the slice of cake with the ring in it would often try to take a bit of the cake home. This bit of cake was known as a dream cake. If she could succeed in getting a young man to give her a piece of the lace paper the cake sat on to wrap her dream cake in before all the cake was gone, without asking or anyone knowing her intentions, she would dream of the man she was to marry and would be married within the year.
Luck and love were the focus of a game called Saucer Luck. Three saucers would be placed on a table. In one saucer clear water is poured, in the next soapy water. The final saucer is left empty. In turn, each person would be blindfolded and led to the table. He or she would be told to reach out with their left hand and put his or her fingers into one of the saucers.
If he or she placed their fingers into the clear water she would be assured good luck through the coming year. If she placed her fingers in the soapy water she will marry an old but rich man. If she placed her fingers in the empty saucer she would have no luck at all.
Another version of the game called "The Three Plates" had a slightly different outcome based on which plate they touched. In this version, if they touched the plate with clear water then their future spouse would be young and handsome and a bachelor or maid. If they touched the dirty water their future spouse would be a widow or a widower. If they touched the empty plate they would remain single. In this version the whole process was repeated three times with the plates rearranged between each attempt to prove the divination's truth.
Nut Burning is a game played among friends to determine who will remain friends and who will drift apart. Each person is given a nut. They name their nuts after themselves and place them next to each other on the hot coals of a fire. If they burn together, they are destined to be good friends. If they pop and jump apart then the friendship is destined to fail.
Another popular variation of this game is to give each guest two nuts. The guest names one nut for themself and another for the object of their affections. If the nuts burn quietly along side one another then love will grow. If the nuts part then the relationship is doomed.
Fortune is a variation of Nut Burning where an engaged couple each throws a nut, usually a hazelnut, into the hot coals of a fire. If the nuts split with a loud cracking noise then their marriage would be a strong and passionate one. If the nuts only burned, then their love would fade.
Another variation of this game comes to a different conclusion about the results. In it, if the nuts only burn, the relationship will be happy and content. If one pops and cracks there will be trouble in the relationship.
Another game involving nuts is Walnut Cracking, where guests would be given a walnut to crack open. If the walnut cracked neatly into two equal sections, the guest would be lucky in love. If the walnut broke into many pieces the guest was destined for a shattered relationship.
As with nuts, many divination games revolved around apples. In this game young girls sat in a darkened room in front of a mirror and with a single candle to the side. The girl would slowly peel the apple while staring into the mirror and if she was destined to marry, the face of her husband would appear in the mirror. If she was destined to die before she married a skull would appear in the mirror.
In another variation of this game the apple must be peeled, then sectioned, and the last section thrown over the left shoulder before the face of the future husband appears.
A third version foregoes the mirror and candle. An apple is peeled in a continuous strip. The strip is tossed over the left shoulder. The letter it forms shows the first initial of your true love.
Apple Hunt is one of the great mixing games of the Victorian era. One apple per guest is hidden in out-of-the-way places throughout the house. Each girl is given a small basket and told to find her apple. The young girls head off into the darkened house.
The girls, knowing that every dark corner on Halloween can hold a ghost or goblin become "scared" and scream every time they encounter a dark location. The young men of the party are then encouraged to go find the frightened girls and help them find their apples.
Once the young people have been paired up and the apples found, the divination comes with the paring of the skin and counting of the apple seeds.
If the apple can be pared with the skin in one piece and thrown over the left shoulder, remaining intact and in the shape of a ring, then good luck will follow.
The seeds are then found and as they are counted the words are spoken and the relationship's future revealed:
- One, I love
- Two, I love
- Three, I love, I say
- Four, I love with all my heart, and
- Five, I cast away
- Six, He (or she) loves
- Seven, She (or he) loves
- Eight, both love
- Nine, he (or she) comes
- Ten, he (or she) tarries
- Eleven, he courts, and
- Twelve, he marries
Spin the Apple
In this game strings were tied to the stems of apples. Party guests would spin their apples above the fire. Whoever held the apple that fell into the fire first would be the first to marry in the coming year.
Bite the Apple
There are many variations of Bobbing for Apples. One version, a dry version, often goes by Bite the Apple. In this game a coin is inserted into an apple and hung from a thread tied to the stem. The apple is set to swinging and guests, using only their mouth, take turns trying to bite the apple. The first to succeed gets to keep the apple and the coin and will have a prosperous future.
Eating the Apple at the Glass
This game was always played at the stroke of midnight. Young people would be directed into a room by themselves with a mirror and an apple. There they cut the apple into small slices. One would be thrown over the left shoulder and then without looking back they walk toward the mirror while eating the rest of the apple and gently combing their hair. While they were doing this the face of the person they were to marry would be seen in the mirror peeking over their left shoulder.
Perhaps the most involved divination game is The Chest. This is played at the stroke of midnight. All the girls are gathered together in a dark room. Mother or Dame Halloween (see Halloween Pudding above) lights a candle and each girl is given an unlit candle. One by one they light their candle from Mother Halloween's and they are told to follow her leader. As she says this a side door is opened revealing a small child dressed in a fancy costume and mask. The child approaches the girl, bows, and then leads the way out of the room to a distant part of the house where there is a closed door.
The child tells her that she must enter and take a numbered box from a chest of drawers in the room but not open it. She must continue in silence and close the door behind her on the way in and out. After she has retrieved the box and if she has luck, on the way back to the door she will see the shadow of her future husband walking beside her.
Once the girls are back to the party they may open their boxes, inside are small presents or party favors.
The key to this game is in preparation. The room must be prepared in advance, cleared of everything but the chest of drawers, and it must be completely dark. The door to this room should remain closed and no guests allowed to enter. During the evening the hosts would plant ideas as to what dark, ominous, or even dangerous things are inside the room so as to scare the young girls and test their bravery when they entered.