Halloween Superstitions and Romance


A surprising number of Halloween superstitions revolve around romance, and of those, many have to do with predicting the future romance, love, and marriage of wishful thinking young women. Rituals developed that bestowed amazing powers of clairvoyance upon mundane objects from fruits to nuts and more, and normally boring workaday tasks, such as cooking, baking, and even going to sleep. The majority of these routines developed in Ireland, Scotland and England, and as large groups of Irish, Scottish and English emigrated to the United States in the 19th century, the belief in such rituals accompanied them.

Back in the old country and then for years in America, belief in such fortune telling was deadly serious. In later years and specifically after the turn of the 20th century, they became seen more as parlor games and sources of entertainment. In fact, a 1914 issue of Ladies
Home Journal contained an article that told party-givers that no Halloween soiree was complete without such old time "games and stunts".

Some such superstitious rituals and beliefs were complicated and detailed, with guides passed down from forbearers needed for a proper interpretation. Others were rather basic, such as the placing of three bowls in front of a blindfolded person, one bowl with clear, clean water, one with dirty water, and one empty. The person then places their hand in one bowl, and if the one with clear water is chosen, that person will find an attractive and desirable partner, if the dirty water is chosen, the true love will
already be married, and if the empty bowl is selected, then the person will remain unattached.

Nuts were seen as possessing extra-special clairvoyant abilities, in particular the walnut. One particularly popular ritual involved separating the nut from intact half-shells, placing candles of various colors in the shells and secured with wax, and floating them in a large tub. Participating couples were assigned "nut boats" designated by the color of the candle, and the course their particular boats
took would determine the assigned couples' futures. If the couples two boats sailed side by side, their futures would be together, but if they drifted apart, so would their relationship. In a race, the first boat to reach shore - the other side of the tub - would be the first to marry, and, heaven forbid, if your candle went out, you were doomed to a life without a mate. Even worse, if your boat became stranded, separated from all the others, then they believed that you were to become an outcast from society. He whose candle was glowed the longest would have the longest life, but if your walnut boat sank, well, you can just guess that person's expected fate.

Many types of nuts met a painful end providing their fortunes by being burned in fires. Walnuts,
Chestnuts and Hazelnuts, for example, frequently had such fates. Hazelnuts, for instance, were picked to represent a pair of lovers, and tossed into a fire. An exploding hazelnut was said to mean unfaithfulness, while one that simply burned with a bright glow denoted true and lasting love. If a pair of Chestnuts were sent into the flames, if was said that if one were to burst, the relationship would be short-
lived and contentious, while if the two nuts burned as one, close together until the end, so would the couple they represented. Nuts that crackled meant to such early Halloween revelers that the represented couple would frequently quarrel, while those that burned with high, bright flames meant passionate love. When a couples' two nuts were placed side-by-side, if one were to fly up in the air from a burst of heat, that was said to mean future desertion.

Vegetables were also given mystical powers of prognostication, and numerous rituals grew up utilizing various harvest-time selections. One of interest was an English custom know as "scalding the peas", which involved sticking a lone bean into a pea pod, cooked with all the other unaltered pods. He who was served the pod with the bean was thought to be in line for everything good in life. There was another ritual involving beans and peas, in which a handful of peas is dropped into a pot of beans, and then stirred as the person cooking the concoction looks away. The cook then lifts out a spoonful and if there is a pea among the beans, good luck will ensue. A variation of that is where the pot of peas and beans is served, and which ever diner finds a pea in with their beans will marry within a year.

Kale was the vegetable that was the vehicle for one of the weirder rituals of the Halloween of
yore, as developed from an older Scottish tradition: A couple would walk through a field of kale stocks with their eyes closed, and feel for the plants. They would pick the first kale they felt, and the degree if difficulty in uprooting it would determine their future together - the easier the kale was pulled from the ground, the easier it would be for the gentleman to win his future mate's heart. And vice versa.

Amongst the vegetables involved in such Halloween rituals was of course, the pumpkin. One such practice was to carve all the letters of
the alphabet on the outside of a pumpkin, and then give a pin to a blindfolded maiden, who would point it at the pumpkin, and the two letters she first pointed to would be the initials of her true love. Fruits, of course, had their rituals as well. One was where young women would rub the posts of their beds with two pieces of lemon. They would then go to sleep, and their intended lover would appear in their dreams, bearing fresh lemons for them. Several rituals involved the apple, which since the days of the Roman Empire had been viewed as a symbol of love and fertility. One variation of "Snap Apple" required that several apples be suspended from the ceiling, usually with ribbons, and young women attempted to snag one in their mouth, the first to do so being deemed the first of the group to marry. A more dangerous
variation of this utilized a long stick, with an apple fastened to one side and a lighted candle to the other. The stick, also suspended from the ceiling, was spun around, and a lady with her hands bound would try to take a bite from the apple, while not being singed by the candle. Bite the apple, and love would be yours, get burned, and you were also burned in life and in love. Another apple-involved
ritual required women to peel an apple, and then throw the peel over her shoulder. They would then look for their future lover's initials in the pile of peel on the floor. No visible initial was said to mean no marriage.

The more common yet today "Bobbing for Apples" was in the past an activity undertaken by young men who happily stuck their faces into a large kettle of water, striving to pick out with their teeth the specific apple bearing the name of the young lady whom they preferred to have so nominated as their intended. Often, the apple would be cut open and the seeds counted, with specific meanings, such as travel, wealth, sickness, number of children, fame and the like, attached to the number of seeds found.

Even blades of grass had their own Halloween rituals. One was to walk outside backwards at the stroke of midnight, and pick up three blades of grass. The person would wrap the grass in orange paper, and
put it beneath their pillow, ensuring that their dreams that night would come true.

Finally, the Sine Quo None of Halloween superstitions involving romance was the need for baking more and more gingerbread men, due to the practice of young ladies eating as many of the tasty Halloween treats as they could, due to the belief that doing so would guarantee them finding their true life romantic mate for life.

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