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The following is a fun and fascinating contribution from a guest author who really did her homework. Enjoy!
Once upon a time, telling the future was an integral part of Samhain (in Celtic times), and then Halloween (particularly in the late 1800s, at spooky, ultra-phantasmic parties).
We think it’s time to revive a few fun, fascinating and fortune-filled old customs. Today we talk about all things fortune telling, and how you can make your own Halloween party all the spookier AND more, well, telling this year.
In American Victorian times, fortune telling was one of the most important events at any Halloween gathering.
While “begging” for treats and dressing in costumes was still a few decades in the future, many a 19th to early 20th century maiden could be spotted be sitting in her parlor dropping a hazel nut in the coals of her fire on All Hallow’s Eve. (She’d have named the nut for the one she loved; if it burned completely, he was sure to always be true.)
The traditions were many, and one or two survived, even to the present day.
Some old-time charms have disappeared into the mists of history, many have been revived by books and neo-pagan traditions, as well as a general fascination with all things vintage. In their earliest incarnations, these nearly always focused on love, marriage and other coming-of-age areas of interest.
A few of these old traditions are so easy, you can incorporate them into your Halloween party today with just a few simple ingredients. For example, check out these Victorian charms (make them a part of your next spooky gathering!):
A late 19th century marriage-ready girl might peer into a mirror at midnight expecting to see the face of her love. (Remember Bloody Mary, the twisted side to this sort of scrying?)
And “he loves me, he loves me not” with flower petals hearkens to just such love rituals. This is a simple incantation that can be done any time, anywhere but can take on special significance if you sit in a candle-lit dark room on Halloween and take turns slowly pulling the petals.
Party games were now fashioned with the same goals in mind as the old charms. In the 1912 book Games For Hallow-e’en by Mary E. Blain, one such game is the Dough Test. Here’s how: take water and flour and make dough; write on slips of paper names of several opposite friends; and roll papers into balls of dough and drop them into water. The first names to appear will be the future husband or wife.
The Spirits are Rising: Party “Games” Evolve
Also around the turn of the century, there was great interest in spiritualism, including seances to communicate with those gone on to loftier but perhaps restless pastures.
At this time, although most games were still focused on love and marriage, fortune telling items and games not strictly “Halloween” became popular. Many Halloween party guides of the era, such as the Dennison Bogie Book, suggest having someone perform as a gypsy, or crone, and read the tarot.
Today many Halloween collectors also collect all sorts of fortune telling items. One of the most coveted is the Sybil Fortune Telling Doll, seen here in her original turn of the century composition version and in her 1930s cardboard litho version.
In the 1930s cake charms became popular. You can still buys these at some party or novelty stores today. The idea is that you bake these into a cake, and when a guest finds a particular charm in his piece he checks it against the list of fortunes to see what lie ahead for him.
Other popular party fortune telling games were Halloween “punchboards.” These were cardboard pieces with multiple holes. The holes were filled with tightly rolled scrolls of fortunes and covered by a decorative paper front and a paper back. A metal peg was provided so you could punch the fortune through the paper. (This can be a VERY fun craft to make for your next Halloween party.)
Spinner fortune games in which one would use a spinner to point to one’s fortune were also popular. In one version the spinner may point to a symbol that would correspond to an accompanying chart or directly to the fortune.
In other versions the player may be required to do a stunt in order to get his fortune, thereby making the game more entertaining. Some of these spinner type games were Fortune By the Luminous Cat, Whirl-O, and Spin-O-Rama.
Two other interesting versions are a metal spinning fortune top and a metal disc that spins to reveal a window with a fortune underneath. This Halloween fortune game was called “What the Stars Say.” (You can make your own simple version of any of these games by drawing a circle pie-wedge divided, with fortunes written on each wedge; and a pendulum on a chain or dice to land on a pie wedge.)
Most of these games remained popular through the early 1950s and then seemed to lose favor, bowing to a more sanitized Halloween. The new era of Halloween party played more musical chairs and telephone, listened to a spooky story, or played the Grand Prize game.
A Fortunate Revival
Today’s Halloween party goers are once again enjoying the fun and mysticism of fortune telling. They bring their Ouija boards out, bring along a deck of tarot cards, perhaps the hostess bakes a cake with the charms in it or invites a psychic to foretell the future. And of course, tarot cards are more popular than ever.
Halloween collectors eagerly seek fortune telling items and Halloween games for their collections, some antique fortune telling games are extremely valuable. An antique McLoughlin Brothers lithographed fortune telling game, The Mystic Wanderer, recently sold on eBay for $820.
Perhaps you will be wooed to the mystic side of our favorite holiday. What is in the cards for you?