Halloween and Fortune Telling
Today, we do not have as much emphasis placed on fortune telling with the celebration of Halloween as once was the case. In the beginnings of the holiday in this country, fortune telling was one of the most important events. There weren’t Halloween parties and parades or costumes and trick or treating, but many a girl in the late 1800’s and turn of the 1900’s would be sitting in her parlor dropping a hazel nut in the coals of her fire that she has named for the one she loves. If it burns completely to ashes, he would be her true love.
There were many Halloween charms practiced and they all dealt with romanticism and finding ones future mate. Some were quite odd, such as going out at midnight and pulling kale by the roots; if it came up by its roots complete than your love was true and you would marry. Others are somewhat familiar to us, a woman looking into a mirror at midnight expecting to see the face of her love. (Remember the baby boomer version of this, a slightly twisted variety? Bloody Mary?) Many of these charms are illustrated in antique Halloween postcards.
In the 1910s and 1920s Halloween parties became the vogue. 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. Take water and flour and make dough, write on slips of paper names of several opposite friends; roll papers into balls of dough and drop them into water. First names to appear will be future husband or wife.
Also around the turn of the century there was great interest in Spiritualism and although most games were still focused on love and marriage, fortune telling items and games not strictly “Halloween” became popular. Surely, these too were used at Halloween. 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.
Other very popular collected fortune telling games are different versions of the Fortune Teller as seen here. The first was from the turn of the century, the last, The Fortune Teller from the 1930s.
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 lays ahead for him.
Other popular party fortune telling games were Halloween “punchboards.” These were cardboard pieces with many holes. These 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.
Spinner fortune games in which one would use a spinner to point to ones 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 is called “What the Stars Say.”
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.
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. 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?