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Friday, October 26, 2012

If in the Mirror Your Lover is Seen, You'll Surely be Happy on Hallowe'en

I just love this time of year! For me, Halloween kicks off a whole season of celebrations that goes on until New Year's Day. Here in Virginia, fall is a treat for the senses, a combination of colors and scents and sounds and perfect weather for outdoor activities that gets me in a festive mood. This year I've had even more fun sifting through Victorian and Edwardian Halloween ephemera for our new release, At the Sign of the Jack O' Lantern. When I think of Halloween today, I think of trick-or-treaters, carving pumpkins, and scary stories, but I'd never thought of Halloween as being a romantic holiday or a time of good fortune. So I was surprised to find so many vintage Halloween postcards (the sending of which was another popular tradition of old) spouting wishes of good luck and romantic revelations.

Though the commercialism of Halloween has mostly overtaken October 31, the holiday's roots are derived from the ancient Gaelic festival of Samhain. Occurring at the halfway point between the autumn equinox and the winter solstice, the Samhain festival marks the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter. It was a time to take stock in and celebrate the bounty of the harvest and ask for blessings for the coming "dark season." According to a long tradition of Gaelic folklore, the veil between the living world and the spirit world is at its weakest point on Samhain. Many Halloween traditions still in place today originated from Gaelic methods of protecting themselves from evil spirits, but it was believed that some of those spirits could be useful as well, for what better time is there to attempt to divine one's future than when the spirits are nearest to help?

Flip through literature, artwork, and various other ephemera and you can easily see that the Gaelic superstitions were still held in high regard come Hallowe'en celebration time in the Victorian Era. Divination games were immensely popular during this time when Spiritualism was gaining a strong following, and more respect was given to the idea that spirits roamed the earth looking for ways to communicate with the living. During Samhain, divination efforts were mostly centered on predicting the weather or next year's harvest, but for the Victorians the most popular Hallowe'en games involved predicting one's romantic future.

Over the years people have played divination games using many different mediums including bowls of water, molten lead, and ashes. In the Victorian Era, mirrors reigned supreme as the best methods to discover one's true love on Hallowe'en. Many a young lady stood in a darkened room with a candle and a mirror hoping her future husband's face would appear in the mirror. Because Samhain is a harvest festival, the fruits of the harvest also played a large role in celebrations and even in divination--nuts, beans, and apples have all been used to forecast the future. Potential couples tossed nuts into the fire to see if they cracked and exploded for a tempestuous relationship, or if they burned together slowly for long-lasting companionship. Couples also tossed a pair of hot beans into a pot of water--if they both sank the couple could hope for a happy future, if they both floated the couple could expect troubled waters, and if one sank and one didn't, they could expect not to marry at all.

But apples made for the most fun at parties and can still be found at Halloween parties today. Bobbing for them could divine the future in different ways: some believed the first to get an apple would be the first to marry, others wrote names on their apples and the apple one caught would be their future mate. Older couples would face off against each other with apples suspended on strings from the ceiling, each attempting to be the first to bite it, and getting very close to each other in the process. But the practice of "reading" apple peels has been around the longest:

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.

People had fun paring an apple into one continuous trip, tossing it over their shoulder, and trying to determine what letter the peeling formed the shape of to determine what their true love's first name began with.

So if you're planning a Halloween celebration, think about adding a little history and mystery to your party with one or two of these simple divination games. Or if you'd rather sit back and enjoy a good Halloween story, check out our new spooky romantic comedy release, At the Sign of the Jack O' Lantern, which features a quirky cast of superstitious characters and an entire collection of gorgeous full-color vintage Halloween postcards. And I'll leave you with my own wishes for your good fortune:

Witchcraft is due on Hallowe'en,
May it bring good luck upon the scene.

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