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Samhain Rituals and Games

Stones with a personal mark were thrown into the fire. These had to be retrieved from the ashes to ensure luck for the coming year, if your stone was missing or damaged it was considered a sign of forthcoming bad luck. 

Also known as 'Nutcrack Night', because it was a popular custom at Samhain to throw nuts on the fire - if a nut burned brightly it meant that the thrower would be alive in twelve months time, and if it flared up brightly it meant marriage within twelve months.
To see if a relationship will last, place two hazelnuts side by side and burn them over a fire. If they stay together as they burn then the couple will last, but if the nuts burst apart the relationship will break up.

Baked cakes were offered up for the souls of the dead. All the family would eat the festival Soul cakes - known as 'barnbrack' cakes in Ireland - which often contained lucky or unlucky tokens : a coin for fortune, a button for remaining unwed, a ring for marriage, a wishbone for your heart's desire, a pea for poverty.

The Ivy Leaf predition: everyone in the house places a perfect ivy leaf into a cup of water and then leave them undisturbed overnight. In the morning if a leaf is still perfect and has not developed any spotting, this predicts that the person who placed the leaf in the cup will enjoy 12 months health until the following Halloween. If not...

In Scotland the fishermen would wade into the sea at Samhain and pour out a bowl of ale into the waves for the 'Shoney' - a sea serpent-like being, to ensure a good catch for the coming year.

At Balmoral on Halloween night, during Queen Victoria's time a bonfire was lit and an effigy of an old woman called the Shandy Dann was indicted with witchcraft, then thrown onto the fire.

At the Forest of Pendle in North Lancashire, at Samhain a ceremony called the 'Lating the Witches' took place. Locals believed witches gathered here on this auspicious night, so lit candles were carried over the hills between 11 p.m and midnight - lighting the witches or 'lating' them. If a candle stayed lit then the witches' power was broken, but if it went out - blown out by a witch - bad luck may follow.

If any animals were suffering ill health on All Hallows Eve, then the farmer would spit on them to try to ward off any evil spirits that may take them.
On the morning of November 1st a silver coin was thrown through the front door of the house. The coin had to remain where it had fallen in order to bring financial luck.

Halloween lanterns

The tradition of face-carved pumpkin lanterns is thought to be derived from the Celts' placing of ancestors' skulls outside their doors at this time. Others see it as originating from using lanterns to ward off any evil spirits, which may be wandering through the thin veil into the living world on this All Hallows Eve.

The lit pumpkins also symbolise that in the darkness of winter the light continues within the seeds, tubers and bulbs dormant under the earth - they are still full of life and glowing like the candles within the pumpkins.

The name Jack O'Lantern derives from an old Irish tale of a villain who after he died could not enter heaven or hell - a damned soul. So he was condemned to wander the land with only a candle to see his way (some say it was a hot ember from the devil), which he placed inside a gouged out vegetable to act as a lantern. Others believe Jack-O-Lantern was a mischievous spirit who carried a light at night and lures night travellers into bogs or marshes, which were the dwelling places of fairies. 

The Jack O' Lantern used to be made from a turnip, but Irish emigrants to America adopted the plentiful pumpkin since it is much easier to carve. In the Isle of Man they still carve turnips to make lanterns and call the night 'Hop To Naa', not Hallowe’en, or Trick or Treating.

Samhain Divining

Samhain was a time for divination and magic, the Druids would foretell the future on this powerful night.

Many of the customs were performed by young people divining for their future husbands and wives - apples often figured; their connection with fertility is widely recognised :

An old belief is that by peeling an apple on Hallowe'en and keeping the peel in one piece, then throwing it over your shoulder you will discover the initials of a future lover. 

By candlelight go alone to a mirror and eat an apple before it, whilst combing your hair. Your future love will be seen in the glass over your shoulder.

Ducking or bobbing for apples was a marriage divination. The first person to bite an apple would be the first to marry in the coming year. 'Dookin’ for apples' is thought to have originated from a Druidical rite associated with water.

Young girls would stick apple pips to the outside of her cheek, with each one standing for her sweethearts. The last pip that stayed stuck was her true love.

Blindfolded girls would go into the fields and pull up the first cabbage they could find. If their cabbage had lots of earth attached to its roots then their future sweetheart would have plenty of money. If they later ate the cabbage it would also reveal their future love's character - bitter or sweet! 

In Ireland a popular Halloween game was when a blindfolded person would sit at a table on which were placed several saucers. They choose one by touch, after they have been shuffled about the table. The contents of the saucer foretell the person's fate for the following year :
water means the person will travel, a coin or salt indicates future wealth, earth/clay means someone known to the player will die next year, a bean predicts poverty and a ring meant marriage.


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