Divining the Future at Samhain or Halloween in Ireland

Divining the Future and Playing Games at Halloween

A black cat crossing your path ... not necessarily a bad sign, as the Celts seem to have regarded the felines as lucky.
Bernd Biege

Looking into the future at Samhain was all par for the course in  Ireland. As a traditional Irish Halloween involved staying at home anyway this was the time to have fun and games. Some with a slightly mystical twist - divining the future was important in this (samhain) night of open channels to the other worlds. Here are some Irish hints to get a glimpse into the future at Halloween.

Divining the Weather at Halloween

One of the easiest divination rituals at Halloween must concern the weather - simply step out at midnight and note the strength and direction of the wind.

As it blows then it will blow (or not) for a few weeks to come.

Take a look at the moon too: The more clouds are hiding her, the more rain we'll have in the coming months.

Should you need further advice, simply stick a piece of wood into the nearest river. If the water rises, so will the prices over the next year. And floods will come.

Eating the Bairin Breac

Should you prefer to stay in (or be totally uninterested in either weather or the cost of living), simply sit down with the bairin breac, the "Halloween Cake". This is a sweet bread with a ring baked into it. Whoever finds the ring while munching his or her portion will be lucky for a year. Or visit a dentist to repair a broken tooth.

In the old days, all sorts of stuff were baked into the bairin breac, besides the ring a penny, a button, a thimble, a piece of wood and a piece of cloth. Not all were positive signs. The ring denoted an upcoming marriage, the penny monetary gain, the button the continuation of a bachelor's carefree life, the thimble a destiny as an old spinster, the piece of wood spousal abuse and the cloth destitution.

Going Nuts or Spilling the Beans

To prevent at least spousal abuse another method was employed - two nuts were "christened" with the names of a prospective couple and then thrown into the fire. A happy, quiet future awaited the pair if the nuts burned away in silence. If they started to snap, crackle or pop the marriage would be interesting, to say the least.

In Kerry beans were used in a similar way, again christened, heated and then thrown into the water. If both sunk, all was well. If only one sunk marriage would not happen. And two swimming beans denoted a turbulent marriage to come.

Dip into the Future

The not exclusively positive news could also be gathered by using four plates and filling those with water, a ring, clay, and salt respectively. The person wanting to know about their prospects is then led into the room, blindfolded, and asked to dip his or her hand into one plate.

Obviously, the ring denoted marriage. But what did the other three stand for? Well, salt meant prosperity, water a long journey (or emigration) and clay ... an early grave.

Casting the Leaden Oracle

Another way to glimpse into times to come was the time-honored practice of melting lead and then pouring it (through a key) into cold water. The resulting surrealistic forms were then interpreted by everyone. Presumably, while the person holding the key was bandaging their fingers. This is called "molybdomancy" if you want to sound really fancy!

Games People Play

Some games usually played at samhain or Halloween have stood the test of time and are still popular. Though sometimes modified to be less critical to health and safety.

The name snapapple already describes this game and sets out the only rule - you have to snap for the apple. A wooden cross is hung from the rafters, horizontally and from a central string. Like a ceiling fan. Two opposite arms of this cross are fitted with apples, the other two with burning candles. The cross was then set spinning and a player tasked to bite into an apple without using the hands, obviously risking singed eyebrows in the process. In modern times, the candles were often replaced with unwashed potatoes ... or a sponge soaked with vinegar and Tabasco sauce.

Bobbing for Apples
Everybody knows this game - in a large bowl or bathtub apples are floating in water, you have to get one out using your mouth only. Cue deluge and wet players. A variation to provide an even greater challenge was some coins at the bottom, to be fished out by the same method.

Cue near-drownings

Shaving the Friar
This game was especially popular in ​County Meath. You took some (cold) ashes, formed them into a cone and stuck a small piece of wood into the top. Then you took turns to "dig" as much ash as possible from the pike without toppling the wood over. And you had to keep digging as long as it took to chant "Shave the poor friar and draw a little nigher!" Obviously, he (or she) who topples the wood is the instant loser. And he (or she) who managed to get the most ash was declared the winner.