All Hallows Eve Explained in Godey’s Lady’s Book in 1873

All Hallows Eve (October 31), was anciently kept with cheerful sociability in many rural households, by the rich and the poor. It was an occasion that seemed to mark the close of the harvest season, and the beginning of winter, the time of home delights, when the comforts of a well-to-do life are enjoyed. There was, moreover, a superstitious notion that on this particular night of the year (as on the Walpurgis-Nacht in Germany; which is made such a strange, wild time in Goethe’s “Faust”) all the fiends, imps, goblins, witches, and other unblessed agents of supernatural power would come out and frisk about the world till daylight or cockcrow.

Hence it was supposed to be a most favorable occasion for divining people’s fortunes, by different methods of conjuration or chance experiment. In every shire of England, Scotland, Wales, and Ireland, some customs of this kind have prevailed within the memory of persons still living.

Godey’s Lady’s Book— Louis Antoine Godey began publishing Godey’s Lady’s Book in 1830. He designed his monthly magazine specifically to attract the growing audience of literate American women. The magazine was intended to entertain, inform, and educate the women of America.

The well-known poem of Burns, for instance, describes how:

“Some merry, friendly countra folks
Together did convene,
To burn their nits, an’ pou their stocks,
An’ haud their Halloween
Full blythe that night.”

The fairies of Celtic fancy are more frolicsome than wicked, and there is something graceful and amiable in the Irish popular superstitions, compared with the ghastly horrors of Teutonic and Scandinavian tradition. We cannot, however, dwell here upon the stories told and believed around the Irish peasant farmer’s turf-fire on this night.

The various games and freakish trials of chance or skill which are then exhibited, and in which the young men and maidens all perform, to the amusement, no doubt, of the old men and children, will bear comparison with those described by the Ayrshire poet. There is dipping for sixpences to be caught up with the teeth at the bottom of a tub of water. There is bobbing for apples, fastened, alternately with lighted candles, around a hoop, suspended and kept twirling at the level of the lips, so that one risks being burnt in the attempt to snatch a morsel. There is, of course, the prescribed ordeal of burning pairs of chestnuts to represent pairs of lovers, and to show which of the two is destined to bounce off, or whether they shall remain constant to each other in one steady flame of affection.

But the Irish festive fortune-tempters have another method peculiar to themselves. Three or four saucers are placed on the table, in one of which is laid a ring, which denotes marriage; in the second a lump of clay, signifying death; and into the third is poured water, the meaning of which is the sea— that is, emigration across the Atlantic. There may be a fourth saucer, containing salt, which means that the person is to be preserved, during the year, from all those fates. A man or woman is blindfolded, and the saucers are then changed or shifted, after which he or she is bidden to lay hands upon one of them. The one so accidentally touched is a sure token of what will befall him or her within the next twelve months.

Publication: Godey’s Lady’s Book
Date: October, 1873

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