Celtic Halloween, commonly known as Samhain (pronounced “sow-in”), is a festival that marks the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter. It is celebrated from sunset on October 31st to sunset on November 1st. Samhain is considered one of the four major Celtic festivals, along with Imbolc, Beltane, and Lughnasadh. It was believed that during Samhain, the veil between the living and the spirit world was at its thinnest, allowing for easier communication with the deceased.
Divination played a significant role in the Samhain celebrations, as it was a time when people sought guidance for the coming year and tried to predict future events. Here are some of the traditional Celtic divination practices associated with Samhain:
- Apple Bobbing: This is perhaps one of the most well-known Samhain divination games. Apples would be floated in a tub of water, and participants would try to catch one using only their teeth. It was believed that the first person to bite into an apple would be the next to marry.
- Nut Divination: People would place nuts in a fire, representing themselves and their loved ones or potential suitors. The behavior of the nuts in the fire (whether they popped, burned quietly, or jumped away from each other) was interpreted to predict the outcome of relationships.
- Mirror Divination: Young women would sometimes look into a mirror in a darkened room, hoping to catch a glimpse of their future husbands. However, there was also a belief that if they saw a skull, it meant they would die before they married.
- Dream Divination: It was believed that dreams on Samhain night were prophetic. To encourage dreams about future spouses, some young women would place a sprig of rosemary and a silver coin under their pillows.
- Egg Whites in Water: A method called “alectromancy” involves dropping egg whites into a glass of water. The shapes that formed were interpreted to predict the future.
- Tossing Shoes: Some would toss a shoe over their shoulder and predict the future based on the shoe’s landing position.
- Apple Peels: Another apple-related divination involved peeling an apple in one continuous strip and tossing the peel over one’s shoulder. The shape the peel took upon landing was believed to form the initial of a future spouse’s name.
- Candles and Shadows: In some traditions, individuals would light a candle and stand in front of a mirror in a dark room. They would then look at their shadow to try and interpret signs or omens.
- Meal Stones: Stones would be hidden in the food, especially in bannocks (a type of bread). The person who found the stone in their portion was believed to have special experiences or events in the coming year.
- Divination with the Dead: Given the belief that the spirits of the deceased were more accessible during Samhain, some would attempt to communicate directly with the dead to gain insights or messages about the future.
It’s essential to approach these traditions with respect and understanding, recognizing their cultural and historical significance. While many of these practices are seen as fun and playful today, they were taken seriously in their time and are deeply rooted in Celtic beliefs and customs.