Two awe-inspiring religious ceremonies of old have now, after long evolution, merged into a jocose modern revel. Far from the expression of gratitude for harvest received, its chief object now is to furnish lads and lasses with timely tips about their future love-life. Needless to say, the receipient’s tongue is at all times thrust firmly into his cheek.
These tips are commonly deduced from the inquirer’s measure of success in “bobbing” for apples, sowing hemp-seed, pulling cabbages blindfolded, pouring melted lead, repeating a prayer backwards while reeling a ball of yarn in at the window, burning nuts on the hearth, and so forth. In quaint compilation, Curiosities of Popular Customs, William S. Walsh has described many of these methods for prying into the future.
Fortune Telling by Roasting Nuts
“So they practise matrimonial vaticinations of all sorts. Most common of all and most intimately associated with the season is the roasting of nuts. These are placed together on the bar of the grate side by side in pairs, and named for supposed lovers. If a nut burns quietly and brightly it indicates sincerity of affection. If it cracks and jumps it tells of unfaithfulness, while if the nuts burn together the youth and maid so indicated will be married.
These glowing nuts are emblems true
Of what in human life we view.
The ill-matched couple fret and furme,
And thus in strife themselves consume,
Or from each other wildly start,
And with a noise forever part.
But see the happy, happy pair,
Of genuine love and truth sincere:
With natural fondness while they burn,
Still to each other kindly turn,
And as the vital sparks decay,
Together gently sink away,
Till life’s fierce ordeal being past,
Their mingled ashes rest at last.
– Charles Grayden
Or perchance two hazel-nuts are thrown into the hot coals by a maiden. She secretly gives a lover’s name to each. If one of the nuts bursts, then that lover is unfaithful; but if it burns with a steady glow until it becomes ashes, she knows that her lover’s faith is true. Sometimes it happens, but not often, that both nuts will burn steadily, and then is the maiden’s heart sore perplexed.
“Gay has also some pretty lines about a girl who proved her lover in this way:
Two hazel-nuts I threw into the flame,
And to each nut I gave a sweetheart’s name;
This with the loudest bounce me sore amazed,
That in a flame of brightest color blazed;
As blazed the nut, so may thy passion grow,
For ’twas thy nut that did so brightly glow!
Fortune Telling With Apples
“Next to nuts in importance come apples. Endless are the methods of extracting from these fruits either fun or prophecy. What greater fun can there be, when you are at the right age and in the right mood, than ducking for apples? These apples are set afloat in a tub of water. They must be caught with the teeth, and the hands must not be used at all. the surest way to get an apple, it is said, is to force it to the bottom of the tub, and there hold it close while it is caught by the teeth. Any other way is hard to manage and uncertain of result. Another trick is to suspend a stick by a string tied in the middle. An apple is placed at one end and a lighted candle at the other. The stick is then whirled around, and the purpose is to catch the apple with the teeth and not to catch the candle.
“And as to prophecy, any m aiden may find out at least the first letter of the name of her future husband by peeling a pippin, taking the paring by one end in her fingers, swinging it three times about her head, and then letting it drop. The pippin-paring thus dropped will surely fall in the shape of the initial of his name, as she will readily see, though the rest of the company, not having quite so discerning eyes as hers, may not.
“It is said to help among the witches wonderfully to repeat these North of England lines while swinging the paring about the head:
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.