Creepy History 65. Happy Halloween, and I hope you have enjoyed another October of “creepy histories” on Windows into History. Our last Halloween themed quote for now is from the Dundee Courier, 3rd November 1902:
The ghostly spells of Hallowe’en are not confined to Scotland.
Some people say that even in Scotland, home of superstition and captivating folklore, the good old Hallowe’en customs are dying out, but last Friday’s frolics among the young folks seem to give that statement an emphatic denial. To say that Scotland is specially identified with Hallowe’en observances strikes some observers as not quite fair or fitting, for the English country places have had many very quaint observances. The weaver lasses of Lancashire have had the spell of the “five earthen balls.” The lass takes five small slips of paper. On three she writes—or used write—the names three favourite swains—a modest number, surely. On one of the others she writes “stranger,” on the fifth “death.” Each is rolled into a ball, covered with moistened earth, and placed in a dish cold water. The water, of course, soon dissolves the earth and releases the slips of paper. Whichever rises first to the surface indicates the maiden’s fate. If there is a name thereon, that is the name of her future husband. If “stranger” comes she will wed one so far unknown; if “death” – alack, it is too sad to contemplate.
The Love of Lads and Lasses.
In Ireland there have been, and still are, some quaint, some fanciful, and some poetically mysterious observances. The night of 31st October (which has a musical Irish name impossible to render properly in Roman characters) is weird and witching in Irish folk-tales, but that is a long study, bearing us far from the material world. Burns’ poem of “Hallowe’en” is doubtless responsible for the Scottish flavour of the occasion, if one may so express it, in the British consciousness. Needless to say, the most interesting of the observances and customs relate to love, its longings, wishes, and devices. The humblest are also the most general – the burning of the nuts, for instance, which, trite as it looks, has animated country firesides for ages. Two nuts, representing a lad and lass, are lodged side by side in the fire or on the grate bars. If they burn cosily and placidly together happy marriage awaits the lad and lass in question; if they hiss and fly apart separation and sorrow are the decree of fate. That is all very silly to philosophers, but lads and lasses are – well, lads and lasses.
Again, if you are young and unattached and adventurous (and in Scotland) at Hallowe’en you can steal out in the deep and ghostly night, seek a south-running spring where three lairds’ lands meet, dip your left shirt sleeve into the water, run home and hang the sleeve by the flickering firelight, lie awake till midnight, when the destined sweetheart will glide into the room, come down the chimney, and turn the sleeve as if to dry the other side. Try this spell if you have philosophic doubts on the subject. It is exercise, at any rate, which has a touch of the weird.
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