Fortune Telling Games

Halloween is the perfect time to divine the future. In Celtic tradition Halloween marked the end of the old year and the beginning of the new. Not only was the veil between the world of the living and the world of spirit at its thinnest, it was also a time to take stock of your present position and to try and foretell what lay ahead in the year to come.

Halloween Catoptromancy game, vintage, Victorian Halloween
Fortune Telling Catoptromancy in the early 20th Century

Over the centuries this tradition with other elements of folk magic became included in Halloween celebrations. The purpose of many was to reveal a person's future spouse. One technique was using a mirror as a divination tool, known as catoptromancy. At midnight on Halloween you were to look into a mirror by candlelight and there you would see your future spouse appear behind you, as the postcards above demonstrate.

The game Bloody Mary, in which you say Bloody Mary three times whilst looking into a mirror, is a variant of this idea, but in the case of Bloody Mary what appears behind you in the mirror is something much more terrifying. Opinions are divided as to the origins of Bloody Mary, some say it originated in the Elizabethan era as a way for Protestants to taunt the spirit of the Catholic Queen Mary I. Whilst others believe that it was supposed to conjure up the spirit of vengeful witch named Mary. However, the main purpose of the game was a test of courage for the participant rather than for divination purposes.

The Sea of Life

Another Halloween divination game was called "The Sea of Life." A large bowl filled water, possibly the same bowl that would have been used for apple bobbing, was used to signify the sea of life. In it were placed small boats made out of halved walnut shells with a small candle or a paper sail placed inside them. Each person would then launch their boat onto the sea of life. If their boat floated smoothly across the water then the next year would be a good one. If two boats drifted side by side it meant that they would have mutual interests in the upcoming year. If a boat clung to the side of the bowl it meant that they would not travel far from home. And if a boat sunk or the candle went out it would mean a troublesome year was ahead.

Fortune Telling games are very easy to incorporate into a Halloween party. It can be as simple as having someone read Tarot cards, or you could create your own.

Witches Cauldron Fortune Telling

  Witches' Cauldron Fortune Telling game

Have your guests draw their fortune from a large cauldron.

What you will need:

  • A large cauldron
  • Pieces of paper (more than the number of your guests)
  • On each piece of paper write down a potential fortune or an answer to a question. For example: "Yes", "No", "You're Right", "You're Wrong", "You've made the right choice", "Change your mind before it is too late".

After asking a question, either out loud or silently to themselves, each guest randomly chooses a piece of paper and reads it.

Alternatively in the cauldron place small things that symbolise future events. Such as:

Ring = Marriage   Coin = Wealth   Four Leaf Clover = Good Luck   Key = Moving House

Halloween fortunes games

In the nineteenth and early twentieth century small charms would be placed inside cakes and what you found or bit into would divine your future. For example, the traditional Irish Barmbrack, a cake made with fruit, very similar to Soul Cakes, would have small symbolic objects baked inside them on Halloween night. Each object would mean the following:

Cloth - Bad luck or poverty
Coin - Riches or good luck
Ring - Marriage
Thimble - Spinsterhood
Button - Bachelorhood
Matchstick - Frequent arguments in a marriage

Barmbrack Fortune Cake
Barmbrack Fortune Cake

The practice is less common now probably to prevent people from choking on their future.

For more information on the history of Halloween fortune telling games, in particular those from the British Isles I recommend Lisa Morton's book Trick or Treat: A History of Halloween. Amazon US / UK


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